UPND President Hakainde Hichilema
UPND President Hakainde Hichilema
By Simon Allison

The last time I spoke to Hakainde Hichilema, he was trapped in a panic room in his Lusaka home. Dozens of riot police had stormed the opposition leader’s house in a violent predawn raid, and were now waiting outside to arrest him or worse. “This guy, [President Edgar] Lungu, wants to kill me,” he said, his voice shaking on the telephone line, as the police tried to flush him and his family out of the panic room with teargas.

That was a little over a year ago. Lawyers eventually negotiated safe passage for Hichilema and his family, but he was still slapped with a treason charge. Prosecutors said that he had endangered Lungu’s life by blocking the presidential motorcade at a cultural celebration but most observers agreed that this was simply a pretext by Lungu to crack down on his major political rival.

Eventually the charge was dismissed but not before Hichilema had spent 127 days in jail. It was an experience that changed him as a person — and as a politician.

“Any normal person has to be changed by that experience,” he said, speaking to the Mail & Guardianat an upmarket hotel in Johannesburg. The scene is a world apart from the filthy, overcrowded Zambian prison cells that he describes.

“Our detention centres are death traps … In a room like this, you have 200 inmates spending nights. So you really don’t go to sleep. You take a nap by sitting, and someone has their body inside your legs. There is very poor ventilation something very simple to fix but it’s not there. Food, there’s no food. And when it’s there, it’s rotten beans, rotten kapenta [sardines]. Medical services are very poor. People go into prison and come out with diseases. During my stay we saw bodies being taken away, dead,” said Hichilema.

But at least he learnt something while he was inside. “It’s fortunate that I have been able to be put through this, so when our time in office comes we know which priorities need to be dealt with yesterday.” Needless to say, prison reform is near the top of that list.

The 55 year old was one of Zambia’s richest businessmen and the country’s second largest cattle rancher before turning his hand to politics. Now he leads the United party for National Development, which lost the 2016 elections by the slimmest of margins: the party was less than 100 000 votes short out of the 3.78 million votes cast.

Hichilema disputes the validity of that poll, arguing that Lungu manipulated the result in his favour. He refuses to recognise Lungu’s legitimacy as president, a stance that contributed to his arrest which, according to Hichilema, was merely the highest profile incident in a long list of human rights violations committed by Lungu’s administration.

Recently, Chishimba Kambwili, a member of Parliament, was arrested on corruption charges, which surfaced only after he defected from the ruling party. Nevers Mumba, the leader of another opposition party, was sentenced to three months in prison after being convicted of lying to a public official, a charge critics say was politically motivated.

Earlier this year, the M&G spoke to Pilato, a rapper, who fled into exile in South Africa after receiving death threats from ruling party loyalists after releasing a song that described Lungu as a “rat” whose “main job there is to steal”, a reference to the corruption allegations that have dogged the president.

“The abuse of human rights and freedoms in our country … has gone unnoticed beyond our borders,” said Hichilema. “Even to have peaceful demonstrations is almost impossible if you are not associated with the ruling party. If you see the sort of demonstrations you have around here [in South Africa], they don’t occur in Zambia … If you try to do that you will be met with brute force, where the police discharge live ammunition along with teargas wantonly.”
image is hard to square with Zambia’s hard won reputation as one of Africa’s most peaceful democracies. But civil society activists contacted by the M&G say Hichilema is not exaggerating, and in its most recent country overview Amnesty International confirmed this bleak picture.

“The authorities cracked down on critics, including human rights defenders, journalists and opposition political party members,” said Amnesty. “The Public Order Act was used to repress rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The police used unnecessary and excessive force against peaceful protesters and failed to address violence by groups close to the government. The judiciary came under verbal attack from the president. Levels of food insecurity in rural areas remain high.”

Zambia’s economy is also struggling yet another stick with which critics are beating Lungu. It doesn’t help that, under his administration, the country’s debt has officially quadrupled from about $2 billion to more than $8 billion. Hichilema claims more debt has been hidden, and that the true figure is about $16 billion about 75% of Zambia’s gross domestic product.

‘Nobody is listening’

Zambia’s political crisis is falling on deaf ears. “There are times I feel like nobody is listening,” said Hichilema, looking tired. And his fleeting visit to South Africa only emphasises this point: at a press briefing that took place just before our interview, only three journalists attended. Aside from the M&G, no South African media house was represented.

Hichilema said that international community representatives sympathise with Zambia’s problems but tell him that the situation is not as serious as elsewhere. But he argues that, if left unchecked, Zambia will turn into “another Zimbabwe”, or another Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He believes that South Africa, Zambia’s largest trading partner, should play a more active role in the country. So far, South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been entirely silent on Lungu’s abuses.

This may come back to haunt the region, warns Hichilema. “Zambia’s economy is not growing, there is abuse of civil rights, there is no rule of law, there is increasing violence. We are creating a recipe for disaster, not just for us but for the region.”

The disaster can be easily averted. Lungu is not immune to regional pressure, and a few firm words from Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president of South Africa and the SADC chair, would go a long way towards ensuring free and fair elections and the protection of basic civil liberties, the opposition leader says.

So far, however, Ramaphosa has shown no sign that Zambia is on his foreign policy agenda. No matter how loud Hichilema shouts, few are prepared to listen.

Mail & Guardian

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69 COMMENTS

    • HH is becoming useless now…i thought he was an intelligent man but i was wrong. Now he sounds demented. How do you compare Zambia to Zimbabwe? Do you know the problems South Africa is facing in terms of politics? 100 × more than Zambia and you are running to South Africa for help…South Africa has its own issues. Now you will have to compete with Kambwili for number 2 spot

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    • HH is sick in the head…Zimbabwe is better than Zambia so this means Edgar is doing a very good job if Zambia is becoming like Zimbabwe

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    • People are not listening to HH because he is a crooked person working with fellow fraudsters and crooks. Nations have intelligence systems that track such kind of people who are always complaining about their own country everywhere they go. Meanwhile at home they fence off huge chucks of land just for their cattle grazing activities and deprive the many poor nationals grazing and farming land. Who is perpetuating anarchy if I may ask?

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    • HH is very right.

      – Govt has to repay Euro-bond loans lump-sum amounts of $750 million, $1.5 Billion & $1.25 Billion between 2022 to 2027. Govt does NOT have this money and IMF & China has refused to refinance this payment. Defaulting will bring the same pain we had when KK defaulted on IMF loans in 1980s, if you are old enough to remember.

      PF has run the country into bankruptcy. PF was getting loans to stabilize Kwacha to hide their economic failures. Thats how Irresponsible these kabwaz can be.

      – Right now Govt is failing to pay $25 million owed to 3 pharmaceutical companies. There are no drugs in hospitals
      – Crude oil suppliers have not been paid for over 6 months
      – Govt has no money for farmers inputs
      My prediction is Kwacha will bleed this year to its real value this…

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    • HH is very right.

      – Govt has to repay Euro-bond loans lump-sum amounts of $750 million, $1.5 Billion & $1.25 Billion between 2022 to 2027. Govt does NOT have this money and IMF & China has refused to refinance this payment. Defaulting will bring the same pain we had when KK defaulted on IMF loans in 1980s, if you are old enough to remember.

      PF has run the country into bankruptcy. PF was getting loans to stabilize Kwacha to hide their economic failures. That’s how Irresponsible PF00Ls can be.

      – Right now Govt is failing to pay $25 million owed to 3 pharmaceutical companies. There are no drugs in hospitals
      – Crude oil suppliers have not been paid for over 6 months
      – Govt has no money for farmers inputs
      My prediction is Kwacha will bleeed to its real value this year. Then…

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    • CONT’D

      Then you’ll see/feel/experience what some of us went through in the 80s under UNIP economic mismanagement. Put on your seat-belts bane and be strong as you continue singing DUNUNA REVERSE.

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    • I like HH because he is a good clean businessman. He can be my boss. But politics and BETTER, I can employ him.
      GBM is not a clean businessman I can’t work for him, but he can be my political advisor. GBM is Patriotic and a true son of soil.
      HH can’t speak well at funeral.
      GBM can give closing remarks at any funeral.
      HH is not wise enough.
      I am a very wise man.

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    • HH is not a bad guy, he can help the country pull through.
      The issue I see is that he is surrounded by “yes Bwanas”, who do not offer fresh ideas. The result is a UPND that is looking dumb, without direction and is not inspiring. Slowly losing some support from this forum members.
      I expected his “Shadow Cabinet” to be active, challenging ECL ministers, instead what we see is a shadow cabinet in a shadow position and not visible. You can not win the election like that. UPND should reflect if they want to do well in 2021. Complaining will not help win voters.

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  1. “No matter how loud Hichilema shouts, few are prepared to listen.” That speaks volumes. Why is it that only a few are prepared to listen to him? That’s what HH and his supporters must ask themselves.

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    • I have always been thinking whether HH is Tonga because us Tongas are not cry babies,. TONGAs are not cry babies. May be is a Nkoya

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    • @Czar It’s not HH supporters, it’s Zambians who should ask themselves.
      Zambians can’t even say HOLD ON, let’s listen from Mulongoti. No matter how loud he shouts.
      Ba Lungu never showed his children. Ba Sata even introduced us to Kazim Sata.
      Ba Lungu’s family looks like a scam to me.
      Kaiser and his friends at state house slapping people, looks like a scam to me.
      No matter how LOUD we talk, no Zambian listens.

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    • Don’t expect Zambians to be gullible just for the sake of it!!!! Loudness does not mean one is right. Take your facts to the relevant authorities and not play to the galleries if you want to be taken seriously. Begin by convincing Zambians before asking foreigners to intervene in our internal affairs. Have you noticed that those accussing Lungu being a foreigner are the same ones who are asking foreigners to intervene in our country.

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  2. I think HH is right. Look at the civil service. How many people have been helped recently, say at Lands, RSTA, without having to pay someone.

    Corruption, theft by public servants, and overtaxing citizens will come back to the PF. I think HH is not doing it for himself. But even if he was, what he says is true, as much as some people would not like it.

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    • Trump: One Civil Servant voted for UPND in Northwestern province to brake the tie of the recently held ward election. Was this Civil Servant, who earns a living from the current regime, killed by the government? What are you saying?

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    • What would you say about a liquidator who sells himself the assets he is liquidating instead of offering them to the market.This is what HH did with the Lima Bank House for the C.E.O. Sincerely speaking this was wrong. These are some of the things HH should say sorry about to the Zambian people particularly the families of former employees of companies he liquidated and bought e.g Livingstone Hotel intercontinental. If this is not lack of integrity what can you call it. To me if ECL does not qualify to be president going by the corruption allegations, equally HH does not. Let us be sincere and honesty, HH has not apologized about privatization, especially that he was hired as a CONSULTANT to the government. Get the meaning of CONSULTANT.

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  3. Mr Hichilima, yes there are poor prison conditions but I can’t ever recall your MPs making a motion to debate in Parliament this important issue, why is that? Is it because they are more concerned with boycotting, taking the ruling party to court and just being uncooperative on many matters? Is it possible you HH have no control over your MPs or you encourage this disconnect with what is affecting your MPs constituents? The late Sata raised matters that directly affected Zambians and he didn’t just say it in one or two sentences then forgot about it- he made those points part of his manifesto that’s why he got a landslide! You still have a lot to learn. You don’t need to hold demonstrations day in and day out! EFF have made their points heard where? In Parliament – the same house…

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  4. Yes hh no matter how loud you shout, people won’t listen because what you are telling them are lies and they know. They also know how violent your party is. The people you are speaking to in foreign lands will not give you the votes to take you to state house. hh do you smoke cow dung for you to be so confused. If you want, please seek political asylum like that dirt Pilato.

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  5. FIMO FYAKUIFWALA HH AND DON’T ALWAYS BLAME THE GOVT.AT TIMES YOU ARE TOO PROVOCATIVE FOR NOTHING.
    WRITTING IS ON THE WALL THAT COME 2021 YOU WILL CRY AGAIN.
    UPND,YOU ARE A LET DOWN AND WAIT FOR NDC TO SETTLE,YOU WILL START COMING NUMBER 3 YOUR USUAL POSITION. YOU HAVE NO AGENDA FOR ZAMBIA APART FROM HATE SPEECH,JEALOUS ,INSULTS AND TARNISHING THE NAME OF ZAMBIA OUT SIDE.

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  6. HH is still living in the shell. No experience in governing or being a councilor. Just saying bad things all the time

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  7. HH needs to immersed into another HH desperately to help him re-integrate into a healthy society.(by the way HH means “halfway house” )

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    • Halfway House is a Suburban in South Africa, I suspect that is why HH likes going to RSA every time he wants to complain.

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  8. HH I beg on behalf of the many Zambians suffering from the effects of privatisation.just enjoy your take in the same than insulting these people that you can now be a saint after benefiting from the dodge deals .Tell is the honest truth how you benefited from those who contracted you to steal from Zambians

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  9. Kikikikikikikikikiklololololololololo……………PLEASE ALL OF US TONGAS BEHAVE LIKE THIS MAN..HE IS AN EMBARRASSMENT AND A SPOILED CRY-BABY…

    ZAMBIANS RESENT YOUR CLANDESTINE INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENTS..AND PAINTING THIS BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY BLACK.

    “So far, however, Ramaphosa has shown no sign that Zambia is on his foreign policy agenda. No matter how loud Hichilema shouts, few are prepared to listen..” NO ONE IS LISTENING BECAUSE THE MAN IS JUST HALLUCINATING..HIS PRIVATISATION GHOSTS ARE HUNTING HIM..

    VOTERS ARE HERE MUSA ..NOT IN FOREIGN LAND..!!!!

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    • Kikikikikikikikikiklololololololololo……………PLEASE NOT ALL OF US TONGAS BEHAVE LIKE THIS MAN..HE IS AN EMBARRASSMENT AND A SPOILED CRY-BABY…

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  10. Violence erupted in Monze where UpNd attacked Pf. I want to find out who won that seat as a councilor. These cry babies have blamed their poor performance on violence.

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  11. Zambia was not Zambia until someone made it Zambia. Equally It cannot be like Zim until the same HH turns it into becoming like Zim. He can be likened to the opposition in Southern Sudan who lack the take and give spirit. That is my opinion. The last losses should have shut him up and consider grooming (if he hasn’t done that already)one to try their own leadership style to recondition this once vibrant party which he personally has spoiled. Just like it is generally believed that 80% of people who leave companies run away from the managers other than the company itself. In the same vain those that leave parties run away from leadership dissatisfaction.

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  12. In management circle we believe that if a manager or chief executive does not bring positive changes in two years of his leadership in an organisation’ he should consider leaving for someone else or end up getting the same to its knees. What do you think on this?

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  13. Why do many Zambians support folly and despise reason ? Going by the many comments i have read here in relation with the real picture on the ground in Zambia, I would not be wrong to comment that many Zambians are not prepared for good governance of their country. Honestly, how does once give 100% support to a regime that abuse human rights day and day out and physically witness that and furthermore, clearly knows that, that is wrong ? May be there is an evil spirit that is in full control of this nation and it has managed to keep many people as as blind as possible.

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    • That is the view of every UPND supporter, but the view of Zambians is clear form the results of the recent by-elections. Like a foolish ostrich, UPND has buried its head in the sand.

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    • What they are saying is that HH is not the right person to give Zambia good governance! He is too egocentric and if given the opportunity to rule he will want to rule forever. Does HH take any criticism and accept when he is wrong? Or is it the case that he is never wrong?

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  14. HH U RE A PRESIDENT IN WAITING.DON’T MIND ABOUT THOSE WHO RE CRITICISING U.GO GO FORWARD

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  15. QUOTE: So far, however, Ramaphosa has shown no sign that Zambia is on his foreign policy agenda. No matter how loud Hichilema shouts, few are prepared to listen.

    HH is the boy who cried ‘WOLF!’ when there was no wolf. The world is no longer paying attention to him. Even his own chiefs have now decided the boy is a nuisance. Dialogue is on the table with or without this cry baby. He has factored himself out and is slowly becoming irrelevant.

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  16. @ Miya, imagine if the poor civil servant had voted in favour of PF. Hell would have broken loose, very loose. Yet now no UPND official seem to appreciate the fairness of the whole system.

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    • If your level is that of England then continue leaving there, we are zambian and we are happy with our level.

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  17. @Pethia, Zambians don’t see UPND under HH as best alternative to PF policies. the loud call is let him step down and hand over power to someone else transparrently. There’s no way a man with a log in his eyes is able to a speck in other people’s eyes. The baggage from his past is just too too heavy, and he’s not willing to let go.

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  18. All countries have their own challenges.Its immature for HH to insinuate that there are countries in the world with no challenges.In fact Zambia is in a far better situation than most countries.
    Let him talk to South Africa about having the highest crime rate in Africa.
    Let him talk about land distribution in South Africa where black people are merely squatting after being robbed of their land.
    Let him talk about the fact that the white people in South Africa own wealth and have more privilege than black South Africans.
    We are sick and tired of his unpatriotism.

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  19. Well HH is convinced that he is doing the right thing! I have never come across anyone who seems to invite unnecessary pain on himself as HH does.

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    • There’s a disease, just forgotten the name where a person thinks, feels and feels like someone he’s not. This is as a result of a burning ambition but when it’s not realized the person withdraws in themselves and ” become ” that person they so desire to be.

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  20. Loss ibaba zoona!!!5 defeats since 2006 have made HH mad!!
    Kainde says “i feel like nobody is listening when i talk about Zambians problems”.kekekekekeke WANYA KAINDE!!!The SA president has got a High Commissioner in Zambia who updates him about the real events here.meaning when HH goes to lie in SA about Zambia,nobody pays any attention as they know how peaceful Zambia is!!THE CHAOS IN ZAMBIA IS ONLY IN HH’S HEAD AND HIS FELLOW BANTUSTANS WHO ARE TOO FEW IN ZAMBIA!!

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  21. First, this article is a trash and worst of time. People like Simon Allison, the author of this D+ article must be very careful with Zambians because Zambians are very intelligent and respectful people. All the nonsense that has been written in this article is what and even worse the white imperialists subjected the black South Africans to not very long ago during the infamous apartheid regime.
    BBC’s Hard Talk put HH were he belongs, the guy failed to answer a very simple question that Why are you blaming President Lungu for your loss in 2016 when in fact you previously lost 3 consecutive elections where President Lungu wasnt in the picture?
    Since Mazoka died, UPND under the watch of HH has lost direction and credibility and it beats logic that the chap has even guts to think he can…

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  22. contd
    Since Mazoka died, UPND under the watch of HH has lost direction and credibility and it beats logic that the chap has even guts to think he can be president of Zambia, just how? All his party MPs are Tongas and majority from one Province, cant he really see that there is a big there? Zambia is an amazing nation with amazing people coming from 73 tribes and if you cant get this right, forget it! HH is a liability and those who support him are yet to suffer strokes and depression because theirs is a lost cause, a dead and rotten cow.

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  23. Come back home and make that statement, there are no votes for you in SA my brother. You will cry and cry until you lose again in 2021

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  24. The behavior of HH is making Tata Harry Nkumbula turn in his Grave. His crave to use politics as a ladder to great riches is negatively impacting more on the ILA people of Namwala. HH has crated a program of punishing the Ila people more as he protects the Plateau Tonga. I bet South Africa’s Julius Malema has proved to be more patriotic through his fight to return land to the indigenous people of South Africa. Yet in Zambia HH is on a mission to bribe Ila Chiefs who command their Village Headmen to surrender the land to a rich man. Grabbing 1,500 Hectares is like colonising an entire District of the ILa. Hence Hamududu and Major Chizyuka must deal with their local issue before reaching out to the rest of Zambia.

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  25. The behavior of HH is making Batata Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula turn in his Grave. HH’s crave to use politics as a ladder to greater riches for his family is negatively impacting on the ILA people of Namwala. HH has crafted a program of punishing the Ila people more as he protects the Plateau Tongas. Has HH suddenly realised that the Ilas are historically so alien to the Tongas to the extent of treating the Ilas like colonialists whose land must be grabbed to enrich the Tonga? The Ila Chiefs chewed HH’s money to surrender land to a rich man. The real INDABA must start in Southern Province before UPND can consider participating in the Commonwealth’s proposed INDABA. This is wake up call to the Ilas of Namwala and Itezhi Tezhi.

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  26. This is the time in the history of Zambia when the worst of losers of elections will be remembered for the may losses.

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  27. Is it normal for someone to conclude that he lost eletions by 100,000 votes after winning in 3 out 10 provinces! Its not mathematically possible because those 3 provinces are not even among the most populated in Zambia. So UPND, Hichilema and GBM wanted to use crooks law by inflating figures in Southern, Western and North-Western provinces to make sure their HH wins. But alas God was with the people of Zambia and made sure the crooks dont ascend to power through bad means! Imagine what Zambia would have become by now, with GBM as the VP. Total Chaos! So Zambia will only become “Zimbabwe” if HH and GBM ascended to power because the two are the worst crooks this country has ever seen! They are so selfish that they even mistreat the poorest of the poor, HH has grabbed land from a horde of…

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  28. HH is dead right ,unfortunately, people in Zambia are living in denial to the fact that things are so terrible on the ground. The first step in solving any problem is to accept there is one, but by reading thru the comments above most people are in denial.

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  29. Zambia is yet to see a useless, irrelevant and desperate opposition leader as Sunny Chintombwa (Hichilema Hakainde). This man is desperate to the bone. He is willing to scandalise everything our great nation stands for. Yet, he ( Chintombwa_ HH) thinks that any sane person should be listening to his cheap propaganda which is not worth the paper it is written on. If HH had any real legitimacy to be a head of state in Zambia the most recent local Government elections should remind him as to where he belongs. The Zambian people have a right to choose who they see fit to lead them. At the moment ECL is the man. HH Sunny Chintombwa, five times, the Zambian people have said NO, NO, NO, NO, NO…, are you deaf or what?

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    • Tekanyani chabe imwe, in a democracy he is allowed to loose even 16 times. Why should somebody be demonized for losing elections, Ba satana imwe. PF, your panicking will choke you, just take it easy. Relax

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  30. This money you are spending paying the spineless chaps to post useless things on HH, why not put Panadol in hospitals. Nifunsa chabe, pali vene naluvyana pamene apa

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    • That’s where U miss it. You think the Voters are paid and such insults as to insinuate people posting here are paid, only serve to alienate your party further…

      Waluvianya big time…!

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  31. UPND is the most provocative political party and HH is the most annoying political leader because of his desperation to become president of Zambia. The way I enjoy freedom in Zambia sure! Why should I listen to HH when he says there is no freedom? Maybe for him because he keeps on provocating the President who doesn’t even answer him. What do you expect if you have decided not to respect the highest authority of the land. The man is promoting lawlessness in the country and always disgracing us outside the country.

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  32. Haluza Hagain (HH), tell me, where is anarchy in Zambia? U say there is no freedom in Zambia, which part? It is u who is trying to perpetrate these vises.
    Plz stop demonizing my country. If u want to stay in other countries, then leave us along. We r peaceful and we love it. We may lack one or two amenities but we r managing.
    Stay away from our space. Obvious wanvela. Ngati ulinamatu, u will repent and show change.

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  33. Politics aside, we are owing huge debts!!! We need solutions!!! Interest is accumulating!!! No one giving solutions!!! We have been mislead swindled by many including the lenders who seemingly or literary control our economy!!! Solutions please !! It’s good we know the problem “DEBTS!!!” Let’s not express ignorance!!!!

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