New Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema took office on Tuesday, 12 days after defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu in a general election.
VOA's Peter Clottey sat down with Hichilema before Tuesday's inauguration to discuss goals for his five-year term. Hichilema covered a wide range of topics and promised to improve a poor economy, defend human rights, and have better relations regionally and with Washington.
Excerpts from the 55-minute interview:
VOA: What would you want to have achieved within the first 100 days?
Hichilema: One, we want to reunite this country. This country has been divided for so many years and the divisions are visible. You just have to look anywhere, you see them in the workplaces, in the market areas, divisions all over.
We can then do the second anchor of what we are selling... reconstruction, rebuilding our country. So that's rebuilding the country economically to bring back economic prosperity, to bring back investment, to bring back jobs, to expand jobs, to expand food for people.
VOA: What do you plan to do about the crackdown on press freedom and civil liberties?
Hichilema: Before this new dawn, citizens ran away from the police because the police tear gassed them, the police discharged live ammunition on them. Not anymore. The police who operate law and order keep law and order, but in a humane way, in a civilized way. And what does that mean to the population? It means that they can go about their business. And so we have called for the police to be professional in their conduct and that we will not inject political underhand methods.
VOA: What are your plans to address the debt situation?
Hichilema: We’ll put an eagle eye on it because we don't want to lay more debt on already overburdened economics... We know that the debt was overpriced in many cases, especially project related debt… We’ll look at those issues with a keen eye and see what opportunities we have to dismantle this debt.
VOA: What is you plan to deal with public corruption following news that the state coffers are empty due to financial malpractices?
Hichilema: Our policy is very clear: zero tolerance to corruption. Zero and I mean zero. You come to protect public assets, you've come to grow these public assets, not to deplete them. I think it's important that that message goes to my colleagues in the European Union, the allies, and the people in the civil service... We are going to strengthen the institutions that help us to fight corruption.
VOA: What is your message to the people who suffered under the previous administration and who are demanding a pound of flesh?
Hichilema: There was a perception that if you use force, then you stay in power. We have proved that wrong. I'm sure you remember at one point I couldn't enter my own town and I asked the question: 'Why should I not enter this town? Since when did I need a passport to enter this town?' I don't want to continue articulating those issues. But I want to say that, that's over. So, the first thing we do is clearing that, that no one needs a permit. No one needs a license from anyone to hold a meeting... We will not allow other people to go through the pain we have gone through.
VOA: How do you want the already warm relations between Washington and Lusaka to be under your leadership?
Hichilema: Our values are very clear. We espouse clear values: constitutionalism, democracy, and democratic space to all, in accordance [with] our constitution, in accordance to subsidiarity laws. We ascribe the rule of law, order in society, respecting fundamental human rights, liberties, and freedoms.
VOA: What role do you think Zambia can play in promoting democracy within the SADC’s region and by extension Africa?
Hichilema: We think that we have already sent a signal that we are a child of democracy. We are a product of democracy… and we got elected against all odds. Honestly, we are a good example of how democracy must evolve even under brutal conditions.
So we are willing on the SADC’s platforms, African Union platforms to, in a small way, because we're the new kids on the block, offer our own experiences so that others can either emulate or do even better.
VOA: What is your message to the people of Zambia after your success at the recent polls?
Hichilema: We have not overpromised anything. We have answered what people's cries are. And with the people, with the difficult financial situation, with the support of those who believe in what we are doing, and democracy and rule of law, we think all of these factors brought together will begin to dismantle a very difficult situation and deliver for the people of Zambia over a five-year period.