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I shook hands with President Lungu

HAVE you ever shaken hands with His Excellency, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia?
If you haven’t I have. Not once, but twice.
I have just returned from a two-week marathon assignment covering the President’s visits to Italy, the Vatican City and France.
It was one of the most hectic and energy-sapping assignments I have ever handled in my entire journalism career, and am warning novices and old but complacent journalists that covering the head of State abroad is no child’s picnic.
But the issue today is that I have come back to Zambia with a new status. I shook hands with EL!
So don’t be surprised if you don’t see me in the league of small boys like Grevasio Zulu and Boyd Phiri any more.
As journalists it is not often that we interact with the people we cover, unless at press briefings, conferences and exclusive interviews.
I was the assistant delegation leader for the 14-member media team. Assistant director at the Zambia Information and News Service (ZANIS) Victor Hachimbi was our delegation leader.
By the time we were returning to Zambia the journalists had nicknamed me “Delegado”.
In most cases we divided ourselves in two groups to ensure the President received maximum coverage. Mr Hachimbi led one team while I did the other.
So on Thursday February 4, 2016 afternoon we were waiting for President Lungu to arrive at the Hotel Westin Excelsior from the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy to begin his tour of duty.
We had arrived in the Italian capital earlier ahead of him. This particular day one team of journos had camped at the airport to cover the President’s arrival while the other, which I led, remained at the hotel in case there was a press briefing.
When the swarm of security and protocol officers burst into the lobby of the plush hotel we all stood up and lined up along the passage to the presidential lounge.
My temporary position as assistant media delegation leader had bought me the ticket to be in the welcoming party.
President Lungu was led to where we were standing. He started shaking the hands of the people standing in the queue, chatting with those he personally knew every now and then.
To my delight, when he came to where I was standing the President reached out with his right hand, offering me a hand-shake.
You should have seen the way I thrust out my hand to meet his. He pumped my hand and shook it twice, and I reciprocated the gesture.
When we looked at each other I was amazed at the man’s height.
He is really tall! With my typical Luapula height I looked like a schoolboy before his headmaster.
“What a day,” I mused. That evening, as we were having a modest dinner at an Indian restaurant close to Hotel Resin where we were lodging, I bragged about the ‘presidential hand-shake’ to other members of the media team.
I was in the boisterous company of the vivacious Mwila Nsofu, the group’s indefatigable jester Abram Banda and Lilian Kalaba from ZNBC, Goodson Lupiya from ZANIS and Charles Simengwa from Times of Zambia.
After narrating how the President and I had shaken hands I earned myself a well-deserved round of applause, inspired largely by the cheap red wine that is as plenty as water in Central Paris.
A week later our last day in France came. It was Tuesday. President Lungu had just cleared an incredibly heavy schedule that ended with interviews with television network France 24 and Radio France International.
Mr Hachimbi had gone to Charles de Gaulle International Airport with one media team to cover the President’s departure for Lusaka.
I had remained at the top class Le Meurice Hotel with the second team to cover his interviews with the French media.
As we were busy writing and sending stories to our respective media outlets back in Zambia the President, surrounded by officers from French President Francois Hollande’s personal security, and his entourage emerged.
As expected we all stood up to show respect to our head of State. I saw the ever able Chief of Protocol at State House, Brigadier General John Albert Bulawayo instructing those to whom the President would bid farewell to line up.
Luckily, they were few and I saw it as an opportunity for me to have a close contact with the President.
I was with Florence Mwisa from ZANIS and Bridget Chikumbi Katebe from the Daily Nation. Quickly, I elbowed Bridget to follow me, and we both stood at the end of the short line.
It worked! The President was getting closer and closer to us as he shook hands and chatted with the members of the party seeing him off. Then he finally reached me and offered me a hand-shake.
Now it was me who pumped President Lungu’s hand and shook it vigorously. Unlike our first encounter this time around he stopped briefly for a chat. Yes, a chat with me!
“We are now covering your departure, your Excellency,” I quipped. “Ahh, there is no more news to cover. You guys have milked me of all the news,” President Lungu responded and laughed heartily. He was in a jovial mood as usual.
After shaking hands with Bridget he was led out of the hotel to the waiting presidential motorcade.
That evening Abram Banda was in serious trouble. I warned him not to get too close to me and to be careful when talking to me because I had shaken hands and chatted with the President.
So I am no longer just a simple, back-breaking journo. I have shaken hands with President Lungu.
In fact I have even changed the way I walk. I have also adopted the Chagwa walk!
More stories from Rome, Vatican City and Paris next and other weeks.