‘Cattle boy’ millionaire: Zambia’s new president

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021 00:00 |
Outgoing Zambian President Edgar Lungu (centre) meets Presidnt-elect Hakainde Hichilema Presidents Rupia Banda, Jakaya Kikwete and Eranest Bai Koroma (far right). The latter two were part of the AU observer mission for the just ended election. Photo/AFP

  Lusaka, Monday

Zambian business tycoon Hakainde Hichilema, the veteran opposition politician who made six bids for the country’s presidency before finally landing the top job in a landslide, has described himself as just an ordinary “cattle boy”.

He unsuccessfully contested the 2016 election which he lost by just 100,000 votes, but on Monday his margin over incumbent Edgar Lungu was nearly a million. 

This time around, the 59-year-old opposition leader tapped into widespread dissatisfaction with Lungu’s running of the economy and what he called a “brutal regime.”

Hichilema is no stranger to controversy in the copper-rich nation, having run afoul of the authorities numerous times. He regularly mentions that he has been arrested 15 times since getting into politics.  

After the 2016 election, he faced treason charges for allegedly failing to pull over to give way to the presidential motorcade.

He spent four months in a maximum-security jail before the charges were dropped.

As president, Hichilema will inherit a troubled economy after years of Lungu’s infrastructure spending spree in a country where more than half the population has lived below the poverty line even before the Covid pandemic.

Last year, Zambia became the first African nation to default on its debt in the coronavirus era.

“We have an enormous task ahead to revive our economy and deliver on your expectations,” Hichilema said in his debut speech to the nation.

“The journey will be tough and challenging, there will be ups and downs, but I am certain that with hard work and commitment, we will succeed in building a better life for you.”

Hichilema, one of Zambia’s richest people, has worked hard to shed his image as an elitist who lacks the common touch.

“I’m just a cattle boy... it’s a childhood love,” he told AFP in an interview in May, describing himself as “an ordinary citizen, an ordinary African”.

On Monday in his debut speech to the nation the politician commonly known as “HH” returned to the theme, recalling attending school “with no shoes”.

He added: “I got the opportunity... we want to expand those opportunities for all our children to better than what HH has become.”

Hichilema was born into a poor family in the southern district of Monze, but says his “grit and determination” at school won him a scholarship to the University of Zambia.

He graduated with a degree in economics and business administration before getting an MBA degree at Britain’s University of Birmingham.

At age 26, he was already CEO of the Zambian branch of a large international accountancy firm, according to his party.  - AFP

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