Zambia has always been one of the least reported-on countries in the international press. There’s something about its lack of conflict, regular elections, and no great examples of easy “Africa rising” narratives that gives the country a low profile.
That is, until Wednesday.
With the death of President Michael Sata, Zambia lost an iconic leader. A man that fused populist politics with economic nationalism—who after decades in opposition—was elected to the post by a largely urban, largely poor base.
Sata’s death also unleashed a flood of speculation in both Zambian and international media around the details of succession. But while Zambian media focused on the details and interpretations of the constitution—a 90 day caretaker presidency before a mandated general election—the international buzz was mostly around race. Earlier this month, when Zambian Vice President, Guy Scott, stood in for Sata at the UN General Assembly it led The Economist magazine to speculate on whether Scott, a white Zambian, would become acting president in the event of Sata’s death, making him “the first white man to head an African state since the end of apartheid in South Africa two decades ago.” This narrative has dominated the international response since.