By Field Ruwe EdD
In the media, endorsements are the responsibility of editorial boards. In this year’s presidential election, I am breaking tradition by endorsing Hakainde Hichilema for President of Zambia. I firmly believe Hichilema has garnered enough political experience, purpose, and vision to unlock Zambia’s potential.
I must emphasize that I have no formal or informal connections to either UPND or its president. However, this year, the election is a matter of urgency. The past six years have been desperate and frightening for Zambia; load shedding, gassing, killings, police brutality, tribalism, corruption, unemployment, colossal national debt, and Covid-19.
Without a doubt, Zambia is a fatigued nation urgently needing political experience, creativity, civil discourse, and common sense. Zambians of all walks of life and political affiliation are responsible for understanding what is at stake in the next five years. If Zambians do not vote as a referendum on Edgar Changwa Lungu, we shall not break the glass ceiling and reach the most significant potential. Instead, we shall remain mired in the same chaotic condition, if not worse.
The Elephant in the Room
In laying out this endorsement, it is imperative I first address the elephant in the room. Over the years, the Patriotic Front has portrayed Hakainde Hichilema as a criminal who stole from state assets thirty years ago. The claim hit the headlines again in August last year when former Finance Minister Edith Nawakwi accused Hichilema of theft and later cautioned he “should not be allowed anywhere near the corridors of power because he may turn the country into an Armageddon.”
Nawakwi’s allegation drew enormous public interest because she was the right person to produce compelling and admissible evidence and provide competent testimony to authenticate PF’s claims and send Hichilema to prison. After all, as a minister, she was the custodian of the funds realized from the sale of state-owned enterprises.
The nation waited in great expectation. Ten months have elapsed since the allegation, and no convincing circumstance or documents have been presented to the police or courts to incriminate Hichilema. On the contrary, Nawakwi’s failure serves to indicate the most natural inference that she and the PF are peddling a headwind of misinformation and deceit for political gain.
A tribute to all Zambians
Having dispensed with the innuendo let me begin my endorsement by first and foremost paying tribute to all Zambians for exercising patience the past six years. It is not the first time Zambians have faced economic turmoil. It is not the first time Zambians have faced poverty. It is not the first time Zambians have suffered death on a massive scale caused by a lethal pandemic. It is not the first Zambians have buried their beloved en masse. And it is not the first time a president has failed them.
Zambians are habitually taken advantage of in each election year. Yet all they want is happiness; that’s their chief end. They each have dreams regardless of their abilities and class. To realize their dreams, they relinquish their natural rights to the custodian of state law—the republican president. They expect the president to have a robust governing vision to take them to higher heights.
Kenneth Kaunda did that. At independence, his vision was to educate every Zambian child. He desired to make Zambians educationally empowered so “they can help me develop the country,” he said. To achieve this, he made education free up to UNZA and provided all students with books and meals, and realized the dreams of many, including Edgar Lungu. Like Mandela, Kaunda knew that education was the most powerful weapon which one can use to change the world.
What about Edgar Changwa Lungu? What has been his key ingredient in making Zambians realize their dreams?
On the day of his inauguration, January 25, 2015, Lungu promised to dedicate his presidency to the alleviation of poverty, stating, “I am fully aware of the depths of poverty that continue to afflict the great majority of our people. The fabulous wealth living side by side with abject poverty is a moral outrage and a slur on our collective conscience.”
For a moment, it looked like Zambia had made the right choice. Lungu gave the impression he would close the rich-poor gap. At the time of the speech, Zambia’s poverty level was 60 percent, with 42 percent living in abject poverty. Six years later, instead of going down, the numbers have gone up by 2%, with 82% of rural dwellers affected the most.
“One way to reduce poverty is to create jobs,” Lungu told the crowd at Independence Stadium. “I am aware of the many youths who are without jobs because the ‘economy is not big enough to absorb them.'”
At the time of his speech unemployment rate was 9.34 percent. Six years later, it stands at 11.43%, with many university graduates without jobs.
I have applied inverted commas to the quote “economy is not big enough to absorb them” because Lungu implied he would fix the economy. Yet, six years later, Lungu has lived down to Zambia’s lowest expectations and saddled Zambia’s economy with a crippling $12 billion. Consequently, he has triggered a worse economy than before he assumed power.
The following year, in the inauguration speech of September 13, 2016, Lungu promised to commit himself to the eradication of corruption, describing it as detrimental to society, adding; “engaging in corruption cannot be a substitute to the pride that comes from personal effort and determination to achieve prosperity.” Be that as it may, five years later, Zambia faces the worst corruption challenges in history, with government officials as the main culprits.
It is proper at this juncture to categorically state that President Edgar Changwa Lungu, who campaigned on numerous promises, has failed to answer the call of service. Instead, he has sought refuge in authoritarianism and reigns over the most violent ruling party in democratic Zambia.
Who can forget gassing—the spraying of people with chemicals, an act that claimed the lives of 43 people. Chemical weaponry classified as a weapon of mass destruction under the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is a human rights violation under the Hague Convention. President Lungu, who has failed to appoint a commission of inquiry, owns the crime.
Amnesty International is aware of the killings and other human rights violations. “There has been such a rise in the levels of impunity that it now seems like a bottomless pit,” said one human rights defender. “There does not seem to be any bounds in terms of impunity and violations.” He was referring to the police killing, in cold blood, of State Prosecutor Nsama Nsama and UPND supporter Joseph Kaunda.
Another added: “What we have seen in Zambia, especially in the past five years, is an increasingly brutal crackdown on human rights, characterized by brazen attacks on any form of dissent…opposition leaders, journalists, media houses, and activists have been targeted, and speaking out against allegations of government corruption or abuse has become more dangerous.”
Give Hakainde Hichilema the critical vote of your life
Before I proceed to Hakainde Hichilema, I want to pause and ask questions only you in your heart of hearts can answer: Has Lungu lifted Zambians out of poverty? How do you feel when you drive through a shanty compound? Is there a way life can be better for them as well? Has Lungu changed the University of Zambia and the education system in general for the better? Has Lungu curbed corruption? Are you and members of your extended family able to afford the daily needs of life? Do you and your aging parents in the village have access to proper health care?
If not, then why are you going to walk into the voting booth and cast a vote for the same person who has caused an economic meltdown and taken away your happiness? Why not try another leader? Why not try Hakainde Hichilema? In the last election, he came close to winning; why not give him the benefit of the doubt? It is not a matter of political party allegiance; it is the stuff your dreams are made on.
As of now, your dreams are windswept by a leader who, for the past six years, had an opportunity to afford you the privilege of living a meaningful, happy life.
Hakainde Hichilema may not be the president of your choice, but he has the skills and experience to provide you with a better life. An economist and a successful businessman, Hichilema is well suited to the challenge. Unlike Edgar Lungu, Hichilema, who in the past has contested five times (2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, and 2016), has enough political experience to recognize the magnitude of what the next president is being called upon to do. Building this country sits squarely within his skill and expertise.
A review of Hichilema’s speeches and interviews shows that he is a visionary man who believes Zambia has enough intelligent and skilled people who can band together to get the basics right and turn the country into an astonishingly successful modern nation.
Hichilema believes he can steer the nation out of the current recession by stopping reckless, unplanned, and excessive borrowing and strengthen the legal and regulatory framework for debt procurement and management. He believes this will create a stable currency, low inflation, good jobs, substantial foreign investment, and augment a much-needed middle class.
Hichilema has continually discussed the urgent need for an affordable educational system to spur invention and innovation in his various media appearances. So often, he has, with a sense of purpose, sounded like Kaunda, saying, “we will also be able to pay students descent meal allowances and help them buy books.”
Zambian lives matter
Take a moment to think about what Hichilema is offering. On Election Day, you will be left with two choices; to vote for Hakainde Hichilema, a conscientious individual who has laid out a comprehensive vision for your wellbeing; or the incumbent Edgar Chagwa Lungu, who has failed to deliver his promises. It is not about politics. It is about casting the right vote to avoid chronic suffering. Re-electing Lungu for another five years is a metastasizing threat to your survival.