THE new wave of smear campaign against opposition UPND president Hakainde Hichilema emanates from the Patriotic Front’s realisation that the use of the tribal card against him is no longer effective, University of Zambia lecturer Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa has explained.

FDD leader Edith Nawakwi, who has mostly stayed away from political discourse since appearing with President Edgar Lungu during the 2016 Independence Celebration at State House, recently resurfaced on Hot FM radio with a scathing attack on Hichilema, calling him a thief who duped the country from the privatisation process.

But in an interview, Sunday, Dr Sishuwa said Nawakwi’s mission to resurrect Hichilema’s role in the privatisation program of the 1990s is a calculated move of the PF’s wider strategy aimed at undermining their main rival in the 2021 election, with a criminal tag.

“Nawakwi is acting like a hired gun because her campaign to discredit Hichilema serves the interests of the PF more than it benefits her and the FDD. No wonder she is now being given airtime on ZNBC TV and PF propaganda platforms such as Smart Eagles to renew her attacks against a fellow opposition leader. Hichilema, who worked for Grant Thornton as a professional during the privatisation program, is effectively being accused of undervaluing property so that he buys it himself. This is a smear campaign that reflects the PF’s realisation that the use of the tribal card against him is no longer as effective when it comes to undermining his growing popularity. Previously, the PF got away with calling Hichilema a Tonga tribalist, but this narrative can no longer work for two reasons. First, President Edgar Lungu and the PF have so spectacularly mismanaged the economy that many Zambians from a diversity of ethnic groups are now prepared to rise above tribal considerations and support Hichilema. Hunger knows no tribe,” Dr Sishuwa observed.

“Second, the narrative that Hichilema is a Tonga tribalist is undermined by the fact that Lungu and the PF practice tribalism every day. They are the apostles of tribalism. One simply has to look at the ethnic composition of President Lungu’s Cabinet and the ethnic distribution of his appointments to other public offices such as permanent secretaries. Another way is to look at the ethnic composition of boards of state-owned enterprises by Lungu’s ministers. Members of these boards are either Bemba speakers or those from the Eastern Province. So, Zambians generally are no longer finding the PF’s use of the tribal card to discredit the UPND leader as convincing as it was previously”.

Dr Sishuwa also observed that Nawakwi was working with the PF to divert people’s attention from their policy failures.

“The tag of corruption has stuck on the PF like paint. In resuscitating the issue of Hichilema’s involvement in the privatisation process, his competitors like Nawakwi, who is widely seen as working closely with the PF, are accusing Hichilema of having deliberately undervalued state property so that he could later buy it. Here, the PF’s objective is threefold. First, Lungu and the PF wish to divert attention away from their own policy failures. If they can get people to ask Hichilema all manner of questions about his role in the privatisation process, they would have succeeded in keeping him busy and diverting attention from their own policy failures. Second, the PF and its surrogates are seeking to paint Hichilema as corrupt by suggesting that the UPND leader failed to declare interest and used his position during the privatisation process to gain a pecuniary advantage,” Dr Sishuwa said.

“Calling him corrupt helps them to say that Hichilema is not as clean as he claims and to present him as potentially more corrupt by suggesting that he stole while he was outside public office. It does not help that Hichilema has failed to develop a convincing political narrative on how he acquired his wealth. Third, the PF are creating the pretext on which they may move to arrest Hichilema soon for being in possession of property suspected to be proceeds of corruption. I heard Nawakwi the other day saying that Hichilema dubiously acquired a house in Lusaka and inviting state investigative wings to arrest him.””

He urged Hichilema to sue Nawakwi for defamation.

“I know from history that the house she was referring to did not belong to Lima Bank when Hichilema bought it, and I hope the UPND leader could consider suing her for criminal defamation. What Nawakwi is doing however is to push to the front the privatisation issue because Hichilema is gaining momentum. She is doing so in a way that suggests that the PF are building a profile for his arrest on a bogus charge of corruption. And who knows what they may do to Hichilema when he is in detention?” wondered Dr Sishuwa.