NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
THE catchphrase for Zambia’s new foreign policy is now economic diplomacy.
Zambia was visited this year by various heads of State both from within and outside Africa. The importance of such visits usually lies in the cementing of relationships and exploring of opportunities for partnerships in trade and other vital sectors.
In February, King Mohammed VI of Morocco came for a three-day State visit, which culminated in 19 governmental and economic partnership agreements between the two countries being signed.
The agreements cover the fields of political consultations, air services, investment protection, finance, insurance, education, training, tourism, agriculture, technology, industry, mining and renewable energy.
The visit was significant, Morocco was being welcomed back to the African fold after years of isolation regarding disagreements with the African Union (AU) on the position of Western Sahara.
“We have missed Morocco for a long time and we are glad to find him again within his African family,” said President Lungu after holding a closed door meeting with King Mohammed VI of Morocco at State House. “We are very satisfied with the talks we have had with the King.”
In March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was welcomed in Zambia with his three-day State visit rekindling laid down by Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Emperor Haile Selassie of building stronger political and economic ties between the two countries.
Following an invitation by President Lungu, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who has served as that country’s leader since 2005, visited the country in May.
President Lungu reaffirmed Zambia’s commitment to consolidating existing bilateral relations with Togo for mutual benefit during President Gnassingbe’s visit.
The two presidents visited a steel manufacturing plant in Kafue district and President Lungu shared the hope to enhance bilateral and multilateral relations with Togo so as to attain the goals set out in the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, along with national development.
“You may wish to know that Zambia is willing to work with Togo and other African countries in seeking lasting solutions to the power deficit in Africa in order to enhance Africa’s industrialisation agenda which will in return strengthen our economy,” were part of President Lungu’s remarks during Gnassingbe’s visit.
The Togolese leader expressed his admiration over the steps being undertaken by Zambia to promote industrialisation, adding that his country was ready to learn from Zambia, especially on how to exploit steel.
President Lungu proposed to set a joint permanent commission of bilateral co-operation between Zambia and Togo which is expected to play a significant role in further bolstering bilateral ties.
In June, Rwandan President Paul Kagame dated Zambia following an invitation by President Lungu. Bilateral agreements between Zambia and Rwanda were consolidated during the visit in areas such as air services, defence and security as well as extradition.
During Kagame’s visit, President Lungu said Zambia wanted to learn from the progress Rwanda has made as a country. Rwanda has been cited by analysts as the ‘African Singapore’ given its remarkable recovery following a genocide 23 years ago. Its capital, Kigali has been ranked alongside New York in terms of ease of living by the United Nations.
Later, the same month, Zambia was again graced by the visit of a prominent African Head of State. This time, it was Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo. He was sworn into office on January 7, 2017 after winning the 2016 Ghana presidential election.
President Akufo-Addo officially opened the Zambia International Trade Fair (ZITT) on the Copperbelt and also held bilateral talks with President Lungu, considering ways to strengthen ties between the two countries.
During his visit he advised political players in Zambia to put the interests of the country first. “I have come here to say that, as political actors, whether in government or in opposition, we should prove to the world that we respect the rule of law and are willing and able to submerge our individual and partisan preferences for the common good in the development of our countries,” he stated during a state banquet hosted in his honour by President Lungu.
Mr Akufo-Addo advised that the stability and progress of Zambia and of all countries and the enhancement of democracies should be the paramount consideration that guides every action of Zambians and all Africans.
Another notable visit in June 2017 was by Madagascan leader, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who was accorded full military honours and a 21 gun-salute upon his arrival in Zambia.
President Rajaonarimampianina and President Lungu together reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change as both Zambia and Madagascar have been impacted negatively by the effects of global changing climate patterns.
President Lungu referenced a cyclone that hit Madagascar in March this year and commended the Madagascan government for the measures it put in place to address the adverse effects of climate change on that country and especially on its vulnerable communities.
In October, it was the turn of South African President, Jacob Zuma who dated Zambia at the invitation of President Lungu. His visit was aimed at deepening the already existing good political, economic and cultural relations underpinned by strong historical ties that date back from the years of the Southern African liberation struggle.
During his visit, President Zuma opened the OR Tambo National Heritage site in Lusaka as part of celebrating the legacy and centenary year of South Africa’s Apartheid liberation hero, Oliver Reginald Tambo.
His Royal Highness King Mswati III of Swaziland was Zambia’s last official visitor and arrived in the country with his 13th wife in November 2017.
He praised Zambia for having “Some of the best tourist attractions in Africa.” King Mswati’s visit was a private one and not long after his arrival he travelled to Mfuwe in Eastern Province with President Lungu.
President Lungu was King Mswati’s guest earlier in the year at the 2017 Reed Dance ceremony where he donned traditional Swazi attire and joined the king and his regiment of Swazi men during the Kudlalisela session – a procession around the dancing arena to appreciate the maidens from whom King Mswati ceremonially picks a new wife. President Lungu returned the gesture by welcoming King Mswati to Zambia last November.
Other notable visits were that of Commonwealth Secretary General, Patricia Scotland in August who pushed for dialogue between President Lungu and United Party for National Development (UPND) leader, Hakainde Hichilema.
Following Ms Scotland’s visit, Commonwealth special envoy, Professor Ibrahim Gambari also came to Zambia to mediate a dialogue process between Mr Hichilema and President Lungu in November.