Guy Scott, the 70-year-old Cambridge-educated economist whose parents are Scottish and English, is a genuinely popular politician who describes himself as ‘a white Zambian but not representing white interests’
He has been called “a scaly old dude” by George W Bush and derided as a “sick old man” by Zambia’s opposition, but today Guy Scott assumed another title: Africa’s only white president.
The Cambridge-educated economist became vice-president of Zambia when Michael Sata won power in September 2011.
The pair were old political allies and firm friends. Despite there being only 40,000 whites among Zambia’s 13 million people, there was little surprise over Mr Sata’s decision to appoint a white deputy – even though this raised the possiblity of a white man becoming head of state, as indeed happened.
Mr Scott, a father-of-four, is genuinely popular, widely credited with rescuing Zambia from a food crisis caused by a drought when he was agriculture minister in the 1990s.
Nonetheless, Mr Scott conceded that his election on Mr Sata’s ticket was not universally applauded. Opponents have cited his heritage as a reason why he should not hold high office in a former British Protectorate which won independence 50 years ago.
“I don’t think Michael thought it was a racial thing, he just thought it was a good idea,” Mr Scott told The Telegraph during an interview in 2012. “I’ve been involved in politics here for a long time. As a schoolboy I was involved in the liberation movement.”
As vice-president, Mr Scott enjoyed the consternation his appointment sometimes provoked. “You see people’s jaws drop, they think there’s been a mistake with the seating plan or something,” he said. “A white Zambian but not representing white interests, that’s the point.”
The colourful and plain-speaking 70-year-old was born in the town of Livingstone, beside the Victoria Falls, with a Scottish father and English mother.
His father had emigrated to what was then the British Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia in 1927, where he worked variously as a doctor, a politician fighting for African rights, a lawyer and a newspaper publisher.
Mr Scott Junior returned to Britain to study mathematics and economics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He later took a doctorate in cognitive science from Sussex University and lectured in robotics at Oxford.
Mr Scott has spoken of the need to keep controversial leaders, such as President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, within the diplomatic fold rather than isolate them. He claims to get along “like a house on fire” with Mr Mugabe.
The government led by himself and the late Mr Sata is credited with restoring some of Zambia’s tattered infrastructure projects and spending more on health and education.
As vice-president, Mr Scott acted as a go-between for sharp-tongued president, popularly known as “King Cobra”, and his sometimes despairing ministers.
“Being vice-anything is difficult,” he told the Telegraph in his mahogany-lined office in the capital, Lusaka, where he took calls from ministers and conveyed their problems to “The Boss”, as he called Mr Sata.
“If you’re too proactive, you tread on the boss’s toes, and if you’re too inactive, you are a waste of space,” said Mr Scott.
He received the accolade “scaly old dude” from Mr Bush when the latter visited Zambia to support a charity after leaving office.
Mr Scott now lives with his wife, Charlotte, on a farm outside Lusaka, where he has spoken of his wish to enjoy a peaceful retirement among the frangipani trees. Like the late president, Mr Scott has been dogged by rumours of ill-health, including one suggesting that he was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s Disease.
As vice-president, Mr Scott had to worry about his personal security – and that will be doubly true now that he is Zambia’s acting head of state. “It’s always going to be high-risk,” he told the Telegraph in 2012. “You’re never quite sure to what extent they’re going to try do a Romania on you and take control of the country or if they’re going to just fall in. For a while, my bodyguards had rockets set up at my house. Your private life goes out the window. I can’t go out for dinner any more.”
But Mr Scott could not hide a certain gleefulness about the “boys’ toys” that come with high office in poor African countries – in his case, a helicopter and two motorcades.
Helping to run Zambia brought a “sheer sense of achievement” not easily attainable elsewhere, he said. “I would have climbed the north face of the Eiger but I’m not fit enough and I’m scared of heights and I hate the cold.”