AFTER enduring 127 days in prison for a politically-motivated trumped-up charge of treason, Mr Hakainde Hichilema walked to freedom.
Had the matter proceeded to trial and Mr Hichilema found guilty of the capital offence, the maximum penalty would have been a death sentence.
But on 16 August 2017, the day the treason trial was set to commence in the Lusaka High Court, the National Prosecutions Authority entered a nolle prosequei and Mr Hichilema was set free.
He and his five co-accused, Hamusonde Hamaleka, Muleya Hachinda, Laston Mulilanduba, Pretorious Haloba and Wallace Chakawa, had endured 127 days in prison following their arrest on 11 April 2017.
The indictment had stated that Mr Hichilema had plotted “to unseat the Zambian government between 5 and 8 April 2017 by mobilising his supporters for the Kuomboka ceremony in Mongu to give him the status of Zambian president”.
This followed an incident in which Mr Hichilema’s convoy had failed to make way for President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade as the two political archrivals were being driven to Lealui for the Kuomboka ceremony.
The result of this highly toxic and divisive politicking would be a hugely unnecessary and costly 127 days in prison.
This is a 127 days that could have been prevented had it not been for Mr Lungu’s desire to flex his political muscle and prove that he was the man in charge.
On the flip side of the game of politics, today, Tuesday, 28 December 2021, marks exactly 127 days since Mr Hichilema was sworn in to succeed Mr Lungu and become Zambia’s seventh president since the country attained political independence from Britain in 1964.
A lot has happened over the last 127 days since Mr Hichilema assumed office on 24 August 2021 after a resounding victory in which his United Party for National Development (UPND) emerged victorious to dump out the Patriotic Front (PF) which had governed Zambia since September 2011.
As this article delves into the events of Mr Hichilema’s 127 days in office, it will, equally, be important to look at what happened during his 127 days in incarceration.
Mr Hichilema’s house was raided by heavily-armed police officers on the early morning of 11 April 2017, a few hours after PF deputy secretary-general Mumbi Phiri had addressed the press in Lusaka demanding the arrest of the UPND leader.
By 2017, Mr Hichilema had led the UPND for 11 years since getting to the helm of the political party founded by the late corporate guru Anderson Mazoka in 1998.
The brutal police officers, who had allusions of a political party militia, forcibly gained entry to Mr Hichilema’s residence, damaging property, teargasing his family and defaecating in the house.
In the process, Mr Hichilema’s wife Mutinta, who was asthmatic, was affected by the teargas smoke.
It was not until dawn that Mr Hichilema emerged from a bunker, without which the irritatingly-politicised police could, possibly, have killed him.
The UPND leader had previously been summoned by the police on countless occasions and he had always obeyed the call-outs.
Why the Zambia Police had, on this occasion, chosen to savagely raid Mr Hichilema in the dead of the night can only be left to conjecture.
Zambia’s democracy, which the country had enjoyed since the advent of multiparty politics in 1991, had suddenly been lost under the watch of President Lungu.
The country had, literally, been turned into a police state.
After coming out of the bunker, Mr Hichilema was driven to Woodlands Police Station under so heavy a police guard that one would be forgiven for thinking he was a terrorist.
At Woodlands Police Station, Mr Hichilema was formally arrested and driven to Lilayi Police Training College where he was thrown into solitary confinement for eight days in a cell with no running water and littered with human excreta.
During the first eight of what would turn out to be 127 days in prison, Mr Hichilema was denied visitation, physically tortured and kept without food.
What could easily have been a traffic offence committed by Mr Hakainde’s driver in Mongu had been manufactured into treason against a passenger.
Mr Hichilema would, later, be transferred to Lusaka Central Prison before being flown to the over-crowded Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison in Kabwe, which was built in 1950 with a holding capacity of 400 inmates but was accommodating five times more.
Sliding into dictatorship
Zambia had slid into a dictatorship never imagined before President Lungu took office in January 2015.
It came as no surprise that the Zambia Council of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), under the leadership of Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu, issued a fiery statement accusing the Lungu regime of dictatorship.
If not dictatorship, what was it?
As Mr Hichilema spent more and more days in prison, things were getting worse as Zambia got into international spotlight for the eroding democracy occasioned by Mr Lungu’s apparent desire to punish his political nemesis.
Mr Lungu had received international condemnation for detaining Mr Hichilema and, among those who uttered harsh words, was South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance.
On 25 May 2017, Mr Maimane flew into Zambia to attend Mr Hichilema’s appearance in court.
Upon arrival at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka aboard a South African Airways flight, Mr Maimane was physically manhandled by Zambian security forces and prevented from disembarking.
More and more embarrassment was piling on Zambia as eminent international figures attempted to reason with President Lungu.
These international statesmen included former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo who made a trip to Zambia for separate talks with Mr Lungu at State House and Mr Hichilema at Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison.
Mr Hichilema’s detention had divided the country and created a rift between the three church mother bodies and the pentecostals.
But Mr Lungu kept denying the existence of tension in the country, claiming that it only existed in the heads of the three church mother bodies.
In an apparent bid to, possibly, deregister the UPND, which could lead to Mr Hichilema having no platform on which to contest elections, various schemes were initiated.
On 4 July 2017, seemingly-PF agents set Zambia’s biggest market place, Lusaka City Market, on fire and Vice-President Inonge Wina immediately blamed the action on the UPND.
The following day, President Lungu declared a state of public emergency to “deal with alleged acts of sabotage by the opposition”.
But this only went to confirm the authoritarianism that was getting rooted in the country.
Eventually, after the intervention of Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, Mr Hichilema was finally set free on 16 August 2017.
He and his co-accused had spent 127 days in prison.
Exactly four years after his release from prison, on 16 August 2021, Mr Hichilema was declared winner of the 12 August 2021 general elections.
Eight days later, on 24 August 2021, Mr Hichilema was sworn in as Zambia’s seventh president and began his first day in office.
Almost immediately, the presidential standard, the symbol of presidential authority, was hoisted at Community House, the place that had, four years earlier, been brutally attacked by the Zambia Police.
What a different 127 days it has been!
Zambia has now embarked on a path of national healing and, for the first time in 10 years, appointments to public office are spread across the ethnic divide representing all the 10 provinces in the country.
Normalcy has returned to the country, citizens can freely assemble, there is no brutality from the police and political party cadres no longer reign supreme.
This has happened within a different 127 days.
Appointing his jailer
On his ninth day in office, on 1 September 2021, Mr Hichilema remembered his 127 days in prison and appointed a man who was once his jailer at Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison, Kuyomba Bwalya, as deputy commissioner-general of the Zambia Correctional Service.
As Mr Hichilema was marking day number 65 as head of state, on 29 October 2021, Minister of Finance Situmbeko Musokotwane was announcing the 2022 national budget which, among other things, raised the Constituency Development Fund to an unprecedented K25.7 million from a paltry K1.6 million and made the provision of free education from grade one to 12 possible.
He also announced the recruitment of over 30, 000 teachers and 11, 200 health personnel.
On his 110th day as president, Mr Hichilema found himself at the place where he had begun the first of his 127 days in prison, at Lilayi Police Training College.
This time, on 10 December 2021, he was at Lilayi not as a prisoner but as Zambia’s president to officiate at the graduation of 1, 341 police officer-recruits.
On day number 121, 22 December 2021, Mr Hichilema made a bold statement rarely uttered by a politician; that he was not afraid of making difficult and unpopular decisions as his pre-occupation was not to seek re-election in 2026 but work for the benefit of the country.
What a different 127 days it has been!