Zambian President-elect Hakainde Hichilema. Photo: Twitter.
Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema garnered a large-scale victory over incumbent Edgar Lungu in the latest Zambian presidential poll in a development that is likely to move the center ground of local and regional politics. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) declared that Hichilema got 2.81 million votes against Lungu’s 1.81 million in the tightly contested August 12 vote.
For Hichilema, popularly known as HH, it was a dream come true after he cruised to a massive victory after he had lost five elections in the past 15 years. It was a huge surprise for most people in southern Africa, where opposition political parties often face an uphill battle to oust ruling parties.
HH’s irrepressible victory was largely on the back of a huge turnout of the youth, growing dissatisfaction with poverty, unemployment, corruption and what some critics say was the increasingly dictatorial tendencies of President Lungu. “Edgar Chagwa Lungu thought he could manipulate the system or fiddle with institutions that are constitutionally established,” said Aristide Bance, a Zambian political commentator. “Lesson learnt. Do not think you are above the law and abrogate the law, people are watching. It may take them five years to vote but one thing about the Zambian voters, once they make up their minds, it’s done. Ask Rupiah Banda who was judged in three years and despite running the most expensive elections campaigns, ended up crying on national television.”
There are many factors that complicated things for Lungu despite enjoying some diplomatic political support from the southern African region. Corruption, lack of good governance and building friendship with some political leaders who are largely seen as dictators irked the Zambians.
“A defining point that Zambians were looking at was the issue of who their president or leader associates himself with. I respect other countries and I do not want to cause a diplomatic row with other countries but Edgar Chagwa Lungu made it clear who his friends were, and this unsettled a lot of citizens who know what his friends stand for. For example, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who has been in office six times already. That unsettled Zambians who saw the tactics employed by Edgar Chagwa Lungu similar to that of Museveni,” said Bance in a report.
Other political commentators said Lungu underestimated the power of the youth vote in their politics, displaying arrogance and losing touch with the reality facing the masses. His Patriotic Front party dolled out money in a pompous and arrogant way drawing the anger of the masses.
At a deeper level, the win by an opposition party in Zambia and Malawi, is likely to send shock waves across many southern African countries largely dominated by liberation movements which have been in power for several decades. Zimbabwe will hold polls in 2023 and the latest win by HH in Zambia has generated ardent debate on whether or not the opposition MDC–Alliance, led by Nelson Chamisa, can pull out a similar feat against all odds.
Lungu shown with Uganda’s Museveni. With friends like this who needs enemies. Photo: Twitter
“Can this happen in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Eswatini or Angola? That’s the question. There is so much debate around the Zambian poll and whether this could signal a shift in politics within the SADC region,” said a Harare–based political analyst.
“Political circumstances differ from one country to the other but writings are on the wall for all to see. Ruling political parties need to up their game in terms of service delivery, fighting graft and meeting the expectations of the restless youthful population,” he said. “The whole political game plan now revolves around the youth who make up the biggest numbers. Addressing unemployment, education and health needs of the youth holds the key. The youths see the Zambian experience as a possibility. It could have a domino effect if taken lightly by most liberation movements in southern Africa.”
Apart from this, the changes in Zambia and Malawi have seen the entrance into power of largely Western-leaning parties which other liberation movement led parties view as neocolonial outposts of the U.S., Britain and their Western allies. “There are political undertones. There is serious mistrust between HH, Chakwera on one hand largely seen as being neo-liberal vs the rest of the region led by liberation movements such as Swapo, ANC, Zanu – PF, Frelimo and MPLA in Angola which are largely anti–West,” said a University of Zimbabwe political commentator. “The cracks will be seen more in the regional grouping meetings and discussion over key political issues. HH’s victory has not excited liberation movements. He has in the past few months been wining and dining with opposition outfits from Zimbabwe, South Africa and others in Africa.”
But winning elections is one thing and delivering on electoral promises quite another. HH has a daunting task to meet the expectation of a restless and expectant nation.
“To the new administration, you have a huge task ahead of you and as you say, ‘bally will fix it.’ We will wait and see and Remember, 5 years is just in 2026 and you too, will be judged on what you do from now till then,” Bance said in a commentary. “As you assume office, remember, you will also leave office at one time. That thought should keep you humble. What legacy are you going to be remembered by once you are gone? As a leader, always strive to do good and be of service to the people who put you there.
“If you as a leader decide to do wrong things through abuse of power and state institutions, when the time comes for you to leave, you will give the electorate a nightmare as you will scramble and not want to leave office for fear of prosecution.”
Lack of delivery and fulfillment of the aspirations of the majority of Zambians could cut HH’s celebrations short. Zambia is going through difficult economic and financial problems. It has defaulted on its debt and fluctuation commodity prices could push Zambia further into problems, something which may spark discontent.
Hichilema, 59, now faces the daunting task to turn around the Zambian economy. After surviving the murky and choppy waters of Zambian politics, the youth, the struggling masses and the world, await to see how HH will steer Zambia out of the crisis.
Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. [email protected]