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President Hichilema acts speedily on security and debt

New finance minister Musokotwane targets IMF deal within three months

In a blitz of new appointments just days after he was sworn in, President Hakainde Hichilema has appointed veteran economist Situmbeko Musokotwane as Finance Minister, a role he previously held in Rupiah Banda's government. He then appointed new military chiefs and replaced all police commissioners (AC Vol 62 No 17, Reconciliation and a reckoning).

Hichilema didn't explain why he sacked the security chiefs but rights groups accused his predecessor Edgar Lungu of using the security forces to crack down on opposition parties and civil society groupings.

Pledging firm but fair security policies, Hichilema told Zambians that his government would not discriminate against areas which voted for his opponents: 'It does not matter how you look … follow my example, I was demonised. I was arrested 15 times. We are not going into office to arrest those who arrested us, because we're no different from them.'

In 2017, Hichilema was detained for four months on specious treason charges after his car had overtaken Lungu's motorcade in the countryside. Independent analysts saw this as a dangerous politicisation of the security services and judicial system.

Yet there are effective professionals in outfits such as the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Drug Enforcement Commission who have quickly launched investigations into procurement corruption and other misuse of state resources in the wake of Hichilema's election victory.

For the new government, the main event will be resuscitating the economy. Hichilema and Musokotwane want to fast-track a deal with the International Monetary Fund while also restructuring the mining industry, bringing in new investment in the copper sector while boosting production to capitalise on the current market upswing.

Both will be difficult, politically and technically. Musokotwane says he wants to double annual copper production to 2 million tonnes over the next five years.

The new cabinet will also have to find ways to reduce the budget deficit, almost certainly cutting fuel and farm subsidies.

Negotiations to reschedule the external public debt, reckoned to have reached US$12.69 billion by the end of 2020, will be more difficult than ever because of the range of creditors and differing servicing systems, such as regional commercial banks, money market funds holding Eurobonds, and Chinese institutions' extensive lending for big-ticket public sector projects.

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