Hakainde Hichilema has marked exactly 100 days since he 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hichilema 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
Meanwhile Hichilema has shown a worrying contradiction in his approach to former officials accused of corruption and lack of diversity for females in cabinet.