BY GEOFFREY NYAROTA
The victory of Hakainde Hichilema, or HH as he is popularly known among his fellow countrymen, as the seventh president of Zambia, our sister republic across the Zambezi, has been variously viewed by different political observers.
They include those among us, who have drawn positive inspiration from the outcome of the nerve-wracking events in Lusaka over the last weekend.
The Zambian general election, pitting HH against two-term President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, attracted much attention in Harare for obvious reasons.
The proximity of our two nations is one reason.
Then there is the excitement generated in anticipation of Zimbabwe’s own forthcoming harmonised elections, now less than two years away.
What some observers in Zimbabwean opposition circles see in the Hichilema victory is the dramatic victory of an opposition candidate over the incumbent Lungu.
But in reality the HH success is much more than a simple one-election event.
It was a long process — a 15-year long procedure, embracing six election campaigns.
His final victory was the outcome of two remarkable qualities in the new head of state — determination and resilience.
Born in a village in 1962, Hichilema had his first crack at the Zambian presidency in 2006 at the age of 44.
He was the candidate then for the United Democratic Alliance.
Enjoying the support of founding Zambian president, Kenneth David Kaunda, he garnered 25% of the poll and emerged in third position.
The winner of the poll was Levy Mwanawasa of the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, who secured 43% of the vote, with Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front in second place with 29%.
HH found himself back on the campaign trail two years later in October 2008, this time as a candidate for the United Party for National Development (UPND), of which he was a co-founder.
Mwanawasa died while in office in August 2008.
During the election campaign Hichilema promised Zambians free health care for all, free primary and secondary education, as well as improved housing.
The electorate was not too impressed, however. Some observers dismissed HH, now at age 46, as being too young and too inexperienced to hold the office of president.
Meanwhile his UPND party was dismissed by many Zambians as nothing but a tribally-based outfit.
Rupiah Banda, who had acted as president since Mwanawasa’s death, was selected as the MMD’s candidate, while Michael Sata represented the Patriotic Front (PF).
The result extended Banda’s stay in office with 40.6% of the vote against 38.6%for Sata.
Hichilema experienced his second bitter taste of electoral defeat. He polled only 19.5% on a low voter turnout of 45%.
Totally undeterred, HH threw his hat in the ring yet again in September 2011 to complete a hat-trick of attempts at the presidency of Zambia.
Rather predictably, he lost once more. Sata emerged as the winner with 43% of votes counted, while Rupiah Banda (MMD) received 36.1%. Hichilema’s UPND polled 18, 54% of the vote.
But the Zambian electorate was back at the polls again in January 2015, this time to elect a replacement to serve the remainder of the term of Sata, who died in October 2014.
Edgar Lungu the candidate of the ruling Patriotic Front won by a very narrow margin of just 27 757 votes (1,68%) against the UPND’s Hichilema, who denounced the election as a sham.
He, however, urged his supporters to remain calm.
A very low turnout of only 32,36% of the 5 166 088 registered voters had bothered to cast their vote.
But Lungu and HH faced off again in general elections held in Zambia on 11 August 2016 to elect the president and National Assembly.
The incumbent Lungu had completed the term of office of his deceased predecessor. Lungu was re-elected, now for a full five-year term.
With a majority of the vote this time around, he once more defeated Hichilema, who succumbed to his fifth but ultimate defeat.
When Zambians went back to the polls last week the names of Lungu and his arch-rival, Hichilema, were on the ballot papers once more.
After a gruelling campaign and a nail-biting count over the weekend, the long-drawn out perseverance of HH was finally rewarded.
By the end of the weekend he emerged as winner of a long elusive goal — the presidency of the Republic of Zambia.
There was instant celebration on both sides of the Zambezi River.
On our side of the river excited MDC Alliance supporters peddled the Hichilema victory as being, without doubt, the harbinger of an opposition electoral victory in the not too distant future.
Some in opposition circles promptly declared this to be the season of the opposition in the former Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
They were referring to the victories of Lazarus Chabwera who became president of Malawi in June 2020 and now Hichilema, new president of Zambia in August 2021.
Following that simple logic Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance will rise to become the next president of Zimbabwe in 2023.
In politics nothing is impossible. But then, neither are there any guarantees of election victories well in advance.
The year 2023 could easily turn out to be a season of much embarrassment or loud gnashing of teeth, especially in the Chamisa faction of the MDC, amid the usual shrill cries of rigging
Finally, there is one critical factor that militates against the proclamation of favourable opposition outcomes with regard to the 2023 presidential election in Zimbabwe on the basis of the 2021 Zambian presidential poll.
Apart from being an election candidate of exceptional determination, HH is a refined and mature politician of both substance and accomplishment.
Not only is he a man of intimidating academic achievement, he is also one of outstanding performance in the corporate world.
He has served on the board of no less than 23 organisations as well as being chairman of seven.
His business portfolio is quite diversified. It includes property management, financial consultancy, and tourism.
Hichilema is Zambia’s wealthiest citizen and owns the country’s largest mansion, both of them no mean achievements, that is apart from owning the second largest cattle herd in the country.
Neo Simutanyi, the executive director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Lusaka, says of the new Zambian president that his 15-year career as an opposition politician prepared him for the presidency that he has now finally assumed.
“We’re looking at someone who has grown into the role of political office by being able to engage to opposing politicians for long and accumulated serious political experience,” he told Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, on Monday.
Hichilema secured the Zambian presidency last week after a record-breaking total of five failed election campaigns over a period of 15 years.
Now, if such dogged determination were to be replicated in Zimbabwe, as is being glibly predicted in opposition circles, that the outcome of presidential elections in Harare in 2003 must, of necessity, be determined on the basis of events in Lusaka last Friday, then one particular opposition candidate must endure four more election defeats over a period of 13 years.
To reinforce his opposition political credentials, HH had his own taste of the usual fate of opposition politicians in our part of the world.
As the country’s main opposition leader he was arrested in 2017.
On the night of April 11 the police broke into his compound and arrested him.
Lungu’s government charged him with treason on allegation that he endangered the president’s life when his motorcade allegedly failed to give way to Lungu’s own.
Hichilema strongly denied the charge, but spent 100 days behind bars, nevertheless.
Meanwhile, as the Electoral Commission of Zambia tallied the ballots over the weekend, allegations circulated with renewed ferocity about a dark or sinister side of the incoming president.
As he manoeuvred from one election loss to another, he had also dabbled in serious acts of corruption, it was alleged. The majority of his countrymen still voted for him as their new leader, nevertheless.
Finally, back in Zimbabwe, the outcome of our 2023 presidential election could easily be determined by events totally unrelated to last week’s polls in Zambia.
As the opposition in Harare was celebrating HH’s victory, ace footballer Peter Ndlovu was being confirmed through non-denial by him of his candidacy for the office of president of Zimbabwe.
It is also quite possible that the next president of Zimbabwe may not have appeared on our radar at all so far.
Not that there is any shortage of credible alternatives.
Front runners of substance would include long-distance presidential runners, Simba Herbert Stanley Makoni and Nkosana Donald Moyo, both of them former government ministers and candidates for presidential office.
Then there is the whole host of Chamisa’s rival colleagues in the various formations of the late Morgan Richard Tsvangirai’s former MDC.
They include in no particular order of seniority or perceived popular appeal, Douglas Togaraseyi Mwonzora, Welshman Ncube, Tendai Laxton Biti, Job “Wiwa the General” Sikhala, all learned lawyers, and, for gender balance, Thokozani Khupe.
By the way, my friend, Austin Chakaodza, has always made a timely appearance.
He must be consulting with his travel agent now, as a prelude to his next trans-Atlantic flight home.
By the time the whole list of potential presidential candidates for 2023 is taken into serious consideration, the slogans “ED Pfee” or “CCC” may have receded only to mere peripheral significance.
But then elections are all about long-term strategies and effective campaigning on the ground, especially rural, and most certainly not about posturing to the converted on the unruly social media.
- Geoffrey Nyarota is the author of two books, Against the Grain, Memoirs of a Zimbabwean Newsman, and The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe, The End of a Dictator’s Reign.
- He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org