MICHAEL Chilufya Sata was 27 years old when Northern Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zambia on October 24, 1964.
The republic’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda was then 40 years old.
Sata, sworn in as the fifth president of the republic is 74 years old. His vice-president, Guy Scott, born in Livingstone in 1944, is 67.
Both men have history on their sides: it will be entirely up to their judgment to learn lessons from the rule of Sata’s four predecessors.
Zambia has not achieved its full potential. Its mineral wealth ought to have assured it of a very robust economy,
Mind you, not all the countries which followed Ghana into independence have truly measured up to what was expected of them.
South Africa, with the largest economy, has still not ended the darkness of apartheid, with its poor still wallowing in the same filth as they did under the Afrikaners.
Unlike two of its next-door neighbours, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe, Zambia had no real, bloody civil wars to contend with.
Around independence, there was the so-called Lumpa Uprising. It was led by Alice Lenshina: Kaunda, an avowed Christian, once said he was surprised at what she had done: they had been at school together in Chinsali in the Northern Province.
He wondered aloud what had possessed her to lead the uprising.
Another incident was an attempt by Barotseland to secede from independent Zambia.
But Kaunda managed to hold everything together — and went on to rule the country for 27 years. It was not an entirely successful reign, economy-wise.
The DRC, with its massive potential, remains a political and economic basket case. Zimbabwe, during whose civil war 20 000 mostly unarmed men, women and children perished, is still to hold genuinely free and fair elections.
It is far from having achieved its full potential — sanctions or no sanctions.
Its attempts to “indigenise”the economy might be seen by many cynics as being as hare-brained as Kaunda’s nationalisation of the mines four years after independence.
Sata and Scott might deserve to succeed because of their early recognition of the early liberation heroes of their country – Kaunda himself, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and Harry Mwanga Nkumbula.
All three now have airports named after them.
Nkumbula was at the helm of the struggle before Kaunda joined him. They eventually fell out.
Kapwepwe was with Kaunda from the beginning. But they fell out too, some would say with tragic consequences for Kapwepwe.
Many years after independence, he formed his own party. It failed to dislodge UNIP. He died while apparently watching television in his daughter’s lounge.
Sata is a Bemba, like Kapwepwe.
But he went one better and named another airport after “the old lion”, Nkumbula, a member of the minority Ila ethnic group from the Southern Province, which, with the majority Tonga and smaller Lenje was dominated by his African National Congress until a merger with Kaunda’s UNIP in the early 1970s.
Guy Scott’s choice as Sata’s Number Two is not strictly for the purposes of wooing the whites or foreign investment.
Scott is a solidly patriotic Zambian. His father founded The African Mail, the forerunner of The Central African Mail on which I worked for three years under Richard Hall and Kelvin Mlenga.
I got to know Scott at this time. Although he was not on the editorial staff, I got to know of his commitment to the independence of Northern Rhodesia and the dismemberment of the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
There is absolutely no chance that his choice as vice-president has any element of “tokenism” on Sata’s part. Guy Scott is entirely his own man.
Both men know the history of their country inside-out, which must qualify them to point it in a direction as different from the past as it is possible to be.
Zambia’s failure to achieve its full potential is not unique in Africa; it is the greed of the few and the neglect of many.
Neither man could be unaware of this hard, ugly fact of Africa’s failure to rise from the filth of poverty, which ought to be its reward for winning independence from colonialism.