from Africa in Transition

Zambia’s Populist President

January 26, 2012

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Zambia’s president Michael Sata gave a January 22 interview to London’s the Telegraph newspaper that is worth reading. This interview is the first Sata has given to the international media. (The Telegraph is often regarded as the more conservative of the UK’s quality newspapers with a national circulation.)

Sata is in many ways an old line, populist politician. He was elected president of Zambia last year with a plurality of the votes, campaigning as a champion of the poor and against corruption. The election was credible, and Sata was sworn-in without opposition. Sata prides himself on his sharp tongue and appears to like the moniker ’King Cobra.’

In the interview, Sata makes it clear he has a love-hate relationship with the UK, where he was once a railway worker. "But every hour I spent on manual work, every hour I was humiliated in England or degraded has helped me, because that’s the same way other people feel in the townships here." On the other hand, as the interviewer observes, he is also looking to the West and the UK to balance Chinese influence in Zambia.

His comments on Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe have also attracted attention in Harare. He called Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai a "stooge," and said that constitutional reform and a reformed voters roll were not prerequisites for new elections, despite South African president Jacob Zuma’s insistence on them. The Telegraph quotes Sata as saying, "You people, the Western countries, you taught us that democracy is elections. Now somebody wants elections and you say no."

Sata’s comments may reflect the solidarity he feels with Mugabe as a leader of the "liberation struggle." However, President Sata also told the Telegraph that Zambia must solve its own problems before involving itself in the problems of other countries. His comments on Zimbabwe may signal that he is not prepared to get involved in Zimbabwean political developments at present. That would be consistent with his populist orientation.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Zimbabwe

Heads of State and Government

Zambia

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