By Sara Imutowana Yeta II
On 28th October, 2014, I was seated in one of the mind-blowing libraries in the United Kingdom; the Liverpool central library possibly the largest of Liverpool’s libraries boasting cutting-edge interiors along with abundance of history.
The Liverpool central library is one place that makes one feel like “yes” I am inside the world of books.
I was in a popular place called picton reading room doing research.
After three hours of nourishing my intellect, I took a short break and pulled out my phone from my vintage shoulder bag and surfed to the Zambian Watchdog website.
As soon as my eyes hit on the website, I was flaunted with a headline; “Zambia’s President Michael Sata dies”.
I said to myself, “what!” and right away cut into the content of the news, and indeed Sata had died and confirmed by government.
Zambia’s quarrelsome public figure nicknamed “King Cobra” had breathed his last.
I would feel under my armpits sweat of shock trickling down irrepressibly.
I stared at the headline again thinking maybe it was a figment of my imagination, but oh no, other news websites carried the same story.
It was at that moment, I developed goose bumps, gnashed my teeth in grief, and my eyes were filled with tears of sorrow.
I knew Sata at a personal level. We used to write each other letters of political encouragement via the post office until 2011 when he disappointed me by appointing ministers mostly from his region.
After quietening down, I remember clearly the first words I uttered.
For more than three times, I said to myself, “it is finished”.
I used the words “it is finished”, which according to scriptures are the last words of Jesus on the cross.
When Jesus used the words, “it is finished”, he meant that everything that had to be done as sent by his father had been done!
When I said, “it is finished”, my words had a different meaning from Jesus’.
The words were coming from the locus of my conscience, and meant that we are doomed as a country.
I said these words because I knew that Sata’s abrupt departure was an introduction to an era of unmatched political and economic tribulations.
When I said, “it is finished”, I was adequately informed by my knowledge of Sata.
I knew that Sata did not have a succession plan to manage people in his inner circle.
He had no process in his party of building a pool of people to be ready to fill his position when he is gone.
Sata knew very well even before the 2011 elections that his health was on a downhill but even that was not enough to jerk him up to craft a succession plan.
Lack of a succession plan is the reason Sata was replaced by Lungu who was elected at a national convention in Kabwe that was abnormal because no voting took place. Instead, the unaccredited delegates elected him by raising fists and guns.
This is how we ended up with Lungu who is visionless because he is not a product of a succession plan.
Therefore, Sata shares in the current political and economic mess because he had no succession plan, a serious shortfall in his leadership style.
Nowhere close, did Sata ever think of the idea of natural law that as we get born we get to die.
For this reason, he was unable to put plans in place to ensure his party and country were not left in the lurch under Lungu.
There was no way Sata would cultivate a pool of talented people within his party because that only happens when one has a succession plan.
A succession plan would have helped Sata to form a queue of potential successors poised to take the reins when he left unexpectedly.
I am certain, a succession plan would have given people in Sata’s inner circle an opportunity to be familiar with presidential processes, decorum, values and culture.
This would have allowed him to track the progress, abilities and potential of all those in his inner circle through regular coaching and discussions.
Such a strategy, would have made the country unlikely to face the current unpleasant economic surprises.
On the other hand, Sata’s failure to create a succession plan was compounded by the fact that he, according to his own words, was surrounded by dull ministers.
Therefore, it was pointless for him to develop a succession plan because his party had no pool of capable leaders.
If truth be told, Sata was caught between a rock and a hard place because his team had no core competencies required for success in the presidency.
Sata may have been one of the most perturbed leaders to be surrounded by people with qualities he knew leave much to be desired.
He knew that no metrics of a succession plan would work even if put in place because of the sub-standard quality of those around him.
But again, it was the same Sata who appointed those dull minister he would not waste time to consider their bench strength.
One of the few persons Sata was proud of is Guy Scott, and he knew Scott’s qualities very well.
Hence, he was happy to appoint Scott as vice president.
Following core competency needed for the presidency, Scott was more than capable to be the right person to succeed Sata.
Regrettably, Scott had the wrong skin colour and from the wrong region, and that instinctively disqualified him from being Sata’s successor.
If not so, right now Scott would be in State House and this country would be moving into the right direction.
I am not at all criticising Sata but demonstrating how lack of a succession plan made it difficult to have a smooth transition from him to another leader with core competencies needed in the presidency.
Kaunda exhibited the same weakness. He failed to empower UNIP’s existing pool of political talent.
He was president for twenty seven years but never thought of a succession plan and made UNIP to lose power to MMD.
Chiluba as well had no succession plan no wonder he wanted to go for the third term until he was stopped. He ended up being replaced by Mwanawasa he did not even know well.
History is about to repeat itself. Lungu has held office for two terms. Instead of modelling a succession plan, he wants to go for the third term.
Good leaders, whether in a political or private or public entity, are bold enough to face the challenge of developing a succession plan without fear of losing power to the pool of talent surrounding them.
One serious problem we are facing in Zambia and Africa at large is that we are led by people who cannot see a succession plan from a positive viewpoint but see a succession plan as an uppercut to their stay in power.
Consequently, a big chunk of problems in Africa are caused by presidents’ failure to prepare people in their inner circles for the presidency.
Sara Imutowana Yeta II