On his deathbed in a London hospital a couple of weeks ago, Zambian president Michael Sata is said to have dictated a note in which he named his preferred successor.
His name is Given Lubinda, a former minister in Sata’s government, but who is currently relegated to the backbench after a run-in with senior party officials. When asked about this, Lubinda said he had heard of the development, but he would not comment further.
The meeting in London was attended by Sata’s wife, Christine Kaseba, a son from a previous marriage, Mulenga Sata, now mayor of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, an official from the UK foreign office, Sata’s security and medical staff.
Since the president died on 28 October, divisions within the late Sata’s ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF) have torn the party apart and thrown the country into widespread uncertainty.
To date, there has been no mention of a preferred successor. The Zambian Constitution provides for a period of 90 days during which the vice president, in this case Guy Scott, must act as president while preparing the country for the election of a new president.
There are 16 known potential contenders for the presidency. Scott himself is disqualified from standing since his parents were not born in Zambia, which is a constitutional requirement.
A further complication is that Scott is white. There are many people in Zambia who, while appreciating the hard work that he has done in helping bring the PF to power after 14 years of trying, are bemused by the idea of a white man as head of state, even as an acting head of state, although they generally welcomed Sata’s appointment of him as vice president.
Lubinda is a Lozi by tribe, and if he is to succeed Sata he will need to reach some accommodation with the powerful Bemba who have traditionally been the kingmakers in Zambia.
Sata and Lubinda have been close over the years but few would have guessed that Lubinda, who has kept a low profile after being mauled by officials within his own party, would be chosen for the top job – a decision that must now be tested in an election.
A further oddity in the list of contenders is that Sata’s widow has been named as a possible contender, as has her stepson, Mulenga Sata. The bizarre implications of a possible electoral fight between stepmother and stepson will merely add to the very strange current circumstances of the political order in Zambia.
President Sata has been obviously unwell for many months, but there was never any admission from anyone in authority that he was seriously ill.
Denials of his ill health, and outright lies, flowed from government officers, despite the fact that the stricken president was being flown around the world from one medical institution to another.
He was said to be on “a working holiday”, or “talking to potential investors” when anyone in media attempted to open a discussion on the president’s health, they were threatened with closure.
Naturally there was endless public speculation- made very quietly behind closed doors – about what was ailing the president. Guesses ranged from prostate trouble, to cancers of various sorts, to neurological problems.
Very few people would have known the truth, and they weren’t saying as the ailing president crisscrossed the world in a variety of aircraft, seeking a medical solution to his declining health. The country still does not know what killed Sata.
Now the problem is that is difficult to see that Sata’s endorsement of Lubinda will be accepted by many of those clamouring to be successors, let alone their various supporters in the streets