Following Hakainde Hichilema’s election as president of Zambia in August 2021, voters around the country were ecstatic, despite the fact that he had previously run unsuccessfully in five prior elections. His predecessor, the Patriotic Front (PF), had been in power for decades until Hichilema – a cattle rancher, businessman, and politician from the United Party for National Development (UPND) – toppled it.
Small and medium-sized businesses in particular are placing their faith in Hichilema’s pledges to revitalize the economy.
Voters had become increasingly disgruntled with the Patriotic Front in the months leading up to the election. Entrepreneurs were particularly dissatisfied with the PF, according to the survey.
They claimed that the prior dictatorship extorted unlawful taxes from small entrepreneurs, including as market merchants and bus operators, in order to maintain its power.
Morgan Chibuye, a bus driver at Lusaka’s intercity bus station, is one of those who has voiced his displeasure. PF regime, he claims, rendered his company’s operations undesirable. For refusing to pay off goons impersonating revenue collectors, a bus driver was blacklisted and stopped from loading his bus.
Entrepreneurs and municipal politicians anticipate that the situation will improve quickly under the new administration.
Other sectors were also harmed by the previous administration. The threat of extortion used to be a daily occurrence, recalls Sara Mofya, a mobile money agent in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital and largest city, who works in the Kamwala market. According to her, “the People’s Front’s (PF) party operatives would come about twice a week and extort money from market sellers.”
The new leadership has pledged to put an end to such practices. “We will be available to listen to you and to support you,” Hichilema stated in his inaugural speech, addressing civilians and business owners alike. He cited his own experience as a businessman with interests in cattle ranching, tourism, health care, and banking to demonstrate that he understands the issues of entrepreneurs and how to address them.
Hichilema emphasizes that small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) are the engines of job creation and economic growth. The Minister of Small and Medium Enterprise Development recently said on his Twitter page, “We have founded the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprise Development to promote the formation and growth of your firms.”
The economic issues confronting the new administration are significant.
Zambia is grappling with weak economic development, significant unemployment, a large national debt and budget deficits, as well as inflation in the double digits. Apart from that, the currency of the country is highly unpredictable, and the loan rates paid to small enterprises are extremely high.
In order to address these issues, the new president and his supporters argue that encouraging entrepreneurship and job development is essential. “When they achieve, we all succeed,” says Elias Mubanga, national youth mobilization chairman for the United Party for National Development.