‘Don’t Kubeba’ enters electoral lore

At first sight, the bearded, highly intellectualised 68-year-old muzungu Guy Scott, Vice President of Zambia, doesn’t look like the sort of person who would coin a ‘pop’ phrase that has captured the hearts of millions of people in Central Africa.

The Vice President of Zambia, Guy Scott.
The Vice President of Zambia, Guy Scott.

According to the New Zealand-born journalist Vernon Wright, publisher of one of Africa’s newest, brightest and best magazines, The Bulletin and Record, Scott did not even know he had struck gold and turned two words of simple advice into a national slogan and now a hit parade song that’s got a nation’s feet tapping, its fingers clicking and its bodies swaying.

Don’t Kubeba!

Vernon tells me in a letter from his home in Lusaka: “Guy was the inadvertent creator of the last election’s greatest catchphrase.It came about while he was addressing a rally in Ndola (on the Zambian Copperbelt). The ruling MMD (Rupiah Banda’s party which under the leadership of the bitterly disgraced Frederick Chiluba knocked Kenneth Kaunda off his presidential pedestal in 1991) was rushing about buying votes, you know the sort of thing, free bicycles, mealie meal, chitenge cloth and so on.

“What he (Guy Scott) and others in the PF (Patriotic Front) were saying was ‘Okay, take all the things they offer you, take them, but don’t tell them who you’re voting for.’ ”

Kubeba is Bemba (the main language on the Copperbelt) for ‘say’ or ‘speak.’ But at the rally, Scott temporarily forgot the Bemba word for ‘don’t’ (donchi) so in the rush of the moment he said: “Don’t Kubeba.”

“The phrase caught on like wildfire and soon the whole nation was laughing to it and dancing with it. A local songwriter put it into a song which became an immediate best-seller, ‘DonchiKubeba’. The physical symbol was to put a finger to your lips, as if you were saying ‘shhh’ or ‘hush.’ ”

The MMD expected an easy win, but hundreds of thousands of kwacha later they lost and Michael Satabecame the new President of Zambia. Guy Scott became his number two.

Guy Scott is a massively popular Vice-President. Born at Zambia’s number one tourist resort, Livingstone, in 1944 he is a graduate of two of the world’s best universities, Oxford and Cambridge. He’s also a respected journalist, mathematician, politician and (not many know this) songwriter and amateur guitarist. He also has a love for literature and (writes Jack Zimba in The Bulletin and Record) has been known to recite long passages from renowned poets.

In the right mood in front of the right audience at his house in the Leopard’s Hill area of Lusaka, he will quote liberally from speeches in Shakespeare’s Henry IV or from Macbeth, from the Song of Solomon in the Bible or from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Guy’s most strikingly original phrase so far tells the people of Zambia – maybe the people of Africa – to take what corrupt politicians and greasy pole climbers have to offer before an election and then, on the day when ballot boxes cancel out bribes and bribers, vote freely and secretly according to your heart’s dictates. And above all . . . don’t let on – don’t tell anyone how you’re going to vote.

Don’t Kubeba!

Post published in: Africa News

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