FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’s international image continues to be positively propelled going by frequent visits by foreign heads of State coupled with an array of trade agreements and memorandum of understand (MoUs) being inked with different countries.
Since independence in 1964, Zambia has been an oasis of peace to asylum seekers and investors who have been flocking into the country either for solace or setting up businesses in various sectors of the economy.
The country has enjoyed cordial bilateral relations with a number of countries on the African continent and globally, mainly because of its political and economic stability.
It is this good image that has constantly made the country to be attractive and be regarded as a vital international partner by many countries.
To endorse this fact, last week alone, Zambia witnessed visits of two different heads of State; Indian President Ram Kovind [on a three-day state visit] with his over 300 powered delegation that included business executives and Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi [on a day’s state visit] accompanied by a number of senior ministers of his cabinet and other government officials.
This was President Masisi’s second foreign visit since April 1, 2018 when he was sworn in as Botswana’s 5th President, succeeding Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama.
While for President Kovind, it was one of the few first trips he has made outside India since he ascended to power in July 2017.
At the beginning of April alone, Mr Kovind has visited three African countries starting with Equatorial Guinea, Swaziland and Zambia, in that order.
India has described these trips as an effort to refashion and consolidate its ties with Africa as it aims to counter strategic rival China’s growing influence on the continent.
“It is not by coincidence that all three visits have been to Africa. This reflects the importance in India foreign policy given to Africa by this government…It also reflects President Kovind’s personal commitment to that relationship and the countries of Africa,” Ashok Malik, press secretary to President Kovind told reporters in Indian ahead of the presidential triple-trip.
President Kovind arrived in Zambia on Tuesday April 10, 2018 while his Botswana counterpart President Masisi arrived on April 12. Both leaders had successful bilateral talks with President Edgar Lungu.
The two leaders came under the invitation of President Lungu in a bid to cement already existing bilateral ties Zambia is experiencing with India and Botswana.
India is one of the major contributors to Zambia’s economic growth with private investment in the country by Indian companies currently standing at over US$5billion in sectors like mining, infrastructure, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.
During Mr Kovind’s visit, the two heads of State held bilateral talks and signed a number of MoUs between Zambia and India.
The MoUs were aimed at enhancing cooperation in various sectors including the establishment of Entrepreneurship and Cooperative Development Centre (ECDC) in Zambia, taxation, visa exemption on diplomatic passports and judicial cooperation.
Additionally, a US$40 million agricultural mechanisation agreement was signed between India and Zambia.
President Lungu and his Indian counterpart also officiated at the ground breaking ceremony in Lusaka for the construction of flyover bridges, which once completed will reduce the ever-increasing traffic congestion in the capital city.
The flyovers and roads expected to be implemented in three years once commissioned, will be undertaken by Afcons International Limited, an Indian construction firm, at a cost of around US$300 million and about 1,000 jobs will be created for Zambians.
Zambia is already enjoying cordial relations with India under a framework of the India-Africa Forum Summit, in many fields such as energy, health, infrastructure, capacity building, agriculture and trade.
Trade between the two countries is estimated to be hovering around US$700 million and US$800 million but President Lungu and President Kovind desire that trade figures move to US$1billion.
“We need to share trade and investment opportunities to increase our trade volumes….Nonetheless, I am encouraged by projections made that this is expected to possibly exceed US$1billion by the end of this year,” President Lungu said when he met Mr Kovind for bilateral talks at State House.
Among other things President Kovind and his delegation had desired to achieve while in Zambia was to personally meet former President Kenneth Kaunda and visit the Victoria Falls in Livingstone to sample some tourist attractions in the area.
According to the Indian President, it was a dream of many Indians to see Dr Kaunda in person. “It has been my cherished dream, like that of many Indians, to meet you in person and that dream has come true for me,” said Mr Kovind, when he visited Dr Kaunda at his residence in State Lodge area and described the Zambian former head of State as an icon of liberation.
On the last day of the Indian delegation’s visit to Zambia, Botswana President Masisi jetted in and indicated that Zambia’s flourishing democracy and political stability is an inspiration to emerging African leaders like himself. He pledged to enhance economic ties between the two neighbouring countries.
On arrival at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, President Masisi assured: “I am here to recommit to our friendship and bilateral ties, express the allegiance of Botswana as a first neighbour and reconfirm our resolve to continue to fruition the projects that we have started. Besides being neighbours, this initial visit is really a courtesy call to come and express our solidarity with my brother President Lungu,” he said.
According to President Masisi, his inaugural working visit to Zambia demonstrates the significance his country attaches to consolidating bilateral relations between the two countries.
“Zambia is very special to Botswana. You may recall that at the time of our independence, which is two years after your own independence, we looked up to Zambia for a fresh breath air,” President Masisi said when he met President Lungu at State House.
He recalled that Zambia stood with Botswana during the time of hostility, aggression and supremacists of the white colonialists in the region.
Among the major modern projects between Zambia and Botswana is the US$259 million Kazungula Bridge project which the Botswana leader pledged to ensure succeeds.
And President Lungu congratulated President Masisi on his ascendancy to Botswana’s highest office and assured him of Zambia’s support.
“Welcome to the club. We look forward to strengthening our cooperation. Having been Vice-President, we believe you are fitting in well in those shoes,” he said.
President Lungu further submitted that Zambia expects support from Botswana as it takes over the chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Troika Organ on politics, defence and security in August this year.
With these high-level political and economic bilateral exchanges Zambia is attracting, it can only be hoped that signed MoUs and pledged projects will bear fruit.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka