By Desmond Davies, London
LONDON-AFTER six attempts at the presidency, Zambian businessman Hakainde Hichilema finally made it to the top office in his country when he overwhelmingly defeated the incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, in the election on August 12.
Hichilema received a clear mandate to become Zambia’s next president: 2,810,757 votes against Lungu’s 1,814,201.
What made a huge difference was the massive turnout of young voters who clearly see Hichilema, 59, as a leader who could create the enabling environment that would serve them in good stead in the future.
After all, young people are the future of Africa but they seem to be being let down regularly by leaders who do not seem to have a clue about what is needed to make their countries better places for their youthful citizens.
Young Zambians, like their counterparts across Africa, want to see a leader who is ready to rein in corruption in government, make judicious public expenditure and, crucially, make Zambia more welcoming to international investors.
Hichilema’s victory was hailed by a number of opposition politicians in Africa, including the perennial presidential candidate, Raila Odinga in Kenya.
He said in his congratulatory message to Hichilema: “Anything is possible.
“Amidst an unprecedented public health challenge, the Zambian people have made Africa proud for conducting a successful election,” Odinga added.
He said “free, fair, credible and verifiable elections [would] always certainly return the will of the people”.
Odinga said he hoped that the result would strengthen “the democratic life of Zambia….and that it brings more prosperity to the people and reminds fellow Africans elsewhere that nothing is impossible”.
Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine, who contested the presidency earlier this year, said Hichilema’s victory was not only a Zambian triumph, but also one for Africa and democracy.
Similar comments were made by opposition leaders in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
The African Union also acknowledged Hichilema’s win, with Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat praising Zambians for their “collective efforts in the exemplary conduct of peaceful, free and fair elections”.
Even the embattled Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, also got in on the act.
His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said Buhari applauded Zambians who came out in their numbers to exercise their civic rights.
Buhari said that the “prospect of a united, stable and prosperous Africa lies in the power of the people to freely elect their leaders”.
Hichilema’s triumph has been seen as a sign of business-friendly policies that would lift the Zambian economy and, in turn, raise living standards.
He has good pedigree in this light: Hichilema is one of Zambia’s richest men, with wide-ranging business interests.
One African opposition politician with the same pedigree, who must have been watching events unfolding in Zambia with keen interest, is Alexander B. Cummings, leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) in Liberia, who is setting out his stall to take on President George Weah, when the next election takes place in 2023.
In the 2017 presidential election, Weah, then aged 51, was taken over the line by young voters.
But four years on, Weah appears to be a big let-down, as Liberians complain of his laissez-faire attitude to governance and the economy.
Thus, this policy is having a negative impact on business confidence because of the lack of a clear direction.
So, for many Liberians, Cummings, a former Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Coca Cola where he spent 20 years, looks like the best alternative to Weah.
Untainted by corruption scandals rife throughout Liberian politics, Cummings is using his own resources to demonstrate to his countrymen his commitment to implementing change and developing his country – much as Hichilema has done for many years.
Cummings is in touch with ordinary Liberians through his Cummings Investments Holdings and the Cummings Africa Foundation (CAF), which is active in supporting and implementing educational and health programs across the West African nation.
Unlike Weah, Cummings, via the CAF, has invested a substantial amount of money in the country’s health, arts and education sectors, was well as funding entrepreneurship and programs that are empowering young people and women.
The CAF said on its website that it “believes and works from the position that every person in every community, given the right opportunities for better health, for better education, better standard of living, and the ability to earn meaningful income, can reach their full potential”.
This is music to the ears of disaffected young Liberians.
Indeed, Cummings has been true to his word: providing scholarships to students locally, donating to various causes and supporting Liberia globally.
Crucially, in 2019, the CAF launched its Entrepreneurship Program, which saw 75 Liberian entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to the Foundation for financial support.
CAF will continue to explore more opportunities to support Entrepreneurship. CAF invested a little over $60,000 in sponsorship of the Entrepreneurship Summit, while its Agriculture Program is even more exciting for Liberians. In a country with fertile soil and abundant rainfall, successive governments in Liberia have failed to capitalize on these assets.
The Agriculture Program is focusing on the agribusiness supply chain and working on providing access to capital and exploring farm to market linkages, food processing and manufacturing, packaging, and strategies for penetrating the West African market.
This is in line with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), of which Cummings is a strong advocate.
In all this, the victory of Hichilema in Zambian showcased two things: the power of young voters, and the need to elect leaders on the continent with solid business credentials who can create a positive environment for foreign investors ready to pump billions of dollars in FDI into Africa.
Hichilema has indeed shown the way for Cummings, as he prepares for his attempt on Liberia’s presidency in 2023.