— Telegraph News (@TelegraphNews) October 29, 2014
When Zambian president Michael Sata died last Tuesday, his vice president, Guy Scott, stepped in to take his place until new elections are organized, thus becoming the first white head of state in a post-colonial African democracy. Alexander Mutale calls this “a remarkable moment” that “says a lot about this particular country’s remarkable success in navigating the complexities of post-colonial ethnic politics”:
Despite its temporary character, Scott’s appointment still marks a watershed for post-colonial Africa. It’s a sign of how Zambia has managed to move beyond the divisive racial politics that has dominated the continent for five decades — in sharp contrast to, say, neighboring Zimbabwe, where the colonial past still weighs heavily on the political present. Zambia’s unique position attests to the enduring legacy of its first post-independence leader, President Kenneth Kaunda, who strongly advocated policies that encouraged ethnic, religious, racial, and regional integration. Despite more than 70 different tribal groups, the country’s reputation for stability has made it something of a model for other African democracies.
Scott can’t run in the elections for Sata’s permanent successor because Zambia’s constitution requires that presidential candidates have Zambian-born parents. Scott’s parents emigrated from, well, Scotland, but if he were eligible, Stephen Chan doubts that voters would reject him simply on account of his race:
In fact, Scott would have made a very good president – and he would have been accepted by the voters, who would even have boasted about their taste for irony and the good race relations their country had accomplished. The world might raise its eyebrows, but this 90-day caretaker period will be a footnote in African history. A footnote, but a meaningful one nonetheless: even after an atrocious colonial history in which white rulers earned themselves an appalling reputation, Zambia is showing how a majority black nation can be rather more mature about these things than most of the old colonial powers.
Namwali Serpell rolls her eyes at how foreign media have made Scott’s race the headline of the story, noting that Zambians, by and large, have more important things on their minds:
Zambians have been more focused on another constitutional change, to electoral policy: from a simple majority to a “50% plus one vote” majority, with a run-off between two finalists if necessary. This makes a big difference in a democracy that evinces a true commitment to a multi-party system (the last election had 10 parties with statistically significant votes). With this kind of complexity, the wisest move on PF’s part is to allow white Guy Scott, the man least likely to run, to hold the reins until the real contenders have wrangled it out. What’s on people’s minds isn’t the colour of Scott’s skin; it’s which candidate PF will select among the range of other possible successors to Sata
This African scholar also downplays the race thing: