MONICA KAYOMBO, Lusaka
WHEN Ambrose Lufuma walked 20 kilometres to and from school without shoes back in the 1960s, he never imagined that one day he would be a government minister. Today, he holds one of the key ministerial positions in the new dawn government of President Hakainde Hichilema. Mr Lufuma, who is Kabompo Constituency member of Parliament, was appointed Minister of Defence by President Hichilema. But nothing came on a silver platter for Mr Lufuma. He recounts a difficult childhood, growing up in a rural place where schools were far between, and having little to eat sometimes. “I was doing 10km going and another 10km getting back home bare-footed. Every day, I had to do that and had very little in terms of food but I managed,” says Mr Lufuma, who is a devout Catholic. Ambrose Lwiji Lufuma was born in Kawanda village in Kabombo in 1957, and attended Kawanda Primary School. His father, Raphael Lufuma, and mother, Chisengo, were small-scale farmers who raised nine children. His father died in 1976, the year he graduated from high school. The future minister only visited a city for the first time in 1972 when he was posted to Mpima Seminary for his high school education. He still remembers how he marvelled at the tall buildings on the Copperbelt. In 1976, after graduating from high school, he underwent military training under the Zambia National Service (ZNS), which was mandatory at the time. He had been sent to a camp in Katete district, Eastern Province. He was later selected to go to University of Zambia (UNZA) where he studied economics. “I got my Bachelor of Arts [degree] in economics with merit and was immediately taken up into Government. My first appointment was with National Commission for Development Planning (NCDP) a central planning agency for the country,” Mr Lufuma said. At that time the United National Independence Party (UNIP) had borrowed the national development planning concept from the communist countries. Mr Lufuma, who was employed as an economist, played a pivotal role in the formulation of the country’s Third National Development Plan (3NDP). He went round collecting data and later helped in compiling the information to come up with the blueprint for national development. The young economist was later transferred from Lusaka to Solwezi district in North-Western Province, and he played a role in establishing the regional planning offices throughout the country. “We basically put in everything, from establishing the concept, buildings and other things,” he said. In 1984, Mr Lufuma got a scholarship to study for his master’s degree in planning at Iowa State University of Science and Technology in the United States. “By 1987, I had finished my master’s in planning and I was back to the provincial planning unit in Solwezi and was promoted as senior economist. I also acted as chief regional planning officer,” he said. Later, Mr Lufuma was seconded to the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) as team leader under the integrated rural development programme which mainly focussed on socio- economic life of people.
The programme took him back to Kabombo district where he undertook various developmental programmes. The GTZ programme made Mr Lufuma popular among the locals as he had to work closely with the people as well as traditional leaders. Later, GTZ offered Mr Lufuma a job, and he took it. Then came the dawn of multi-party democracy with the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) rising to power. But when people became despondent with the MMD, it gave rise to new political elements; one of them was Anderson Mazoka, who founded the United Party for National Development (UPND). Being a kingpin in North-Western Province, Mr Lufuma took Mr Mazoka around and introduced him to the local chiefs. “I took him around to see the various chiefs so that he could introduce the UPND concept to the chiefs. The chiefs welcomed him,” he said. Thereafter, Mr Mazoka gave Mr Lufuma a task to organise people in North-Western Province and was co-opted into the new party’s National Management Committee (NMC). “I became deputy national chairman. I was fourth in the hierarchy. I was a founding member of UPND, Mazoka was my icon in terms of political life. From there, I never looked back,” he said. In 1998, Mr Lufuma relinquished his position as UPND deputy national chairman but remained a member. He later joined the African Development Bank (ADB) in Eastern Province, working on programmes to promote agriculture and infrastructure development. After leaving ADB, Mr Lufuma decided to go back to Kabompo and decided to stand for MP. Despite all the hurdles, Mr Lufuma managed to get the seat at first attempt in 2011. “I became MP for Kabombo in 2011, essentially because I had established myself within my constituency,” Mr Lufuma said. After the elections, Mr Lufuma became UPND’s NMC chairman in charge of finance and later in 2016, he became NMC chairman for commerce and industry. Last year, Mr Lufuma was elected as NMC chairman in charge of planning, the position he holds to date. But after the UPND won a landslide victory in the general election on August 12, Mr Lufuma landed his biggest post ever, and now the security of the country rests on his shoulders. It is a job he does not take lightly. “This ministry is important as far as national security is concerned. It is a very important ministry because it hinges on peace and security,” Mr Lufuma said. He said instability affects freedom, liberties and the affected countries remain poverty-stricken since the resources are not directed at citizens and they end up getting in the hands of wrong people. “Our duty is to defend this country and ensure that all social and economic programmes in place are executed effectively and efficiently so that the country moves forward,” he said. The minister’s priority is to modernise military defence. “If you don’t modernise, then you fail to meet the challenges that come with defending the integrity of the country,” he said. He said there is need to acquire state-of-the-art equipment to complement the skills that the men in uniform have. He noted that Zambia is known for brave soldiers as demonstrated during the UNIP era when the country was attacked many times by Southern Rhodesia under Ian Smith. “Despite that we had limited military equipment, we were able to stand. We want to combine the bravery with modern military equipment,” he said. He said given the size of the economy and the competing needs on the Treasury, there is need to mitigate the consumptive nature of the defence forces. “As the ministry, we can go into manufacturing, agriculture and construction.We need to commercialise the defence forces,” he said. “We cannot continue to be an army that is ancient. That should be our priority in order to protect the territorial integrity of Zambia,” he said. “The Defence Force must be a partner in social and economic development of this country,” he said. Mr Lufuma also expresses strong views on corruption, describing it as a cancer that could bankrupt the nation. “Corruption has no place in my heart and I support President Hichilema on his zero-tolerance stance on corruption,” he said. Mr Lufuma is married to Sombo Chinyama Lufuma and they have five children.