By Haroon Ghumra –
THE curtains came down almost a fortnight ago on what has indeed been an eventful and challenging year – 2021.
Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to dominate the headlines.
People’s livelihoods were affected as the tourism, education, sports and business sectors were left in disarray.
Numerous lives were lost and medical institutions were overwhelmed with patients.
For the people of Zambia, the year will undoubtedly be best remembered for the 2021 general elections, which were successfully and peacefully held.
Thursday, August 12, 2021, will go down in the annals of history as a momentous occasion. It was on this day when the political landscape of the country changed.
Millions of people turned up in unprecedented numbers to cast their votes in the general election.
A record number of 4,959,332 people cast their votes, compared to 2016 when 3,781,505 people voted, representing an increase of 31.15 per cent.
There was high anticipation from all the stakeholders as the results started trickling in on Friday, August 13, 2021.
The announcement of the winner was delayed for a few days as the votes were being counted thoroughly and diligently.
Whist awaiting the outcome of the election and with the mood around the country becoming tense, then opposition party leader Hakainde Hichilema struck a conciliatory tone of love and unity and called for calm from his members.
He tweeted on August 15, 2021: “With victory in sight, I’d like to ask for calm from our members and supporters. We voted for change for a better Zambia that’s free from violence and discrimination. Let us be the change we voted for and embrace the spirit of ubuntu to love and live together harmoniously.”
In another tweet on the same day, he added: “As we move beyond the campaign period, let us all agree to put Zambia first. We are one nation, one people, one Zambia. We must come together, united by a common love for our country and our people, so that we can start moving Zambia forward.”
Mr Hichilema’s victory was finally confirmed in the early hours of August 16, 2021, by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), the statutory body mandated to run elections.
He received a staggering 2,852,348 votes, setting a new record, representing 57.51 per cent of the total votes cast.
In distant second place was incumbent President Edgar Lungu, who polled 1,870,780 ballots, a difference of 981,568 votes.
After five previous unsuccessful attempts (in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016), Mr Hichilema had finally won the presidential race and emphatically so.
The “VOTE FOR CHANGE AND A BETTER ZAMBIA” message presented by his United Party for National Development (UPND) resonated well with the electorate, resulting in them selecting him as the next Head of State.
He had sold the UPND as a Government which would work hard to create jobs for the unemployed, reduce inflation and food prices and to revamp the economy and put it back on a growth trajectory.
At his first press briefing at his New Kasama home in Lusaka on Monday, August 16, 2021, the incoming Head of State, announced that his Cabinet would reflect Zambia’s ethnic diversity by promoting the “One Zambia, One Nation” slogan to help foster genuine unity among the different tribes.
He said under the UPND, people would have access to opportunities based on their citizenship as Zambians and for competence in their chosen fields.
He said he would deliver development to all Zambians, regardless of their ethnicity or political affiliation and declared that he and his team would be servants of the people.
First President Kenneth David Kaunda (KK), who coined the “One Zambia, One Nation” mantra would have indeed been proud of Mr Hichilema for emulating what he had preached during his 27-year-rule.
Dr Kaunda, popularly known as KK, led Zambia from 1964 to 1991 and has largely been credited for uniting the people of Zambia during his tenure.
He died at Lusaka’s Maina Soko Medical Center on June 17, 2021, and was buried at Embassy Park on July 7, 2021.
Mr Hichilema was formally sworn in on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, as the seventh President of Zambia, witnessed by thousands of joyous people at a jam-packed National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
Millions more across the country followed the proceedings on television, radio and other social media platforms.
Sharing the auspicious moment were 10 heads of State from neighbouring countries as well as several other dignitaries, both local and foreign.
Amongst them was Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland, whose intervention in 2017 led to Mr Hichilema’s release from prison after he was incarcerated for alleged treason.
Together with his five co-accused, Mr Hichilema was finally set free on August 16, 2017, after spending 127 days in prison.
Speaking at National Heroes Stadium, Ms Scotland said; “Today is a great day for peace, for Zambians, for Africa, the Commonwealth and for all those who love peace, good governance and the rule of law embedded in the concept of what makes a true democracy.”
She said while Mr Hichilema won the majority vote, Mr Lungu won the hearts of every person that loves democracy by conceding defeat and pledging to a peaceful power transfer.
For the record, three incumbents have now lost the presidency.
The first was Zambia’s founding father Dr Kenneth Kaunda (now late), who’s 27-year rule came to an end with the birth of multi-party politics in 1991.
He lost to trade unionist-turned politician, Frederick Chiluba, of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD).
The second was fourth President Rupiah Banda of the MMD who was defeated by veteran politician Michael Sata of the Patriotic Party (PF) in September, 2011.
Mr Lungu becomes the third sitting president to lose an election.
They all handed over the reins of power peacefully and graciously, providing a shining example to the continent of Africa and the world at large.
Speaking during his inauguration, Mr Hichilema, popularly known as HH, set the tone for Zambia’s governance outlook for the next five years.
His speech aptly delivered the new Government’s agenda on economic growth, job creation, agriculture, mining and many other pertinent areas key to the development of the country.
He declared that he would not condone corruption, harassment of civil servants, cadreism and the stifling of media freedoms.
On Thursday, September 23, 2021, nominated Member of Parliament Mutinta Mazoka, wife of late Anderson Mazoka, the founding father of UPND, delivered her maiden speech in Parliament.
She said Mr Mazoka would have been proud of Mr Hichilema for upholding the UPND’s foundation of being a liberator of the people by being a source of hope to the hopeless and a voice for the voiceless.
Since assuming power just over four months ago, notable and visible changes have taken place throughout the country.
President Hichilema has begun on a sound footing, translating his words into action to “WALK THE TALK,” as he had promised after winning the Presidential vote.
As he indicated during his first press briefing, the Cabinet, which he unveiled in September 2021, is regionally balanced, representing all the 10 provinces in the country.
This is a similar picture at the permanent secretary and other public office level.
The urban population has seen the return of power and management, particularly of markets and bus stations, to local authorities.
The influence of cadres in these places was a source of heightened tension between the two main political parties in the past.
Steps have been introduced to bring about professionalism in the civil service.
All law enforcement agencies are now operating independently without any political interference.
A number of police roadblocks have been removed as they were an inconvenience for motorists by creating traffic jams.
Only security checkpoints are now in place.
A notable achievement was recorded last month when Zambia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached a staff-level agreement on a three-year programme supported by an arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) in the amount of about US$1.4 billion. The economic programme aims to restore macro-economic stability and foster higher, more resilient, and inclusive growth.
The Government’s ambitious reform programme, supported by the IMF, seeks to restore fiscal and debt sustainability, create fiscal space for much needed social spending and strengthen economic governance and transparency.
The K173 Billion 2022 National Budget was approved by Parliament on Thursday, December 23, 2021.
This was the New Dawn Government’s first financial blueprint and will cover the 12-month period; January 1, 2022, up to December 31, 2022.
Some of the key highlights of the budget were:
• Recruitment of 30,000 teachers;
• Construction of 120 additional secondary schools to be financed through a concessional loan with the World Bank;
• 11,200 health workers to be recruited and equitably deployed;
• Abolishing of school fees for pupils in all public schools in older to fulfil the UPND’s campaign promise of delivering free education for all;
• The number of beneficiary households under the Social Cash Transfer programme will be increased to more than 1 million;
• In a quest to take resources closer to the people, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) has been substantially increased to K25.7 million per constituency, compared to last year’s K1.6 million; and,
• In order to attract investment and boost production in the mining sector, the Government will re-introduce the deductibility of mineral royalty for corporate income tax assessment purposes.
Zambia now shifts firmly into the business end of governance, facing the daunting and challenging tasks of dismantling the huge external debt, creating jobs for the unemployed, reducing inflation and revitalizing the economy to put it on a growth trajectory.
The calibre and credentials exhibited by President Hichilema so far have nonetheless left the citizenry with little doubt that he will be equal to the task.
He brings to the presidency a strong ethical and moral grounding augmented by an impressive pedigree of economic and diplomatic expertise.
These qualities, and other pronouncements made by him, have also sent a positive signal to Zambia’s creditors and investors who want to do business in the country.
There is a justifiable air of optimism around the country as the President and his party aim to make the coming years not only a success for the people of Zambia, but also a time of continued peace, harmony and unity in line with the re-activated “One Zambia, One Nation,” slogan, coupled with steady economic growth.