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Changing face of democracy


THE last week of October was pretty morbid with the death of an African statesman President Michael Sata. He was affectionately known as “King Cobra” because he had an acidic mouth famous for spewing vitriol.

Zambia’s fifth president Sata died in a London hospital.

His death was met with heartfelt sympathy and Zambians on social media used adjectives like determined, disciplinarian, humorous, passionate, pragmatic and unpredictable to describe his leadership.

He assumed the role of presidency in 2011 and died in his fourth year in office at the age of 77. I saw a poster which described him as a “man of action”.

Sata was responsible for forming the first formidable opposition party in Zambia. His determination is apparent when you consider he contested for the presidency three times in his lifetime, running against both President Levy Mwanawasa and President Rupiah Banda.

This is in itself is a lesson to opposition party leaders that if at first you do not succeed; keep trying. Clearly perseverance pays as it was fourth time lucky for Sata.

Sadly, he was unable to finish his term in office and following his death, his deputy Guy Scott now assumes the role of president.

This is usually modus operandi in most countries, but the ascension of Scott has made news for the sole reason that he is “white”.

Not since President Frederik Willem de Klerk in South Africa has Africa had a white president.

Almost 20 years later, Scott is definitely making history by assuming this role albeit for 90 days when elections will be held. His parents were born outside Zambia and under the current Zambian Constitution this makes him ineligible to contest in the upcoming elections.

Scott was born in Northern Rhodesia as Zambia was known prior to attaining its independence in 1964.

His own father was a militant supporter of Zambian independence and once served the country as MP.

There have been mixed reactions to his ascension to the role of president; some which are quite revealing if not amusing.

It’s ironic because when Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States there was loud applause and jubilation from a number of Africans. Now when we have a white president in Africa we have outright indignation and disgust.

For me it signals political maturity on the part of Zambians who for the most part are indeed a poster for a peaceful and stable democracy in Africa.

It also sends a clear and robust message that their politics have come full circle.

It is no longer about the colour of the president, but rather the calibre of the candidate.

A lot of the time in Africa, our politics is minimised to race, tribe and gender.

So it’s enlightening to see countries who have managed to elevate themselves above this rhetoric.

Look at the recent examples of Central African Republic, Liberia and Malawi who all have elevated women to the country’s number one role as president signalling that gender is no longer an issue. So when we start to transcend such issues it shows maturing democracy.

Zambia has shown indeed that it has progressed from the legacy of its colonial past.

One can argue that they have had half a century of adjusting. Which is in part true because even 20 years into democracy I do not think South Africa will ever accommodate a white president in high office?

The wounds of apartheid are still fresh and poignant. It is a process just as a child crawls and then later walks.

Zambia, on the other hand, falls into that group of African countries that was emancipated in the ’60s.

Since then the country has managed to transform itself from a one-party State under Kenneth Kaunda’s 27-year-old rule to a functional multi-party State. Since then the country has had four presidents, a remarkable feat by African standards.

Clearly Zambia has come of age and I tend to debunk all talk of Zambia being dragged back to the colonial days.

Actually colonialisation is not a word that ought to be appearing in our vocabulary in 2014.

That era has come and gone and certainly will not be repeated. Development is progressive; not regressive and so should be our politics.

Let us elevate leaders on the basis of character and credibility not colour or creed.

Sue Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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