Zambia’s peaceful transition of power today with the inauguration of Hakainde Hichilema as president brings hope for greater respect for human rights in the country. On August 16, the Electoral Commission of Zambia declared Hichilema the president-elect over the incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, in the August 12 elections.
Despite Hichilema’s landslide victory, Lungu initially cried foul and claimed the elections were neither free nor fair. He soon conceded defeat in a televised address to the nation, stating, “I will comply with the constitutional provisions for a peaceful transition of power. I would therefore like to congratulate my brother, the president-elect, His Excellency Mr. Hakainde Hichilema.” This is the third time power has transferred peacefully from a ruling party to the opposition in independent Zambia, an uncommon occurrence across Africa, where authoritarian regimes cling to power despite electoral defeat.
As President Hichilema begins his term, he faces several human rights challenges. He should urgently act to clean up lead pollution in the provincial capital of Kabwe that has affected the health of tens of thousands of people, including children, and ensure human rights are respected in Zambia’s large mining sector. He should also address the country’s severe economic crisis, made worse by widespread corruption. And he should reverse the tide of repression and human rights abuses that dominated Lungu’s six years in power, characterized by arbitrary arrests and detentions of opposition leaders and activists, police crackdowns on peaceful protests, and the forced closure of media outlets.
In his televised inauguration speech, Hichilema promised that his administration will enhance good governance and strictly uphold the rule of law. “It is a new dawn,” he said. “The fourth estate – the media – will be freed. Time has come for all Zambians to be truly free.”
Hichilema should live up to his stated commitment to freedom, good governance, and the rule of law, and lead Zambia on a new rights-respecting path.