Zambia: Legacy of a no-show president

By Christopher Mwambazi in Lusaka and Prince Ofori-Atta

Posted on October 31, 2014 15:05

President Michael Sata’s death and the ineligibility of interim president Guy Scott to run for office in the next presidential election is fuelling speculation about the succession.

Before his death, supporters of Zambia’s Late President Sata had vehemently denied that the 77 year-old president was terminally ill, despite missing important meetings.

while detractors scheme day and night to divide us, our resolve must always be to remain united

It was in late September that Sata was slated to deliver a speech at the UN General Assembly. And despite the fact that he has made the trip to New York, the Zambian president failed to show up.

As many wondered why Sata had missed his speech as announced, officials explained that he was being treated by US State Department doctors in his hotel room.

In the face of the New York hotel room incident, members of Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) party continued denying that the president was ill even though he had not been seen in public for about three months prior to opening a new Zambian parliamentary session in September.

Behind the scenes, party loyalists were jockeying for position.

Sata’s unexpected dismissal of heir apparent Wynter Kabimba on 28 August as justice minister and PF secretary general threw succession planning within the ruling party into disarray.
President Sata did not give any explanation for sacking Kabimba.

Although he did not publicly declare his intention to succeed Sata, Kabimba, working with the influential The Post newspaper, was seen to be positioning himself for 2016 – a move that made him a very divisive figure within the ruling party.

With Kabimba dismissed, Sata immediately appointed Edgar Lungu to succeed him both as PF secretary general and justice minister. Lungu also doubled as defence minister.

Shortly after the announcement of the president’s bereavement, inside reports revealed that Lungu, who was acting as president as Sata was being treated in London, had initially hesitated handing over the presidency to vice president Guy Scott.

Lungu could technically not take over as Zambia’s president, otherwise an amendment Zambia’s constitution would have been needed. The constitution states that the vice president should be installed as interim president should the incumbent die in office.

And with the same constitution limiting elected presidency to third generation Zambians, Scott who is not of Zambian parentage is barred from contesting the next presidential race.

According to some insiders, Lungu does not have the organisational prowess and credentials to match Kabimba. One plus for Lungu, however, is that he is not from the Bemba ethnic group, and he could be useful in showing that the party is not dominated by Bemba.

Lungu is from Eastern Province and is a member of parliament representing the sprawling Chawama constituency in Lusaka. He has been a loyal PF member since its beginnings in 2001.

Lungu spurns Facebook fan page

Lungu sent signals of reconciliation shortly after his appointment. And as Sata’s successor remained unclear, some PF supporters urged him to seize the opportunity.

“My message to PF members is that while detractors scheme day and night to divide us, our resolve must always be to remain united and solely support our party and Republican President Michael Chilufya Sata and the ideals that he stands for in the PF,” Lungu said in reaction to the launch of a Facebook page to champion his candidature for the 2016 presidential polls.

Should he see himself as a potential successor, Lungu is expected to face resistance from sports minister Chishimba Kambwili and Sata’s eldest son Mulenga, who is the mayor of Lusaka.

Kambwili, an abrasive PF national youth secretary, has been mobilising his own camp in the meantime.

Lungu enjoys the support of finance minister Alexander Chikwanda, an influential member of the ruling party. Although Chikwanda took over many of Sata’s responsibilities when he bedridden, lacks the clout to run in the succession race.

As justice minister, Lungu’s political skills have been tested by the debate on revising the constitution, before Sata’s death.

The constitutional review process, launched by Sata in 2011, has been bogged down by delays, secrecy and a lack of inclusiveness.

It is now not clear whether the new constitution will be approved before the next elections. ●

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