By STEPHEN KAPAMBWE-
UNTIL a few days ago, Hakainde Hichilema could not move around Zambia freely.
The last days of his August 12 general elections campaigns were characterized by him being blocked by the police from campaigning in certain parts of the country.
But today, Hakainde Hichilema is Zambia’s President elect after he convincingly won last Thursday’s general elections with a resounding victory over outgoing President Edgar Lungu and the Patriotic Front (PF).
Mr Hichilema’s walk to State House has been a long and difficult one.
Born on June 4,1962, Hakainde Hichilema, popularly known as “HH” and “Bally”, is described in some circles as a “self made” Zambian businessman, politician and economist.
He has led his political party, the UPND, since 2006.
President Hichilema assumed the leadership of UPND in 2006, having been preceded by the party’s founder Anderson Mazoka.
President Hichilema, who was born in Monze in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), is married to his spouse Mutinta.
He is a perennial presidential candidate who has contested five times and lost in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016.
But this has not diminished his determination, having now succeeded in ascending to the highest office in the land on his sixth attempt.
President Hichilema was born in a village in Monze district.
He comes from a humble background, having walked barefoot during his childhood.
But his destiny started to change when he received a scholarship to study at the University of Zambia (UNZA) where he graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business Administration.
Thereafter, he pursued an MBA in Finance and Business Strategy at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom (UK).
He served as chief executive officer of both Coopers and Lybrand Zambia between 1994 and 1998, and Grant Thornton Zambia from 1998 to 2006.
Following the death of Anderson Mazoka in 2006, Mr Hichilema was elected as successor of the UPND.
He also served as the leader of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), which was made up of three opposition political parties.
In the 2006 election, President Hichilema was the candidate of the UDA.
He ran against incumbent President Levy Mwanawasa of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and PF candidate Michael Sata in elections that were held on September 28,2006.
He came out in third place, having received 25 per cent of the vote.
President Hichilema again ran as the UPND candidate in the 2008 elections, which were called following the death of President Levy Mwanawasa.
He came out in third place yet again with 19.7 per cent of the vote.
In June 2009, President Hichilema’s party formed a pact with Mr Sata’s PF to contest the 2011 elections 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.
The subsequent elections that were held in 2011 propelled the PF into power and Mr Sata became Zambia’s fifth President.
This was the second time that a ruling party in Zambia was losing an election to an opposition political party, the first time having been in 1991 when UNIP, under Dr Kaunda, lost elections to the opposition MMD after being in office for 27 years.
In 2015, Mr Hichilema was one of the two main candidates in the January presidential elections.
He lost by a narrow margin of just 27,757 votes (1.66 per cent) against the PF’s Edgar Lungu. The UPND leader denounced the elections as not free and fair and urged his supporters to remain calm.
He again faced President Lungu as the main opposition candidate in the August 2016 presidential electionswhich, yet again, he narrowly lost.
In April 2017, President Hichilema was arrested on suspicion of treason and charged with attempting to overthrow the Government.
He was in prison for four months before being he was released on a nolle prosequi.
He was charged with treason after being accused of endangering the President’s life by failing to give way to President Lungu’s motorcade.
Mr Hichilema strongly denied the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of death.
It is believed that during his arrest, the police used excessive force to enter his residence where they damaged his home and property, beat up all his workers and took money and other belongings.
Tear gas canisters were thrown inside his home, gassing him out, including his asthmatic wife and children who collapsed several times due to inhaling the tear gas.
President Hichilema’s arrest was widely condemned, with the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and the European Parliament protesting to the Zambian Governmant.
The Africa Liberal Network condemned the arrest as an attempt by President Lungu to silence dissent and opposition, while the Catholic bishops strongly condemned the arrest and said Zambia had become a dictatorship under President Edgar Lungu.
Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, accused President Edgar Lungu of apartheid-style repression for detaining Mr Hichilema on treason charges.
Mmusi Maimane, the then leader of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DA) party, who was denied entry into Zambia to visit Mr Hichilema in jail after he was prevented from exiting the plane at Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, strongly denounced the trumped up charges against Mr Hichilema.
In an interview with BBC’s HARDtalk, President Hichilema said during his time in prison, he was held in solitary confinement for eight days without food, water, light or visitation.
He said he was tortured.
His wife, Mutinta, was turned away by prison authorities when she took food for President Hichilema whose arrest was the subject of an episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream TV programme titled ‘Is Zambia’s democracy in danger’, which aired on May 30,2017.
Zambia’s first President Kenneth Kaunda was equally turned away by prison officials when he tried to visit Mr Hichilema in prison.
But former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was allowed to visit President Hichilema in prison and so was Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland who visited Mr Hichilema in prison twice.
His release from jail on August 16, 2017 was accompanied by jubilation on his party supporters and sympathizers.
People lined up the roads of Lusaka to have a glimpse of President Hichilema as his motorcade drove past.
Former United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan congratulated the Zambian authorities for dropping the treason charges against Mr Hichilema and releasing him from prison.
Thanks giving prayers were held to celebrate his release from jail at the Cathedral of Holy Cross in Lusaka on August 29, 2017.
The event, which drew large crowds, was originally scheduled to take place the previous week on August 24, but was blocked by heavily armed State police who sealed off the venue.
President 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 DA members of Parliament.
Additionally, he was featured on BBC’s HARDtalk.
A book about President Hichilema’s time in prison, entitled ‘Hakainde Hichilema’s Prison Diary’, was released on September 29,2017.
It was authored by Journalist Fredrick Misebezi.
On December 23, 2020, President Hichilema was summoned at police heard quarters in Lusaka where he received a warn and caution for an alleged offence of “conspiracy to defraud contrary to section 313 of the Penal Code, Cap 87 of the Laws of Zambia”.
This was in relation to the purchase of a property in 2004.
But the incident spiraled out of control as President Hichilema arrived for questioning.
The police clashed with UPND supporters and in an attempt to disperse the crowd, police officers reportedly shot dead a State prosecutor and a UPND supporter.
The shooting was heavily criticized by local and international bodies who called for prompt instigations to bring to book the officers who fired at unarmed people.
President Lungu reacted by giving Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja a six months contract to transform the police service andregain people’s confidence.
He told Mr Kanganja that the six months contract was meant to enable him to conclude investigations into the killing of the two innocent Zambians and allow him to reorganize the police service.
President Lungu further appointed Copperbelt Province Commissioner Charity Katanga as new deputy inspector general of police (for operations) to replace Bonnie Kapeso whose contract was terminated.
Among the awards President Hichilema has been conferred with is the Africa Freedom Award by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom on October 27,2017, at an event held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
President Hichilema was the first Zambian opposition political leader to be hosted on the popular BBC television programme HARDtalk, and the second Zambian politician to be featured after former President Levy Mwanawasa.
On December 17, 2017, President Hichilema featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, which made him the first opposition political leader to be hosted on the programme.
The interview came after ZNBC management granted a request by the UPND through its spokesman Charles Kakoma, who had written to the broadcaster’s director general requesting that Mr Hichilema be featured on the programme.
President Hichilema is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church.
He is a businessman and the second largest cattle rancher in Zambia.
He has based his Presidential campaigned on lowering the cost of doing business for Zambians and fixing the economy.
As has been outlined, his walk to become the seventh President of Zambia has been marred with pitfalls that have taken a strong woman in the name of his wife Mutinta, his family and the UPND, to stand with him through thick and thin.