UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema’s widely publicized appearance on the critically acclaimed Hard Talk programme on the BBC has sharply divided public opinion especially among Zambians.
The show whose first airing was on BBC World Service TV at 06:30 Zambian Time has left many Zambians debating with some stating that Mr Hichilema rendered a presidential showing while others said his performance was an embarrassment.
Mr Hichilema becomes only the second political figure in Zambia to feature on the popular BBC flagship show after Kenneth Kaunda and late Levy Mwanawasa.
On the programme, hard hitting President Stephen Sackur grilled Mr. Hichilema on a range of issues including his insistence that he will not recognize President Edgar Lungu’s legitimacy, the failure to win a presidential election despite numerous attempts and his resolve towards national unity.
On the other hand, Mr Hichilema who remains composed throughout the show elaborated how what he says the breakdown of the rule of law has affected the general state of affairs in Zambia.
Sackur also pushed Mr. Hichilema on whether he was going to run for elections again despite having lost a record five times, the UPND leader responded, “Whether I am going to run again is not the point, the point is we are concerned about the process under which these elections are held…anyone is free to run including myself.”
“How many times have I gone to court? This is the first time I am challenging the election outcome. We are calling for a fair process.”
Sackur further pressed Mr Hichilema to substantiate his claims that President Lungu wanted to kill him moments before his arrest and detention.
The BBC Presenter quizzed him that if President Edgar Lungu wanted to kill Hichilema he would have easily done that.
‘With due respect, if he wanted to kill you, he could have killed you. Clearly the intention was not to kill you.”
But Mr. Hichilema cited his brutal arrest and eight-day solitary confinement in what he called inhuman conditions as reasons to believe that Mr Lungu meant to have him killed.
The UPND insisted that his arrest should never have happened in the first place and alleged that accusations and trumped up charges against his followers were the order of the day in Zambia.
This was after Sackur questioned Mr Hichilema why he has continued attacking President Lungu’s democratic credentials when he agreed to have him released with the intervention of the Commonwealth.
“In some countries, you might still be languishing in prison. Why are you making such a fuss about this whole episode?” asked Sackur.
On the eligibility of President Lungu to rerun in 2021, Mr. Hichilema gave a measured response stating the Constittional Court will determine the matter.
He said the country should wait for the court to rule on whether President Lungu is eligible to contest the 2021 general elections.
But reactions among Zambians on social media to Mr Hichilema’s performance on Hard Talk have been so diverse with some describing it as embarrassing while others hailed his calm composure and articulation of issues.
Activist Laura Miti posted, “Just watched HH on BBC’s Hardtalk. What a harsh style from the interviewer and what an impressive performance by HH! Very calm, very presidential.
Now my question – being so good himself, why has he chosen to be represented by such an incompetent and disjointed PR team? Ndaba other than a short moment after he came out of detention which was clearly handled by a professional, the HH media presence is a joke. A reckless one.”
She further charged that Sarkur’s style of interviewing annoying and patronizing of African and Africans.
“Forgetting for a moment HH’s performance on the show, I found Stephen Sackur’s questions to him typically patronising of Africa and Africans. Quite annoying actually.”
“Where does he get off suggesting that HH should be grateful because he only stayed months in a filthy jail, after all in other countries he would still be inside. Is this the African standard? Would he say the same if British Prime Minister, Theresa May put opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in cells for a few months on some trumped up treason charges?”
She added, “Why must Africans be expected to accept mid-level dictatorship as our version of democracy? According to Sackur and many Westerners including the election monitors he listed, as long as bodies are not lying in the street and someone is in the presidential office, however dodgily they got there, it is good enough for Africa.”
“Then Sackur did not bother to research. He kept insisting the courts had heard the election petition. Very dismissive of the lack of judicial resolution to a disputed election Zambia is still paying for and which our own courts and review institutions have since found problematic. Again is that the standard he would hold Britain to? All in all, what we Africans must always remember is that we must fight for our own democratic standards,” Ms. Miti said.
“If we wait for others to say what is acceptable for the much less than them status they place us at, they will rewrite the long strides backwards Zambia’s democracy has taken in the last few years into normalcy. You are a black African country after all, they suggest. Why should you expect real democracy. That would be holding designs above your station! In short, Sackur is of the view that here where we are, is more like us. Not those democratic illusions we tried to adopt, under MMD.”
Owen Phiri said, “Hard Talk has always been that way. So it’s not harsh per se, not the nature of that programme.”
Sydney Mwamba said Mr Hichilema carried himself well on the programme.
“He was calm and collected, he carried himself pretty well,” he said.
Mary Taguma Bilsborough also defended Mr Hichilema’s performance adding that he featured on a BBC programme which others like President Lungu failed to turn up when invited.
“It’s a shame really. HH is like a stray ball caught in the thicket of thorns. I hope Zambians can give him a chance to demonstrate his poise as head of the country. What we have in Edgar as a person and head of the country is what is translated in his style of leadership and cascades down to his cabinet. Very dismal to say the least.
Jay Phiri Z’mba insisted that Mr Hichilema was roasted during the programme.
“He was roasted left right centre,” he posted.
But Mary Taguma Bilsborough responded, “Jay, what do you mean he was roasted? Those are hard journalistic questions that need a balanced head to handle. Steven is asking such questions to help people across the board to get straight answers from the horse’s mouth. It is good for you and me. Edgar would be asked same kind of questions should he appear on this program.”
The UPND leader is in the United Kingdom for a series of political engagements where he has met Zambians living in London, held a meeting with the investor community in the UK and delivered a speech at Chatham House.