Dr Guy Scott, a white economist of Scottish descent, with contentious views on LGBTI equality, has been confirmed as the new President of Zambia.
Dr Scott, whose born to a colonialist family from Lanarkshire, Scotland, succeeds his ally Michael Sata as head of state. Sata died yesterday after a lengthy period of ill-health. Dr Scott will serve as President until new elections can be called.
During the Commonwealth Games, Dr Scott publicly rebuked the Scottish government’s call for greater LGBTI equality, dismissing concerns about the lack of LGBTI rights in Zambia as a call to conform to Western priorities. Responding to a question from STV, Dr Scott said “Scotland introduced gay marriage last week, so therefore Zambia must suddenly? You weren’t complaining about it two weeks ago but now Zambia has to follow suit? It’s not right!” He added that LGBTI equality was irrelevant as “Zambians care more about poverty, they care more about disease and care more about their children’s education, and that’s what we’re going to concentrate on.”
Dr Scott is a Zambian patriot and played a role in his country’s liberation movement, despite coming from a wealthy white Scottish colonial family. In recent years he appears to have sought to demonstrate the degree to which he is, in the words of Zambian bus driver Nathan Phiri, “a black man in a white man’s skin”. Perhaps this desire to confirm himself as a true Zambian finds expression is his populist stance on LGBTI issues and his unwillingness to overturn the discriminatory policies of Zambia’s past. Commentators from the German media foreign news service DW imply that the anti-LGBTI rhetoric of Dr Scott is a calculated political strategy to build up his image: “when asked about controversial issues like gay rights, his response shows that he has chosen to side with the masses. He says that Zambia has bigger problems than the rights of a small minority.”
Under the Sata-Scott government – Scott had been Sata’s vice-president since 2011 – politicians and sections of the media have used homophobic rhetoric to gain publicity and win votes in a country whose attitudes towards equality stem from the view that homosexuality is both immoral and a form of psychiatric illness. Not only is legislation in place to prohibit same-sex marriage, there is no recognition for same-sex couples and even LGBTI advocacy is a criminal offence. Since 2011 there have been several reported cases of harassment, arrest and violence by both the public and Zambian authorities. LGBTI people have been subjected to arbitrary detention, discrimination in access to employment and education, and extortion.
Dr Scott has been a controversial choice to succeed Mr Sata for a number of reasons. Firstly, Dr Scott’s outspoken views on LGBTI rights have brought him notoriety and criticism from many pro-equality groups. Secondly, he has been highly supportive of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Thirdly, as someone whose parents were not born in Zambia, Dr Scott is not eligible to stand in presidential elections. Critics of Dr Scott have suggested that this accounts for his seeking to demonstrate his “African credentials” by allying himself with reactive, conservative movements and their anti-LGBTI equality stance.