The 16th of August 2021 was a historical day for Zambia. On this day, the President-elect of Zambia, Mr Hakainde Hichilema (popularly known as “HH’’) gave his first speech after winning a landslide victory against his main rival and ruling party opponent Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu (ECL).
I was privileged enough to have a press pass for the occasion and would not miss the opportunity to witness it, but also to take photos for my memoirs.
On this day, my personal feeling was that of huge relief on many fronts. Relief that finally Zambia had a president we could call a leader and a visionary. His speech was well articulated and inspired hope in a better Zambia.
Lungu’s presidency had left me feeling rather uninspired and frankly quite irritated at his lack of leadership and oratory skills. I was not alone in having abandoned watching the state broadcast channel which always featured him and his Patriotic Front (PF) cadres or political party leaders as the main focus of their daily news coverage, to the exclusion of all opposition parties, including HH’s United Party for National Development (UPND).
One always had a sense of dread and cringing at their senseless and often arrogant talk, which was often aimed at malignant their main opposition party, UPND, which won the latest election convincingly above the 50+1 percent constitutional requirement.
An additional irritation and disappointment was the obvious plundering of state resources that characterised the presidency of Edgar Lungu. We were bombarded daily with images and videos of PF affiliated people that were showing off money, luxury houses or luxury cars.
One remembers scandals such as the 42 fire trucks that were bought at a staggering 42 million dollars; the 48 houses that had no traceable owner; the embarrassing travel of a huge delegation of the first lady, Esther Lungu, to the United States to collect fire trucks that had been retired and essentially garbage; the endless illegal acquisition of land scandals; the disregard for the law and the constitution; the tribal hatred and divisions that were used for political mileage; and the Honeybee Pharmacy scandal of expired drugs and leaking condoms procured by a dubiously registered entity, as a few examples. The list of scandals swept under the rug is endless and we hope they will be uncovered with the coming of the new administration, though some PF members were already urging HH to focus on fulfilling his election promises and not to dig up (dubiously) closed cases such as the 42 fire trucks scandal. On can only laugh at such foolishness and determination to hide their misdeeds.
The economy was on a downward trend despite massive borrowing and debt which the country was struggling to pay. Infrastructure had improved somewhat in urban areas but it did not seem to have much impact on the ordinary man. Besides, many had the feeling that this infrastructure drive was simply because it was a convenient and massive way to steal public funds through kickbacks to PF politicians from those awarded to do the work. The malls that had sprung up over the years were mostly foreign-owned and many shops had closed due to the harsh economic climate. The PF were eager to blame its economic failures on the Covid-19 pandemic, which came as quite a convenient scapegoat. But the discerning were aware that this downward trend had begun long before Covid-19 hit the country, mostly as a result of mismanagement and corruption.
We watched helplessly and tried our best to adapt as earnings tumbled to less than a third of their initial value in dollar when PF. Prices of goods and services sky-rocketed. Everyone was feeling the burden and complaining. Except the president and the PF.
Indeed for them life was rosy. They seemed to have an endless supply of wealth while much of the population was under extreme economic stress. It is this lack of insight that ultimately led to their downfall. Leading up to elections they flaunted their wealth, their infrastructure projects and their confidence to win. They had lost touch with the people they were elected to serve.
It would not be amiss to say that all the criminal elements in the country came out of hiding under the rule of the PF. They knew that joining the PF was the sure way to conduct their illegal activities with impunity. They were untouchable, above the law and the police could do nothing to stop them. It is no surprise, but still a great disappointment, that in his last week in office ECL chose to pardon 60 convicts, many of him were murderers who had served less than half their sentences.
I went to visit some relatives in Mtendere recently after UPND’s victory and was shocked at the stories I heard. I was told that the PF had become the den of every thief and criminal there. Stories of theft, extortion, vandalism, harassing innocent citizens and even murder were shared. I was told the horrendous story of how someone was murdered by PF cadres, dismembered and dumped in a field, but the case went nowhere. Under Edgar Lungu’s rule they were indeed untouchable – nothing was done, I was told, about this gruesome murder.
What a legacy to have as an outgoing president! Corruption, theft, plunder, impunity, arrogance, disregard for the rule of law and being totally detached from the people. I wish I could describe his presidency another way, but Edgar Chagwa Lungu was the sixth and worst president Zambia has ever had. We pray as a nation that he forever retains this title, we do not need it broken. Many Zambians can say with a sigh of relief – “never again”! We need no repeat of this self-labelled “humble” yet visionless president.
He held the country to ransom and the courts of law were no consideration. His third term bid was given a stamp of approval by the, many would say compromised, constitutional court. But the people of Zambia said a resounding “NO” to his third term desires. It was not a moment too soon. Another 5 years of Lungu and PF would undoubtedly have brought the country to its knees.
But less than a week after HH’s victory change had already started. Cadres were removed from markets, bus stations and other places where they had illegally set up offices and were extorting money from people and business owners. Government contracts were cancelled, no doubt given to PF cadres and in fear of being exposed once the new government took over. The revoked broadcast licence to Prime TV was restored unconditionally by eh Independent Broadcasting Authority. Some illegally obtained assets were being abandoned in plain sight. A close associate of the outgoing president had his accounts frozen by the Drug Enforcement Commission. The markets responded favourably and the exchange rate against major currencies, notably the dollar, improved to levels not seen in years.
All this before HH is even officially sworn in as Zambia’s 7th president. How embarrassing for the outgoing president. How exposing of his ineptitude, incometence and lack of will to do what was right. How symptomatic of the lack of vision that characterised the PF’s rule. They had 10 years to bring about positive change and squandered it all. Many of them are now living in fear of reprisal from the people they oppressed as well as fear of losing their ill-gotten wealth. They cannot sleep peacefully in the luxurious homes they built with plundered national wealth. Apologies and resignations from them abound.
While HH had a reconciliatory tone in his 16th August speech, many hope that he will not stifle the law enforcement agencies and let them do their work to bring these criminal elements that were masquerading as leaders to book.
Indeed, many are concerned by reassurances by HH that ECL would be “okay” and wonder what this means. They are quick to remind the president elect that his personal forgiveness for what PF did to him and the country, including being arrested fifteen times and spending weeks in a filthy jail, are his right, but that he should not stand in the way of justice for the country.
People voted for change, but people also voted for justice for all they have lost over the years and for the injustice they have suffered. There has to be consequences. Plundered resources have to be recovered. That is what the people voted for and in particular the youth who were labelled as “disgruntled” by the PF when they dared to protest.
They came out in their millions and voted for HH or “Bally” as they had come to call him. What an underestimate of their voting power by the PF. One said to me “I did not know what power there was in my vote until now, I am glad I voted.” What a sign of the PF myopia and arrogance, to the extent of releasing a song in local language saying ‘’sorry, but he will retain his seat.’’ They knew very well that they were not wanted but were determined to stay in power at all costs.
The heavy investment in the police and military both in terms of personnel and anti-riot gear was a clear sign that the people were to be controlled once this election had been won by them using any means possible. Dumped pre-marked ballot boxes are a testament to this.
I wish I had something nice to write about the PF and ECL, but forgive me, I do not. Some would say he deserves kudos for conceding defeat and agreeing to a peaceful handover of power. But is that not what a president in a democratic society is expected to do? Further, it is clear that this was largely due to the overwhelming margin by which he lost and was ”impossible to rig” as many of his advisors had told him.
I do not regret voting for PF and not Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 2011. It was time for the MMD to leave just like it was time now for the PF to leave. They both portrayed the same arrogance, corruption and disregard for the law. Unfortunately, PF let into its ranks the very people from MMD that we had voted out.
One would say the MMD folk now turned PF had learnt nothing from their equally humiliating loss. Perhaps that they continued to plunder under PF gave them confidence that Zambia was theirs to loot no matter what and that its peaceful people were powerless to do anything about it. Let this be a harsh lesson for the UPND as they take over to serve the people of Zambia. Zambians do not want to see the same people they voted out back in the guise of “working with the government to serve the people of Zambia.” They failed to serve the people and thought only of themselves for 10 years. They do not deserve another chance.
HH takes office with a clean political record. The expectations of the people are high. His speech on the 16th of August sent a signal that these expectations would be met. Respect for law and order, zero tolerance for corruption, press freedom, economic recovery and growth, professionalism and appointment and promotion on merit and not on tribal or political party lines were all part of this speech, which was a breath of fresh air and made many proud to be Zambian once again.
We can only wish him and our Vice-President, Mutale Nalumango, the very best as they take up governance on the 24th of August 2021. We want you and UPND to succeed, for the sake of mother Zambia.
Under Edgar Lungu we were a country held captive by the organised crime family that had become the Patriotic Front. We can now proudly sing the words of our national anthem – “Free men we stand, under the flag or our land” and “Praise be to God.”
“Bless our great nation, Zambia.”