Zambia’s new president sworn in on promise to restore country’s economy and human rights

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Zambia’s newly elected president, Hakainde Hichilema, has promised to restore the country’s ailing economy and alleviate poverty, following an election heralded as a watershed moment for African opposition groups.

He made this pledge during his swearing in on Tuesday.

“We will build our economy so that we can raise more people out of poverty than ever before,” Hichilema, 59, told thousands of exuberant fans in Lusaka’s Heroes Stadium, wearing the red and yellow of his United Party for National Development.

Hichilema also promised to restore respect for human rights and freedoms that had been undermined under his predecessor’s administration.

Hichilema defeated President Edgar Lungu, 64, by over one million votes in his sixth presidential bid, a landslide fueled by economic hardship and limited liberties under the previous regime.

Despite limited campaigning and probable cheating in favor of Lungu’s party, the victory is the 17th for the opposition in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2015.

In a face mask, dark suit, and bright red tie, Hichilema said, “We showed the world the resilience of our democracy.”

He noted that his victory marked Zambia’s third peaceful “transition of leadership” since the country adopted multi-party democracy in 1990, setting an example for “Africa and the rest of the world.”

In both a snap election in 2015 and polls in 2016, Lungu and his opponent were neck and neck.

However, the incumbent’s popularity was harmed by unsustainable infrastructure spending, which led to a financial crisis in the copper-rich southern African country of nearly 18 million people.

Zambia becomes only the second country in southern Africa in recent years to transfer its presidency to an opposition candidate after Malawi in 2020.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of neighbouring Zimbabwe, who attended the ceremony along with his main rival Nelson Chamisa, has already warned opponents not to harbour similar ambitions.

But analysts believe change is picking up on a continent with a history of despotic leadership and democratic weakness.

That change is mainly driven by a dominant young generation of voters more connected to the outside world and less tolerant of restricted freedoms, they argue.

Almost a third of the participants in Zambia’s election were aged between 24 and 34.

Authoritarian leaders “might learn a couple of lessons from this,” Zambian economist Grieve Chelwa told AFP.

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