John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Zambia’s Populist President

by John Campbell
January 26, 2012

Zambia's President Michael Sata (R) arrives with Mozambique's President Armando Guebuza ahead of the upcoming African National Congress (ANC) centenary celebration in Bloemfontein January 7, 2012. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters)


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.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by John P. Causey, IV

    The recently launched American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia seems well-timed. Mr. Sata appears to have a general distrust of growing Chinese influence/investment in the country, and would like to see Western investment serve as a counter balance.

    UK would be the natural choice were it not for his open distrust of the country. In the interview he refers to UK as a devil, when he states, “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.” Surely, this is hyperbole, but this is no way to court a business partner.

    America offers a trusted English speaking partner, without the baggage the UK must clearly bring to the table in Zambia. Now, if you we could only convince American investors of the viability of Africa as a place to invest, and produce profits.

  • Posted by Al Gunn


    The UK Government certainly is interested in increasing trade relations with Zambia, though I worry that the UK is poorly prepared to exploit the existing opportunities.

    Speaking with experience of both countries, I don’t think there is any “baggage” especially. Bear in mind that the Vice-President’s parents were Scottish and English, though he was born in, as it was then, Northern Rhodesia.

    Sata’s reputation as somewhat erratic is well earned, but he has been consistent in complaining about the Chinese and it is what won him the election.

    Where can I find more information about the new Chamber of Commerce?


  • Posted by John P. Causey, IV


    I’m not sure on the best way to find information on the new Chamber of Commerce. It is very new, as such, there won’t be much information.

    Perhaps checking with the American Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. would be helpful.



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