Guy Scott, Vice President of Zambia, has assumed the role of acting president after the death from illness of President Michael Chilufya Sata in London, in a turn events that have highlighted both the tolerance and the strength of democracy in the quiescent country.
President Sata was elected as the fifth president of Zambia in 2011, after running for more than a decade as the head of the Patriotic Front alongside his friend Guy Scott, who has served as a hugely popular MP for a Lusaka constituency and as a successful agriculture minister in the 1990s.
Gears are now in motion for a fresh election within 90 days, and there has been little domestic furore over the first appointment, albeit temporarily, of a white president in a democratic black-majority African state – to the apparent surprise of international observers.
However, this is also a country where the gross domestic product (GDP) increased from $4.31bn in 2000 to $22.4bn in 2013 and GDP per capita increased equitably from $320 to $1,540, with a human development index ranking of 141st in 2014 – in the ‘medium development’ threshold just behind South Africa, Cape Verde, Namibia and Ghana.
A strong contributor to this economic progress has been strong democracy, which in Zambia’s case is ‘flawed’ according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index – a slightly misleading label that places the country in the company of Benin, Ghana, Namibia and Senegal and only a short way behind South Africa, Botswana and European democracies such as France, Italy and Portugal.
In other words, Zambia is quite the model for the kind of prosperity that can be achieved when an African country’s real GDP growth is reflected in its socio-economic development, and where good governance has essentially rendered issues of race void on the both the political and popular agenda.
What little vocal opposition there has been to appointment of the acting president has been polite and has most notably come from Edgar Lungu, Minister of Defence, and Mulenga Sata, former President Sata’s son and Mayor of Lusaka – both potential candidates jockeying for the presidency.
Nevertheless, the political record of Scott, both as vice president and as the agricultural minister who lead the country out of a severe drought, has attracted only limited criticism – so it is not inconceivable that in a country of more than 80 tribes Scott might be confirmed as president.
A key jab is that Scott’s parents were not born in Zambia, though he himself was, and that under the constitution the president’s parents must also be born in the country – a rule that could be upheld, but which equally exposes the frivolity of the current attempts at political scoring.
In reality, Scott is simply an ardent Zambian, a fluent speaker of both Nyanja and Bemba, Zambia’s most common indigenous languages, and a man who has dismissed talk of both his background and his colour by saying: “I may be white on the outside, but my blood is black.”