SAUDI King Salman bin Abdullaziz al Saud’s announcement that he would like to make Zambia the ‘‘key platform and focal point’‘ for his country’s engagement with the African continent in its new geo-political push, is perhaps President Edgar Lungu’s greatest diplomatic coup in his one and a half years in power.
Not only did President Lungu win important economic concessions of immense benefit to the country, his visit was described by the Saudis as the ‘‘highest royal protocol’’ ever extended to any Zambian leader who visited that country.
And there have been only two Zambian national figures to have visited the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – First Lady Esther Lungu earlier this year and first republican president Kenneth Kaunda.
Through this rare and unexpected invitation by King Salman for President Lungu to visit this Middle East powerhouse which is envied by the rich and poor, the weak and powerful, Zambia is expected to benefit from several high-profile economic deals.
According to Energy minister Dora Siliya, Saudi Arabia may become a strategic partner to Zambia’s ambitious plan to build a massive 500 million-litre capacity fuel contingency reserve that will make the country fuel secure for years to come.
Through the Saudi Development Fund, Zambia could be sourcing petroleum products from the kingdom at US$7.20 and US$7.10 per barrel of petrol and diesel through a government-to-government concession.
With the current world crude oil prices hovering around US$50 per barrel, and least developed countries, including Zambia, struggling to survive, this Saudi arrangement could only be described as god-send.
In his attempt to make Zambia a strategic security partner in the region and on the African continent, the Saudi monarch has proposed to give Zambia a sophisticated, technologically advanced security system which will reportedly help the country maintain law and order – perhaps a diplomatic way of saying that will make Zambia’s skies and borders safer and secure.
This arrangement, if it is implemented, could be the first of its kind that Saudi Arabia has engaged with any African country. No doubt the world’s largest oil producer wants to make Zambia the launch pad of its new diplomatic offensive in Africa.
King Salman has told President Lungu that he wants to vigorously push for enhanced Zambia-Saudi Arabia bilateral relations so that Zambia could be the channel for the kingdom’s engagement with the rest of Africa.
To show commitment and good faith, the two leaders directed their ministers and technocrats to ensure that these bilateral arrangements took effect as soon as possible.
In one of those striking deals, the Saudi king pledged to build a 100-bed state of the art hospital in Lusaka which will be named King Salman bin Abdullaziz al Saud Hospital. This is in addition to his promise to help Zambia become food and energy secure.
Indeed it is baffling, and at the same time humbling, to learn that one of the world’s richest and most recluse monarchs, can feel so much empathy for a small impoverished State in the womb of Africa.
As President Lungu winds his historic and amazing two-day State visit to Saudi Arabia, Zambians back home must wonder in awe just how he managed to captivate the Saudis and cut those multi-billion dollar deals.
Is it sheer skilful diplomacy, a spell of magic or divine providence. Only God knows.