On 24th August 2022, Zambia’s seventh President Hakainde Hichilema clocks one year in office. Having overcome many hurdles and five ( 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016) previous defeats in attempts at the Presidency, Hichilema catapulted opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) into power in 2021 with a resounding defeat of the Edgar Lungu led Patriotic Front (PF).
The UPND victory was largely attributed to the massive protest vote against the PF from the youth who desperately needed jobs, access to free or affordable education and the freedoms to exercise their rights to expression and civic participation.
He came into office at a time when Zambia’s economy was rapidly deteriorating and the rule of law breaking down. His predecessor, Edgar Lungu, presided over an intolerant regime that eroded the country’s democratic credentials and promoted political violence.
“Zambians don’t have to thank me for the job I’m doing. It’s what they voted for me to do. They must not agree when I do wrong things like acquiring excessive debt.”
UPND won elections with a promise to deliver rapid economic recovery and restore the country’s economic credibility on the global scene. The economic indicators have stabilised. Inflation has reduced from an average 20% in 2021 to 9% as at July, 2022. Within the first few weeks after assuming office Hichilema managed to get a staff level agreement with the IMF which was crucial for its debt negotiation strategy. The government’s ambitious reform program, supported by the IMF, seeks to restore fiscal and debt sustainability, create fiscal space for much needed social spending, and strengthen economic governance and transparency.
The IMF announced that it was committed to complement Hichilema’s strong reform program to secure a comprehensive debt treatment under the G20 Common Framework necessary to restore debt sustainability. Zambia’s public external debt amounted to US $14.71 billion as at end-September 2021. Of this amount, central Government external debt was US $12.99 billion while guaranteed and non-guaranteed external debt for State Owned Enterprises was US $1.56 billion and US $164.52 million, respectively. Of Zambia’s external debt payments between 2021 and 2024, 59% are to private creditors, 27% to China, 8% to multilateral institutions and 7% to other governments.
Reacting to the progress Zambia made with the IMF, Tim Jones, Head of Policy at Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:
“This money is at risk of being used to just pay off previous reckless lenders rather than to help economic recovery in Zambia. Too often IMF loans are used to bail out lenders, while the public bear the brunt of imposed austerity. The IMF needs to demand that private and government lenders agree to significant debt cancellation to make Zambia’s debt sustainable. The IMF also needs to make clear that, if they refuse, the IMF will politically and financially support Zambia to stay in default to those lenders”
Hichilema in his first address to Parliament emphasised the need to rebuild the economy, deliver jobs and better the livelihoods of Zambians. He also placed emphasis on creating an environment to invigorate economic activity in which every citizen will have the opportunity to participate and benefit.
The first UPND budget for 2022 is running with the theme ‘Growth, Jobs and Taking Development Closer to the People.’ In this budget government made huge fiscal decisions notably a remarked increase of funds to the Constituency Development Fund from 1.6 million Kwacha to 25.7 million Kwacha (about €81,000 to € 1.3 million) for each of Zambia’s 156 electoral constituencies. An analysis of the implications of this and the challenges it brings can be found here.
Zambia’s currency has significantly appreciated especially through the second and third quarters of 2022 due to increased investment inflows mainly from the mining sector investments as confirmed by the Bank of Zambia. The improved economic conditions and the availability of more public expenditure at the local levels creates opportunities for private sector growth and job creation translating into improved quality of life for ordinary citizens.
Some economic reforms have hurt Zambians and pushed up the cost of living. Notably the migration to monthly review of the fuel pump price and the removal of subsidies on fuel.
Throughout his campaign, Hichilema demonstrated a huge sense of awareness of the dire situation of unemployment and destitution in the country. In the first budget speech, the new government announced its commitment to recruit for the first time in the history of the country, up to 30,000 teachers in 2022. This is more than the country had hired in the past ten years put together. At the completion of the exercise government exceeded its target and recruited 30,496 teachers which is the largest figure ever in the history of the country. The government also recruited 11,200 health workers.
The new government which calls itself a “new dawn” has created jobs across the Local Authorities (Councils), parastatal companies and many fronts of public service. The new government has also supported the industrialization of the country by reviving collapsed industries to create jobs and distribute wealth across all regions. The Kalene Hills Fruit Factory in the Western Province of the country had been dormant for years and was re-opened thus creating over 6,000 direct and indirect jobs.
First Quantum Minerals (FQM) approved plans to invest USD1.25- billion in its long-awaited expansion of Kansanshi’s operations in Solwezi – known as the ‘S3’ project – and a final USD100-million to start its USD250-million Enterprise nickel project in Kalumbila on the backdrop of fresh confidence in the economic management of Zambia by its new administration.
Together, the two investments represent the largest investment in Zambia since FQM’s Sentinel project was approved in 2012 and are the first step in realising the Zambian government’s vision for the mining sector, which includes increasing production to 3 million tonnes of copper a year within the next decade.
Good governance and upholding the rule of law
Zambians got tired of the political intolerance and abuse of state institutions by the patriotic front regime to harass, intimidate and frustrate real or perceived political opponents. Markets and bus stations were taken over by ruling party supporters who turned them into cash cows to finance ruling party activities including financing ruling party gangs that terrorised innocent citizens and choked businesses belonging to opposition supporters.
Upon assuming office Hichilema outlawed the activities of political party supporters in markets and bus stations. The police command was called to order and institutions tasked to fight corruption and financial crimes seemed to have gotten some courage to bite.
The Hichilema administration has appointed credible a Chief Justice in Dr Mumba Malila and appointed the first female Speaker of the National Assembly Nelly Muti. The administration is yet to make any real movements in constitutional reforms and there is still no roadmap on the constitutional review process.
University of Zambia historian Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa observes that in the area of institutional democratic reform, Hichilema has wasted his first year in office.
“Despite his promises, repressive legislation remains on the statute books. Not only that, more people have been arrested and sent to prison for breaking a dubious 1965 law against defamation of the president – a law that effectively criminalises criticism of the president – in Hichilema’s first year than were under six years of Lungu. Moreover, when recent videos emerged of soldiers beating youths for allegedly defaming the president, Hichilema criticised the victims, stating that young people should respect elders. This shows that the lure of authoritarian powers is very hard to resist, and that Lungu’s legacy will take some time to be undone.”
The crusade against corruption has gained momentum and largely targeted individuals from the previous regime. Only one permanent secretary was fired by Hichilema and summoned for interrogations by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
The newly appointed chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission Musa Mwenya is highly regarded and so is his new Director General. However most of the cases are still at very preliminary stages and the state has lost on some of its earlier actions such as seizers or restrictions on property owned by corruption suspects, actions the courts reversed.
Calls for President Hichilema to publish his assets and liabilities have gone unheeded and some analysts argue that this non-disclosure is a violation of Zambia’s constitution.
Sishuwa observes that Hichilema’s persistent suggestions that thieving former officials may be absolved if they return stolen assets has the obvious effect of seeming to legalise or even encourage corruption. He observed further that Hichilema has shown unwillingness to deal with corruption in his own government.
“The president has, for instance, maintained complete silence over a controversy in which the Tourism Ministry cancelled 18 hunting concession contracts signed by the previous government in a potentially illegal move aimed at benefiting friends of the UPND.
Another cause for concern has been the clandestine meetings between Hichilema and top-level management of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, a creation of the Oppenheimer family, to discuss their possible future participation in the Zambian mining industry. The main question is whether Hichilema is using State House for his own private business dealings and blurring the line between private and government business amid a lack of transparency.” Sishuwa wrote in his analysis of the first year of UPND in power.
Hichilema’s critics argue that he has travelled too much in a short space of time when he claimed to have found the government coffers empty. In the first nine months of his rule, President Hichilema had made seventeen international trips and at last check the trips were listed at a total of 19 ( 6 in 2021 and 13 in 2022). Analysts say this translates to making an average of two foreign trips per month and estimate that he will make not less than 120 trips outside Zambia in his five years first term in office.
The UPND has scored successes on multiple fronts but there are areas that require improvement.
Gender equality and representation of disadvantaged groups
When President Hichilema announced his cabinet, the gender and women rights movement was surprised that the Ministry of Gender had been scrapped off. Furthermore there seemed to be a reduction in the number of women in cabinet. This reduction would continue in the appointment of individuals to head various institutions and to sit on boards and commissions.
Persons with Disabilities also felt disappointed that their desire to have a ministry on disability affairs created was ignored and after much crying only a few of them were appointed to boards and commissions.
Economic Freedom Fighters-EFF President Kasonde Mwenda observed that the gender parity between the last governments of Levy Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda, Michael Sata, and Edgar Lungu indicates that President Hakainde Hichilema’s government is retrogressing in the advancement of women interests as exhibited both in Cabinet where only 4 out of 26 were female, 0-Zero out of 5 service chiefs are female and State House Advisory Team appointments where out of 18 only one was female.
Apart from recording a progressive appointment of the first female Speaker of the National assembly, President Hakainde Hichilema has cancelled the gain by replacing the first ever female Chief Justice with a male there by keeping the number of women in high-ranking positions low.
The new dawn government introduced free education policy which was one of its main campaign promises. The role out of the policy has seen an increase in the enrolment of learners especially at the primary school level. The government has also provided scholarships, bursaries and boarding support grants through the enhanced constituency development fund allocation.
The free education policy is a reflection of the New Dawn government’s commitment to investing heavily in education across the board. The 2022 budget has allocated K18.1bn ($1bn) to the sector, which represents a 32% increase from the 2021 budget.
Education has long been the cornerstone of the United Party for National Development (UPND) manifesto. President Hakainde Hichilema is living proof of the transformative potential of a good education, having attended a village school barefoot before he was admitted to the University of Zambia on a full government bursary. Additionally, Vice President Mutale Nalumango is a teacher by training.
Zambia is truly experiencing a new dawn and it is without doubt that Hichilema presents an remarked improvement in the quality of leadership compared to his predecessor, but he lacks a strong opposition and vibrant and alert civil society to keep his administration in check as Zambia develops and implements fiscal policies including the design of tax and non -tax measures. There is urgent need to embark on constitutional review process and fast track the necessary legal reforms to improve the governance environment.
Photo : Chalo Chatu/Flickr