“Up there, it’s God. Down here, it’s Kaunda,” the village’s schoolchildren sang.
“I didn’t like that as a kid,” he said.
He has gone after corruption, endemic in the former government. Transparency International estimated that in two years, 100 million kwacha, about $6.4 million, was looted from the finance ministry. Many former officials, including six ministers, have been investigated for corruption, and the former first lady Esther Lungu is being investigated, with some of her properties seized.
As if to drive home his point, Mr. Hichilema said that when the youth leaders of his party, the United Party for National Development, tried to take over a privately owned mine in February, he did not stand in the police’s way. The party members were locked up.
“They thought that now they’re in office, they can do what the other guys were doing,” he said, referring to corrupt practices under his predecessor. “They can’t.”
Emmanuel Mwamba, a member of central committee of the former governing party, the Patriotic Front, did not deny that there had been corruption under the former administration, and described Mr. Hichilema’s initial fight against it as “noble.” But he said the campaign had “degenerated into a political fight against his opponents.”
In Zambia, one of the world’s most unequal societies, 60 percent of people live in poverty.
It is the poor that Mr. Hichilema speaks most passionately about serving. But it is also the poor that will be hit hardest by the deal he struck with the monetary fund, said Mr. Chelwa, the economist. He attributed this to the expansion of a value added tax, the removal of fuel subsidies and the reduction of agriculture subsidies, and the rise in electricity tariffs — all while corporate income taxes are kept “incredibly low.”