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At the helm of COMESA

PRESIDENT Lungu talking to newly appointed COMESA Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe (left) after the closing of COMESA Heads of States Summit at Mulungushi International Conference Centre. PICTURE: COLLINS PHIRI

KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
THE big news on Wednesday was no doubt the appointment of Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe as the new Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Secretary-General.“The new Secretary General of COMESA is Ms Chileshe Kapwepwe. Ms Kapwepwe was appointed and sworn in today [yesterday] during the 20th COMESA Heads of State and Government Summit in Lusaka, Zambia. She takes over from Mr Sindiso Ngwenya who has retired after the expiry of his term of office,” a terse statement from COMESA said.
Her appointment echoed round the region.
The Daily Nation of Kenya wrote: “The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has elected Chileshe Kapwepwe as its first woman secretary-general. Ms Kapwepwe, 59, a former alternate director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), replaces Mr Sindiso Ngwenya, who has worked at the regional body for 34 years in various capacities.”
Ms Kapwepwe, 60, becomes the sixth Secretary-General of COMESA since it transformed from the Preferential Trade Area (PTA) in 1994 which had existed from the earlier days of 1981.
An accountant and business professional, Ms Kapwepwe, just like Mr Sindiso, brings with her a lot of experience to COMESA.
For the record, at the time Mr Ngwenya was taking over as COMESA Secretary-General, he was taking with him 30 years of service in industry, regional and multilateral levels covering the public sector, private sector and quasi-government institutions.
A former deputy minister of finance, Ms Kapwepwe is not new to the international stage.
Following the election of Rupiah Banda as President in 2008, he made a few changes at Cabinet level which saw Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane taking over as Minister of Finance from Dr Ng’andu Magande. As Dr Musokotwane’s deputy, he named Ms Kapwepwe who he also nominated as Member of Parliament.
But following change of Government in 2011, Ms Kapwepwe was appointed as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as Alternative Executive Director for its Africa Group One Constituency to be based in Washington, USA.
Then Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, who worked with Ms Kapwepwe’s father Simon Mwansa in the First Republic, commented: “It gives me great pleasure to announce the appointment of Ms Chileshe Kapwepwe, as Alternate Executive Director for the IMF Africa Group 1 Constituency in Washington, USA.
“The ascension of Ms Kapwepwe to this high position, at the same time that another Zambian [Dr Denny Kalyalya, who is currently Bank of Zambia Deputy Governor] is serving on the executive board of the World Bank, gives me pride and confidence that African interests will firmly be articulated by Zambian nationals serving on the Boards of the Bretton Woods Institutions [IMF and World Bank].”
Ms Kapwepwe’s appointment followed a selection process conducted during the IMF annual meetings held in Tokyo, Japan in October 2012. It also came only a few weeks after Dr Kalyalya was appointed as executive director of the World Bank Africa Group I Constituency.
But there was also a reason why Mr Chikwanda was particularly excited with the appointment of Ms Kapwepwe.
In his own words: “a humble professional who is profoundly schooled and through whom management talent among women in Zambia will be viewed positively by the international community.”
It is the language of Mr Chikwanda.
The women movement love to hear such.
“Other women will realise that when you work hard like Ms Kapwepwe, then you can make it in life,” Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) national chairperson Lucy Masiye said.
Of course, the temptation to zero-in the fact that Ms Kapwepwe is the first woman to be appointed COMESA secretary-General is difficult to resist.
“We view the appointment of Ms Kapwepwe to such an influential international leadership position as a vote of confidence in women’s leadership in public administration. This appointment is very much in line with our advocacy to increase women’s participation in leadership across sectors in southern Africa,” Panos Southern Africa executive director Lilian Saka Kiefer said.
“We have no doubt that Ms Kapwepwe will excel in this position and set a good example that will inspire more women to aspire for leadership in public administration, and build the credibility of women leadership.”
But woman or not, the task at hand for Ms Kapwepwe is immense.
Like President Edgar Lungu said, it is hoped that she will inspire and lead COMESA to sustained success and ensure it remained a strong force in Africa’s integration process.
“You are taking up leadership responsibilities within COMESA at a time when the regional body has made tremendous strides towards market integration and harmonisation of programmes among member states,” President Lungu said.
Fortunately, Ms Kapwepwe is confident in her abilities.
“I am bringing to COMESA experience, I have served in public service, I have served in private sector, I have served at international fora, coming from the IMF,” she said.
“I have the combination of skills that I can bring to try and lead this organisation and enhance its performance.”
Ms Kapwepwe is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants (ACCA) in the United Kingdom as well as that of the Zambia Institute of Chartered Accountants (ZICA).
She also holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Bath in the UK as well as over two decades of management experience in both the private and public sectors serving in the aviation and motor industries, and vast experience in international trade and quality assurance matters.
Before her appointment as deputy Minister of Finance, she served chief executive officer of the National Airports Corporation Limited [now renamed Zambia Airports Corporation Limited] from 2001 to 2007.
Before that, she was the contract manager for SGS – Societe General de Surveillance, a Swiss Multinational, overseeing operations in International Trade and Quality Assurance in Zambia between 1993 and 2000.
Ms Kapwepwe also served as chief accountant for Star Commercial Limited (LONRHO Group) in the motor industry in Zambia between 1991 and 1992.
Ms Kapwepwe, who was also elected as board chairperson of the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), had served on other board including those of the Bank of Zambia, BP Zambia Plc and the Zambia Privatization Trust Fund.
She is certainly qualified to serve as COMESA secretary-general.

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