Africa has a white head of state for the first time since the apartheid regime collapsed in South Africa 20 years ago.
Guy Scott, a Cambridge-educated economist, was named interim president of Zambia on Wednesday after the country’s president, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital at the age of 77. A former farmer and legislator, Scott previously served as the country’s Minister of Agriculture and oversaw recovery of a severe drought in the 1990s. “The period of national mourning will start today. We will miss our beloved president and comrade,” Scott said in a televised address. “Elections for the office of president will take place within 90 days. In the interim I am acting president.”
Ninety days may be all he gets because of a “parentage clause” in the country’s constitution which requires the president to be a third generation Zambian.
Although Scott was born in Northern Rhodesia, the British protectorate which became Zambia in 1964, his parents were born in Scotland. This may be a sticking point for his opponents in the coming election. Analysts believe that he will be allowed to serve as interim president because of the country’s line of succession which is also outlined by the Zambian constitution but not allowed to run for president in the coming months.
As one of only about 40,000 white people in a country of 13 million, race is something that came up often for Scott — and for Sata too.
“Michael’s very clever,” Scott told the Guardian about his former “boss” President Sata. “He knows people tend to regard him as a racist because he talks rough.”
But, Scott continued, “He’s usually tried it out on me already. He says things like, ‘What would you be if you weren’t white?’ I said, ‘The president?’ That shut him up.”
On how he’s received by other African leaders, Scott said, “I think they regard me as a sort of mascot, a good luck charm for African politics.”
Not everyone is concerned with Scott’s lineage or race, though.
“He is a black man in a white man’s skin,” Nathan Phiri, a bus driver, told Reuters. “The very fact we accepted him as vice-president shows that we consider him as one of us.”
It’s unclear who will run for the president from the popular Patriotic Front party, and several ministers began to vie for power after Sata became ill. Paired with the constitutional eligibility standards are enforced against Scott.
“There is a bit of a fight in the Patriotic Front to see who’s going to be the candidate and there’s been a lot of jockeying and positioning,” Gary van Staden, a political analyst at Paarl, told Bloomberg. “That’s all a bit open at the moment.”
President Sata was a controversial figure who earned the name “King Cobra” for his defiant and sharp tongued approach to politics. Zambia is largely dependent on its copper mining industry, and Sata gained clout for his criticism of foreign investors.
On the campaign trail in 2011, Sata said that he would punish Chinese managers who shot 13 workers who protested their wages in 2010 but the charges were later quietly dropped.
Although Sata promised to tackle corruption and create jobs, his time in office was marred by economic decline and a crackdown on opposition politicians.