ZAMBIA’S acting president on Tuesday rescinded his decision to dismiss the ruling party’s chief in a bid to defuse a political conflict that triggered overnight riots. The humiliating reversal was announced by acting president Guy Scott and Edgar Lungu, who was restored as secretary general of the ruling Patriotic Front party.
Police and demonstrators clashed late on Monday in protests against Scott, a white Zambian who fired Lungu following the death last week of President Michael Sata. The 77-year-old president died in a London hospital on 28 October after a long illness.
Scott’s move to defuse public anger came after a heated meeting in which senior party members urged Scott to reinstate Lungu, who is also Minister of Defence and Justice and is considered a possible presidential candidate. Under the constitution, Zambia must hold a presidential election within 90 days of a president’s death.
“The position of secretary general will remain with Honorable Edgar Lungu,” the statement said.
The riots started on Monday night in several places in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, including the University of Zambia and a government building designated as a place for Sata’s mourners to gather, according to witnesses. Protesters had descended on the building, Belvedere Lodge, with stones, machetes and other weapons, and police fired tear gas into the venue to clear demonstrators from the area. Order was restored early Tuesday.
Former vice president Scott has said he is not interested in running for president and is in any case barred from the office because his parents were not Zambian by birth or descent. The protesters were angry over the dismissal of Lungu, who said Scott’s act was illegal. He accused Scott, who is of Scottish descent, of “insulting our culture”.
Sata’s body arrived in Lusaka on Saturday and was taken to a conference centre for public viewing until the burial on 11 November. The conference centre has not been affected by the rioting, which ended early on Tuesday, though protesters warned they could return to the streets.
Before Lungu’s reinstatement, Moses Siwali, spokesperson for the home affairs ministry, had urged political groups to meet peacefully to resolve the situation.
“We don’t want Zambia to go into turmoil,” he said.
Protester Mary Tembo earlier said Scott, the acting president, was causing confusion. She urged him to “go to Scotland”, saying Zambians want to mourn their president in peace.