Lessons from Sata's death

HARARE - Our hearts go to the people of Zambia who have suffered the loss of yet another leader in power, President Michael Sata, following the death, also in power, of President Levy Mwanawasa in 2008.

The 77-year-old King Cobra, as the fiery Sata was popularly referred to in Zambia, modelled his personal and party political style after President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.

Sata died in the UK yesterday after receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment, in London’s King Edward VII hospital.

For the people of Zambia, the death of Sata means another tilt at a costly and potentially fraught plebiscite to elect another leader, as the country’s constitution dictates that a successor must be chosen within three months of the death of the previous leader.

All this notwithstanding, there are a number of important lessons that can be drawn by countries such as Zimbabwe from both the illnesses and tragic deaths of leaders such as Sata, Mwanawasa and Malawi’s late Bingu wa Mutharika.

The first is that outside of South Africa, African countries generally have a poor record of managing their leaders’ health, often going out of their way to mislead their citizens about the real state of health of those who are in control of the levers of power.

For example, although it was an open secret that Sata had been seriously unwell for a long time, Zambian government apparatchiks denied this, including accurate independent media reports that he had gone abroad for medical assistance earlier this month.

This negative tendency to mislead citizens about their leaders’ health creates the space for the kind of nasty succession wars such as those that we are currently witnessing in Zanu PF.

The other lesson in the tragic illnesses and deaths of the likes of Sata, Mwanawasa and Mutharika is that all these leaders never contributed much to the development of quality medical services in their countries. Indeed, instead of investing money in hospitals, for example, they squandered their countries’ wealth on luxury cars and other trinkets.

In that light, each time they fell seriously ill, they shamelessly went abroad for treatment — a massive vote of no confidence in the facilities that other lesser mortals had to make do with in their countries.

Let all African leaders take heed of this.


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