Hakainde Hichilema, in his inaugural speech as President of Zambia, has vowed his government will ensure no Zambian “go to bed hungry.”
The 59-year-old who defeated incumbent Edgar Lungu in a landslide victory some 12 days ago also pledged to tackle Zambia’s “unsustainable” debt, lamenting that the national budget was overwhelmed by the cost of servicing it.
He said his government would focus on reviving the economy and creating jobs for Zambia’s unemployed youth.
Hichilema spoke during his swearing-in as Zambia’s seventh president. He had previously contested for the country’s top job five times, claiming victory on a sixth run.
The exchange of baton between Lungu and Hichilema at a stadium in Lusaka marked the third time Zambia will see a peaceful change of power to an opposition party since independence from Britain in 1964.
Under Lungu, Zambia became Africa’s first pandemic-era sovereign default in November and in his speech, the new leader noted that the country was facing a lot of challenges but his government would work to revive the economy, which he said had been “overwhelmed by debt servicing, emoluments and consumption” leaving little room for investment for growth.
“Over the last decade…, the debt situation has become unsustainable, reducing the country’s capacity to invest,” he said.
“We will pay special attention to lowering the fiscal deficit, reducing public debt and restoring social and market confidence.”
“To the jobless youths, a new dawn is here where you will be skilled and find opportunity to work or do business in an economy that we will revive,” he added.
Of Zambia’s $12 billion external debt, some $3bln is in Eurobonds, $3.5bln is bilateral debt, $2.1bln is owed to multilateral lending agencies, such as the IMF, and along with another $2.9bln of commercial bank debt.
Approximately 25 per cent of the total is held by China or Chinese entities as part of secret deals – which makes obtaining IMF relief particularly difficult.
“Our focus over the next five years will be restoring macroeconomic stability,” Hichilema said. “We will pay special attention to lowering the fiscal deficit, reducing public debt and restoring market confidence in our country.”
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