South Africa

Zambia’s new president inspires African opposition leaders

Hakainde Hichilema, Zambia's experienced opposition leader, is due to be sworn in as president later on Tuesday, boosting hopes among his African colleagues that they, too, can overcome state brutality and climb to power.

Hakainde Hichilema, Zambia’s experienced opposition leader, is due to be sworn in as president later on Tuesday, boosting hopes among his African colleagues that they, too, can overcome state brutality and climb to power.

Mr Hichilema was brutalized, tear-gassed, and even arrested for a traffic offense deemed traitorous in 2017 when his convoy failed to make way to outgoing President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade.

But, in a stunning turn of events, the man once labeled a state enemy will be sworn in as Zambia’s seventh president after beating Mr Lungu in their most recent electoral fight on August 12.

“It’s enormously inspirational,” said Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu, who was wounded 16 times by individuals he suspects were state agents during an assassination attempt in 2017.

“No matter what they put us through, no matter the odds,” he said, “Zambians have shown us it can be done.”

Mr Lissu was defeated in last year’s election, which he claims was rigged, by late President John Magufuli.

He then fled the country because he was about to be arrested by security agents.
Some of his Chadema party colleagues, including chairman Freeman Mbowe, were imprisoned for a short time.

Mr Mbowe was charged with terrorism-related crimes in May. His supporters claim he is being subjected to “political persecution” as a result of his lobbying for a new constitution.

Only a new constitution that ensures the electoral commission’s independence, according to Tanzanian opposition lawmaker Zitto Kabwe, would ensure the opposition has a fair opportunity in the next election.

“In Zambia, democratic institutions appear to be [more] sensitive to the will of the people than in many other African countries.

“The fact that the army, police, intelligence services, and election commission would let the people’s will to prevail is a powerful message delivered to the African continent,” he continued.

‘There are no short cuts to success.’
The message’s rippling effects have been felt far and wide, particularly in Zambia’s southern neighbor, Zimbabwe, where it has generated frantic discussions between Nelson Chamisa, the major opposition figure, and officials of the ruling Zanu-PF party, which has been in power since 1980.

In a tweet thanking Mr Hichilema, the opposition leader said, “Zimbabwe you are next.”

“What occurred in Zambia will not happen here,” President Emmerson Mnagangwa replied.

His spokesman even suggested that the army would not allow the opposition to gain control.

Mr Hichilema’s win, however, proved “that the battle for democracy can be won, that people can come together to overthrow a dictatorship,” according to Fadzayi Mahere, a spokeswoman for Mr Chamisa’s MDC-Alliance.

Ms Mahere went on to say that there was “no easy way to win.”

She stated the opposition in Zimbabwe must follow in the footsteps of Mr Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) by:

registering new voters, engaging the youth, preserving the vote from manipulation, and, most crucially, focusing on the major problems that people want addressed – repairing the shattered economy, providing employment for the many jobless youths, and eliminating the government’s culture of impunity.
Mmusi Maimane, the former South African opposition leader and a friend of Mr Hichilema, has been promoting this idea as well.

“Zimbabwe, the example has been set,” he urged the MDC-Alliance.

“The Zambian people have turned their backs on poverty and corruption. Zambians have turned their backs on arrogance and sloth. In his statement, Mr Maimane said, “They have chosen a future worth striving for.”

‘Presidents are servants,’ says one.
As the 76-year-old politician prepares to compete for the president for the fifth time in 2022, followers of veteran political leader Raila Odinga have been encouraged by Mr Hichilema’s victory.

The election outcome in Zambia, Mr Odinga added, “reminds fellow Africans abroad that nothing is impossible.”

Mr Odinga, along with opposition figures from other African countries, is expected to attend the ceremony, indicating that Mr Hichilema would not leave them now that he is in power.

Aware of the international attention in the election, UPND spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa told the BBC that the party’s win was based on “no hidden strategy.”

“For Zambians, this is a win. They voted in masse because they want us to address corruption, unemployment, political violence, and dictatorship, according to Mr Mweetwa.

Observers also credit Mr Hichilema, 59, with extending his appeal among the young, a critical constituency that dubbed him Bally – slang for father – because to his attention on issues that they could connect to.

After winning the election, Mr Hichilema tweeted, “We are not masters of the people, we are their slaves.”

The post drew a lot of attention from people all around the continent.

Some cautioned, however, that in the past, new leaders have been promoted as liberators only to turn into tormentors once in power.

Zambians and others in Africa would be keeping a careful eye on the situation.

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