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PRESIDENT Lungu with Pope Francis and First Lady Esther Lungu (right) at the Vatican in Vatican City recently. President Lungu’s meeting with Pope Francis lasted 25 minutes. PICTURE SALIM HENRY/STATE HOUSE.

Lungu’s Europe visit bears ripe fruits

THE results were immediate. Barely hours into his three-day visit to Europe, President Lungu had investors salivating at the huge business opportunities begging for investment in resource-rich Zambia.
He was on a serious mission. His employers, the people of Zambia, had sent him to go and look for foreign direct investment (FDI) and boost the image of their country in the eyes of the international community.
Don’t they say a positive international image forms a healthy perception in the minds of foreign investors?
That is why when he arrived in Rome, Italy, on Thursday February 4, 2016 at 12:40 hours, he was up and running.
After holding meetings with the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Jose Graziano da Silva and president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Kanayo Nwanze, the next morning he had private talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican City.
The next day, the President was taken on a tour of the expansive St Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest Christian church.
The ‘lengthy’ meeting with the Pope was a major booster to Zambia’s international profile and confirmed President Lungu as Africa’s emerging statesman.
President Lungu also met Pope Francis’ Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
His meeting with the Pontiff lasted 28 minutes, one of the longest according to insiders. The usual duration is 15 minutes.
Pope Francis did not hide the high esteem in which he holds the lawyer-turned-politician. He passionately appealed to the President to intervene in the internal strife that is threatening to plunge Burundi back into a bloody civil war.
The Pope also urged Mr Lungu to bring rival parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo together so that they can dialogue and commit themselves to peaceful elections.
But it was in France where a ‘punishing’ schedule awaited him.
He was in the European country’s capital, Paris, at the invitation of his counterpart Francois Hollande.
President Lungu’s back-to-back meetings with French investors and his host produced amazing results.
During his meeting with the Council of French Investors in Africa (CIAN) at Le Meurice Hotel, he described Zambia as one of the best and safest investment destinations in Africa.
He cited the Southern African country’s geographical location, political stability and investor-friendly economic policies.
The investors were impressed. After the meeting, CIAN chairman Alexandre Vilgrain declared that what they had learned about Zambia was “good news”.
Mr Vilgrain announced that a team of member companies would travel to Zambia in two months’ time to actualise the outcome of the meeting.
The next day, Tuesday, President Lungu was walking back into Le Meurice Hotel, where he had camped, with not less than six deals covering different sectors safely tucked away in his briefcase.
And his Minister of Energy and Water Development Dora Siliya and her counterpart at Commerce, Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe were radiating joy and justified hope at the fruits of their boss’s labour.
One of the deals saw France’s leading television channel, France 24, issued with a licence by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to immediately set up base in Zambia and start operating.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba and France’s Minister of Ecology Aigole Royel signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) of cooperation in the conservation of nature and mitigation of the effects of climate change at the French National Museum of Natural History.
The same day, during the private talks at Elysee Palace, France’s presidential residence in Central Paris, President Hollande promised Mr Lungu that his country was willing to help Zambia re-establish a national airline with the help of aviation giant and one of the leading aircraft makers, Airbus.
President Lungu’s special assistant for press and public relations Amos Chanda, who was present in the meeting, said President Hollande had also assured his guest that the French government would mobilise investors in the energy, agriculture and mining sectors and send them to Zambia to forge partnerships with local entrepreneurs.
Mr Chanda was briefing the Zambian journalists who were covering the President’s tour of duty shortly after the private talks.
“The President is very thankful to his host, His Excellency President Francois Hollande, for promising to help Zambia set up a national airline through Airbus.
“Mr Hollande said Airbus will train Zambian pilots, provide technical support and supply state-of-the art aircraft as well as mobilise investments in key sectors,” Mr Chanda said.
He said President Hollande promised that as soon as the Zambian government is ready, his administration will send technical teams to Zambia to begin preliminary work.
President Lungu thanked Mr Hollande, although he reiterated that the Zambian government will move slowly and carefully to preserve the country’s economic stability.
President Lungu also held a private meeting with former French minister and energy mogul Jean Louis Borloo, the founder of the multi-billion dollar Energies for Africa Project, which has a fund of up to US$5 billion.
Mr Borloo’s organisation has targeted to provide up to 600 million Africans with access to affordable electricity by 2018.
Mr Chanda said the former French Minister of Energy immediately told President Lungu that he was ready to travel to Zambia to identify where to set up base for his organisation in two months’ time.
The President also attended the Movement of French Enterprises (MEDEF)-Zambia Business Forum, which brought together 60 powerful French companies with interests across the globe.
The influential MEDEF International is the umbrella body for the French private sector.
And MEDEF International Africa committee vice-president Gerard Wolf thanked President Lungu for giving the investors a true picture of Zambia’s irresistibly attractive investment climate.
Mr Wolf said the French companies were excited and also wanted to travel to Zambia in two months’ time to sniff for areas in which to invest.
The President also met the Syndicate of Renewable Energy, a consortium of companies engaged in alternative sources of energy, on the sidelines of the high-profile MEDEF-Zambia Business.
There was consensus among the people who were in President Lungu’s delegation that his outing was highly beneficial to Zambia.
“What we discovered during our meeting with the Union of Renewable Energy is that there is so much thirst for information out there, and we saw how the investors appreciated what they heard,” said Rural Electrification Authority chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda.
“We need to go out there and meet the investors; we should not just sit and wait for them to come to us because it is us who are looking for investments.”
In one statement, it is safe to say that President Lungu’s trip to Europe has borne ripe fruits.