February 2, 2023

Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema concludes first White House visit, discusses reforms, democracy and COVID-19 with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris

|Hakainde Hichilema|
|Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema speaks at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City

Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema on Wednesday became the first African leader to visit the White House under the Biden administration, a decision a senior U.S. official described as a signal that the Biden administration supports democracy all over the world, including in Africa.

President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, after delivering remarks on the CDC’s updated guidance on mask wearing for vaccinated individuals Thursday, May 13, 2021, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Hichilema, who was hosted by U.S. Vice President Kamala D. Harris discussed a wide range of issues, including diplomatic and economic ties, strengthening democratic institutions in the south-central African nation through multi-level governance reforms and beating the coronavirus pandemic.

“Vice President Kamala Harris met with President Hichilema today to congratulate him and the people of Zambia on an election with historic voter turnout, especially among young voters, which helped assure a peaceful transition of power,” the White House said in a statement. “The two leaders affirmed shared values that unite the U.S. and Zambia, and the Vice President and President Hichilema agreed to deepen collaboration on a number of important issues including health and pandemic preparedness and response.”

They also discussed measures to advance good governance and the rule of law in order to build strong institutions, the White House said, adding that Harris applauded “President Hichilema’s focus on prioritizing necessary reforms and his efforts to stabilize and grow the Zambian economy. The Vice President welcomed the establishment of new partnerships to deepen the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Zambia.

Vice President Kamala Harris salutes U.S. Marines as she disembarks Marine Two at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Friday, June 25, 2021, to begin her trip to El Paso, Texas. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Vice President Harris will also meet with the President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo on Thursday to strengthen bilateral ties with the West African country.

Hichilema, the leader of Zambia’s main opposition party, captured 2.8 million votes to defeat President Lungu who received 1.8 million votes, according to the election results. Lungu had governed the southern African nation since 2015.

59-year-old Hichilema, a businessman and the candidate of the United Party for National Development, had lost five previous bids for the presidency, but was lucky on his sixth attempt

He benefited from an economy that was in a mess due to Lungu’s bad policies, the devastating impact from the coronavirus pandemic, rising debt, skyrocketing unemployment numbers and increasing food prices.

Opposition and human rights organizations had also warned that human rights abuses were spreading in Zambia under Lungu and democracy was under attack.

Last June, Amnesty International’s campaigner for Southern Africa Vongai Chikwanda told Today News Africa‘s Kristi Pelzel in an interview that human rights violations were intensifying scarily in Zambia under President Edgar Lungu.

Chikwanda said there had been a rise in impunity, including unlawful killings, illegal and prolonged detentions of opposition figures and supporters and a ban on protests and public gatherings since Lungu came to power in 2016.

“For many years we have seen that Zambia was a haven for peace, but in recent times, things have gotten worse,” Chikwanda said. “Opposition parties are not allowed to assemble and protests are not allowed, and people are spending longer times in detention.”

On August 23, Amnesty International said that the inauguration of former opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema as Zambia’s new president was an opportunity to turn the tide on the country’s worsening human rights situation.

The organization urged the president-elect to prioritize protecting freedom of expression and association, take decisive action to end abuses by police and place socio-economic rights on his agenda, including tackling inequality, poverty, unemployment, collapsing healthcare system and poor education funding.

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