Zambia gets its first white vice president since independence in 1964

The decision by Zambian President Michael Sata to appoint a white Zambian politician, Guy Scott, sends reassuring signals to Zambians that their country has moved beyond post-colonial anger.

Jerome Delay/AP/File
In this Sept. 23 file photo, Zambia's new President Michael Sata waves at supporters after taking the oath of office on the steps of the supreme court in Lusaka, Zambia. On Sept. 29 Sata appointed Zambia's first white vice president, Guy Scott, since the country gained independence in 1964.

Zambia has a white vice president for the first time since the country gained independence from Britain 47 years ago.

The Sept. 29 appointment of Dr. Guy Scott by newly elected President Michael Sata has powerful symbolic value in post-colonial Africa, a sign of how Zambia has moved beyond the divisive racial politics that has dominated the continent for five decades. Other decisions taken by Mr. Sata in the past week are a hint that Sata’s regime is likely to blend populist gestures and moderate policies in ways aimed at satisfying frustrated voters without scaring off foreign investors.

Tinashe Nyastianu, a former chairman of the Zimbabwean opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) youth wing, commends Sata for choosing a white vice president.

“It is good to have many ethnic groups living and working together in your country because it brings prosperity. Sata knows it will serve Zambia well internationally because he has shown that he does not hold grudges against colonial masters,” says Nyastianu, who fled Zimbabwe after repeated physical assaults by the police forces loyal to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

“This is contrary to what is happening in my country [Zimbabwe],” adds Mr. Nyastianu, who now lives and works in Chingola. “Mugabe does not want to share power. He controls everything just to promote his political interests. If you ask Zimbabweans whether they support his racial policies, especially the land grabbing policy, they will tell you they don’t. But they cannot do anything about it because that man is a dictator and has no regard for other races and fellow Zimbabweans.”

Cabinet appointments are just one indication, of course, of what a ruling party will do in power. In addition to appointing Dr. Scott as vice president, Sata also has imposed, and then lifted, a ban on the export of Zambian metal ore by foreign exporters, after assuring himself that Zambia was receiving the proper amount of export revenues. And early this week, Sata personally intervened to stop the forced sale of Zambia’s private Finance Bank – owned by a top Sata supporter, Rajan Mahtani, who is currently under investigation for fraud. Sata said the investigation of Mr. Mahtani was politically motivated by his predecessor, President Rupiah Banda. All of these are indications that some things will change greatly under Sata, while other things will remain much the same.

And while Scott is white, his politics are informed by a long association of his family with Zambian nationalists who fought for separation from British colonial rule. Scott, who was born in the Zambian city of Livingstone – across the river from the Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls – joined active politics in 1990 as a member of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, and later switched to the Patriotic Front of Michael Sata.

His late father, Alexander Scott, an ally of Zambian nationalists, was a founder of anti-colonial-government newspapers including the African Mail, which became the government-owned Zambia Daily Mail.

“I am deeply honored because I know it’s a popular appointment,” Scott told reporters after his appointment. “Everybody has been saying to me, we have been expecting it, we are looking forward to it and people have been so celebratory, just the few people I have met. So I feel very honored to be very popular, if you like, in this position. I will do my damn best to do right for the people who put me here.”

Rich in minerals such as copper, gold, and cobalt, and thought to have a potential for oil exploration, Zambia has been a destination of investors from many developed countries and registers thousands of companies every year, according to Zambia Development Agency reports. But populist politics – including threats to chase out Chinese investors – and the costs of doing business in a landlocked African nation still can be impediments to sustained foreign investment.

David Brentford, a British investor working as commercial manager of a group of companies that handle transport, mine construction, and agriculture, says Scott’s appointment shows “a lot of openness and transparency. At the end of the day, it’s the best man for the job. Color is not an issue any more. It’s forgotten. You know, colonialism is gone. It’s finished. And we need African countries to become strong and prosperous.”

“It sends a very strong message in terms bolstering investor confidence in Zambia,” Mr. Brentford adds. “The rest of the world wants to invest in Africa; the only continent that can grow is Africa. America is saturated, Europe is saturated. Japan, Taiwan, and China are saturated. People have to invest in Africa. That’s the only way you are going to grow, to invest money, and to grow money, you have to come to Africa. And [Scott’s appointment] sends a message across to the rest of the world. It is only good news, absolutely.”

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