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Zambia’s new President is a beacon of hope for democracy7 min read

August 24, 2021 5 min read

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Zambia’s new President is a beacon of hope for democracy7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Zambia’s new President, Hakainde Hichilema, won the elections
after five years of trying, and his election might just
mean a new dawn for Zambian democracy.

Let’s get to know more about the politician who never gave up, shall we?

But before that, here’s a retrospective on Zambian politics to catch you up:

Edgar Lungu at a UN Conference in 2018. Image: The New York Times

Hakainde Hichilema has become President at a very precarious time for Zambia. Edgar Lungu’s dependence on copper, and Chinese investment, and the onslaught of the pandemic has hit Zambian economy hard. In November 2020, Zambia became the first African country to default on repayment of an international loan due to the pandemic. Its present debt to foreign leaders stands at 12 billions USD. Two-thirds of Zambia still lives in abject poverty. One out of every five registered voters under the age of 35 is unemployed.

The times are trying the people of Zambia, and change in power has heralded an era of hope for many.

Image: BBC

Hakainde Hichilema won over Edgar Lungu by over a million votes! He won 2.8 million votes as against the 1.8 million secured by his competitor. But the road to this mammoth victory was a long one. It started as him being a cattle boy for his family’s livestock to emerging as the richest man in the whole of Zambia.

The margin of victory will allow Hichilema to assert a two-thirds majority, enough to make constitutional changes.

Does majority opinion necessarily mean the right opinion? Let us know in the comments below.

Widely referred to as HH, Hichilema had humble beginnings. Things changed when he got a scholarship to study at the University of Zambia. He graduated with an MBA from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. From here, the businessman made a fortune in tourism, healthcare, finance, property, and ranching. His tryst with a life of limited means, and his hustle to the top worked in his favour by attracting a young voter base.

Image: Twitter

Not only his own personal history, but his presence in the present also secured the win. Hichilema relied immensely on social media to reach out to his potential voters. He tweeted on football and used the local slang to reach more of an audience for his words, which were allegedly quelled by the intolerance to opposition under Lungu’s power.

Lungu also tried social media by showing infrastructural projects that need him to come in power to achieve completion. But the images concealed the everyday reality of Zambia.

I heard this from a lot of people, that ‘you can’t eat the roads’…And what point is a school if you don’t have a teacher, and what’s the point of a clinic if you don’t have medicine? That was really the thing that turned the election against the P.F. and against Lungu.

Nicole Beardsworth, lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand , New York Times

Many young people jilted by the broken promises of lesser taxes and more jobs of the earlier government, turned a new tide with this election using the power of democracy.

The Phoenix Effect

A phoenix is a mythical bird known to ride from its ashes.

Image: Giphy

Before becoming President with a landslide victory, Hichilema had failed in five such attempts. But he kept rising from the ashes of his own failure. He has also been arrested fifteen times ever since he joined politics. In 2015, he was arrested for treason allegedly when he failed to give way to a presidential motorcade. He spent four months in a maximum-security cell. Hichilema also mentioned facing intimidation when he attempted to raise his voice as the leader of the opposition. In his acceptance speech, he extended an olive branch to his predecessor and pledged to be President of all Zambians, regardless of who voted for him.

In the 2021 elections, the people voted to save democracy…We know that a healthy and functioning democracy is one in which the voices of citizens can be heard freely… we will listen to those voices rather than seeking to silence critics.

Hichilema, New York Times

The earlier government also clamped down on Hichilema’s ability to campaign. It had also deployed military in the streets during voting, and limited access to social media sites. The latter was revoked by a timely court decision.

Hichilema has assured that while economy might take a while to heal, Zambians will notice immediate changes in transparency and governance.

We will not bring the military out on the streets. We will not arrest civil society activists speaking out in the interests of the people. And we will act quickly to stop the plunder of state resources.

Hichilema, New York Times

His supporters came out in large numbers to celebrate the possibility of a new dawn smiling over the Zambian horizon.

With excerpts from BBC, The New York Times, BBC, BBC, CNBC, The Guardian, and The Guardian


(In the Spotlight is a weekly column that features people who are in the news for all the right reasons)

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