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Zambia 2014 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

HE Michael Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia.

HE Michael Sata
BIOGRAPHY
HE Michael Sata is President of the Republic of Zambia.

President Michael Sata's political acumen and rhetorical virtuosity have earned him the affectionate title of “King Cobra" from his supporters, who voted the 74-year-old politician into power in 2011. President Sata is proud of his humble past, and often harkens back to the days when he swept railway platforms at London's Victoria Station, telling one reporter, “I never got any complaints about my work. I want to sweep my country even cleaner than I swept the station." This mindfulness translates into a language that millions of poor Zambians living in poverty can understand, and drives the country's development policies. This same attention to working-class struggles can be seen in the President's efforts to combat high-level corruption that undercuts not only the national interest, but also those of workers in the country's mining and manufacturing industries.

However, the way in which President Sata shifted his policies and rhetoric are a testament to his political acumen, as well as his willingness to refine his agenda to suite national needs. Although President Sata was elected in 2011, he campaigned for the position three times before ultimately succeeding. During these campaigns, he pulled no punches in his criticism of international businesses, such as Chinese mine operators that were accused of exploiting local labor and resources. However, after his election in 2011, President Sata's rhetoric was conciliatory as he warned that as long as local laws were adhered to, there would be no need to point fingers. This transition reflected an evolution from campaigner to leader; wherein, President Sata realized that strong rule of law was a powerful tool in molding corporate behavior in the country. This strategy has paid in spades, as foreign investors continue to place their confidence in Zambia, and regulations are put in place to protect local interests.

President Sata rose to prominence as part of the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) under Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, where he served as Governor of Lusaka and later as a UNIP MP. In 2001, President Sata formed the populist Patriotic Front Party (PF) along with Vice-President Dr. Guy Scott. During his three unsuccessful presidential runs, President Sata struck a populist tone, but fortunately did not dampen economic progress. By 2008, President Sata's platform reflected a pragmatic acceptance of the importance of Chinese firms in the country, and instead focused on leveling the playing field and ensuring that Zambians benefited from the developing international trade ties.

A cornerstone of President Sata's reform polices has been his fight against corruption. Shortly after his election in 2011, President Sata appointed a new Anti-Corruption Commissioner (ACC) Chief. Under Sata, the government reinstated the abuse of office clause in the Anti-Corruption Act. Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee scrutinized the operations of the executive, and followed up on reported irregularities. In education, the ACC undertook preventative measures with both public and private institutions to ensure that corruption prevention was the norm, and to foster transparency in the provisioning of public services. In the judiciary, President Sata replaced a number of ensconced judges while suspending three for misconduct. Other areas subjected to the President's anti-corruption agenda include the Directorate of Public Prosecution, and the Financial Intelligence Unit, where a new board of directors was given an enhanced directive in 2012.

President Sata has proven his mettle through his willingness to upend legal precedent in order to ensure that Zambians are not disadvantaged. When the president appointed Sebastian Zulu as the Minister of Justice, he was tasked with uncovering shady dealings regarding the 75% sale of the state-owned telecommunications network Zamtel, to LAP Green Network, a highly-publicized and politically charged deal that went down during 2010-2011. Creative accounting by the auditors brought in to work on the deal had found Zamtel to have negative equity, meaning that the company was sold for a fraction of its value. The $257 million sale was ultimately reversed in 2012.

Educational development is another cornerstone of President Sata's agenda. As of September 2014, the government has completed the construction of 41 of the 84 targeted secondary schools, representing a 49% completion rate, while the remaining 43 schools are well on their way to completion. President Sata has affirmed his commitment to establishing at least one university in each of Zambia's 10 provinces. In order to address a current shortage of student housing, the government is building student housing across the country. So far work has started on 4,160 bed-space student hostels at the University of Zambia, 3,200 student residencies for Copperbelt University, 1,280 for Mulungushi University, and 960 bed spaces at the Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce. With these new facilities to complement the other university improvements, the Sata administration hopes to facilitate quality higher education in the coming years.

Under President Sata, the government has continued to increase the availability of health staff, health-related infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, and other medical supplies. These have been promoted in line with the administration's prioritization of access to quality health services for all Zambians. Responding to a shortage of healthcare workers, President Sata has raised standards in training institutions while starting construction on new schools. In total, 27 health-training institutions country-wide are under renovation and expansion. Upon completion, these investments will increase healthcare training capacity by 4,500 students, and bring the total to 10,000. In 2011, the government commissioned five new district health hospitals, in Lufwanyama, Chadiza, Chiengi, Nakonde, and Shangombo. By the end of 2014, construction will have started on eight additional district hospitals in Lufwanyama, Chadiza, Chiengi, Nakonde, and Shangombo. President Sata has also directed the Health Ministry to focus on four important, and measurable areas: a reduction in deaths of mothers in pregnancy and child birth; the elimination of malaria; the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV; and the elimination of shortages of drugs for hospitals and pharmacies.

In the area of governance and administration, President Sata has prioritized gender equality and childhood development in all state programs. In this regard, President Sata has championed laws that criminalize violence against women, in an effort to tackle escalating domestic violence. Aiding the president, the Zambian First Lady, Dr Christine Mwela Kaseba Sata, has championed this cause, using her experiences as a medical doctor to underpin the urgency of this agenda. The President and First Lady have actively campaigned against rape, defilement, sexual threats, exploitation, humiliation, assault, molestation, incest, and female genital mutilation (FGM), which are some of the sexual offences commonly committed against women and girls in the country. More recently, President Sata has gone after online bullying and sexual threats. From personal conduct to state level policy, President Sata has pursued an enhanced standard of living for Zambians and, if the past is any indication, this will remain a hallmark of his political career.