By NATION REPORTER
WHEN Vice President Inonge Mutukwa Wina announced that she would not recontest her position on the Edgar Lungu ticket slated for August 12 this year due to age, reactions were mixed.
Some analysts felt the 80-year-old assertive matriarch should have stayed on considering the fact that 2021 is President Lungu´s constitutionally last term in office, therefore there was no need to change the winning team.
But after weighing her reasons, many pundits agreed that “it´s best to leave while the audience applauds.”
The question then remained, “who fills in the huge boots” of this political juggernaut, Wina who fought side by side with her husband Arthur for the freedom of Zambia from colonialists, giving more than half her life to national service?
Many were called to the table, after soul-searching President Edgar Lungu surprised the nation once again by choosing one strong woman to replace another one.
On May 17, President Lungu halted the guessing by officially stating that Professor Nkandu Luo, an iconoclast in Zambian science and politics would be his running mate after regrettably accepting Ms Wina´s decision to pass on the baton after decades of gallant national service.
President Lungu´s memories with Ms Wina abound, from the death of President Michael Sata in October 2014 to the tough political battle at the Rock in Kabwe where Ms Wina chaired the conference that ushered President Lungu in as leader of the deeply fractured PF, thus they shared a deep bond beyond words.
But that’s a story for another day, another chapter; this is a Lungu-Luo story.
LUNGU TAPS LUO FOR RUNNING MATE
The adage goes, it’s always the unmarked player in football who scores and for a while now, President Lungu has proven to be the unmarked player in his political appointment or decisions, shocking even his closest of allies.
For instance, he shocked many when he appointed Felix Mutati, an opposition leader as a Cabinet Minister before he (Felix) fell on his own sword.
It was uncanny that he kept in his cabinet, some individuals that were said to be “opposition” to him but with hindsight, he kept his enemies close and friends even closer.
When he tapped Prof Luo as running mate, therefore, analysts read the move as one aimed at unifying the country and the party ahead of the crucial August 12 poll.
President Lungu said, “there´s no shred of doubt within me that Professor Nkandu Luo is the right choice for my running mate, and that we are going to make a great team in our journey towards August 12 and beyond.”
He described Prof Luo, one of only six female professors Zambia has as, “a strong woman who epitomises women empowerment.”
Prof. Luo in accepting the appointment expressed humility and said the decision by President Lungu simply went to show, “his immense respect for women, also by appointing women to top positions, he is celebrating and honouring his own mother.”
Given Lubinda, a long serving cabinet minister and ally of President Lungu said the President could have never chosen a better running mate after a tough choice to not recontest made by Ms Wina.
Mr Lubinda is the man President Lungu has appointed to run the Luo campaign on the back of the Lungu ticket.
JUST WHO IS PROF LUO?
There is a lot written and said about her but the short and tall of it is that she´s just a “humble mother” of two young men who have sired two grandchildren for her.
Prof Luo was born in rural northern Zambia, in a district called Chinsali, with roots in the Chibesakunda royal family. Her late brother Bob Luo is the most recent Chief Chibesakunda.
Other notables in her family is the sister Mable Mung’omba, a branding guru who has held various Directorship portfolios including heading MTN when it first set office in Zambia.
FROM THE LAB TO POLITICS
Albeit she is known mostly for her contribution to the politics of Zambia, Prof Luo actually first cut her teeth as a scientist in the field of microbiology and immunology previously dominated by men.
President Lungu described her as a “trail blazer” professional whose contribution to fighting AIDS when it became an epidemic in the 1980s remains unmatched in scale and form.
She is credited for among other things, for reforming commercial sex workers, keeping them off the streets out of danger with new jobs.
“I also helped bring the first US$700, 000 into Zambia in the 80s to help us establish centres for blood testing countrywide after discovering that most infections were actually happening through blood transfusion,” Prof. Luo said.
She did her first doctorate degree at the University of Zambia before proceeding to study for a PhD in Russia at Moscow University where she learnt how to speak fluent Russian before proceeding to the London School of Medicine for another PhD.
Prof. Luo´s professional career apart from the University Teaching Hospital and teaching, also took her to Geneva where she interned with the World Health Organisation before going for a long work stint in the United Kingdom and eventually returning to Zambia.
LUO THE POLITICIAN
All this time, she resisted “politics” preferring the laboratory and lecture theatre but politics still found her under the multi-party administration where she served as Minister of Transport and later Health as well as Legislator tapped by President Frederick Chiluba.
She has since served Zambia as Minister of Higher Education and is credited for introducing revolving loan schemes that has seen a rise in a number of students enrolling in all major government universities beyond UNZA.
“I think higher education ministry was one of my most challenging but highest point as a minister because of the positive changes we made together,” Prof. Luo said.
Her most recent government job was that of Minister of Livestock and Fisheries where analysts say she scored “high marks” yet again when she taught, “Zambians how to fish, not simply eat fish.”
Prof. Luo implemented a scheme empowering rural Zambians with chicken and goat “starter packs” and taught them to look at goats and chickens as commodities, not just dinner.
“I think we raised the bar by teaching fellow Zambians that a chicken is not a meal but you can make pillows out of the feathers and that livestock hides can be used as high value leather,” Prof. Luo said. She also served as Minister of Gender and Chiefs.
Luo turns 70 on December 21, 2021 as she walks in the footsteps of the first female Vice President of Zambia Ms Inonge Wina, another gem picked by President Lungu from a list of many.
“She (Luo) also brings to the table an experienced pair of hands in political governance. Her political career spans almost three decades, and that will be a great asset to my leadership,” said President Lungu.
President Lungu long known for identifying rare talent added that, “Prof. Luo is not my last stop; my promise is that I will continue to create a platform for women in this country to excel…”
Prof. Nkandu Phoebe Luo in turn has promised to be a “good number two” to President Lungu who has tapped her for the most coveted second most important job in town.
Her story is just beginning to be written but one thing she has publicly promised to do is to “stick to her lane” because she says “blind ambition” has led to the downfall of many in life and politics.
Analysts have already opened chapters to look at the Luo and Wina Vice Presidency decision by President Lungu. Many believe this is a winning ticket come August 12 as the credits roll.