LEARNED State Counsel John Sangwa says President Hakainde Hichilema is likely to be Zambia’s life president. The acclaimed constitutional lawyer says the recently held elections on August 12 are likely to be the last democratic elections in Zambia. He adds that, like other former presidents, Mr Hichilema may not be able to restrain himself from repealing or attempting to repeal Article 106(3). In summary, Mr Sangwa’s argument is premised on the following reasons: (1) He feels Mr Hichilema will perform so well that Zambians will not want him to leave, citing the case of Paul Kagame in Rwanda. (2) Mr Sangwa anticipates that the UPND will gain two thirds majority in Parliament from the on-going petitions, a situation that would allow the party to change the Constitution at will.

SANGWA: “There is a possibility that Zambia has birthed a political party (UPND) that is likely to be in power longer than any other in history and a President (HH) who is likely to be the de facto life President. The 12 August 2021 general election is likely to be the last democratic election in Zambia for a long time to come. A traumatised people desperate for any improvement in their lives may see no harm in changing the law to allow HH to continue in office beyond the two five years limit. Whilst there is no limit to the number of years a political party can be the dominant party, the Constitution limits the number of times HH can hold the office of President. It will require a high moral restraint on his part to resist the temptation to repeal Article 106(3) of the Constitution and remove the term limit.”

We are usually in agreement with what State Counsel Sangwa says. His analysis of political issues is almost always on point. But on this one, we disagree with him. There is a part of his analysis which we agree with, but there is also a part where we feel he has read it wrong. First of all, it is important to state that this debate has come a bit too early considering that the UPND has hardly clocked a month in power. However, there is no debate which is bad, and we urge our readers, including President Hichilema himself, to take time and check State Counsel Sangwa’s post-election analysis.

When he says Zambians were too traumatised under the brutal PF regime and they are now treating President Hichilema like a Messiah, we agree. In fact, we have observed that many Zambians have come to love President Hichilema so much that they don’t want to see anyone criticise him. Whoever says something negative about President Hichilema invites ridicule and sometimes insults. It’s understood, we are dealing with the most famous “president-elect” in the country’s history, judging by his vote threshold.

But as citizens we must not allow such a situation to escalate. President Hichilema is not a saint, he is as human as they come. He has weaknesses and shortcomings. During his reign as President, he will make many mistakes; as he has already made a significant one on his appointment of ministers to non-existing ministries. There will be many more mistakes to be made, and as citizens we must not relinquish our rights to criticise him. In fact, that is what he told us to do in his acceptance speech. He wants support from the people of Zambia, not praise songs. So we urge Zambians to respect Mr Hichilema, but never to worship him.

We also do not agree with State Counsel Sangwa’s position that Zambians will demand for the Constitution to be changed so that Mr Hichilema can rule Zambia forever. That would be taking the loyalty of the Zambian people too far. If there is something that our citizens demonstrated in the last election, it is the fact that they treasure the rule of law and they don’t like leaders who push to overstay in office. Zambians don’t like people who champion selfish political agendas. This is not the group of citizens that we can see calling for a removal of term limits. In our view, that won’t happen, whether President Hichilema delivers or not.

We agree that there is no opposition left after the crashing defeat of the PF. We see the opposition laughing at the UPND that they were not ready to govern. The truth is that they were not prepared to be in opposition either. There was an agenda by all other political parties to prevent the UPND from forming government. Theirs wasn’t a campaign to remove PF, but a campaign to prevent UPND from winning. They had budgets and funding to ensure this did not happen. None of them prepared for what would happen if their efforts failed and the UPND ascended to power. In the absence of a strong opposition, indeed the UPND will have a field day. But in politics anything can happen. It is the same State Counsel Sangwa who said in politics, even 24 hours is a long time.

Mr Sangwa then goes ahead to paint President Hichilema as Zambia’s Paul Kagame. We see a disparity in this comparison. Zambians may love President Hichilema as much as the Rwandese may love President Kagame, but the two leaders are different. We see President Kagame as a dictator who has done well for his country. His military past, his ascendance to power, the mutilation of the Constitution and the state of the people’s freedoms in Rwanda distinguishes him from President Hichilema.

The man Zambians voted for on August 12 is not even a career politician. We look at him as a person who wanted to achieve the title of Republican President, a person who wanted to probably make a few more millions through business connections on that seat, and then go back to enjoy his wealth. We don’t see the Rwanda situation happening here. We believe that President Hichilema will not spoil his reputation by embracing the agenda to stay in power beyond the two term limits. When his time to go comes, like he promised in his acceptance speech, he will leave; and should he try to stay longer than he is mandated to, the citizens will kick him out as they did his predecessor.

It must also be stated that the situation in Rwanda is a time bomb. What the people there have done to their constitution is dangerous. One day, as long as nature remains what it is, President Kagame will go and Rwanda will face a possibility of electing a very bad leader whom they will fail to remove from power because of the provisions that they allowed in their Constitution. A constitution should never be written to suit an individual. Yes, we all expect Mr Hichilema to be a damn good President, but that must not blind us from seeing the future.

We also urge President Hichilema to consider the analysis from State Counsel Sangwa as a leadership challenge to him. A leader who fails to put in place a succession plan is a failed leader. Such a leader is greedy and doesn’t deserve a warm place in history. President Hichilema must start now looking at what would happen to his party if he was to leave suddenly. He must look at what would happen to Zambia in his absence. He doesn’t need to hold a press conference to tell us this, but he must prepare proper succession structures and avoid the Michael Sata situation. That is what a good leader does.