THE Sunday Professor Mwiine Lubemba analyses some of the blunders that made UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema damage his self-hyped international reputation great harm with a dismal performance on the recent hard-hitting BBC World Service show, HARDtalk. The UPND leader tried to appear calm and self-assured as he failed to offer measured and matter of fact responses to a series of testy questions thrown at him by famous host Stephen Sackur – whose intense and abrasive style has been known to rattle many rich and famous guests on his popular show. The UPND leader’s credentials as a champion of democracy could now be disputed worldwide.

Needless to say, Stephen Sackur’s intrusive and hard-hitting way of questioning altered Hakainde Hichilema’s self-assured posture. Albeit, it was not just the way he was being interviewed that dented his self-assured demeanor but some of his own blunders during the BBC’s HARDtalk programme became costly to his penchant for seeking foreign support by discrediting the ruling PF. Below is a small sample of the blunders that boomeranged in his face as he lamentably failed to intelligently answer some questions to justify his usual unsubstantiated claims against the governing political party:

  1. Know your history and interviewer: That Hakainde Hichilema was a poor student of history and appeared not to have a clue about the message his interviewer wanted, was evident during the BBC’s HARDtalk programme and only exposed his self-obsession and misguided self-esteem. During the interview, he forgot that British High Commissioner to Zambia Fergus Cochrane-Dyet had earlier in the year pointed out that it was provocative for the UPND leader to have blocked President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade during the Kuomboka ceremony. The stubborn UPND leader, could not convince his overly experienced and well-informed interviewer why he deliberately refused to give way to the presidential motorcade as required by law worldwide. And his response was in stark contrast to the video footage which was gleefully posted on social media by the UPND media team immediately the incident took place – the facts are that other cars on the same road at the same time followed the law and gave way to the presidential motorcade except those in his entourage.
  2. The Zambian presidency recognition: Despite the British High Commissioner to Zambia Fergus Cochrane-Dyet having earlier in the year stated that the UK, along with the rest of the international community recognized the 2016 PF presidential election candidate as the democratically elected Zambian Head of State. Hichilema’s continued refusal to concede defeat floundered miserably during the BBC’s HARDtalk programme. By the time he realised that the BBC’s HARDtalk interview was swaying towards his political adversary, it was too late and could not change tactics.
  3. Keep away from South Africa’s regime change cartel: For years, Hichilema’s election campaign relied heavily on the shadowy South African-based regime change cartel, which continuously funded and painted him as a leading regime change actor in all the previous Zambian presidential polls. This costly mistake made Hichilema lethargic and made him live in a “make-believe-bubble” based on the assumption that victory was already assured in 2016. And when the BBC’s Stephen Sackur put Hichilema on the grill by asking him why he should contest elections again after having lost five times, so far, all the UPND leader was able to do in response was to mumble incoherently since his stubborn position to contest elections again has rendered the party a personal-to-holder estate. He seems besotted with running his party as a personal estate. It is either him or nobody else on the UPND ticket come 2021 presidential elections.
  4. Presidential election petition as a dead issue: It pays to acknowledge that the presidential election petition in the Constitution Court is a dead issue. However, Hakainde Hichilema’s defective and ill-advised stance that he could not recognize President Edgar Lungu because of the presidential election petition case which was still active in court does not hold water. Believe it or not, despite him knowing full well that it wasn’t, is quite mind boggling. Even when he was questioned about his commitment to reconciliation, yet he continued to insist that President Edgar Lungu was illegitimate. His body language betrayed the unease beneath. But he unwittingly took cover in the law saying that, there was no legal requirement for him to do so. From any reasonable Zambian’s point of view, that was where and how Hakainde Hichilema had everything muddled up in unreasonableness, ungraciousness and self-hyped egocentrism. It is clear that he has never been and was not ready to reconcile with President Edgar Lungu no matter how many times he claims so, even if he says it in the SDA Church where he claims to belong and being an elder.
  5. Get your facts right: BBC’s Stephen Sackur followed up with the question of, “Are you a democrat?” to which Hakainde Hichilema responded in affirmative, “Absolutely!”. But the interviewer spelled out the irony that if the UPND leader was a democrat, why was he part of the people risking Zambia’s democracy? In sharp reaction, the UPND leader still claimed that our democracy was in great danger but he did not seem to care because of his selfishness, it was all about himself and nobody else. The interviewer actually put it directly on him that he was pursuing his selfish interests other than national interests. The embarrassing question was about his 5-time losses in elections and yet kept on crying that, Zambia’s democracy was defective and elections were rigged.

The question unsettled Hakainde Hichilema and he had difficulties answering it and you could see that the interviewer rattled his nerves, it was like a knock-out punch in a boxing match. The UPND leader could not be spared on the issue of violence either, which he kept on accusing the ruling PF. The interviewer reminded him of the strong language of his vice president Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) and of his own. Stephen Sackur told him that, he had no evidence that President Edgar Lungu wanted to kill him as he claimed, because if the Zambian president really wanted, he would have, but Hakainde Hichilema was still alive and he better stop these wild claims. All in all, hard facts were difficult to put off, regardless of where you do the interview or who is interviewing you.

  1. When you are abroad, be patriotic and courteous to your country: As the seasoned presenter said that if President Edgar Lungu wanted to kill Hakainde Hichilema he would have easily done that, Stephen Sackur tellingly said to him, “with due respect if he wanted to kill you, he could have killed you. Clearly the intention was not to kill you.” But, as expected, Hakainde Hichilema decried the conditions under which he was jailed and held in solitary confinement in the first eight days of his arrest. The UPND leader said that the arrest should never have happened in the first place and alleged that accusations and trumped up charges against his followers were the order of the day in Zambia. Stephen Sackur asked him why he had continued throwing salvos at President Edgar Lungu despite having committed to dialogue as brokered by the Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland. “In some countries, you might still be languishing in prison. Why are you making such a fuss about this whole episode? The United States Under Secretary Linda Greenfield congratulated President Edgar Lungu, the British High Commissioner to Zambia, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa meaning the election was fairly credible?” In response, Hakainde Hichilema said that we needed 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.

Unbowed even as the Commonwealth-brokered dialogue process was seemingly disintegrating, Hakainde Hichilema has deliberately ignored all the warning signs of self-inflicted political isolation, thinking himself as the country’s political grand master. This would actually become his undoing. The day he provocatively blocked the presidential motorcade in Mongu, was the day he bid farewell to his presidential ambitions.

  1. Empathise with City Market traders’ misfortunes: As soon as he was asked to confirm whether he had told his supporters to burn City Market in Lusaka, Hakainde Hichilema showed no sympathy for the City Market traders’ misfortunes. He claimed it was a stage managed situation. One would think he needed to be a bit more sensitive to the City Market traders’ plight. Was he insinuating that the fire that gutted the market was stage managed by the market traders themselves in order to lose stalls and goods worth millions and in the process damage their livelihoods? Or was he suggesting that it was stage managed by the PF so that its government would consequently be tasked to rebuild another City Market at a humongous cost? Either way, his response to Stephen Sackur’s question did not make any common or logical sense. This lack of empathy would lead to UPND’s core City Market supporters deserting him. Should he return in future to seek their votes by asking for forgiveness for his “oversight”, the damage would have already been done.
  2. Don’t forget good deeds and surround yourself with sober advisers: Prior to his release from prison, Hakainde Hichilema had seen the wisdom of collective action, presumably dialogue to unify the country. At the time, he said all the right things, was ever sober, and had punchy Biblical quotes for the local and international reconciliation mediators. Sadly after leaving prison, he’d shifted the goalposts and sidelined his core group of international, local and religious advisers and opted for individuals who do not have the same clout and passion. As evidenced when Stephen Sackur asked him, “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?”.  To which he mumbled incoherently about his constitutional rights for disputing elections.

For the moment, though, the Commonwealth reconciliation mediators are between a rock and a hard place between a legitimate government seemingly entrenched in office and a stubborn opposition seemingly entrenched in a myriad of electoral, legal and constitutional disputes. The BBC’s tell-all HARDtalk interview exposed Hakainde Hichilema’s dark underbelly of preconditions in the Commonwealth-brokered dialogue and reconciliation. While his core supporters castigated Stephen Sackur, the reality was that the witty and eloquent Hakainde Hichilema of 2016 pre-election campaign was not the same as the one who appeared on the HARDtalk show this year.

  1. Keep up with the times: When Hakainde Hichilema appeared on the BBC’s HARDtalk show, he was a pale shadow of himself compared to the local Muvi TV’s 2016 pre-election live debate for presidential candidates’ appearance, which was refined, slick, and well researched. Hakainde Hichilema appeared destined for greatness, but in 2017 at BBC World Service show, HARDtalk, he was off the radar completely. His message had not changed from 2016 and his post-election ideals of 12 months ago had not moved on with the times to reflect the changes demanded by Zambia’s new constitution. His opponents painted him as stiff-necked and instead of ignoring the fact, he’d played the stubborn card and got stuck in defending his electoral presidential petition which lapsed and was thrown out by the Constitutional Court.
  2. Keep inflammatory rhetoric out of politics: By the time Hakainde Hichilema realised that his party’s dalliance in inflammatory rhetoric was a liability for his presidential ambitions, it was too late. Right from the time he made Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) as his deputy and presidential election running mate, GBM saw to it that he pumped up inflammatory rhetoric in politics to intimidate political adversaries. He once told a crowd of UPND supporters that he would go for the throat of the President. The HARDtalk interviewer wondered: “What kind of language was that?”. As GBM’s image-maker, the UPND leader struggled to spin this issue during the BBC’s HARDtalk show, but to no avail.

In the end, however, the PF presidential election winning team, who ensured that no such scenario confronted them, had already run away with the 2016 coveted prize, while the UPND losing team remained wedded to pumping up inflammatory rhetoric against the judiciary and political opponents in the governing party.

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