Zambia Finance Minister Says He Is Targeted in Succession Battle

Zambian Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda said he is being targeted by rival politicians in a battle to succeed President Michael Sata as questions about the leader’s ill health persist.

Chikwanda, 75, said opponents are using local media to damage his reputation. He isn’t interested in becoming president because he’s too old and there won’t be an early election, he said in an interview yesterday in Lusaka, the capital of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer.

“There’s no vacancy as yet,” Chikwanda said. “Those people that think there might be a vacancy are making a presumption on the part of the Lord.”

Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front is facing a disruptive succession battle as Sata, 77, remains absent from political life. He hasn’t been seen in public since meeting with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao on June 20 and traveled to Israel shortly after that on a working holiday that included some medical treatment, according to the government.

Sata’s deputy, Guy Scott, is barred from taking over from him because a law disqualifies citizens with parents born outside Zambia from becoming president. Chikwanda and Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba have emerged as the main competitors to succeed Sata as the ruling party prepares for elections in two year’s time, according to Clare Allenson, an analyst at Eurasia Group.

Kabimba, 56, was Sata’s legal adviser when he was governor of Lusaka while Chikwanda served as finance minister under President Kenneth Kaunda, the nation’s first leader after it attained independence from the U.K. in 1964.

Mining Taxes

Chikwanda said in a statement on Aug. 20 that some media are being used to attack him by “political allies whose mission may have crash landed.” The Lusaka-based Post newspaper has run a series of articles alleging that Chikwanda’s business interests prompting him to consider reviewing value-added tax rules for the mining industry and refund a backlog of $600 million of withheld VAT payments to companies.

Chikwanda would make for a probable successor if Sata is unable to continue his term, Allenson said in a reply to e-mailed questions on Aug. 21. Kabimba, the ruling party’s secretary general, may take over “in the long run,” Stephen Chan, international relations professor at the University of London, said by e-mail.

The finance minister said he is being targeted because he has “good relations with people and I think that a substantial number of people within the party will listen to me.” He added: “I don’t have an agenda which is predicated on selfishness and my motive has always been service.”

Mwanawasa’s Death

A lack of transparency over Sata’s health has created confusion and political uncertainty, said Jotham Momba, a political science professor at the University of Zambia.

“There’s a lot of political work that’s been put in by Wynter Kabimba, but it’s not obvious” that he’ll take over, Momba said by phone from Lusaka on Aug. 21.

While still an opposition leader in 2008, Sata raised questions over whether Levy Mwanawasa, who was president at the time, was fit to rule after suffering a stroke in Egypt. The government denied reports of Mwanawasa’s death in July of that year, even after Thabo Mbeki, then-president of South Africa, told an audience he had died. Zambia’s government announced Mwanawasa’s death six weeks later.

The government has repeatedly denied speculation that Sata is ill, with Scott dismissing reports on social media as being produced by “necrophiliac correspondents and editors.”

“Zambian political leaders have not learnt from the illness and death of Levy Mwanawasa that the public is entitled to transparency on the health of its leaders,” Chan said. In diplomatic circles in London it’s accepted that Sata is “very ill,” he said, though it’s unclear if the illness is terminal.

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