Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.
Zambian President Mr Hakainde Hichilema was received by Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday morning. Following the audience with the Holy Father, President Hichilema met with the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Monsignor Mirosław Wachowski, the Undersecretary for Relations with States.
Gratitude to the Holy See
“I am glad to be here, and I am grateful to the Vatican and the establishment for giving us this opportunity to meet the Pope early in our presidency -we are still less than six months into office. We are really grateful,” said Mr Hichilema. He ascended to office in an August 2021 landslide vote that catapulted his UPND political party into government for the first time ever.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Vatican News on the sidelines of his visit to the Vatican, Mr Hichilema, a devout Adventist, spoke highly of his encounter with Pope Francis. He said he informed the Holy Father that his government respects the freedom of worship for all Churches and prioritises unity among Zambia.
“We as a government will embrace all religious organisations in our country. They all have space, and they all have the right to basically promote their evangelical work,” said the Zambia President.
I am a beneficiary of free education
Mr Hichilema said he was impressed that Pope Francis is aware and well informed about the development policies that his government has embarked upon. He praised Pope Francis for his progressive views on development in Africa.
“The Pope is aware of our educational policies of offering education to all, including those that are disadvantaged. I told the Pope that I am a beneficiary of free education. Born in a village and education made the difference,” Mr Hichilema explained.
Education will be fundamental to changing Zambian society, he said. While encouraging private education for those who can afford it, the Zambian President is keen that his country should also care for disadvantaged school children.
Education for all is priority
For now, the UPND government that Mr Hichilema leads has abolished all school fees from primary to secondary school. The overall aim, in future, is to also provide free tertiary education at college and university level.
Asked why the strong emphasis, Mr Hichilema replied: “A society without education skills -how can you develop it? How can you produce food more efficiently without agricultural knowledge?”
An inclusive cabinet sends a message of unity
Regarding unity in Zambia, Hichilema told Vatican News that his government values and is pushing unity in diversity among all Zambians because it is the decent thing to do. The government, he said, must be a reflection of that diversity. For this reason, he continued, his government is composed of ministers from all ten provinces of Zambia.
Zambia has 72 tribes and many more dialects -the result of a complex history in patterns of Bantu migrations.
Hichilema further pledged to distribute the country’s resources equally among the country’s regions.
“We want to unite the people of Zambia through equity, fair treatment of all regions. It is through this platform that we want to continue binding and bonding ourselves as one Zambia, one nation and one people,” he reiterated.
Corruption takes away resources from the poor
Hakainde Hichilema, a Zambian businessman, farmer and politician, says he has hit the ground running. His concluding remarks were on corruption across the world but particularly in Zambia.
“Corruption is something we must abhor. Corruption takes away resources from those who need them the most: Young people, the sick, the aged. We must restore integrity in our country. We must know that public office is not for self-aggrandisement. It is for service to the people,” said Zambia’s sixth president since the country gained independence from Britain in 1964.