When it was reported on October 28th that Zambian President Michael Sata died at a hospital in London, many Zambians met the news with skepticism. Sata was democratically elected and had come to power under the political party Patriotic Front. He was elected as the country’s 5th President and has served as Head of State of the nation since 2011.
Lack of official notification from the Zambian state meant that there was much speculation surrounding his death. Having heard similar stories due to Sata’s prolonged illness, Zambians were justified in seeking confirmation of this news.
Sata died at King Edward VII’s hospital, in Central London where he had been hospitalized for a little over a week. Initially, news of his death circulated on social media and on Zambia’s online press. Reports of the Zambian flag flying at half-mast circulated on Twitter. Zambian websites who broke the news included Zambian Watchdog and Zambianreports.com who confirmed his death. A few hours later, other press sources were reporting the news that Sata had died.
He was known as a President with a sharp tongue but seemed to be popular with Zambians. The reaction to his death seems to be met with genuine remorse by a large number of Zambians worldwide who have been lamenting his passing. Particularly tragic is that the news came at the heels of celebrating Zambia’s 50th Independence Day this past weekend.
Smooth Succession or Crisis?
It is not yet clear who will take over the reigns as Zambia’s head of state. Under the Zambian constitution, the President should be replaced by his vice-president pending a new election which is to be held within 90 days.
The current Vice-President, Guy Scott may be allowed to be the Acting President, but may be prevented from running for Presidency under his own ticket due to legal qualifications. Although he was born in Zambia, qualifying rules state that the President needs to have parents were born inside the country.
Since Sata’s illness, Scott has been assuming some of the duties of the President in his capacity as Vice President. However, during Sats’s recent absence, Defense Minister Edgar Lungu was also assuming the role of Acting President and performing some of the official duties. This unfolding situation may make for a complicated succession process which would lead to a potential constitutional crisis.
Zambians are hoping that the succession plan will not see the country go down the same path as their neighbor Malawi in 2012. When Malawi’s President late Bingu Mutharika died of a sudden heart attack whilst in office, the constitution’s succession laws came into question. Succession laws became a contentious topic, resulting in an attempted constitutional coup where a legal debate arose over that country’s succession laws that held the country captive for a few days.
As a country with a lot of mineral wealth, any prolonged delay in a successor will likely effect the Zambian economy. Zambia has been one of the world’s fastest growing economy over the past few years in part, due to the copper mining industry. However, like Malawi, is typically a politically stable country therefore it will be unlikely that it will lead to any significant incidents of political instability.
In Zambia’s case, so far there has been reports of an emergency meeting being held to discuss whether Lungu will lay claims to being the interim President. So far, no official news about the successor has been communicated from the Zambian government. The issue may be decided by the Zambian cabinet which meets early on Wednesday. As the Zambian people mourn their loss, they will also be waiting to hear about the future leadership of the country. As Acting President, Scott would make history as the first democratically elected White head of state in Africa.