Zambia’s veteran opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has been sworn in as president in front of a packed stadium in the capital, Lusaka.

His election has raised the hopes of his counterparts in other African states that they too can overcome state repression and one day rise to power.

During a long political career that saw him fail in five previous bids to become president, Hichilema was brutalised, tear-gassed and even detained for a traffic offence in 2017 that was deemed treasonous after his convoy failed to give way to the motorcade of outgoing President Edgar Lungu.

But in an extraordinary reversal of his fortunes, the man once declared an enemy of the state will be sworn in as Zambia’s seventh president after defeating Mr Lungu in their latest election duel on 12 August.


“It’s massively inspirational,” said Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu who survived an assassination attempt in 2017 after being shot 16 times by people he believes were state agents.

“Zambians have shown us it can be done, no matter what they put us through, no matter the odds,” he added.

Lissu lost last year’s election to the late President John Magufuli, which he alleges was rigged.

He later fled the country as security officers planned to arrest him.


Some of his colleagues in the Chadema party, including chairman Freeman Mbowe, were briefly detained.

In May, Mbowe was charged with terrorism-related offences. His supporters say he is facing “political persecution” for campaigning for a new constitution.

According to Tanzanian opposition politician Zitto Kabwe, only a new constitution that guarantees the independence of the electoral commission will ensure the opposition has a fair chance in the next poll.

“In Zambia, the institutions of democracy seem to be [more] responsive to people’s will than in many parts of Africa.

“The fact that the army, the police, the intelligence services, the electoral commission would allow the will of the people to be superior is a very strong message sent to the African continent,” he added.

‘No shortcut to winning’

The ripple effects of this message have spread far and wide, especially in Zambia’s southern neighbour, Zimbabwe, where it has sparked frenzied exchanges between the main opposition politician, Nelson Chamisa, and officials of the ruling Zanu-PF party, which has been in power since independence in 1980.

“Zimbabwe you are next,” the opposition leader tweeted, in a post congratulating Hichilema.

President Emmerson Mnagangwa retorted: “What happened in Zambia will not happen here.”

His spokesperson even hinted that the army would not allow a transfer of power to the opposition.

An anti-riot police man in Zimbabwe tackles a woman with his boot as they dispersed a crowd gathered to hear an address by leader of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) Alliance, Nelson Chamisa at Morgan Tsvangirai House, the party headquarters, in Harare, on November 20, 2019

But a spokesperson for Mr Chamisa’s MDC-Alliance, Fadzayi Mahere, told the BBC that Mr Hichilema’s victory showed “that the fight for democracy can be won, that people can get together to remove a dictatorship”.

Mahere added that there was “no shortcut to winning”.

She said Zimbabwe’s opposition would have to emulate Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) party by:

It is a message Mmusi Maimane, the former South African opposition leader and a friend of Hichilema, has also been pushing.

He egged on the MDC-Alliance, saying: “Zimbabwe, the example has been set.”

“The people of Zambia have rejected poverty and corruption. The people of Zambia have rejected arrogance and laziness. They have chosen a future worth working for,” Maimane added in his message.

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