By Wynter Kabimba
It is interesting to read about the emerging disillusionment of those who believed and invested their hopes so much in Hakainde Hichilema during the run-up to the 12 August 2021, elections and after. Their unwavering belief and confidence as mortals in the man are, however, understandable. To those who did not delve into his background and his past, HH presented himself as the only messiah given the political free fall of the ruling PF under the weak leadership of Edgar Lungu mistaken for the humility of the man’s character. The PF as the ruling party under ECL did not guarantee any future for the Zambian people. The intraparty violence and systemic indiscipline amongst the rank and file of its members coupled with inter-party violence perpetrated by its militia generated consternation and dismay within and beyond the country and hence cometh one HH.
In 2006, HH came like a whirlwind to win the leadership of the UPND in an election bedrocked by ethnicity following the death of its founder Anderson Mazoka. He came from the private sector where he was a partner in the audit firm Grant Thornton. As a strategy to attempt to oust MMD from power, HH forged an alliance with UNIP and FDD to form the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) on which ticket the three contested the 2006 presidential and general elections.
Despite having no political experience or service in government compared with Edith Nawakwi who had served as minister of energy and later minister of finance under Chiluba, HH demanded to lead the UDA as a presidential candidate. He could not bring himself to say “Sir’’ or “Madam’’ to Tilyenji Kaunda of UNIP or Edith Nawakwi. Although he did not congratulate Levy Mwanawasa on winning the 2006 elections, he later offered him the position of vice president which he declined to take.
In 2009, he lobbied Sata’s close friends for an electoral pact with PF. In one of the meetings I had with him at my office, I implored him to accept the position of vice president to Michael Sata. In his reaction to my proposal, HH urged me to request or persuade Sata to become his vice instead and not the other way round. It was this impasse that contributed to the collapse of the UPND/PF pact in 2011. Although PF won the election with a landslide, HH did not send a congratulatory message to Sata and refused to attend any PF state function.
When Edgar Lungu won the 2015 and 2016 elections, HH refused to accept the results alleging fraud and the loss of his presidential petition in 2016, which he attributed to a biased judgment by the Constitutional Court. For the seven years when Edgar Lungu was head of state, HH refused to acknowledge or recognize him as such and at no time did he refer to him by his official title. He only did so when he was declared winner of the August 2021 elections because he was now above Edgar Lungu as outgoing president.
Between 2019 and 2021, PF saw its unprecedented rapid decline in public support never seen in the history of the ruling party save for UNIP in 1990/91. It cultivated conditions similar to the political vacuum which obtained prior to the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933. HH filled this vacuum by projecting himself as the antithesis of everything that had gone wrong with Edgar Lungu and the PF.
He seized the opportunity using political rantings which were unrealistic in practice but resonated well with a gullible constituency of voters across the country. He condemned the arrests and detention of political figures and artists as acts of authoritarianism and dictatorship by Edgar Lungu and, therefore, an affront to democracy. HH promised the restoration and promotion of the rule of law, individual freedoms of expression and that of the media.
It was this political mantra which projected Edgar Lungu to the voters as the devil and monster reincarnate. In this vein, therefore, the 2.8 million votes do not represent the popularity of HH but reflect instead the number of angry voters against Edgar Lungu. We saw this parallel in the Joe Biden / Donald Trump election in November, 2020 in the US.
Against this background, it is now easy to see the real and actual HH outside the sheep’s skin in only 5 months of his reign as president. HH does not and has never believed in the respect for those in power and authority unless that power and authority are ultimately possessed by him. His deliberate architecture of the UPND Alliance where his alliance partners do not enjoy any security of tenure but are mere appointees testifies to the man who does not believe in any power sharing arrangement in a democratic fashion.
HH the president has refused to condemn political violence by his members. Instead, he always takes comfort in issuing lukewarm directives which leave law enforcement agencies confounded regarding his real initiation. In the view of HH democracy depends on who you are, what you are, and what you mean to him at a particular time.
It is also dependent on his audience and space of time. Whether his message is for the donor community or not shall determine his definition of the word. He has remained mute over the leaked audio in which he is implicated by his State House Special Assistant for Politics, an incident very similar to the Watergate scandal events which led to the impeachment and downfall of Richard Nixon in America.
Hichilema’s rhetoric and hypocrisy on democratic values vis-à-vis voter promises and expectations are now turning into public pain and awareness, one of the major themes in the Ghanian writer Ayi Kwei Armalis novel “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born.
Wynter M Kabimba.