A new wind of change is blowing in neighbouring Zambia following Hakainde Hichilema’s election as incoming president. The business tycoon and opposition leader, at his sixth attempt at winning the presidency, prevailed by landslide by garnering over 2.8 million votes compared to 1.8 million secured by incumbent Edgar Lungu.
Lungu was criticised for alleged human rights abuses, corruption, a failing economy and massive unemployment. Hichilema, who was charged with treason in 2016 for allegedly failing to give way to the presidential motorcade of Lungu, was jailed for four months before charges were dropped.
However, Lungu won praise from the international community and his own people when he immediately conceded defeat, while pictures of him on social media smiling brightly in the company of Hichilema and former president Rupiah Banda was met by an almost palpable sigh of relief. Hichilema’s victory was historic and not surprising. It was for the first time in 30 years that Zambians elected a candidate who is not aligned to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy or its breakaway party, the Patriotic Front.
There is, therefore, a massive weight of expectation for the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) to deliver on his electoral promises. The country’s youth were dubbed the kingmakers of this election, and the successful businessman will be under pressure to turn the copper-rich nation into a formidable food basket for the SADC region.
According to statistics, around one in five Zambians under the age of 35 are unemployed. His administration will, therefore, have to hit the ground running and lift Zambians out of their misery. Be that as it may, the Zambian people have set an example for the rest of Africa and the world about how power can be transferred peacefully. It is indeed refreshing to see how business quickly returned to normal this week, just a day after Hichilema was declared president-elect.
This is a far cry from the reality in other parts of the continent and world where gunbattles and protests are often taking centre-stage. Even before elections kicked off, not many expected the southern African country to hold relatively peaceful and organised presidential elections, in spite of the risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, Africa has come of age, and despite myriad social and political challenges, open elections and the smooth handover from one leader to a new one is fast becoming a norm on the continent.
As President Hage Geingob would occasionally say, Africa has entered the third wave of leadership, whose main focus is to instill strong democratic principles and to strengthen processes, systems and institutions in order to deliver shared economic prosperity.