power player

Zambia: Bradford Machila, President Hichilema’s right-hand man, calls the shots

By Chiwoyu Sinyangwe

Premium badge Reserved for subscribers

Posted on June 8, 2023 07:25

 © File photo of Bradford Machila, Zambia President Hakainde Hichilema’s right-hand man. (Photo: UN)
File photo of Bradford Machila, Zambia President Hakainde Hichilema’s right-hand man. (Photo: UN)

Serving the crucial role of principal private secretary (PPS) to Zambia President Hakainde Hichilema, Bradford Munakalupe Machila is effectively in charge of the president’s day-to-day routine and is de facto head of presidential aides and advisors.

Machila, 58, is often referred to as the legal brain behind Hichilema’s commercial rise, which began during the birth of Zambia’s free enterprise in the 1990s and the subsequent privatisation of former state-owned companies. More than 200 companies were privatised between 1991 and 2000 in a process that remains tangled in controversy.

The commercial lawyer’s work earned him the respect of multinationals and investors, especially in the mining sector.

But to others, he is Hichilema’s behind-the-scenes right-hand man.

It is not uncommon for Hichilema to travel with only a few members of his inner circle on international trips, but Machila is a fixture.

“He was a natural appointee because he has been playing the role of PPS even before we won in 2021,” former finance minister Edith Nawakwi tells The Africa Report.

Legal eagle

Machila worked at the elite Lusaka law firm Corpus Globe Legal Practitioners (CGLP), which was founded by Elias Chipimo, one of the pioneers of commercial law practice in Zambia.

CGLP had a huge influence in drafting legislation and contracts between Zambia and investors in the mining and energy sectors.

However, after an acrimonious separation from the Corpus Globe, Machila joined the former ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).

Serving as an MP for Kafue, 50km south of Lusaka, between 2006 and 2011 under the MMD, Machila was minister for lands and for livestock and fisheries under two former presidents – the late Levy Mwanawasa and late Rupiah Banda.

Following its loss in the 2011 elections, MMD went on a downward spiral and its demise became imminent. It was during the chaotic transition that Machila turned to his former client and tribesman, Hichilema.

Jostling for space

With the death of President Michael Sata in 2014, a succession battle ensued that was heavily influenced by foreign actors. As Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) faced bitter internal strife, Hichilema’s United Party for National Development emerged as the biggest challenger to the PF’s three-year rule.

Foreign protagonists, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo riding on the platform of the Brenthurst Foundation, failed to persuade Banda, who was 77 at the time, to back the younger Hichilema in the presidential election in an electoral pact between MMD and UPND.

The daggers of the January 2015 election were effectively drawn as a battle between PF and UPND, as MMD continued to face internal fallout caused by its post-2011 general election defeat.

The MMD was largely expected to come out third in the 2015 presidential general election despite being the second-largest opposition in parliament at the time.

The MMD disintegrated regionally after Machila, who had been chairman of its legal committee, led key members from Southern, North-Western and Western provinces to back Hichilema’s UPND in the 2015 polls.

Banda attempted to come out of retirement but was blocked by the Supreme Court.

This led key MMD members from the Eastern province and the vast influential Northern region to back PF’s chosen successor for Sata, Edgar Lungu.

Hichilema’s key ally

Machila’s relationship with Hichilema dates back to his active years of legal practice. Not only did his work bring him close to Hichilema it also endeared him to two of Hichilema’s business allies – Valentine Chitalu and Munakupya Hantuba.

Machila was instrumental in providing commercial legal services to the trio and they remained close when he served as minister under the MMD.

One of the most strategic assets Machila helped the trio to set up was African Life Financial Services, which now runs the country’s biggest private pension fund and is a crucial investor in top blue-chip companies in Zambia and within Southern Africa.

Zambia’s previously largest private pension fund, Saturnia Regna Pension Fund, was established in 1992 under the watch of the late Anderson Mazoka, founding UPND leader and the Zambia director for Anglo American Corporation.

After Anglo American exited Zambia, Hichilema, Chitalu and Hantuba formed Menel Management Services which later backed the successful move by African Life Financial Services to take a majority stake in managing Saturnia Regna Pension Fund.

Hichilema relinquished his shareholding in Menel in 2019, fearing the former PF leaders could crush the company. African Life Financial Services, which is owned by Hantuba and Chitalu, manages the Saturnia Regna Pension Fund.

Mediator and coordinator

Offering legal and secretarial services, Machila’s role was crucial to ensure the transaction succeeded.

Although not a wealthy man, Machila was key in coordinating Hichilema’s funds as his go-between as most of the benefactors feared the wrath of the PF regime.

Until his appointment by Hichilema, Machila was working in a non-executive position as board chairperson at the US-backed Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ).

He has emerged not only as overall manager of Hichilema’s daily routine, determining who the president meets and vetting presidential appointments.

Zambia’s epidemiologist Roma Chilengi, who was appointed as covid advisor to Hichilema at the height of the pandemic, is said to be among the early fruits of Machila’s influence.

With Covid-19 cases subsiding to almost negligible levels, Chilengi was transferred to head the Zambia National Public Health Institute of Health, which is responsible for providing public health security, mostly through the coordination of surveillance systems.

There's more to this story

Get unlimited access to our exclusive journalism and features today. Our award-winning team of correspondents and editors report from over 54 African countries, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Abidjan to Abuja to Addis Ababa. Africa. Unlocked.

Subscribe Now

cancel anytime