Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|August 16, 2021|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Another business mind in charge in Africa.

The good news for us wealth creators is that business-minded person is in charge in the corridors of power in Africa. This is another move away from the stultifying tradition of party faithful at the helm who think power is something you wield, rather than something that should come out of the wall when up you flick a switch. I prefer those leaders who think of electricity and the economy rather than power and red-carpet glory.

Zambia deserves a pat on the back this week for yet another peaceful transition of power. Nearly three million Zambians – a million more than those who made their mark for the president -voted for the opposition. The ballot box ousted Edgar Lungu, an incumbent who had long run out of ideas on how to revive the country’s toppling economy.

Lungu questioned the process, but what wasn’t in doubt was that it was a landslide. It is another small step away from the idea of presidents-for-life in Africa; there are still too many of them. It is a small step towards the golden ideal that when presidents don’t deliver the people can throw them out on their ear. End of story.

Into power comes Hakainde Hichilema. He has yet to pronounce on policy, but surely should be Another business mind in charge in Africa given an award for persistence. This was the sixth time he had stood for president; over the last decade he had given interviews to most of the journalists in sub-Saharan Africa. Tirelessly, he set out his stall before the rolling eyes of journalists – very few of them thought he would ever make it to power. He suffered incarceration on trumped up charges; in beating these charges he garnered the support of Kenneth Kaunda – Zambia’s first president – as well as the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Hichilema has credentials in business. He has a degree in economics and an MBA from Britain’s University of Birmingham and spent more than 20 years at the head of the Zambian operations of Coopers and Lybrand and Grant Thornton.

Zambians ran through the streets waving flags and singing as the astounding victory sank in. The bad news is that these celebrations are unlikely to last long.

Even the most optimistic supporter of the new president could see the job of steering Zambia away from dire economic straits as a bit of a poison chalice. It is going to take a raft of tough, unpopular, economic choices, towards austerity, to get Zambia back on track.

Zambia defaulted on its sovereign debt in November. Hichilema must convince the world that Zambia can rebuild its economy and repay its debts. I reported on the Zambian economy decade ago and saw rapid progress of a free economy that was transforming the landscape of Lusaka. It would be great to see the return of those halcyon days.

There is a little encouragement from the copper price, for Africa’s second largest copper miner. The growing demand around the world for battery metals to drive the boom in electric cars.

Hichilema has a strong mandate from the people and has what could prove an exhilarating first 100 days in power ahead of him. It is not going to be easy for him, but at least he has a fighting chance and it appears to be a man up for the fight.