UPND president Hakainde Hichilema today made an exceptional mark when he featured on BBC Hard Talk programme, against a tough probing Stephen Sackur.

Most of the questions asked on the programme were old news for a Zambian audience, but Hichilema stood out because of the calm and smart manner in which he responded.

Sackur asked the opposition leader why he had lost five elections in the past. Hichilema said it could not be categorically said that he lost in 2016 because the election petition was not heard. Sackur asked why Hichilema always claimed that he was unfairly beaten in every election, but the opposition leader reminded Sackur that it was the first time that he was petitioning the presidential election results.

But the Hard Talk host told Hichilema to stop claiming that President Edgar Lungu wanted to kill him because it would have happened a long time ago had that been the case.

And just before the show came to a close, Sackur asked Hichilema if he felt the law did not allow President Lungu to stand again in 2021, and Hichilema said it was not up to him to decide, but for the Constitutional Court judges to give a ruling based on the provisions of the Constitution.

Below is the verbatim of the HH interview on BBC Hard Talk:

Sackur: Hakainde Hichilema, welcome to Hard Talk.

HH: Thank you for hosting me Stephen.

Sackur: It is a pleasure to host you, at least because you are now a free man. This summer you spent more than three months in prison but you were released, you are out. Is it now time that you acknowledge to build fences with your political enemies, in particular the President, President Lungu of Zambia?

HH: First I am happy to be out, no one should be in prison especially when you are not in prison for committing a crime. So it is nice to be out of prison and I am grateful to all of those who did something.

Sackur: Time for an olive branch?

HH: I think it is time to fix the broken pieces, democratic pieces in our country. That is how I would define it, very very essential.

Sackur: Let’s talk about the incident that got you into prison, many people around the world will find it quite bizarre. You were in the west of your country, on the road with your team, a sort of convoy when a presidential motorcade came through on the same road and you and your team refused to pull over and get out of the way, which of course is expected when a President passes through. Why?

HH: Well, factually, that’s not what it was Stephen. His motorcade was coming behind us, he overtook not just my four or five vehicles but 100 other vehicles in a similar manner.

Sackur: It is a bit of a she said he said story in that there are two versions of this, yours and the President’s but let us stick with what the police chief of your country said. Mr [Kakoma] Kanganja said ‘it has been established that the opposition leader disobeyed police orders and thereby put the life of the Head of State in danger.

HH: Absolutely not true, one. And two, if that was the case, how is it that other hundreds of road users were not arrested for treason? Why me? Because exactly the same conditions obtained when his motorcade overtook several hundreds of other vehicles, why did it become treason on me?

Sackur: A couple of days later, there is a raid on your home and you are grabbed. Your family it seems were deeply upset by what they saw, you were hauled off to prison and I think for a few days you were held in solitary confinement.

HH: Eight days.

Sackur: Yes, now this is not pleasant, nobody could say that this was a pleasant experience but the bottom line is you were treated with respect, you were ultimately free after what, just over three months in captivity and that charge of treason which initially was put against you was dropped, so I am just wondering why you have made such a fuss about what happened to you.

HH: First Stephen, I should have never been arrested. I and five others should have never been arrested first because we did not commit any treason. Secondly…

Sackur: Well, we sort of got into that, let’s now discuss what this overall incident tells us about Zambia today because as I say, in some countries I can think of, you might still be languishing in prison but the bottom line is, after a degree of intervention from the outside including from the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness [Patricia] Scotland, and a degree of compromise, let’s put it that way, you emerged from prison and now you are a free man and you have just traveled to London conducting your political work, so what is the message of all of this do you think?

HH: I think the message is that we need to clean up our democratic credentials. The situation in Zambia should never allow a citizen to be brutally arrested and detained, eight days in solitary confinement, 120 days in total in prison, under degrading and inhuman conditions…the manner in which I was arrested was unacceptable. I have been arrested by the PF government since 2011 over 10 times and all of these 10 times, all I received was a police call out and they effected an arrest so they should have done that. So they should have done the same here, that should never happen to anyone, including those that treated us in that manner.

Sackur: And this serious accusation of yours of brutal treatment in prison, what’s your evidence for that?

HH: Well, the footage is there, first, the house was swamped by over 300 armed policemen, broke the entrance to the yard, accessed, that’s the evidence. And then eight days in solitary confinement, I couldn’t see anyone, it was a room without electricity, without water, without a toilet and how can you put someone in a dark room for eight days? For what? It is there and it had to take a court ruling on the eighth day to take me out of that location and move me to an ordinary prison.

Sackur: Given your treatment, would you say that you emerged from detention fearful, intimidated in a sense in a way that you weren’t before?

HH: I am not intimidated. Maybe the intention was to break me down, we are not broken because we understood, we expected that the government like the one we have in Zambia could do things like this, the writings were on the wall but we emerged stronger, I have said it before and I repeat it, 10 times stronger.

Sackur: Interestingly, you say you emerged stronger but you also emerged making noises about reconciliation, as I said, you saw the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland who was instrumental of your release and after your release, you said, and I am quoting you directly, ‘it is our collective duty to bring unity to our country, we cannot run our country like this, we are currently so divided. So you saw the wisdom there of collective action, presumably dialogue to unify the country, do you still feel that way today?

HH: Absolutely and my message was in reference to specific things that need to be fixed and corrected so that we don’t continue with a negative situation. And we can talk about it.

Sackur: Yes, we will but I just want to go through this quite forensically, if you want to unify the country, is it not time for you to drop your insistence that the president is illegitimate and that the election was a fraud?

HH: You could see it that way but the other way of seeing it is that the constitutional right for disputing elections which is via an electoral presidential petition must respected because that’s a constitutional provision so the rule of law with regard to the remedies that are available to anybody.

Sackur: Well, as I understand it, the Constitutional Court looked at your argument and threw them out.

HH: Not at all. That’s the irony of it, our petition has not been heard Stephen, that’s a fact.

Sackur: It has been before a court, I know that for a fact.

HH: Yes.

Sackur: Yes, so you have had your day in court, the court in the end chose not to take up your petition.

HH: (laughs) No, no, no. The basic constitutional provision under the Bill of Rights is that every citizen or group of citizens that feel aggrieved about anything have the right to go to court and the court has an obligation to hear their matter, not to just admit the concern or the petition but to hear it, the petition has not been heard.

Sackur: Well, the court took the decision to throw out your petition but the bottom line surely is that under most circumstances, the international norm is that governments around the world take a view as to whether an election is deemed to be fair and reasonable, legitimate or not and the clear collective view in the case of Zambia, the election of 2016, it was regarded as acceptable, the United States of America, the Under Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas Greenfield, she congratulated Mr Lungu on his reelection saying it was a clear manifestation of the will of the Zambian people, the UK High Commissioner, her sent a message actually this year on the Queen’s birthday, calling on respect for the Head of State, a clear signal that the UK respects the position of Mr Lungu, President Zuma of South Africa cordially invited President Lungu to South Africa in a sign of his belief in the credibility of that election.

HH: You could say so and maybe you could be heard and heard loudly if what you said was not challenged by the Kenyan Constitutional Court ruling over the last election, not the current issues going on but just before that nullified Kenyan election which included basically discrediting such comments from international observers. What matters is to follow the rule of law to ensure that the petition is heard and not just submitted, I think that’s what’s important and the Kenyan ruling has demystified those views. Remember, former secretary of state John Kerry rendered an apology in the Kenyan situation because similar sentiments were passed that the Constitutional Court should have heard our petition and then the recognition, the issue of whether the election was free and fair would have been resolved squarely and nobody will complain about it.

Sackur: You accuse Mr Lungu and his ruling party of a series of fraudulent actions concerning that election, but the truth is your own party has a record that is highly questionable of for example, inflammatory rhetoric, may I just quote you from Geoffrey Mwamba, this is before the election of last year when he told a crowd of people that he would go for the throat of the President, what kind of language is that?

HH: Well, Stephen, if you followed the campaign trail and looked at language flying from one side to another and vice versa, maybe you need a complete audit of that.

Sackur: You for example, you said that Lungu wanted to kill you.

HH: Of course, it is evident, the manner in which I was arrested and detained and brutalized…

Sackur: With all due respect, if he wanted to kill you he could have killed you. He didn’t kill you and there’s absolutely no evidence that his intent was to kill you. My point is this, you came out of prison saying you wanted to work for national unity. National unity means getting away from this inflammatory rhetoric.

HH: Steven, national unity means restoring the rule of law in all respects, whether the law in question favours a particular group, doesn’t matter but it is the law. In the case like our petition, Article 104 of our Constitution dictates that once a petition is submitted, it is obligatory for the executive powers to transfer to the Speaker of the National Assembly.

Sackur: You as the leader of the United Party for National Development have a duty to follow the law just as the President does.

HH: Absolutely.

Sackur: So explain to me how the discovery of 21 of your young party workers training in a gym with weapons including machetes and live ammunition, how does that represent you following the law?

HH: (Laughs) Well, Stephen, you would like to know that that matter is in court and I think the ruling will be out soon, and I can assure you, you may swallow those words after the ruling in court. Accusations and tramped up charges is the order of life in Zambia and that is what we want to come out of, that negativity is not what we need in the country.

Sackur: Did you tell your supporters to burn City Market in Lusaka?

HH: Absolutely not, that’s why today, there is nobody convicted from our side of burning a market.

Sackur: The President said it was a clear act of sabotage designed to harm his government and him.

HH: He was framing a strong opposition like us to justify the invocation of article 31 of our Constitution which is a threatened emergency. Steven, you cannot have a fire at 05:30 in the morning by 6 in the morning you go to the scene and say ‘it is UPND members who have burnt the market’. Where is the investigation? It was never done and that is why nobody will be convicted for it on our side it was a stage managed situation.

Sackur: Do you feel yourself to be a true democrat?

HH: Absolutely.

Sackur: Do you think Zambia’s democracy is in grave danger today?

HH: It is in grave danger.

Sackur: And would you say you are partly responsible for that?

HH: I think many players are partially responsible that is why we would like to be part of the resolution of these negativities and we would be very much committed to that. As I keep saying, human rights must be respected, restored, we have lost that at the moment, the rule of law must be respected, we have lost that at the moment, we need to stem political violence which has become the order of the day in our country, that is responsible leadership.

Sackur: Well, I feel in a sense, we are skirting around the same issue again and again. If you are serious about what you say, of wanting to save Zambian democracy, if you want to sit down with your opponent and find a way around this crisis, then surely the first thing you have to do is accept the legitimacy of the President because before you do that how can he possibly sit down with you?

HH: Steven, you are saying that any dialogue must be anchored on preconditions.

Sackur: Yes, surely that is the most basic precondition of all.

HH: That would be basically an indication of unwillingness to dialogue. Secondly, I have already answered the question…

Sackur: You have just said it but it doesn’t mean it makes much sense

HH: Why not?

Sackur: Here is a President who is accepted by the international community as the legitimate leader of your country, if you, as the leader of the opposition want to sit down and have a dialogue with him, to work through some of the political problems that are so manifest in your country today, surely you have to accept his legitimacy.

HH: Stephen, I have already said it before, there is no legal obligation in our statutes anywhere for what you are asking me to do secondly, we have a petition still in the courts of law, alive, active in the courts of law so how would anyone make a comment like that? What would that mean to the rule of law?

Sackur: So remind me, is it s four year of five year term for presidency?

HH: Five.

Sackur: So you are telling me that for the forseeable future, possibly for a four or five year term you are simply going to refuse to accept that your country has a legitimate President?

HH: No, that’s not what I am saying, I am saying that if our presidential petition which is before the courts of law, and you can verify that yourself and anyone who wishes to do so, is dealt with, therein lies the issue of recognition. It is a no brainer at all.

Sackur: Why do you think you have lost five elections?

HH: Well, you can say that but this is why…

Sackur: Just answer the question.

HH: (laughs)

Sackur: Why do you think, Zambia is held up by Africans as an example of a state that has embraced democracy, relative freedom, it is not perfect, we know you have got problems with your media and with other elements of repression but ultimately, it has been fairly free and fairly democratic for a generation and you have had a chance to run for the top office in your country and you have repeatedly lost, why?

HH: First Steven, that’s what we are challenging through the courts of law.

Sackur: So you are saying that every time you run for office, you are unfairly beaten, every vote was rigged was it?

HH: No, no, no, but how many times have I gone to court to petition? This is the first time because of the manner in which the election was managed. The electoral process which lacks transparency, the electoral process which lacks integrity and that is why we are asking for replacement of the electoral commission as it is in the current position or replace it with a truly independent electoral commission as is the case in South Africa for example. To turn your question around, why didn’t we petition before? Why did we petition this time around? It is because there are issues this time around and we tested our argument by petitioning parliamentary seats in an areas which we thought was fraudulent, in Lusaka we have had two elections nullified. That’s a fact.

Sackur: Let me put this to you that it seems to me that you are somehow more preoccupied with self interest than the national interest because of you were serious about working with the government to work on some of Zambia’s problems, you might be more focused on some of the stunning and really alarming statistics in your country, life expectancy, for men 49 years, for women 50, endemic poverty, poverty rates that are stunning and are going to get worse because a population of 13 or 14 million could be 50 million by 2050 and what we have heard most recently by former Nigerian President [Olusegun] Obasanjo, population explosion in Africa is perhaps the biggest problem Africa faces of all of them. And yet you are just obsessed with your own fight with Mr Lungu over the last election. Can’t you focus on what really matters?

HH: I really think that it is not a question of this or that, it is a question of all of the questions you are saying are important because in order to basically support the country’s population, take it out of poverty, provide education, health and clean water, all of those issues are connected to the quality of leadership, quality of leadership in a democracy comes through elections and that’s where the competition for office in order to serve and do the things that you say, which I totally agree with, lies. So there is not either this or that.

Sackur: A recent economist intelligence article actually looked at your economic policies and the government and concluded that both of them aren’t addressing Zambia’s real issues that is the over reliance on mining and the copper industry in particular, the massive amounts of money that is spent every year on subsidies for fuel and basic staples, you know, your economy is broken, you have got the third hungriest country in the world according to the Global Hunger Index, these are problems that neither your party nor frankly Mr Lungu’s seem to be capable of addressing

HH: I think Steven now you are getting to the real issues, that are affecting the people daily. These are the issues that are at the top of our agenda, governance that will ensure that we end or we reduce to a minimum endemic corruption that we see today in the country which basically sits in many areas, procurement of loans, today you have a country called Zambia which is procuring expensive loans, 9.5 per cent Eurobonds as opposed to procuring loans from multilateral and bilateral organizations like the one being proposed at the IMF which is a zero percent interest. That’s a question, why would a leadership which is riddled with poverty among its population go and procure loans which are more expensive than cheaper loans?

Sackur: You think you can fix these problems?

HH: Zero tolerance on corruption.

Sackur: Will you run again in the next schedule of presidential election in 2021?

HH: I think the question is that are we going to have a free and fair credible elections in 2021? We can do that if we reform…

Sackur: Is it your intention to run?

HH: We can do that if we reform the electoral process and anyone is free to run including myself.

Sackur: Okay, and finally, a lot of this interview has been about your relationship with President Lungu. According to one technical interpretation of the Constitution, he cannot run again in 2021 because he has already run twice, he says actually, he can run again because his first election was as a result of the death of the sitting president and he was only in power for a year or so, another election came along so he says he has got the right to run in 2021, do you agree with him?

HH: It is not a question of whether I agree or not, it is another example of the importance of respecting the rule of law. The Constitution provides clearly what constitutes two terms, it is very clear and the matter…

Sackur: So can he run again or not?

HH: If we follow the Constitutional provisions, and that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Sackur: What’s the answer? In your view, can he run again?

HH: Hang on,it is not about my view, it is a legal provision and the matter is in the Constitutional Court at the moment and I think that decision will be made if the judges follow the constitutional provisions which is what we want them to do. They will make a determination on whether he can run or not and that determination must be respected.

Sackur: Hakainde Hichilema, we have to end here but thank you for being on Hard Talk.

HH: Thank you very much Stephen, nice talking to you.