Is Zambia’s President Michael Sata on his deathbed? (updated)

Post updated following President Sata’s death on October 28; go to the bottom of the page.

zambia-president-michael-sata-UNDPPresident Michael Sata of Zambia, who has been very ill for quite some time (since June at the latest), has more or less disappeared from the country’s public eye, except occasionally resurfacing very briefly or issuing statements from doctors in Israel and the United States where he has been treated.

This is raising some questions as to whether he is on death’s door and why this is being suppressed to the extent it has been even in a democratic society. It’s almost as secretive as the 2009-2010 health crisis of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’adua, in which the leader of the most populous country in Africa disappeared to Saudi Arabia without explanation for four months and then returned for two months before passing away. In that situation, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was eventually declared Acting President, because of the uncertain situation and clear abandonment of the duties of the office, until it became permanently vacant. Jonathan was subsequently elected to his own term and remains president of Nigeria now.

In the case of Zambia right now, President Sata’s hasn’t stepped aside or handed over power, and his last statement in public (back in September) literally included the line “I’m not dead.” So that’s … not very reassuring.

Zambia celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain on Friday without the President’s involvement, heightening speculation. But there are bigger questions about who exactly is running the country at the moment. The draft of a new constitution he has stalled since taking office in September 2011 was released the day before the independence festivities, which could be a distraction tactic or a more sinister sign that other, unelected people are making major moves behind the scenes.

zambia-vice-president-Guy-Scott-us-government-photoIf 77-year-old President Sata dies, he would be succeeded automatically by Vice President Guy Scott, the country’s first White Vice President. His father was active in supporting the Black nationalist independence movement, and the family has remained involved in the country’s self-governing politics since then.

If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Scott, who is himself 70 years old, would be the only White head of state in Africa right now and probably the first since the Apartheid regime in South Africa ended in 1994.
Update 2 @ 2:25 AM US Eastern Time: A government official has confirmed the news to Reuters.

Update 1 October 29, 2014 @ 1 AM US Eastern Time: Unconfirmed reports in Zambian news media say President Sata passed away in London last night. Thompson Reuters Foundation:

Zambian President Michael Sata has died in London, where he had been receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness, three private Zambian media outlets said on Wednesday.

The reports on the private Muzi television station and the Zambia Reports and Zambian Watchdog websites said the southern African nation’s cabinet was about to meet.

Government officials gave no immediate comment.

The reports said Sata had died on Tuesday evening at London’s King Edward VII hospital. The hospital declined to comment.

According to a report by, power is set to be handed to Scott, although perhaps not quietly…

The remaining Zambian cabinet was due to meet at 05: 00 hours on Wednesday Zambian time to formalise power transfer to vice-president Guy Scott, government sources have revealed.

The main agenda of the meeting was for acting president [and Defense Minister] Edgar Lungu to handover power to Scott. Most likely, it is after this formality that the Zambia government will announce the passing on of president Michael Sata.

It is not yet clear if Lungu will agree to handover as he may argue that he is the one to lead the country to the by-election. Lungu and some ministers had a meeting around midnight when they heard the news.

Minister Lungu assumed the role of “acting presidency” while Sata was out of the country for health treatments, but in the event of the president’s death the vice president is automatically declared acting president for 90 days until a special election is held. The Zambian Watchdog website broke the story of Sata’s passing overnight and has been tracking President Sata’s illnesses for several years now.


Nigeria’s president is dead

This is not altogether unexpected, as he had been in very poor health for some time now, but Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’adua has passed away, an aide confirmed to the BBC. President Yar’adua had returned two months ago after a lengthy and mysterious health trip to Saudi Arabia, but Acting President Goodluck Jonathan (the Vice President) remained at the helm, as he has been since February. Yar’adua’s death should help resolve the lingering constitutional questions that threatened to destabilize the political scene in the oil-rich west African nation that contains about 15% of the continent’s entire population. President Yar’adua had been in Saudi Arabia for about 90 days, refusing to meet with or speak to officials, before the Nigerian government agreed to transfer power formally to Vice President Jonathan. By the time he returned to Nigeria to live out his final days, he had been out of the country and unaccounted for, for approximately three months.

Yar’adua’s death also seals the amazing storybook rise of Mr. Jonathan, which I summarized in February, when he was made Acting President:

He’s a zoologist and a hydrobiologist, who was an environmental minister briefly and fortuitously became governor after being chosen as a lieutenant governor in his state under a corrupt governor who resigned; then he was unexpectedly chosen as running mate by the outgoing president orchestrating the 2007 PDP ticket that won, and now he’s suddenly President.

UPDATE @ 10:27 PM: The NY Times has posted their summary of the Yar’adua presidency. Mixed reviews but some positive (small) steps toward governmental reform, basically.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Nigerian VP assumes control

The National Assembly finally formally declared Nigeria’s Vice President Goodluck Jonathan the acting president, earlier this week, resolving the constitutional crisis of who was running the OPEC member nation that represents over 15% of Africa’s entire population, in the somewhat mysterious absence of President Umaru Yar’adua. Most of the American media had ignored the fact that the president had been in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment with no defined plans to return SINCE NOVEMBER. Nigeria’s Senate finally agreed to promote VP Jonathan after a BBC interview with President Yar’adua was released a month ago, in which he sounded very weak and again gave no indication of an imminent return. President Yar’adua repeatedly refused to issue a statement regarding a transfer of power for over 70 days.

The United States rushed to welcome him as Acting President because of the growing threat of instability as the political crisis continued. The US relies on Nigerian oil more and more every year.

I’m still baffled as to how this happened and why it wasn’t made into a big deal, as it should have been. In addition to an attempted major terrorist attack by a Nigerian, the country has faced some serious violence and rebel attacks, while the president has been gone.

Also, for the human interest angle, check out this article [dead link] on the amazing luck Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has had his whole life. He’s a zoologist and a hydrobiologist, who was an environmental minister briefly and fortuitously became governor after being chosen as a lieutenant governor in his state under a corrupt governor who resigned; then he was unexpectedly chosen as running mate by the outgoing president orchestrating the 2007 PDP ticket that won, and now he’s suddenly President. And what a boss hat he wears.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Speaking of Nigeria…

Nigeria has been in the news a bunch over the past week because the trust-fund terrorist was the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and retired politician. But the world American media somehow failed to notice that Nigeria’s president has been out of the picture. One would expect a high-level response to something like this. One would also expect that the media would notice if the president of a nation, specifically one representing 15.4% of the population of all of Africa combined, hasn’t been running the place for over a month. Guess not.

Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan said on Friday he was hopeful that President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is in hospital in Saudi Arabia, would return soon and continue to govern Africa’s most populous nation.

Yar’Adua has been absent for more than a month and Jonathan has been presiding over cabinet meetings. But executive powers have not officially been transferred, leading to questions over the legality of government decisions.

Political analysts, senior lawyers and a former U.S. envoy have warned Nigeria is on the brink of a constitutional crisis. The Bar Association has brought legal action to try to compel Yar’Adua to temporarily hand over power.

Vice President Jonathan insists that the government is running smoothly, but opposition members have pointed out that some policies aren’t being executed and that President Yar’adua wasn’t present to swear in the new chief justice who would have to swear in a replacement president… and therefore he may not legally be the new chief justice. It’s a bit of a constitutional conundrum. The Vice President has, for all intents and purposes, assumed control of the cabinet anyhow. The government will be rolling out more stimulus plans for the country’s economy, he said.

But with ongoing instability problems, rebel groups, and the possibility of Muslim extremism heightened with the recent terrorist attempt by the Nigerian man, it’s important that whoever is making decisions has legitimacy to make them. Order could break down if people start challenging Vice President Jonathan’s legal authority to enforce the law, which is beginning in the courts and could easily spread to discontented areas of the country. While the last presidential election had serious flaws (a.k.a. blatant rigging), it was at least a relatively peaceful continuation of the new democracy – setting aside several bombings and assassination attempts – and was a stable, non-military transition of power from one president to the next. The last thing Nigeria (or its neighbors) needs right now is a collapse into civil war. I’m not saying this is very likely yet, but it’s a possibility given tensions and economic conditions at the moment. So it would be best to resolve this as quickly as possible.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.