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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The good, the bad and the alarming: Hichilema’s first 100 days in Zambia

Columns The good, the bad and the alarming: Hichilema’s first 100 days in...

By Sishuwa Sishuwa

Today marks exactly 100 days since Hakainde Hichilema was inaugurated as president of Zambia. After a decade and half in opposition, the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) defeated the incumbent Edgar Lungu in elections on 12 August 2021. He took office 12 days later.

Hichilema’s successful election campaign was aided by his opponent’s unpopularity and a set of promises to change course. He vowed to tackle the erosion of democracy and human rights, address high unemployment especially among the youth, and rebuild an economy faltering under the weight of huge debt, government incompetence, corruption, and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hichilema also pledged to reverse the breakdown of rule of law, the lack of diversity in public office, a politicised and ineffective civil service, rampant corruption, poor governmental communication with the public, and Zambia’s weakened voice in international affairs.

100 days into the new presidency, there are some hopeful signs of progress on some fronts as well as some highly alarming signs of broken promises on others.

Promising steps

Of promising steps towards progress, many of which are still on paper, five stand out.

First, Hichilema has developed a clear strategy aimed at fixing the economy and its debt crisis through better fiscal management and accountability. Meanwhile, the appointment of the well-regarded Situmbeko Musokotwane as Finance Minister, the internationally respected Denny Kalyalya as Governor of the Bank of Zambia and the experienced Felix Nkulukusa as Secretary to the Treasury strengthen the country’s ability to secure an IMF package. Such a bailout would help Zambia attract foreign direct investment, reassure ratings agencies, and re-negotiate debt payments.

The government’s 2022 budget is also positive and bold. It promises to recruit 30,000 new teachers and 11,200 healthcare staff, increase social expenditure, support small businesses, and invest more attention in agriculture. It also vows to decentralise resources, including by increasing the Constituency Development Fund from K1.6 million ($90,000) to K25.7 million ($1.4 million). And it abolishes school fees for state schools, making good on the UPND’s promise of free education.

Hichilema’s government continues to face several economic challenges, however. In mining, the government has formulated a better mechanism of collecting royalties, which had been a perennial source of conflict with extractives companies. But questions remain, stemming from the previous administration’s takeover of the Glencore-operated Mopani copper mines and its handling of the liquidation of the Vedanta-owned Konkola mines. It remains to be seen whether the new administration will return these mines to previous owners or seek new investors. There are also still question marks over how the government will finance its plans, especially after reducing taxes. It is betting on economic growth and improved revenues from copper, but Zambia’s economy is precarious and failure to reach a deal with the IMF or a fall in copper prices could lead to a dramatic collapse.

Second, Hichilema has greatly improved dialogue between the public and the presidency. Unlike Lungu, who governed through press aides and airport tarmac addresses, the new president regularly hosts press conferences and has appeared on a live phone-in radio show.

Third, Hichilema has presided over a relatively open democratic environment. He has shown greater commitment to civil liberties and stopped the culture of violent political cadres operating in markets and bus stations. It is still early days, but the climate of fear and lawlessness that characterised much of Lungu’s rule is slowly disappearing. One hopes that the arrest of a peacefully protesting Kasonde Mwenda, the leader of a small opposition party, for “conduct likely to cause breach of peace” in September is an isolated incident and not the start of a slippery slope.

Fourth, the new president has restated his commitment to the rule of law. Although he has walked back promises to repeal the repressive Cyber Security Act and the Public Order Act, long used by governments to curtail the activities of the opposition and civil society, Hichilema has maintained plans to review the constitution, enhance judicial independence, and improve the operations of the electoral commission. On corruption, his priority is to recover stolen funds, given that watchdog institutions lack capacity and the judiciary remains compromised.

Finally, the new president has attempted to reposition Zambia on the world stage. Hichilema is repairing the country’s frayed relationship with the West, while being careful to not disrupt ties with China. More significantly, he is strengthening regional ties – particularly with the DR Congo – through diplomatic visits and promoting greater trade and investment within the southern African region and Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. Hichilema has also used his platform to support democracy in the region – he notably invited opposition figures from Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Tanzania to his inauguration – and speak out against global debt injustice and vaccine inequality.

Alarming signs

Those are some of the positive signs from Hichilema’s first 100 days. The negative signs are, in many ways, much more significant and centre on the new president’s principles. In the election, the UPND tried to set itself apart from the corruption and lawlessness of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF). Hichilema’s speeches were dominated by calls for a return to constitutionalism and good governance. It is on these fronts that the last 100 days have been the most concerning.

Here are some examples.

Pardoning corrupt former officials

Hichilema has shown a worrying contradiction in his approach to former officials accused of corruption.

On the one hand, he has said that it is up to agencies such as the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate suspects and potentially prosecute them. This is well and good; the judiciary and executive are separate arms of government.

On the other hand, however, Hichilema has said several times that if former officials return stolen money to the government, they should be given amnesty. It is not clear if this is an instruction or merely advice, but since the president appoints ACC officers – and his predecessor held great sway over the agency – we can assume it will be treated as a directive. This is unconstitutional in a variety of ways. As Hichilema pointed out, he has no legal power to instruct the ACC. The pardoning of officials who may have engaged in millions of dollars’ worth of grand corruption would be a betrayal of justice. And it would also violate the principle that all people are equal before the law.

Under Lungu, the government targeted its opponents with trumped up charges and tried to prosecute them without evidence. Hichilema appears ready to violate the same principle, albeit in the opposite direction; by saving people from prosecution despite clear evidence of wrongdoing.

It is additionally worrying that the new administration has not replaced officials in anti-corruption bodies. Under Lungu, these agencies were spineless and followed political instructions rather than following the constitution. Keeping these personnel in place does not inspire hope that these bodies can now act independently of the executive or hold those in power accountable.

Creating new public offices without following the law

Historically, State House has had five advisors to the president, responsible for press and public relations, economic affairs, political affairs, legal affairs, and policy and project implementation – each assisted by two deputies known as chief analysts. Instead of working through these existing offices, Hichilema has created a series of new advisory positions. These include State House Media Director, Special Assistant to the President for Public Policy, Special Assistant to the President for Policy Compliance, and State House Economic Advisor.

His motivations for doing this may be perfectly legitimate, but these actions have not been constitutional. The president is legally empowered to create new public offices, but only through the relevant commission or a specially designed statutory instrument, which has not been the case. It is also concerning that most of these appointments have not been announced and only a few have taken the oath of office publicly, as required by the constitution.

Weakening the civil service

In opposition, Hichilema vowed to depoliticise the civil service and fill it with qualified, competent, and experienced professionals. While he has yet to announce any reforms that would help achieve this, he has taken several steps that undermine the service.

First, the new president destabilised it through a nearly wholesale dismissal of permanent secretaries, the most senior officials tasked with advising ministers and implementing policies. It is unlikely all those sacked were incompetent, unqualified, or corrupt so their removal was likely due to their perceived political affiliation.

Second, Hichilema has appointed several individuals who lack civil service experience or even relevant qualifications. They appear to have been recruited due to their loyalty and are therefore more like Partisan Secretaries, who will last as long as their party is in power, than Permanent Secretaries.

Third, Hichilema has centralised power by creating several new positions around the presidency in a move that demonstrates his lack of faith in the civil service and his desire to run government from State House. The creation of these parallel positions, many of which already exist in the civil service, undermines existing officials, leads to the duplication of functions, and is an inefficient use of public resources. Worse still, many of those appointed to this “mini civil service” lack the relevant qualifications for their roles.

Undermining the fight against corruption

When it became clear that Lungu had lost the elections this August, the incumbent had initially planned to challenge the results in the Constitutional Court, which was widely seen as biased in his favour. It was only after an unexpected closed-door meeting with Hichilema that he switched tack. In a short, televised address, a visibly subdued Lungu conceded and congratulated his soon-to-be successor.

Moments later, Hichilema delivered his own speech. He welcomed his election victory before addressing Lungu, saying “do not worry; you will be okay, sir”. He later tried to walk back these words, but this remark was widely seen as the public expression of the two men’s private political settlement; namely, that Lungu would drop his planned legal challenge in exchange for immunity after stepping down.

If this is the case, this deal would be deeply inappropriate. It would undermine the Director of Public Prosecutions and law enforcement agencies whose responsibility it is to decide who should be investigated and prosecuted. And it would bypass the National Assembly, the body with the power to remove a former president’s immunity in the face of clear evidence presented by the sitting president.

Failure to reflect diversity

One key criticism of Lungu’s rule was that he marginalised Zambians from Southern, Western and Northwestern provinces – regions that have historically voted for Hichilema. 26 of his 32 cabinet ministers, for instance, were either from the Chewa-speaking Eastern province or from one of three Bemba-speaking provinces. This preference was also seen clearly in the top leadership positions of the police, army, air force, national service, and office of the president.

Hichilema promised to do things differently if elected but has barely delivered. All five heads of Zambia’s security services as well as the top positions in the National Assembly and judiciary are held by people from the regions that have traditionally voted for him. His 27-person cabinet is relatively representative of Zambia’s ten provinces, but areas that have historically voted for PF are grossly underrepresented while 16 ministers come from ethnic groups that have typically formed the core of Hichilema’s base.

The new president’s record on other forms of inclusion is even worse. Even though the constitution calls for equal gender representation in public offices, just five cabinet ministers are women, which is half the figure under Lungu. To address electoral imbalances, the constitution allows the president to nominate eight persons to parliament, but Hichilema filled all the slots with men except one. Only one of Hichilema’s ten provincial ministers is female. He has further made no appointments of either youth, constitutionally defined as someone between the ages of 18 and 35, or persons with disabilities – a clear violation of the constitution.

Looking ahead

For someone elected on the promise to restore constitutionalism and the rule of law, Hichilema’s first 100 days provide little inspiration. Nonetheless, his political position seems secure, for now.

The new president remains popular, though his continued approval will depend on how he navigates the tough conditionalities that could come with an IMF deal. His central bank governor recently announced plans to remove subsidies on electricity, fertiliser, and fuel. If these moves are not carefully phased or strategically communicated, they could lead to urban discontent. This will especially be the case if a public sector wage freeze comes next and Hichilema’s administration is unable to provide employment for the many young people who voted for him.

Unless Hichilema incorporates more figures from underrepresented regions and women into his government, he also remains vulnerable to a political rival that could combine populist policies in urban centres with promises to rural areas that feel marginalised. This effective opposition, however, does not yet exist. The PF is in disarray while other opposition parties are mostly led by elitists without grassroots support or the language to connect with ordinary voters.

Source: https://africanarguments.org/2021/12/the-good-the-bad-and-the-alarming-hichilemas-first-100-days-in-zambia/

19 COMMENTS

  1. This is the most balanced and impressive analysis I have read on the 100 days so far. Well done Dr Sishuwa. We should not treat President Hichilema like a saint without flaws. As the Doc shows persuasively, there are worrying governance slippages and l hope the President’s team reads this fair comment. But I also like the fact the UNZA man gives credit where it is beginning to appear. Kudos

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  2. Well said Professor. A well thought out write-up and balanced views. HH is now the President and much focus should be on him now. QUOTE: shown greater commitment to civil liberties and stopped the culture of violent political cadres operating in markets and bus stations..END of quote. My hope that this will continue because even when ECL won, there was some element of sanity but a few years down the line, things just got crazy. The period leading to elections is the moment that HH should be rated on and not now. Right now he seems to be enjoying the marriage with the population though this marriage is fast waning. So it would be unfair to rate him now on this score. And very true, appointments have been a disaster and has barely repeated ECL’s error of appointing people from his…

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  3. 1. Sichuwa, this is a Taste-of-Difference article. As a person who has been a critic to you in the past, I applaud you for striking the balance. Especially, for panel beating the cracks & dents and addressing matters that many people can see in black & white, happening with HH’s leadership style. Though it’s always a job on training, HH needs to toil hard and undress his corporate-skin-colour where a CEO is the Alpha & Omega. He mostly funded UPND which enabled him to muscle everyone in UPND while in opposition .

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  4. 2. HH is now governing a nation which comes with countless distinct matrixes, and requires one listening from others. This is not managing an investment portfolio, per say but delegating a complex government machinery. So, he needs to know, finding solutions will not always come from the mantra – Bally Will Fix It. He needs to stop this machismo trait and start listening. When building a skyscraper, you always make sure that the foundation is strong, as it will determine how strong the building can withstand hurricane-winds and earthquakes. Else it becomes too late to fix the problem.

  5. 3. Like saying goes; Don’t Ever Promise More Than You Can Deliver, But Always Deliver More. It’s called deceiving to take advantage of people’s sentiments. HH lied just like {Late President Michael Sata, lied with that “More Money In The Pockets” & “I Will Fix Zambia In 90 Days” , the B*S that made him dupe the youth in large numbers to vote for PF. There is nothing worse in politics than to use the vulnerable people and ascend yourself to power. And now HH has become arrogant to the youth who voted for him in large numbers.

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  6. 4. Lastly, I encourage you to keep addressing national matters as accountability will not just come from the opposition parties who historically have a habit of spending time on meaningless objectives and quarrels. Accountability has to come from every one of us. It means giving credit where its due and critic where we see – potholes, dents, failures, lies and disregard for the constitution.

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  7. I’ll only comment on the assertion that electricity is subsidized. Zesco & ERB have failed to come up with a breakdown of the cost of production. Each time I attend ERB sittings and ask for this info Zesco points to what other utilities in the region are selling power in comparison to them. What I want to know is the % contribution to of factors like water, wheeling cost, wages, machinery, admin etc. The factors at Eskom aren’t the same as those at Zesco so it doesn’t make sense to say Eskom is selling its power at so much so we’ll also sell at this price. What are the accountants at Zesco doing? What helps ERB decide the tariffs in the absence of this info?

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  8. This is what true PATRIOTS do. They criticise constructively and commend heartily. People should never be afraid of criticism and jump to personal attacks as was the case with PF and its surrogates.

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  9. This is a very lopsided analysis, one would have thought that if Sishuwa wanted to be fair he would not compare only the bad parts of Lungu to the only “good” parts of his small god (Hakainde Hichilema) What we need, if this country is to move forward is to have the so called intellectuals have a balanced analysis and not this blatant biased assessment of only and deliberately picking the bad parts of the people you biasly hate to sugarcoat those that you like. The other sign of blatant bias is that you point out some “positives” while you deliberately choose not to see any “good” from the person you personally hate. All in all these are still UPND cadres guided in academic Regalia.

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  10. This is how an unbiased performance review should sound, and many people including UPND cadres will agree with this assessment. It acknowledges the positive baby steps taken so far in 90 days by this government, and at the same time offers a balanced critique of the shortcomings of this government.
    Compare this assessment to Sean Tembo assessment yesterday, clearly it showed how Sean Tembo is desperate and utilizing every oppotunity to gain some sympathy from LT bloggers. Unfortunately, his rantings are low class.
    Sishuwa Sishuwa, WELL DONE !

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  11. I always read this author’s writings and I would like to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to read, for the first time, a very balanced article. I hope we’ll see more of the same sir

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  12. Havasco Hadagma has only acchieved in travelling.kikiki
    Dolla 18/USD.U can’t manage kwacha with kalyalya.He is educated but not smart enough to fix Kwacha.Mvunga Nishimb!

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  13. HH’s cabinet has balanced Zambia by giving positions to tribes formerly overlooked.The constitution itself is cognizant of that with the clause of nominations.

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  14. Sishuwa this is a perfect analysis and most objective for now. Especially on the balancing of Defense forces top positions. Non of us has noticed this anomaly on the president. We voted for change but Bally seem to continue on the wrong path ECL walked on. HH must realize that we Zambians are watching and assessing every decision he makes. No to tribalism. Appointing people from other regions as second best or deputies is very wrong and dangerous path he is creating for himself, If someone deserves top appointment from other regions let it be so not giving out deputies positions in his balancing act. Don’t repeat what ECL did let him be different and create conducive environment for us all and our children’s regardless of tribe. We only hope he doesn’t make the same mistakes ECL made…

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  15. Though there is an attempt to balance the write up,the writer has been shy to point out the strong side of Lungu that HH will find difficult to beat. True Lungu did not promise big things, and did not always talk, but he was very focused on developing Zambia, hence the unprecedented infrustracture. Without that HH was not going to be able to employ the teachers & health personnel he is talking about.

  16. So sure Shishuwa is always a harsh critic of everything HH but on this one he’s tried some balance/objectivity.

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  17. flag Jigga Kayama Simangulungwa (formerly Corruption scandals: 48 Houses Social Security Cash Luxury Presidential Jet Ambulances Fire Trucks Mukula Trees Ndola-Lusaka Rd Malawi Maizegate Fuelgate Swaziland landgate Zesco Loans Honeybee)

    This Dr Sishuwa man is truly an intellectual. Fair and to the point. Even those cadres who used to accuse him of hatred for Lungu are now licking their wounds.
    This is unbelievably true and I agree with everything written here. I like the fact Dr Sishuwa highlights and puts emphasis to the negatives of HH. The man has disappointed me big time… I don’t understand why he hasn’t gone bold with reforms, big ticket items like abolishing Public Order Act.
    My worry is if he senses that his rule is under threat and he realises his reelection is under enormous pressure, he may turn into another Lungu.
    Fun I didn’t know that his cabinet and his security bodies are regionally unbalanced… I thought he had a regionally more balanced govt than we have ever had in a long time. Unbelievable!

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