Guy Scott has drawn rare attention to the African state of Zambia this week, not for anything he has done but because of the colour of his skin. The death of President Michael Sata has handed the white Scott temporary leadership of one of the continent’s more stable countries, elevating him from his previous role as Vice President.
Scott is the first white leader of a mainland African state since F W De Klerk made way for Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994. He is Zambia’s first white head of state since Sir Evelyn Dennison Hone, the final Governor of what was the British colony of Northern Rhodesia.
Although Scott is anything but the white nationalist, some people within Zambia and further afield are likely to voice scepticism about his appointment, however temporary. This may partly relate to his relative lack of diplomatic power in the past, but is likely to largely concern his race and the uncomfortable prospect of a white man leading a black majority.
Despite the inherent unfairness of the white majority rule that embedded itself in several African states in the 20th century, it can hardly be argued that the prospects of the average African have improved by the year 2014. Indeed, incidences of violence and crime continue to escalate across the continent, with corrupt governments and rebel militias wreaking misery in equal measure on their own people.
The shooting of South African soccer captain Senzo Meyiwa this week provided yet another reminder of the awful degradation of South African society. Fears of inter-racial violence are paling with the now abundant phenomenon of black-on-black crime. Political representation and democratic choice seem increasingly insignificant for many black South Africans whose educational and economic aspirations have surely declined since the Apartheid era.
In Burkina Faso, another president unwilling to relinquish the reins of power has created widespread rioting that has claimed 27 lives. Since the French colony of Upper Volta dissolved, this impoverished West African nation has been characterised by political repression and corrupt authoritarian rule.
Robert Mugabe, meanwhile, soldiers on in defiance of his various medical ailments in Zimbabwe, having successfully destroyed the productive capacity of the once prosperous white-led Southern Rhodesia.
Guy Scott will probably not run for the Zambian presidency in 90 days time when elections are scheduled. He may not be allowed to because of his foreign-born parents. Yet his temporary elevation to ascendancy is a stark reminder of how little has been achieved for the majority of Africans since the fall of the European colonies and white-minority governments that proliferated on the continent in the 20th century.
Our poorest people remain some way behind.