It was evident from the unprecedented voter turnout on 12th August that Zambians were determined to change the government. Main opposition challenger Hakainde Hichilema beat the incumbent Edgar Lungu by almost a million votes.
Official results announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia Monday morning showed Hichilema taking home 2,810,757 votes after 155 of the country’s 156 constituencies had been counted with results from the Mandevu constituency still awaited.
The incumbent Edgar Lungu came in second place, with 1,814,201 votes, followed by Democratic Party candidate Harry Kalaba and Andyford Banda of the People’s Alliance for Change in third and fourth respectively.
Sporadic celebrations broke out throughout the country when the final results were declared. Sadly others resorted to looting shops with a key casualty being a shopping mall on the Copperbelt named after the outgoing President.
The president-elect condemned the actions on his Facebook page:
“It has come to my attention that some people have resorted to damaging property during this transition period. I would like to issue a stern warning to anyone who will take advantage of the transition to engage in criminal activities. We urge the general public to cooperate with the police and report any such acts. Criminality will not be tolerated from this point forward.”
Lungu conceded defeat at midday on Monday and promised to facilitate a smooth transition of power.
In his acceptance speech Monday afternoon broadcast on national television, Hichilema pledged to run an inclusive government and unite the country across tribes. He promised to do away with a culture the previous government entrenched where access to jobs and promotions was based on ethnicity. He committed to ending the culture of retiring people in the national interest which many from the southern and western provinces suffered under the leadership of Lungu.
Hichilema received widespread support from across the country, getting an outright win in six of the country’s ten provinces. He delivered a strong performance in the key battlegrounds of Lusaka and Copperbelt Provinces and also received support from areas traditionally loyal to the ruling Patriotic Front, such as in Eastern and Luapula provinces.
“We are not going to the office to arrest those who arrested us,” Hichilema said. He promised to remove cadres from markets and bus stops and end a culture of political violence and intolerance.
‘This landslide victory is ample evidence that Zambians were very upset with the manner in which the PF Government was administering national affairs, and yet we kept that resentment bottled up inside ourselves and maintained a calm demeanour until an opportunity came to express ourselves at the ballot. Indeed, to say that we are a civilized and disciplined nation is an understatement.’ Opposition PeP leader Sean Tembo said.
Voter turnout has been described as unprecedentedly high, with an estimated 71 % of registered voters turning out to cast their ballots. Despite a few isolated cases of violence, the election has largely been considered a success, with monitoring missions commenting on the fair and transparent nature of the democratic process. The European Union described it as a “technically well-arranged process”, while the Commonwealth mission determined that the counting procedure was “generally peaceful, procedural, orderly and free from interference”.
This election marked Hichilema’s sixth attempt at the presidency and comes at a time of deepening crisis in Zambia. The 59-year-old businessman inherits a dwindling economy, rising youth unemployment and worsening levels of political violence, orchestrated by supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front.
The opposition leader has repeatedly called for peace during the electoral process, tweeting earlier today “With victory in sight, I would like to ask for calm from our members and supporters. Let us be the change we voted for”.
Hichilema ran on a platform of bringing change to the people of Zambia, both in terms of economic outlook but also in returning the norms of good governance to the country’s democratic institutions. Under President Lungu, the past five years have been characterised by severe democratic backsliding and Amnesty International described as “an increasingly brutal crackdown on human rights”.
HH earlier wrote on Facebook, “It has been an arduous journey, this is part of the reason we are seeking office, to do things differently. We voted for change so that the status quo is not maintained. I am very hopeful that together we can make the change that we voted for and aspire.”
The economy was in near recession whilst top officials from the ruling party flaunted their wealth amidst high levels of corruption and escalating high levels of poverty and cost of living.
In a rather unfamiliar tone to pre-election counsel by the United States in recent history around the world, the US Ambassador to Lusaka released a nail-biting statement in which he threatened a series of punitive sanctions including permanent travel bans on individuals that will use, violence and fraud to win the election. This would include their spouses and family members.
Yet another blunt statement was released by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee US Senator Bob Menendez in which he condemned President Edgar Lungu for the democratic backsliding, and for using the organs of the state to intimidate his political opponents, and the cloud of authoritarianism in which he had put his country in.
As AU observer mission led by former President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma met Lungu at State House in Lusaka, the Zambian leader complained bitterly about his main rival Hakainde Hichilema’s lack of respect for him as Head of State and persistently declining to call him President, preferring to instead refer to him as ‘Mr’.
The most unexpected statement came from 4th Republican President Rupiah Banda who has largely been viewed as Lungu’s all-weather ally and confidant. Banda warned Lungu against rigging and imposing himself against the will of the Zambian people
Meanwhile, diplomatic sources within SADC disclosed that the body has the past one year been negotiating with President Lungu for a peaceful exit to avoid possible bloodletting. SADC was privately cognisant of the Zambian population’s unflinching demand for Lungu to go and according to the same sources the regional body had informed the President of their findings.
What is succinctly clear is that the Americans, the SADC regional leaders and former President Rupiah Banda, were unanimously resolved that the majority of Zambians wanted President Edgar Lungu out, and they should therefore be supported, by ensuring the Zambian leader was prevented from imposing himself against the will of the citizens.
Who is Hakainde Hichilema?
President-elect Hichilema was born on June 4 1962 in the southern district of Monze. After attending school locally he was admitted to the University of Zambia on a government bursary where he studied and graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics and Business Administration. He later obtained an MBA degree in Finance and Business Strategy from the University of Birmingham, UK. His brief profile is available here.
A large commercial farmer, Hichilema is now the second biggest cattle rancher in Zambia with nearly 100,000 herds of cattle to his name on four ranches and is one of the biggest suppliers of meat to the local Zambian market, as well as one of Zambia’s biggest exporter of hard-currency-earning beef products. He also holds substantial investments in Zambia’s tourism sector. Following his university education, Hichilema ascended to top positions in Zambia’s corporate world, landing such prestigious jobs as CEO of Coopers and Lybrand at the tender age of 32 years old, from 1994 to 1998, and later as CEO of Cooper’s successor, Grant Thornton, from 1998 to 2006. He was the biggest local shareholder in two foreign-owned companies; including Barclays Bank Zambia Plc. Hichilema is also a trained Business Negotiator, a qualified Change Management Practitioner and is a member of the Zambia Institute of Directors. HH won the presidency of the UPND in 2006 following the death of its leader, Anderson Mazoka, his business mentor, tribesman and close friend. Since then ruling party politicians have, unsuccessfully, poured their energy into trying to keep him tied up in legal cases which he has refused to let stand in his way. He is married to Mutinta and together they have three children.
The PF government created a catastrophic debt crisis of unimaginable proportions for Zambia now and for future generations. This presents the biggest challenge for the incoming government.
Most Zambians as demonstrated in the ballot are now connecting their current economic hardships to this recklessly borrowed debt. However, Zambians will start experiencing the severe economic impact of this debt stress effective next year when the government is expected to repay the principal amount of US$750m of the first Eurobond loan as a single bullet payment. The first Eurobond loan is maturing in 2022. The next Eurobond loan of US$1.02b is equally maturing in 2023/2024. There’s also another US$1.2b maturing after the second one! Besides these Eurobond loans, the PF government also contracted huge loans from other sources such as the Chinese. The PF government also left a debt burden of almost US$ 1.7 billion owed to suppliers, contractors including terminal benefit to retirees.
The PF government was defaulting to pay interest amounting to US$43m only on the above principal amount. Zambia has gone back to those old days when it was heavily indebted. What makes the current situation even more precarious is not only the volume of the debt stock but also the conditions attached to most of this debt. The previous debt contracted by previous governments was from multilateral institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank during the Paris Club. Unfortunately, the current stockpile of debt contracted by the PF just within 10 years is from expensive open markets with gruesome and pernicious conditions.
IMF and the World Bank had strict conditions attached to their loans, unlike the open market. For example, if the government applies for a loan from the World Bank or IMF to provide water to its rural communities, the World Bank will fund directly the contractor and not the government. The reason why the PF government was going after the open market such as Eurobond loans is that the conditions are flexible on the change of usage of the loan. What attracted the PF government is the fact that it was able to switch the initial purpose from applying that loan for example, from recapitalizing ZESCO or Zambia Railways to procuring fire engines without the providers of this loan holding them accountable! Therefore, it was this flexibility that was incentivising the PF government in contracting these loans from high-interest rate sources. This same loan flexibility is what has led the PF government to be riddled with numerous scandals especially in the procurement of infrastructure and other capital goods.
The US$750m elephant in the room to be paid next year, the government would be compelled to raise money to pay for it. This debt will cripple the normal operations of the government and public discourse on this debt will take centre stage. This will trigger a price rise. Inflation will go beyond the roof. The exchange rate will exponentially continue going up making imported goods expensive for consumers. Traders will be compelled to downsize their orders. This will lead to shortages of commodities in most of the outlets. This will culminate in political outcry through citizen protests.
UPND economic policy advisor Situmbeko Musokotwane observed that the current economic hardships which Zambians are experiencing have happened because of careless borrowing by the PF government. All serious economists in and out of Zambia know this very well. And this matter has been explained over and over for those who care to understand.
“As Patriots for Economic Progress, we would be failing in our duties if we did not remind President-Elect Hakainde Hichilema that the economy of our nation is on the verge of collapse, and will require immediate intervention. The starting point to turning around our country’s economic fortunes is by appointing competent people to various decision-making positions in Government, government agencies and parastatals. In this regard, we are fully aware that there are various people who stood by the President-Elect during his political journey, and whom the President-Elect may want to reward with different positions despite such people not being competent for those positions. Our appeal is that the President-Elect should desist from any such temptations because the performance of any country’s economy is the sum-total of the quality of decisions made by various appointed individuals. Therefore it is cardinal that appointments must be based on merit and not patronage.
As Patriots for Economic Progress, we further wish to remind the President-Elect that given the urgency with which our economy requires pragmatic interventions, there will be no time for a holiday or prolonged celebrations. The President-Elect and his team need to get to work immediately because that is what the Zambian people have elected them for. He has to hit the ground running. It is an open secret that the President-Elect made several promises to the people in terms of what he would do if elected, and it is also beyond debate that some of those promises were grandiose and unattainable. Therefore, our expectation is that as soon as he is sworn into office, President-Elect Hichilema will outline to the people which of his promises he intends to fulfil and which ones he intends to shelf. Such a reconciliation is important, otherwise, the citizens might conclude that he ascended to the Presidency by false pretences” this was expressed by Sean Tembo.
Cover image courtesy of UPND Media Team