By Daimone Siulapwa
AS former Foreign Affairs Minister, it is perhaps understandable that president Rupiah Banda is often times seen as the flying minister. But unlike the time he served as foreign affairs minister under Dr Kenneth Kaunda in the first republic when it was imperative to be on move because of the apartheid South African and Rhodesian situation, things have changed now.
The Zambian people do not necessarily need a President who will be pre-occupied with political battles outside the country’s borders at the expense of domestic economic affairs. The greatest challenge that the country currently faces is the upliftment of the living standards of its people.
And we hope that the current administration of President Banda recognize this.
However, if at all they do, then they are definitely going about it the wrong way. Flying from one country to the other almost month-in month-out looking for so-called foreign investment is an illusion. The recent trip to Turkey, where Zambia is said to have signed a number of co-operation agreements is a case in point.
Yes, we may not be at the same level with Turkey in terms of development levels, but it is difficult to see how marginally big Zambia will be able to benefit from that kind of co-operation. Yes, I do believe that the development agenda of any country should be driven from the top, as in, the leadership of the country should show enough hunger for the development of the country.
But a trip to Turkey is certainly one that the Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry or indeed the Foreign affairs, would have been able to handle. The argument from those in support would be that the President was merely responding to an invitation. Probably!
But also you and I also know that it is not every invitation that need be respected. How many invitations does State house receive asking the president to officiate at locally? Plenty if you ask me, but he does not always accept all of them. He selects which one’s are really worth the trouble. Those that he think do not necessarily warrant his presence, he delegates to either the Vice President, Minister directly responsible for that area or indeed the Presidential Affairs Minister.
This makes perfect sense because it is understandable that the president will not be able to make it to all the functions that he has been invited to. Well, even us, at a personal level, it is not all the invitations that we get to honour.
However, when it comes to foreign trips, it is like the president accepts each and every one. Accepting them is not necessarily the problem, but the way that they are honoured is where the problem is. To accept an invitation for an official State visit does not necessarily mean you go there right away. Some of these invitations can be honoured at a later stage, even after a year.
We have seen United States President barrack Obama cancelling official State visits to Indonesia and Australia in order to deal with domestic issues, particularly the oil spill caused by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.
But often times than not, the President will be seen getting on the plane even when we have issues here that may need his full attention.
Again, this thing of saying the president has gone to such-and-such a country to woo investors is really laughable to say the least. Foreign investors are not going to be attracted to Zambia simply because the president visited that country. They are not going to come and invest in Zambia because of the user friendly investment environment alone but how much profits can they make. Most investors are prepared to invest in war zones as long as they can reap those huge profits they want, The DRC and Somali are a case in point.
Countries that have been able to attract foreign direct investment or indeed those that have made economic strides have done so not because their heads of States or government made foreign trips, but because of the economic policies in place. Ask how Rwanda, which is on its way up despite the genocide in 1994, has been able to do it.
If anything, the President should be carrying the private sector and even traditional leaders on these trips. These are the people that will attract investment in Zambia. The private sector knows the opportunities that exist but often times than not lack either the capital or the technology. On the other hand, traditional leaders, who have abundant land on their side, know what kind of investment is needed in their particular areas.
Further, it is an illusion to think that this country will be developed by foreign investors.
Never, it will take the locals to do so. We would want to see the president and indeed the entire leadership of the country paying as much attention to local businessmen as they do to foreigners.
Why can’t the president take a visit to Lusaka’s Kamwala area and see what kind of challenges traders in those areas are facing. Well, does the president even know how much traders in kamwala contribute to the city’s revenue coffers? Or maybe that is an issue he would rather leave to the Lusaka City Council (LCC) while he takes another trip on the Presidential Challenger to another God-knows destination?
Simply put, we need the president to start taking a more active role in local issues than has been the case hitherto.