Zambian President Sata under scrutiny

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.

Despite his promises to be different, it looks like politics as usual in this copper-rich southern African country.

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.

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 Chiluba over party leadership, and lost to Levy Mwanawasa, the man Chiluba picked to succeed him, in 2001 and 2006 presidential elections.

After Mwanawasa died in office in 2008, Sata lost a special election that year to Rupiah Banda, who had been Mwanawasa’s vice president. Sata finally won in 2011, defeating Banda in September.

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.

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