In October 1997, the Zambian government announced that it had quickly quashed an attempted military coup. The announcement came less than three hours after Zambians woke up to the news that a group calling itself the National Redemption Council had taken power in a coup called Operation Born Again.
The coup leader, who called himself Captain Solo, briefly took over the state radio, saying an angel had asked him to take over affairs of the country. “I saw an angel, and the message was the government had to be overthrown,” Solo reportedly said.
But a few hours after his announcement, President Frederick Chiluba told the nation that the coup plotters had been arrested and the army was in control. “The enemy is defeated”, he said. “Zambians, don’t be frightened by anyone. The situation is fully under control.”
In fact, 40 people, including 20 army officers and Solo, whose real name was Capt Steven Lungu, were arrested. There is no denying that Zambians were at the time not pleased with Chiluba’s handling of affairs, including his crackdown on opponents. Still, citizens did not throw their weight behind the coup attempt. Some members of the army also showed no interest whatsoever.
On the morning of the Operation Born Again coup attempt, the plotters, about two dozen, besieged the Zambian Broadcasting Corporation with armored vehicles. Small arms fire was heard around the broadcast headquarters and the State House. Amid the gunfire and confusion, many thought that was the end for Chiluba.
However, the army stormed the state radio a few hours after the coup began. And there, with little resistance, they arrested several of the coup plotters. Solo was found hiding in a trash dumpster, according to Zambian media. Indeed, the effort to unseat Chibula proved so amateurish that it was swiftly crushed.
As Independent.ie reported: “Even as ‘Captain Solo’ claimed on state radio that a National Redemption Council had taken over, and that Mr Chiluba had an hour to surrender power, his voice was suspiciously slurred. The sound of giggling voices, believed to belong to the female radio presenters, could also be made out against the radio’s usual heavy static, suggesting that `Solo’ was not as menacing as he tried to make out.”
Except for a few broken doors, journalists at the state radio said there were no signs of a struggle.
“Their plans have failed, and my government is still firmly in control,” Chiluba said, according to Reuters. “I want to warn those who want to rise that they will fall by the sword.”
Solo, after serving 13 years in prison, received a presidential pardon before his death in August 2012.
Africa is no stranger to coups, with approximately 200 military coups happening on the continent. They are caused by a range of issues including political antagonism, tribalism, economic strife, greed for power and constitutional change from monarchy to a republic, and so on. Some coups happened because the military did not receive adequate funds for their existence and survival.
In 1997 when the attempted coup occurred in Zambia, the country had not experienced any active revolt or uprising. Even when Chiluba’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy defeated Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party in the country’s first multi-party election in 1991, it was without violence.