Who is Ernest Mwansa? Briefly tell us about yourself and your faith in Christ.

My name is Ernest Chitumwa Mwansa, I’m going to be 55 years this year. I am the first born in the family of five surviving siblings. I am a Christian of Reformed Baptist persuasion and have been a Christian since 1981. I hold a certificate in Assaying (analytical Chemistry from the former ZCCM Ltd), a Law degree from the University of Zambia, a post graduate certificate from the Law Practice Institute (now ZIALE), a post graduate certificate in Public Health from the Nordic School of Public Health, and a post graduate Certificate in International Health from the Nordic School of Public Health. Currently I’m pursuing a Masters of Law degree from the University of Zambia.

 

It is said that politics is a dirty game and, therefore, Christians have no business being involved in it as they will simply mess themselves up. What made you think differently and thus prompted you to join politics?

I have been involved in politics since 1990. It all began with an invitation by Mr Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, soon after Kaunda yielded to calls for a multi-party state, to help with the work of the Legal Committee of the new Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD). The atmosphere then was for change of government from a one party dictatorship to (unfortunately) anything else. I was convinced there was need for that change and I felt that if I could help foster that change in a much more organised manner then I needed to help. Before I knew it I was chosen to be the legal secretary of the Legal Committee. From then on I was like a person on a rollercoaster. Things were happening that made it impossible for me to draw back.

I did not want to be an MP but I was requested to stand in Chifunabuli parliamentary constituency because at that time there was no one who wanted to challenge the incumbent UNIP MP, the late Mr Ndalama. I couldn’t say “no” without betraying the very things I was trying to help achieve. Looking back, I thank God that things happened that way. I’m not sure that if I was left to make a personal decision I could have chosen politics for a career. I do not regret that the Lord led me into politics that way. It seems to me it was the only way.

Did you ever meet Christians who held the view that politics was a dirty game and, hence, Christians should not get involved? What was your interaction like?

Yes, I did. But with hindsight, I now see that the Lord had long prepared me for such challenges. I had faced similar criticism when I decided to take law as my career. A brother told me then that he did not believe a Christian could take law as a career because he did not believe a lawyer could be a Christian. I later saw the same brother trying to get his son into law school. That to me was testimony enough that those of us who went to law school had most probably acquitted ourselves as good soldiers of the cross in our chosen career. It also made me think that the brother had thought better of his initial stand. I also recall a brother who openly, on a Sunday morning just after the morning service, walked up to me as we mingled within the church premises and accused me of failure to maintain my Christian testimony at my work place. He did this in front of other church members. I was then the Deputy Minister of Health. When I challenged his allegations he simply apologised and walked away.

On another occasion a young man, just a little older than my son, confronted me at church and accused me of compromising my faith because I did not attack the Republican president at the time his father fell out of favor with the Republican president. I found the attack too childish to concern me and instead advised the young man to privately talk to me if he wanted to know what my thoughts were. Another brother approached my wife and told her to tell me that I was a political prostitute for joining the Patriotic Front. I found his comments too insulting to comment on. Interestingly, at the time I differed with the PF president this brother had abandoned the MMD and was now an ardent supporter of the PF. That incident convinced me that some people were saying things about me that they had no courage to say in my face.

Did you consult your church leaders about your decision to run for an office in parliament and can you take us through the gist of that consultation?

Yes, I consulted them about assisting the new political party in the legal committee. At that time even I did not know that I was getting into politics. The events that followed were fast but I kept my elders informed about what I was doing. I was encouraged to go ahead if I believed the Lord was leading me that way. I cannot say, though, that that advice was with much enthusiasm. My elders too were uncertain. I was going into dangerous and unchartered territory.

Are genuine believers readily accepted in the Zambian political arena?

Well, I don’t know what to say to this question. I believe I am genuine about my Christianity and I have been in politics for about twenty years. I think that staying that long in politics indicates that I have been accepted in the Zambian political arena. If, however, acceptance means being taken as one who thinks the same way as they do about politics, then certainly not. For a child of God, politics is about service. It may not necessarily be so for some who are in politics. Such politicians won’t like you very much. They are likely to fear you, and, fear breeds dislike and hatred for the objects of such fear. If a child of God fears to be hated for standing up for the truth then such a one should not join politics.

What positions have you held in government?

I have been a Member of Parliament, a Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Energy and Water Development, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, and also in the Ministry of Health. The last portfolio I held was at Parliament where I was elected as the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole House (i.e. Second Deputy Speaker of the House).

The view among some Zambians is that when Christians join politics they start doing and saying the things they used to condemn. What do you say to this? Did you experience this challenge?

I do not agree with that view. Can a leopard change its skin? If a person behaves differently when in politics then most probably that is the real person you are seeing. I have to admit that politics has the power and pull to bring out the truth about anyone. My advice is, don’t go into politics if you have anything to hide. The question to ask maybe is, can a Christian politician sin? My answer to that question is another question; namely, can a Christian who is not a politician sin? I think both can and both must depend on God for their sustenance.

What were the challenges you had as Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister in terms of being led by an Executive Head (President) as powerful as the Zambian Constitution allows?

My conviction was that for as long as opportunity allowed me I told the president the truth as I knew it on any matter, no matter how sensitive and no matter what opinion I knew the boss held on the issue. I tried to advice as humbly as I could but without compromising the truth as I knew it. Such advice, however, was not always without adverse consequences.

What were the challenges you had in terms of being voted on in a system where you need party Cadrerism to survive in the structures?

I have never seen any problem in belonging to a political party. I believe that there is nothing wrong in doing so. I also believe that as long as we are this side of heaven there shall never be any human institution that will be perfect, not even the visible church! My approach to politics has been to live and campaign on the springboard of truth. It has worked in my favour on many occasions. At one time it cost me a seat in the House (I lost an election) but it was that same truth that later propelled me back into Parliament. I believe that if anyone blindly panders to party politics it is because one makes a conscious decision to do so. The greatest asset a politician has is to endear oneself to the electorate. There is, of course, need to be in good books with your party but that is not the same as parroting things you do not believe in or changing your views to suit the party leadership. I can also say that I rose in party ranks not so much because I fought for positions but more because people used to lobby for me for those positions.

What were the challenges you had in being asked to tow the party line after a caucus, for example, on a matter to be voted on in Parliament and yet, perhaps, you were being asked to vote against your wisdom and conscience (e.g. on a matter as contentious as the removal of the abuse of office clause from the Anti-corruption Act last year in Zambia)?

At the time this matter (abuse of office provision) came to parliament I was already voted in un-opposed as the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the whole House. I did not vote as I felt that I needed to maintain my neutrality since I stood in for Mr Speaker when he and the deputy speaker were not in office. However, what is also true is that we already had a law that criminalises abuse of office. The belief then was that the law had not gone far enough in criminalising abuse of office, especially against politicians.

If you ask me, what I didn’t like about the intended amendment was that it shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution (the state) to the accused person. That goes against the constitution of our country which provides that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In this situation the accused will be deemed guilty until he or she proved his or her innocence. I also wish to say that it is usually not the absence of the law that is the problem in our country. Rather, it is the failure of law enforcement that is the greatest challenge in our country. People who are tasked to enforce the law generally develop cold feet when it comes to prosecuting those in power. The same people tend to be very vicious when it comes to prosecuting politicians who have lost elections or those politicians who have fallen out of favour with the ruling class.

As related to party caucuses, I used the party caucuses to air concerns to the president which I felt would be misunderstood if aired publicly. I recall occasions in a caucus when it was only Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda and myself who would voice out our reservations about a proposal from cabinet which would have been given presidential blessings at the time it came to the caucus. To the credit of the President, Dr Chiluba, he sometimes changed his stance and agreed with us. In that case the issue would die. Of course, there were issues that I did not totally agree with that went through the caucus and we would pass them in the House. But there were also times when I voted against my party.

What were your successes at constituency level where you were MP, especially in the use of the Constituency Development Fund? With hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in this regard?

The Constituency Development Fund (CDF) is the most popular allocation of government funding in the constituency. Everyone knew of it. I used it to build health posts. It was also used to rehabilitate government schools and government health infrastructures. It has further used to open new feeder roads to areas where there had only been foot paths before. I can safely say that in terms of schools (community schools) there are very few places in my former constituency of ten wards ( I can only think of three places specifically) where you can go for five kilometres without coming across a community school, most of which were built using CDF.

In the use of CDF I had people apply for CDF funds and then the CDF committee would sit to allocate the funding. I only came in to ensure that no area in my constituency was left out of the yearly allocation and also that populations of the various areas were taken onto account. Our policy was that the larger the population of the ward the more CDF that area received. In relation to CDF I do not think I would do anything differently. It worked well for me.

You have been involved in three political parties: MMD, FDD, and PF. Is it because the parties have changed their direction or you have? Should a Christian politician be consistent in their political beliefs?What issues in your experience would necessitate a change of political party?

I have never taken a deliberate step to change political parties. In all cases I have been hounded out of the political parties because I have refused to succumb to a change that I considered was fundamental. With the MMD, we were expelled for fighting against the then Republican President’s desire to stand for a third term of office when the Republican Constitution clearly restricted him to only two five-year terms of office. In FDD, I was hounded out of the party because I refused to endorse Ms Nawakwi as winner when our FDD Constitution demanded a runoff election if the winner of the party presidential elections failed to marshal a fifty percent plus one (50% +1) vote required to win the FDD presidency. I was the runner up and would have stood to compete with her had we followed our party constitution. Interestingly the Nawakwi campaign group hurriedly organized a sham election after I left in frustration and purportedly put my name on the ballot paper in my absence!

In PF, I was expelled (together with others) for choosing to obey the law of the land that compelled all members of parliament to become members of the National Constitution Commission. The PF president, now the Republican president, threatened to expel us from the party if we disobeyed him rather than disobey the law. We chose to obey the law of the land, which incidentally the PF participated in enacting in parliament! What is interesting is that the Republican president, Mr Michael Sata, has now appointed me to be on the Technical Committee to Draft the Zambian Constitution! This makes me even more convinced that standing for the truth is the best one can do. Truth in the long run always rewards.

My view about when to change a political party is that if those you work with can accept you despite your point of view, don’t quit. If they renege on fundamentals don’t keep quiet. Speak out no matter the consequences. If they don’t want you because you have stood on the side of truth then move on. You cannot stay in a place where your political colleagues no longer want to work with you.

What are some of the temptations that lend towards greed, abuse of office, self-aggrandisement, and pride in the offices you held? How did you fight them and what did you learn from any failures—both your own and those of others in those offices?

The greatest lesson learnt is the reality of that great saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It is amazing how, generally speaking, those subordinate to me took instructions without questions. This unfortunately was true even for some of the subordinates who were Christians. I only got their true position if I explained what I wanted to see done and asked whether they thought I was going about it the right way. Many times I witnessed political friends get caught up in political scandals that were shocking and could have been avoided had they received proper advice. These were people I could have very easily vouched for! I have remained wondering whether those who were supposed to advise them had done so or whether the advisors had chosen to leave them to rot. I learnt to carry my subordinates with me even on issues where I felt I did not necessarily need their advice. Those subordinate to me have been a great help to me. I must point out, however, that some who were subordinate to me worked to see me fail but those who worked closely with me were always there to advice. Looking back I am even more convinced of the Scripture that warns those who think they stand to watch lest they fall.

A politician, like any other Christian, must depend entirely on God for his walk in politics. I also learnt the lesson that the safest way to remain above board is to do whatever you have to do as openly and as transparently as possible. But then this is what God requires of us all the time, doesn’t he?

Did you collaborate with other MPs or ministers who were also Christians to pray or work together to achieve political ends?

Yes we did when time allowed, especially during the MMD days when we even used to have morning prayer meetings at State House! Later, however, things went wrong and I observed competition for the president’s eye even from church pastors. Sadly, as more saints came into the political arena, I saw the grieving reality of saints getting involved even in mudslinging other saints. Others who wanted to get into politics became very vicious against those they found already in politics. My defense against such was to quietly withdraw from them.

What are some of the things that would make a Christian fail as a politician at any level? How does one protect himself against this as a Christian?

If one has an insatiable desire for power, he is likely to fall. A Christian certainly can aspire for high office but this must not be handled as if it is a matter of life and death. In addition to whatever desires we may have, we must also have a settled conviction that the Lord our God will finally make us into what he wants us to be. It is an exercise in futility to gain the whole world but lose our Christian testimony.

The other cause of failure in Christian politicians is pride and it manifests itself in how we present ourselves to our peers. When one begins to look down on those who were his or her friends prior to ascendancy to political office then trouble has begun. My advice is, if you want to maintain your testimony in politics, maintain the friends you had before you joined politics, even if they do not join politics with you and even if they differ with you on political issues.

How can a Christian prepare himself or herself to run for political office at Ward Councilor level?

A councilor is the elected leader at ward level. A ward is the smallest electoral unit in the country. Those who are elected at ward level represent their electorates at district council level. They, among other things, make by-laws that regulate business at that level, including raising levies (taxes).

In our country it is easier for one to run for an elective office, including the office of councilor, if you belong to a political party than if you run as an independent. This is also the case in the United Kingdom. In the choice of a political party to belong to, do not look for the perfect political party. There is none. This is a fallen world. Rather, just as you do not necessarily look for a Christian company when you look for a professional job, even so don’t when you are looking for the political party to join. There must, however, be certain fundamentals that must appeal to you as a Christian in your party of choice. National development ideologies are not much different across party divides the world over. You must also be known in the area in which you want to stand as councilor or MP. You are unlikely to make it if you are unknown, unless your party is very popular.

Don’t make promises to people which you are unlikely to fulfil. Many politicians have made promises even when they knew they could not fulfil them, most times even when they had no idea how the government distributes the national cake. Sadly, people like politicians who promise them “mountains” but I can assure you it does not take long before those same electorates turn their frustrations and disappointments on the same candidates they voted for.

In my life as a politician, I have seen the most ardent supporters of a politician turn around and speak against that politician as though they have never seen such incarnate evil as their elected candidate. Unfortunately this is sometimes true of even Christian supporters! They too turn against those they supported as though they had never been ardent supporters. Disappointed? Don’t be! If God has called you to a life of service in politics seek only his commendations, not man’s commendations. Is it not said of great men that they are only eulogised after they are dead and gone? The time for commendation shall surely come even if it is not from the mouths of mortals.

How can a Christian prepare himself or herself to run for political office at Member of Parliament level?

The same requirements I have mentioned above also apply when you seek parliamentary office. Remember though that a constituency is much larger and, consequently, much more demanding and much more complicated than a ward. Rural constituencies are very large areas and if you want to become a household name in such a large place you need to visit as much of the constituency as you can. Endear yourself to the electorate and to the party officials. Do this not by bribing them but by drawing close to them and befriending them. There is no substitute for that. Don’t be misled by anyone. No matter how rich you are you cannot bribe all the voters in your constituency but you can befriend many who, because they are your friends, will campaign for you without looking for financial favours from you. Believe me I know what I am talking about.

 

  1. c) How can a Christian prepare himself or herself to run for political office at Republican president level?

 

It is difficult to answer this question because I have never been a president and the time I tried to be elected to lead a political party I was unsuccessful. I came second and my political opponents were unwilling to face me in a runoff. What I can honestly say is that what propelled me into second position was the fact that I had many friends among voters; some of them very humble indeed. While my political opponents spent a lot of money during the campaign I am happy to say that I spent negligible amounts, although liars were alleging that I had a lot of money. I remain indebted to those men and women who put in so much to make my campaign for the FDD presidency such a huge success for someone who had no financial muscle. From that experience in FDD, I believe that the best campaign weapons one can have are dedicated friends and party members. Money, of course, is an added advantage but, as the last (2011) had shown us, money is not everything. This is why I get very upset with politicians who, by their empty promises, abuse the trust of the people who vote for them in the mistaken belief that once in office such politicians will stand by their promises.

From your inside view at Deputy Minister and Member of Parliament level, if you were Zambian Republican President for one week, what two things would you either change, or set in motion for change, from that level?

The first thing I would do is to set in motion provisions of budgetary funding directly to projects at constituency level. This in effect means I would immediately embark on de-centralising government. Secondly, I would embark on job creation programmes. I would do this by embarking on infrastructural development that would include opening trunk roads (even if this means borrowing money for those projects) to ensure that the entire country becomes accessible to local and foreign investment.

Who is your model Christian politician and what values do you get from him?

William Wilberforce. I love his resilience and dedication to what he firmly believed in. I also think of John Calvin’s political thoughts, Abraham Lincoln, and Jimmy Carter as worth emulating.

What word of advice would you give to a Christian aspiring for political life in Zambia?

Be prepared to be misunderstood. If you are called of the Lord, he will provide all you need for your career. You are generally entering into unchartered territory as far as Zambian Christianity is concerned. There are very few Zambian politicians who are truly Christian. But be of courage, dear one, because you won’t be the first Christian nor will you be the last. Secondly, be sure that it is what God wants you to do. Political power has its trappings. You need to be conscious of them. If it is God who wants you to get into the world of politics, he will look after you inspite of them.

In your years of involvement in politics, in which area has the church in Zambia mostly influenced things and decisions?

Unfortunately, as evangelical Christians, our involvement in the political life of this country has until lately been very minimal, if any. I thank God though that lately we have leaders who are encouraging saints in their private capacities to get involved in the affairs of our country. For the good of our country, though, I think we need to go a bit more public and condemn the wickedness of even those in political public office. It took the prophet Nathan to show David his sin. It was Nathan’s rebuke of David that lead that great political leader to repentance, helped transform his leadership, and humbled him before God and man. Nathan’s virtues and courage are worth emulating.

In your years of politics, how has the Baptist movement impacted on the political landscape of our nation?

I have to sadly say that it has taken very long for the majority of Baptists, particularly Baptists of Reformed persuasion, to accept the role that the church and church members must play in the public affairs of our country. Some of the most negative statements I have heard against my being a politician have come from saints within Baptist circles.

Do you think there are areas in which the Baptist movement in Zambia can do more to contribute positively to the politics of our country?

In my view, the Reformed faith’s Christian worldview is a most liberating and yet most obligating doctrine. It is this teaching that brings out the worth of all of God’s creation, the need to live in harmony with everyone, the need to sustain our environment, the need to engage in an education that glorifies the Creator, etc.

What is the difference between an individual Christian’s voice and the corporate church’s voice in influencing political decisions?

We must remember that the voice of one person is but just one voice and, while God can use the smallest of voices, even stammering ones, there is a huge difference when the corporate voice of the church is heard. Remember that many politicians in our country are highly religious. We can use that religiousness for the good of the Zambian people if we became the voice of the voiceless Zambian people.

As a politician, what advice would you give to the evangelical movement in Zambia about their influence in politics?

Please stand up for the voiceless. You must surely speak for the poor, for the prisoner, for the vulnerable, for the down trodden, for the stranger, etc. Speak out against the scourge of corruption; not just the corruption of those who leave political office but especially those still in office, whose actions immediately impact negatively on the well-being of our country. Remember, you have the word of God for this generation and indeed for generations to come. We cannot claim to be the true voice of God if we fail to speak for and to minister to the needs of our society. We must minister to the whole being, both body and soul.

And, finally, what word of advice would you give to the Zambian Christian men and women about their involvement in politics?

My brethren, if we see something going wrong we should not just criticise it. Instead we must fold our sleeves and put our hands to the plough. There are a lot of things that are wrong with our politics in Zambia. To remain silent in this time of national challenge is to undermine our Christian calling as the salt and light of the world. Please, join politics and help bring sanity in our country.

Thank you for sharing all this wealth of information with us. We are sure it will really be an eye-opener for many of our readers, who have never interacted with a Christian politician with the kind of breadth of experience that you have.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity. If the Lord uses something that I have said here to encourage true Christians—and especially Reformed Baptists—to get more involved in the political life of our country I will be grateful to God for this.