Late Zambian President Michael Sata campaigned for African unity and integration

by Patson Phiri in Lusaka, Zambia  – SANF 14 no 60
The death of President Michael Chilufya Sata has not only robbed Zambia of its leader, but also deprived southern Africa of a fearless campaigner for African unity and deeper regional integration.

President Sata died on Tuesday 28 October in a London hospital while undergoing treatment, according to a statement released by Roland Msiska, Secretary to the Cabinet.

Msiska announced in a televised address to Zambians on Wednesday 29 October that Sata died just after 10pm local time (2000 GMT) at the King Edward VII Hospital in central London.

“I urge all Zambians to be calm, united and peaceful,” he said, adding that “the nation will be informed of burial and other arrangements in due course.”

Born in Mpika in the then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1937, Sata was Zambia’s fifth president since the country got its independence from Britain 50 years ago — on 24 October 1964. The nation celebrated last week under the cloud of Sata’s illness.

He assumed the presidency on 23 September 2011 after defeating former president Rupiah Banda in elections held the same month.

Prior to this, Sata had participated in presidential elections four times and lost twice to the late Zambian leader Levy Mwanawasa and once to Banda in 2008.

Vice President Guy Scott is expected to become acting leader, according to the Zambian Constitution, while elections should be held within 90 days.

However, Scott, whose parents were born in Scotland, will not be able to participate in the presidential elections.

Defence Minister Edgar Lungu has been acting president since October 19 when Sata left for medical treatment.

Popularly known as “King Cobra”, Sata was a strong believer in African unity and deeper regional integration.

In one of his addresses to the African Union summit, he urged the continent not to be divided by outside forces when negotiating global deals. Rather, he called on African countries to always speak with one voice.

At the historic 20th United Nations World Tourism Organization General Assembly that was co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe in August 2013, Sata called for southern Africa to open up its borders through the introduction of a common regional visa or visa-free regimes to boost tourism arrivals in the region.

Zimbabwe and Zambia have now agreed to pilot the Univisa arrangement under which they will have a common visa for visitors from other countries.

This is expected to deepen relations and provided an opportunity for both countries to jointly market their tourist attractions.

Sata was a social democrat, who broke away from the then ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) in 2001 to form the Patriotic Front (PF).

Prior to forming his party, Sata served as a minister in the government of late President Frederick Chiluba, who was the founding leader of the MMD.

His persistence to rule Zambia and championing the cause of the poor saw him emerge as a leading opposition presidential hopeful. Despite the successive electoral losses he suffered, he persevered in his quest to head Africa’s largest copper producer.

Brought up in Mpika in the Northern Province, Sata worked as a police officer, railway man and trade unionist during the colonial era.

His political career dates back to the Northern Rhodesia era when he joined the United National Independence Party (UNIP) in 1963.

Following independence, he worked his way up through the ranks of the then ruling UNIP led by Zambia’s first president Kenneth Kaunda to become governor of Lusaka in 1985.

As governor, he made his mark as a man of action with a hands-on approach. He cleaned up the streets, patched roadways and built bridges in the city.

He then became a Member of Parliament for Kabwata constituency in Lusaka but soon left UNIP to join the newly formed MMD during the campaign for multi-party politics in 1991.

After Chiluba defeated Kaunda in 1991, Sata served in various portfolios in the MMD government, including as minister for local government, labour and later health where he is credited with transforming the country’s health system.

This is the second time a serving Zambian leader has died in office, after Mwanawasa died in France in 2008.

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