The grey-haired old man’s gaze and composure cast a reassuring image as he took to the lectern in front of him in Nairobi and began to impart wisdom on how to run for election and when to quit for the sake of God and country.
Former Zambian President Rupiah Banda had carefully prepared his notes with a solemn message to candidates contesting in Kenya's March 4 General Election to fathom, even remotely, the possibility of losing.
He implored candidates to muster the humility to concede in the event of a loss to save the country unnecessary tension and possible violence.
And what better person to give the lessons than the 79-year-old statesman who conceded an election and gave up power to opposition candidate Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front without raising a finger after losing by a small margin – 180,000 votes – in September last year. Despite enormous pressure from some of his lieutenants who demanded a recount or legal redress.
“In my conscience I knew conceding defeat was the right thing to do,” the former president told an attentive audience in Nairobi this week. “I was in power and could have held on but I said the public good had to come before the interest of anyone and that was when I decided to concede defeat.”
Mr Banda, who was Zambia’s fourth president, lost the election to a man he had, two years earlier, defeated narrowly in a presidential by-election after the death of Levy Mwanawasa.
Mr Banda won by the thinnest of margins, garnering 718,359 votes which translated into 40.09 per cent of the total votes cast while Mr Sata got 683,150 votes or 38.13 per cent, according to Zambia electoral commission figures.
In the recent visit, Mr Banda spoke to a nation he knew was still recovering from the devastating effects of the 2007 post-election trauma. Kenya plunged into chaos in similar circumstances after Mr Raila Odinga, then an opposition candidate, rejected the results of the election and President Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in.
The firming of positions raised political temperatures and the supporters of the two camps engaged in violence that led to bloodshed and loss of lives of more than 1,000 Kenyans and displacement of hundreds of thousands of others.
Mr Banda, who was in the country to open an international conference on Kenya’s preparedness for a presidential run-off at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Nairobi, said his concession prevented similar violence in Zambia.
Mr Banda said he felt a bigger responsibility to uphold Zambia’s record of peace, stability and democracy even when, in doing so, he was required to walk away after a very closely fought election.
Saying on a light note that pangas (matchetes) in Africa are more lethal than guns, the former head of state, who first took over the copper-rich country as acting president after the death of Mr Mwanawasa in office, had to think fast and avert disaster.