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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 14:27 GMT
Zambia's action man: Michael Sata
Chiluba, left, and Sata, right
Chiluba (left) did not back a Sata run for the presidency
Penny Dale in Lusaka profiles one of Zambia's leading presidential candidates.

Until recently President Frederick Chiluba's "chief fixer", chain-smoking, gravely voiced Michael Sata describes himself as "a very nice man, a very kind man but someone who brooks no nonsense".

He is not good for democracy but he can whip and bully a drunken and demoralised Zambia into action

Owen Sichone
His critics - and there are plenty - say he is nothing but a thug.

And not for nothing, they argue, is he called King Cobra, having slithered and spat his way to emerge ruler of Zambia's Machiavellian political bush.

The darkly charismatic politican claims substantial grassroots support.

His is certainly one of the instantly recognisable faces in the country, thanks to six years as the national organising secretary of the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy.

"A man of action" is his campaign slogan and is the phrase that jumps to the lips of even his most ardent detractors such as Zambia's intellectuals.


They despise the political thuggery associated with his days as minister without portfolio, a position the man himself admits "was the ministry for the MMD".

Michael Sata and supporters
'King Cobra' just had a few weeks to campaign

Leading Zambian commentator Owen Sichone describes Mr Sata as a bit of a Mussolini: "He is not good for democracy but he can whip and bully a drunken and demoralised Zambia into action."

Many people who have worked with him say he knows how to get a job done.

"He uses technocrats who perform and he doesn't feel insecure if someone knows better," says former agriculture minister Guy Scott.

"He's an odd mixture and hard to read," says Mr Scott, who is now Mr Sata's agriculture spokesperson and right-hand-man at political rallies.

"He cultivates a rough image but he's truly concerned about people's suffering - perhaps that's what makes him charismatic."

A Catholic, the 64-year-old is married to a doctor and has eight children. He lives in a modest house in Lusaka's Rhodes Park suburb.

Man of action

He was born and brought up in Mpika, Northern Province.

He worked as a policeman, railwayman and trades unionist before entering politics in 1963.

Sata supporters
Supporters say Sata can get things done

He worked his way up through the rough-and-tumble rank-and-file of the former ruling United National Independence Party to the governorship of Lusaka in 1985, where he made his mark as an action man.

Under the MMD, he served as minister for local government, labour and, briefly, health where, he boasts, his "reforms brought sanity to the health system".

In 1995, he was appointed minister without portfolio, where his political style was described as "increasingly abrasive".

In September this year he resigned in protest at what he called President Chiluba's fraudulent nomination of Levy Mwanawasa and formed the Patriotic Front.

"His biggest problem is his MMD career. Having been used to destroy some good people's careers, he now finds himself with a few weeks in which to rebuild his image," says Mr Sichone.

See also:

21 Apr 01 | Africa
Ministers tell Chiluba: Time's up
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