August 16, 2021, marks a monumental day in the history of Zambia, and I was here in the capital city of Lusaka to experience it. In the early hours of the morning, well before dawn, the winner of the 2021 presidential election was announced. I woke up startled from my sleep. I wasn’t sure if the clamor in the streets was due to joy or rage, and a sense of worry came over me. But I only had to listen a bit closer to understand the uproar was, in fact, a celebration. The president-elect was announced as Mr. Hakainde Hichilema — also known as HH — and for many Zambians this was reason to rejoice. Throughout his campaign, he proclaimed, “Change is coming,” and on the day of his victory he took to social media to affirm, “Change is here.”
The weeks leading up to the election had been unsettling for many across Zambia as the tension between the presidential candidates and their parties became increasingly palpable. Violence arose between supporters of different parties, and candidates employed aggressive campaign tactics against their opposition. But from what I gathered as a foreigner and a fairly new resident to Zambia, the majority of the local people were in support of HH. Curious to learn more about the political atmosphere in Zambia, I asked many questions. “Why HH? What are some qualities that make him a good leader?” Many replied with a similar answer. “He’s a good man, and he actually cares about the people of Zambia. He’s going to make this country better.”
Finding Inspiration in HH
I began to follow the campaign myself and learn more about the man in whom so many Zambians had placed their trust. As I unraveled more of his life story, he became more of an inspiration to me as well. I learned that he came from humble beginnings. He was a “cattle boy” who herded his family’s livestock, but from a young age he was driven to succeed. He performed well in school and received a scholarship to go to college. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from University of Zambia, followed by an M.B.A. in finance and business strategy from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Through hard work and dedication, he became a successful businessman in several arenas, such as finance, ranching, property and tourism, to name a few. His vision for the country of Zambia led him to pursue the presidency. He was narrowly defeated by Edgar Lungu in the 2015 and 2016 elections. The 2021 election was actually his sixth attempt at running for president, with his main opposition candidate being Edgar Lungu once again. There was a clear rivalry between HH and Lungu; HH had even been arrested by Lungu in 2017 for not giving way to the presidential motorcade, and he was charged with treason. He was jailed for four months under severely harsh conditions before being released. And yet, he persevered and continued to fight for what he believed in.
What continues to captivate me about President HH is his innate ability to connect with the people. I have watched him speak publicly on multiple occasions via internet broadcasts, and his charisma is remarkable. His platform upholds high moral standards, denounces violence and corruption, and promotes common decency and fellowship among Zambians. He advocates for peace and unity despite whatever divisions exist in the country. Throughout his campaign, HH has continued to focus on the need to revive the nation’s economy and create more job opportunities, while placing great emphasis on the importance of education. He is proud to profess his Christian values and incorporates his faith into his works. As the new president, he declares he is not a master of the people but a servant of the people. His ability to ignite hope, determination, and altruism all at once is uncanny. Under his leadership, I pray the country of Zambia experiences significant economic abundance and growth.
Challenges to Creating Change
However, the road ahead for President Hichilema and his advisory staff will be grueling, as Zambia continues to battle with economic instability and debt. According to the World Bank, “Zambia ranks among the countries with highest levels of poverty and inequality globally. More than 58% (2015) of Zambia’s 16.6 million people earn less than the international poverty line of $1.90 per day (compared with 41% across Sub-Saharan Africa).”1 The coronavirus pandemic further crippled the economy affecting tourism, retail and wholesale trade. Every day in the hospital, I am exposed to the magnitude of poverty the Zambian people experience. Our wards are teeming with patients and their families who all share the same heart-wrenching story: They cannot afford to pay for medications or imaging. Sometimes it takes days for them to raise the necessary funds, and unfortunately many patients deteriorate before enough money is raised. Often their neurologic deficits leave them permanently disabled, and many become a burden to their families, who struggle to support them. As a global health neurology fellow, I am learning how to provide high-quality health care to patients with neurologic disorders while operating within a resource-limited setting. In addition, I am involved in the medical education of neurology residents and medical students. By the end of my training, I will have completed research that will contribute to sustained improvements in neurologic care in Zambia. I am hopeful that the change President Hichilema promised to deliver will come sooner rather than later for the Zambian people, as their everyday lives literally depend on it.
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