Hakainde Hichilema, Zambia’s veteran opposition politician and a business tycoon, tried six times for the country’s presidency before finally landing the top job on Monday.
With more than 2.8 million votes, he secured a landslide against his long-time rival President Edgar Lungu, who garnered just over 1.8 million of the ballots cast on August 12.
Hichilema, who has described himself as just an ordinary “cattle boy”, has contested and lost every election held in the southern African country since 2006, though he has been buoyed each time by an increased share of the vote.
In 2016, he unsuccessfully challenged the result of the presidential election, which he said was stolen from him after he narrowly lost by 100,000 votes.
This time around, the 59-year-old opposition leader latched onto widespread dissatisfaction with Lungu’s running of the economy, campaigning under the slogan “faka pressure” — meaning “put pressure” for change.
Hichilema is no stranger to controversy in the copper-rich nation, having run afoul of the authorities numerous times. He regularly mentions that he has been arrested 15 times since getting into politics
Most recently after the 2016 election, he faced treason charges for allegedly failing to give way to the presidential motorcade.
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He spent four months in a maximum-security jail before the charges were dropped.
As president, Hichilema will inherit a troubled economy after years of Lunga’s infrastructure spending spree in a country where more than half the population lived below the poverty line before the pandemic.
Last year, Zambia became the first African nation to default on its debt in the coronavirus era.
At his final campaign speech in the capital Lusaka last week, Hichilema said his political drive came from “the wish to see a better life”.
“It hurts to see citizens go to bed without food in such a country,” he explained, deploring the underutilized potential of natural resources in Zambia, Africa’s second copper producer.
Brief History of Hakainde Hichilema
Hakainde Hichilema (born 4 June 1962) is a Zambian businessman and politician who is the president-elect of Zambia. After having contested five previous elections in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016, he won the 2021 presidential election with over 59% of the vote. He has led the United Party for National Development since 2006.
Prior to his election, Hichilema was a major opponent of Edgar Lungu, the President of Zambia from 2015 to 2021. On 11 April 2017, Hichilema was arrested and charged with treason, a move which was seen as an illegitimate act by Lungu to silence a political rival. The arrest and charge were widely condemned, with protests held in Zambia and abroad, demanding Hichilema’s release and condemning the increasing authoritarianism of Lungu’s regime. Hichilema was released from prison on 16 August 2017, and the charge of treason was dropped.
Political career of Hakainde Hichilema
Hichilema is a member of the opposition United Party for National Development, a liberal political party. Following the death of Anderson Mazoka in 2006, he was elected as the party’s new President. He also served as the leader of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), an alliance of three opposition political parties.
In the 2006 election, Hichilema was the candidate of the UDA and ran against incumbent president Levy Mwanawasa of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy and Patriotic Front candidate Michael Sata. He received the endorsement of former President Kenneth Kaunda. The election was held on 28 September 2006 and Hichilema took third place with about 25% of the vote.
Hichilema ran as the UPND candidate in the 2008 election, which was called following the death of President Levy Mwanawasa. He came 3rd with 19.7% of the vote. In June 2009, Hichilema’s party, the UPND, formed a pact with Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) to contest the 2011 election together. However, indecision on the pact candidate, deep mistrust and accusations of tribalism from both sides resulted in the collapse of the pact in March 2011.
He was one of the two main candidates in the January 2015 presidential election, which he lost by a narrow margin of 27,757 votes (1.66%) against the ruling party’s candidate, Edgar Lungu. Hichilema denounced the election as a sham and urged his supporters to remain calm. He again faced Lungu as the main opposition candidate in the August 2016 presidential election, and was again narrowly defeated.
In April 2017, he was arrested on suspicion of treason and charged with attempting to overthrow the government. He was in prison for four months before being given a nolle prosequi.
Arrest and treason charge
Hichilema was arrested on 11 April 2017. On the night of 11 April 2017 the Zambian Police broke and entered Hakainde Hichilema’s compound to arrest the country’s main opposition leader, ordered by President Edgar Lungu’s government and charged with treason after he was accused of endangering the president’s life after his motorcade allegedly refused to give way to the one transporting President Lungu, a case which many viewed as a minor traffic offence and not one that could amount to treason. Hichilema strongly denied the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of death penalty.
The police used excessive force] to enter Hichilema’s residence damaging his home and property, beat up all his workers, stole colossal sums of money, jewellery, as well as underwear, shoes, speakers, blankets, carpets and food from the kitchen and defecated on Mr. Hichilema’s bed. Teargas canisters were thrown inside Hichilema’s home gassing Hichilema, his asthmatic wife, and his children, who collapsed several times due to inhaling the gas.
Time in jail
Hichilema said in an interview on HARDtalk that during his time in prison he was held in solitary confinement for eight days without food, water, light or visitation, was tortured by having his penis pepper sprayed, and accused president Lungu of having tried to kill him.
His wife, Mutinta, was turned away by prison officials when she took food for him.
Hichilema’s arrest was the subject of the episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream TV program titled Is Zambia’s Democracy in Danger which aired on 30 May 2017.
Zambia’s first president Kenneth Kaunda was turned away by prison officials when he visited Hichilema in Prison.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance (South Africa) was also turned away by Zambia Police when he came to Zambia to attend Hichilema’s court appearance, he was not allowed to disembark from the plane, had his phone confiscated and was roughed up. This prompted South Africa’s Foreign Ministry to summon Zambia’s Ambassador to South Africa Emmanuel Mwamba to explain the actions of the Zambian regime.
Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo visited Hichilema in prison.
Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland visited Hichilema in prison twice.
Release from prison
Celebrations took place throughout Zambia when Hichilema was released from prison on 16 August 2017 and scores of people lined up the roads of Lusaka to have a glimpse of Hichilema as his motorcade left prison.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, congratulated the Zambian authorities for dropping the treason charges against Hichilema and releasing him from prison.
Thanksgiving prayers were held to celebrate Hichilema’s release from jail at the Cathedral of Holy Cross in Lusaka on 29 August 2017 and Hichilema was present at the event which drew large crowds and was aired live on television. The event was originally scheduled to take place the previous week on 24 August but was blocked by heavily armed state police who sealed off the venue.
Hichilema became more popular after his release and was awarded the Africa Freedom Award in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was invited to speak at Catham House in London and was also invited to speak in South Africa by Democratic Alliance Members of Parliament
A book about Hichilema’s time in Prison called Hakainde Hichilema’s Prison Diary was released on 29 September 2017 by Journalist Fredrick Misebezi Hichilema endorsed the book and urged the public to read it.