from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – THE latest switch of power from a ruling party to the opposition, the third such shift since independence in 1964, has consolidated Zambia’s democratic traditions and is worthy of emulation in a continent where peaceful change remains largely elusive.
The Southern African country has thereby defied projections it was headed into the abyss, following weeks of election-related violence and ethnic tensions in what was anticipated to be the most fiercely-contested exercise in over five decades of self-rule.
While the run-up to the polls had divided the country sharply, ironically, the election outcome has united the nation and underscored its ethos of a “One Zambia, One Nation.”
“These polls are a tribute to the democratic ideals upon which the country was founded and an inspiration for the democratic aspirations of people around the world,” said Ned Price, United States Department of State spokesperson.
There is nonetheless little time to celebrate.
The incoming administration of Haikande Hichilema has to hit the ground running to resuscitate an economy, too reliant on copper, which has been on a recession even prior to the coronavirus crisis and lurched the nation into the ignominy of being the first in Africa to default on its debts since the pandemic.
Hichilema polled over 2,8 million votes or 59,38 percent of the vote, ahead of incumbent Edgar Lungu’s more than 1,8 million, (38,33 percent).
While incumbent, Egdar Lungu, in power since 2015, was gracious in defeat, Hichilema, who had lost five previous elections, was humble in victory.
“I would, therefore, like to congratulate my brother, the president-elect, His Excellency, Mr Hakainde Hichilema for becoming the seventh republican president,” said Lungu.
“I will comply with the constitutional provisions for a peaceful transition of power,” the Patriotic Front leader, assured.
Lungu’s reference to Hichilema as a “brother” signals an end to hostility towards the long-time opposition leader.
Lungu presided over a regime critics accused of being dictatorial such that Hichilema was among the victims.
He spent eight months in detention under treason charges that were denounced as spurious.
In April 2017, the police arrested him in his compound after his motorcade allegedly refused to give way to the one transporting Lungu.
The treason charge carries a maximum sentence of death penalty.
After a meeting with Lungu, fourth President, Rupiah Banda, and heads of African Union (AU) and Commonwealth observer teams, Hichilema pledged to ensure a united and developed Zambia for all.
“We will endeavour to work round the clock and indeed ensure a country everyone can call home because what divides us is smaller than our country’s aspirations,” he said.
A picture of the two men apparently sharing a light moment and bumping fists has gone viral.
The developments in Zambia have reverberated across the continent.
“It is also a major triumph for democracy on the African continent,” lauded John Steenhuisen, leader of South Africa’s main opposition, the Democratic Alliance.
Bai Koroma, leader of the AU election observation mission, said, “I applaud the Zambian people for once again demonstrating the strength of their nation’s democratic tradition.”
Koroma is former president of Sierra Leone.
Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND) have to get the ball rolling and resuscitate an economy that has for months been on a free-fall.
“We have an enormous task ahead to revive our economy and deliver on your expectations,” he conceded in his address to the nation.
“The journey will be tough and challenging, there will be ups and downs, but I am certain that with hard work and commitment, we will succeed in building a better life for you and your children.”
Zambia’s economy has been on a recession before COVID-19, which at the time of going to press had claimed the lives of 3 538 people locally, from 202 429 cases.
It was the first country on the continent to default on a sovereign debt payment in late 2020 when it missed a US$42,5 million interest payment on some of its $3 billion of bonds.
Zambia has some $12 billion in external debt, including loans from Chinese state-owned lenders.
There is a glimmer of hope.
The Kwacha currency has continued on a positive momentum. It is in the region of 18 to the Dollar.
A rally in the price of copper globally is also major boost for the country that is the second-largest producer of the mineral in the continent- after the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Previous governments have pursued an economic diversification programme to reduce the economy’s reliance on the copper industry.
Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) believes of focus for the incoming president will be providing a strong economic strategy for growth, while ensuring social cohesion across the country.
“Key to reinstating confidence in the economy will also be the finalisation of the debt liability management exercise and securing an IMF deal,” RMB economists Daniel Kavishe and Neville Mandimika stated.
Support by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been on hold because of the election. Discussions were held during April-May on Zambia’s request for an Extended Credit Facility (ECF).
– CAJ News