Voters across the country were jubilant after Hakainde Hichilema was finally elected president of Zambia in August 2021 after unsuccessfully contesting five previous elections. Hichilema – a cattle rancher, businessman and politician representing the United Party for National Development (UPND) – unseated the long-entrenched Patriotic Front (PF) regime.
Entrepreneurs in particular are pinning their hopes on Hichilema's promises to revive the economy.
In the run-up to the election, voters had grown disenchanted with the Patriotic Front. Disappointment with the PF was especially strong among entrepreneurs.
Many of them accused the former regime of extorting illegal levies from small businesspeople, such as market traders and bus owners.
One such critic is Morgan Chibuye, a bus driver at Lusaka's intercity bus station. "The PF regime made our business unattractive," he says. "If a bus driver refused to pay off thugs posing as revenue collectors, he was blacklisted and prevented from loading his bus."
Entrepreneurs and local officials expect this situation to improve soon under the new government.
Other sectors also suffered under the former regime. Extortion used to be a daily burden, says Sara Mofya, a mobile money agent at the Kamwala market in Lusaka, Zambia's capital and largest city. "The PF's party operatives would come around twice a week and extort money from market traders," she says.
The new regime promises to stop such practices. "We will be available to listen and to support you," Hichilema said to citizens and entrepreneurs during his inaugural speech. He pointed to his own background as a businessman with interests in cattle ranching, tourism, health care and finance, to show that he understands entrepreneurs' concerns.
Small and mid-sized enterprises are engines of job creation and economic growth, Hichilema emphasises. "We have created the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprise Development to facilitate the creation and growth of your businesses," he wrote on his Twitter feed recently.
The new administration's economic challenges are considerable.
Zambia faces slow economic growth, high unemployment, heavy national debt and fiscal deficits and double-digit inflation. In addition, the country's currency is volatile, and interest rates charged to small businesses are high.
A key to solving these problems is to promote entrepreneurship and job creation, the new president and his loyalists say. "When they succeed, we all succeed," says Elias Mubanga, national youth mobilisation chairman for the UPND.
A version of this article appears in the print on November 26, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.