By Vinesh Parmar, in Lusaka
Amongst the economic malaise of the last few years, it seemed as though the Zambian flag had been flying at half-mast. In contrast, the fish eagle soared high above a crowded Hero’s Stadium in the capital Lusaka as newly elected president Hakainde Hichilema was sworn in.
Attendees at the presidential inauguration had packed wings of the venue by 7am. Seems like Zambians can be on time, especially for moments of this magnitude. Again demonstrated ahead of the general election, some voters turned up at polling stations five hours before they opened.
It was those early signs that had the nation feeling that we were on the cusp of change. Voter turnout was at historic highs, as Zambians turned up with camping chairs in anticipation of long queues. The will of the people would be delivered at the ballot box, a triumph and protection of a democracy the country was once renowned for.
As the result was confirmed in the early hours of Monday 16th August, the nation would prepare for its third peaceful transition of political power. The masses took to the streets, dancing in jubilation as the sun began to rise on a new dawn. The markets seemed to feel the same, with the local currency, the kwacha, gaining almost instinctively against the dollar.
Reaction of the wider regional and international community was equally upbeat. Together we reveled in the history of the country’s largest election victory, by votes. A victory for all Africa as one of the continent’s beacons of democracy again placed their faith in, and were rewarded by, the electoral process.
Through social media, where the election was arguably decided, messages of positivity poured in from all corners of this very young continent. The youth of Africa took note of how decisive their vote could be. This served in many ways as confirmation that Zambia will rebuild itself for generations of tomorrow, while hopefully inspiring others around us to do the same.
When President Hichilema addressed the nation, once confirmed as the president-elect, what stood out was his projection of values. Ahead of the 2016 general election, I had the privilege of being invited to Mr Hichilema’s residence to interview him for my university dissertation. Against a backdrop of opulence, a result of his business success, was a most humble man.
Welcoming, respectful, and gracious, he valued our time and played his role as host very well, even shifting the patio furniture we were sat on into the shade, away from the scorching mid-summer sun.
President Hichilema’s appointment is a significant reminder of the importance of people power and a landmark moment for Zambian and African democracy.