Zambian President Sata under scrutiny

2012-06-30 09:10

Lusaka - Zambia's populist president portrays himself as a corruption-buster, but critics are raising questions about the appointments he's made, his conduct and the lucrative contracts he has awarded for government work in the year since taking office.

President Michael Sata made his uncle his finance minister, appointed other relatives to other high government posts, and has picked a fight with the judiciary.

In Zambia and across Africa, multi-party contests and relatively peaceful elections are increasingly the norm. But governance often fails to meet voters' expectations, and entrenched parties can make a mockery of the trappings of democracy.

Power has changed hands in Zambia among a clique of politicians who jump from party to party as rivalries and allegiances shift. Politics is often more about personality than policy in this young democracy, with voters offered little more than a choice among strong men.

King Cobra

Sata was once a member of the late President Frederick Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy and served in Chiluba's Cabinet in the 1990s. Sata formed his own Patriotic Front party in 2001 after differing with late president Frederick Chiluba over party leadership.

Sata, known as King Cobra because of his sharp tongue, won support at home and abroad with his anti-corruption, pro-poor rhetoric.

He returned from a recent visit to Europe with a promise of private foreign investment in farming and a pledge from the British government of a three-year, 58 million pound grant to fight poverty.

"We are very impressed and encouraged by President Sata's personal and government commitment to fighting corruption," British Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell said. "We will continue to support Zambia's development activities, despite the recession in the eurozone."


But some Zambians are concerned about Sata's leadership, accusing him of nepotism and favouritism.
Sata also has been accused of undermining judicial independence. He has suspended two Supreme Court judges and one High Court judge who ruled against his ally, the Post newspaper, in a case involving a debt the newspaper and others owed.

Sata has accused the three judges of "professional misconduct" in the loan case and announced the appointment of a tribunal to investigate them.

Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the main opposition United Party for National Development, has expressed concern about the independence of the judiciary, and about the state of democracy in general under Sata.

But Zambians have reason to also be sceptical of claims by opposition members to be champions of democracy. Hakainde's UPND has not held internal elections for party leadership posts for almost a decade.