By Warren Simwaka
IF the Saudi Arabian visit by President Lungu is the last foreign trip as he embarks on a marathon campaign trail for his re-election before the general elections in August, he certainly is ending his one and half year mandate on an inspiring level, having been blessed by Pope Francis in February this year and honoured with a King Salman bin Abdullaziz Al Saud royal invite.
For the uninitiated, Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic invited President Edgar Lungu to Rome, Italy, making the Head of State the second Zambian leader to have ever visited the Vatican after first republican president Kenneth Kaunda.
President Lungu’s visit to the Holly Sea, only a year after assuming the presidency following the demise of president Michael Sata epitomised his devotion to bridge the ecclesiastical gap between the Church and the State in a country whose governance tenets are anchored on the principle of egalitarianism.
The President was in the Holly Sea to meet the Pontiff and seek his spiritual guidance on how best to govern the country having come from a background where he was politically obscure.
President Lungu entered State House at a time when Zambia’s economy was in maelstrom and bleeding from the global economic meltdown inflicting unbearable economic and social woes to the ordinary citizen and when he asked Zambians to seek the intervention of God, he was mocked.
Zambia goes to the polls on the 11th of August and President Lungu could not afford not to accept yet another high level invitation albeit, this time from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he was honoured with the highest levels of Royal Protocols.
President Lungu becomes yet again, Zambia’s second Head of State to have been accorded a royal invitation by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after first republican president Kenneth Kaunda about 35 years ago.
President Lungu was in Saudi Arabia during the time Zambia is still in a severe deficit in electricity as a result of low water levels on both the Kafue Gorge and the Kariba Dam hydro power generation facilities, subjecting Zambians to untold load shedding.
The fuel situation in the country has not been any better as Zambians have often times found themselves queuing for petroleum products such as petrol and diesel, the natural scarcity of which was largely blamed on President Lungu.
President Lungu met King Salman bin Abdullaziz Al Saud at his Royal Court in Jeddah and on the agenda for the two leaders was Zambia’s thirsty for cheaper oil, peace and security, energy and the expansion of the agriculture sector through which the Zambian Head of State believes holds the country’s economic salvation.
King Abdullaziz Al Saud, the custodian of the Two Holly Mosques has made a personal pledge to vigorously push for the implementation of the agreements between Zambia and Saudi Arabia especially in areas such as investment in agriculture, help Zambia in its oil challenges as well as the country’s security system.
Zambia has from its post-independence days been importing crude oil from expensive sources and over the years, some unscrupulous people took advantage to corruptly enrich themselves through government tenders to supply fuel either as middlemen or agents.
President Lungu’s Saudi Arabian trip was mean to seek possibilities of clinching a Government-to-Government oil supplying covenant which would be able to curtail the deliberate bureaucracy as well as get rid of the middlemen who have been the major factor in the pricing of pump prices of petroleum products.
Zambia is now poised to begin sourcing cheaper and affordable fuel from Saudi Arabia courtesy of President Lungu’s efforts in addressing the energy and fuel challenges the country has been facing.
In Saudi Arabia, a motorist pays US$10, about K100 to fill a 60 litre fuel capacity automobile.
According to Energy and Water Development Minister Dora Siliya who was on President Lungu’s entourage to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Zambia was lucky to have been privileged with the prospects of sourcing cheaper fuel through the Saudi Development Fund.
The Saudi Development Fund has already offered Zambia a US$20 million concessionary loan which would see Zambia receive import oil from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the rate of US$7.20 and US$7.10 per barrel at a time when the global oil price has just hit US$50 per barrel.
The US$20 million oil procurement concession has the life span of five years and depending on how best Zambia is going to utilise the facility, there is a possibility that the concession could be expanded and fuel prices would be expected to come down in the long term.
It is the desire of King Abdullaziz Al Saud to make Zambia, whose political stability has remained uninterrupted since independence a focal point for Saudi Arabia to cooperate with the rest of the African Continent.
King Abdullaziz Al Saud told President Lungu during their meeting that his Kingdom desired to use the Zambia-Saudi relations to economically link up with the African Continent because Zambia had been one of the most politically stable on the African Continent.
“King Salman bin Abdullaziz Al Saud envisages that Zambia is an extremely important factor in the geopolitical economic calculations of Saudi Arabia. King Abdullaziz Al Saud believes that Zambia-Saudi Arabia diplomatic relations could act as a link for the Kingdom to economically and bilaterally cooperate with the rest of the African Continent. The King has assured that he will vigorously push for enhanced Zambia-Saudi Arabia relationship so that Zambia can be used for Saudi Arabia to engage the rest of the African Continent,” presidential spokesperson Amos Chanda told journalists after the meeting of the two leaders.
Mr Chanda said King Abdullaziz Al Saud told President Lungu that Zambia should be a beneficiary from the Saudi Arabian security system so that the country could improve in policing its security system.
Saudi Arabia has a very advanced security system in the maintenance of law and order from which President Lungu would like Zambia to benefit in policing its security structure.
President Lungu has been an advocate of peace in the SADC, COMESA, and especially the Great Lakes Region which has been engulfed with civil strife, the reason he has offered himself as vessel of peace messages wherever he has gone and given chance to speak.
While on his royal visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Lungu accentuated the importance of peace, counselling that there can never be development without peace, security and political stability in any country.
The President told Saudi Arabia deputy Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar Madani that Zambia was deeply concerned about the peace and security in Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Great Lakes Region (GLR).
President Lungu said it was therefore imperative that the social and economic developments in respective countries should not go up into flames on account of lack of peace and security hence the need to promote harmony within countries.
It is the belief of President Lungu that peace, political stability and security in any country are powerful antidotes to development especially in countries that have suffered internal civil strife in Africa and believes that solutions must never be conjured in ruinous political desires, but in the love for the people being governed.
Saudi Arabia has one of the most technologically advanced manufacturing and processing industry and it was yet another learning curve for President Lungu who was honoured with the privilege of touring Halwani Brothers, considered the world single largest agro processing company.
Halwani Brothers is a galactic agro investment in Saudi Arabia, boasting of a capital base of above US$1 billion with an annual turnover of US$400 million and manufactures and processes a range of agro products such as cheese, sliced green olives in chilli oil, meat products among other agro products.
Saudi Arabia is a good example of what a country could achieve if united and resilient and that for the Zambian Head of State, his visit to the Kingdom was yet another opportunity for him to see what a country would become if resolved.
Zambia is blessed with favourable weather with often good rainfall, abundant arable land, peace and stability but the country’s developmental rate has been inversely proportional to its abundant natural wealth and human resource.
President Lungu said Halwani Bothers would be able to find Zambia a conducive investment destination as the country had almost all the materials the company was using in its manufacturing and processing plants.
President Lungu preached his economic diversification message, reiterating that agriculture had become the country’s priority with just as many lines of agriculture products that could either be exported to Saudi Arabia as raw materials or the Halwani Brothers should consider established a branch in Zambia.
“We have a lot of animals in Zambia and we are in animal husbandry, poultry and we rear goats and I invite you to partner with us. Zambia has abundant water, arable land and we have an assortment of agriculture products you can use in your food and diary processing plants. I invite you to come and explore the possibility of setting up a company in Zambia where you are not going to lack the availability of materials,” President Lungu said.
In times of ceaseless crisis, domestic or foreign, a leader has to show vitality and energy ignoring the wild criticism and should create a human and efficient Government and President Lungu seems to have such a virtue on his score card.
President Lungu has strong faith that Zambia can develop itself if Zambians had purpose of unity and resilient, punctuated with the sense of patriotism and he is buoyant that during his presidency, the country would be able to realise some of its economic expansion dreams.