I T IS inevitable for the republican President to undertake trips to countries such as Japan and continue cultivating stronger ties for the benefit of everyone, says former President Rupiah Banda. The former head of State has also said there is no need to politicise the current high mealie-meal prices because there is no shortage of maize but that the only challenge that has to be dealt with is the increased cost of the commodity. In an interview, Mr Banda said he was both privileged to serve as head of State and was also criticised for undertaking international trips, but that such should not discourage the incumbent, President Edgar Lungu.
“I was also privileged to be attacked. I remember in particular my trip to Turkey. I was demonised, I was called an extravagant President who flies to Turkey, an underdeveloped country. But today, we have some Turkish investments employing our people,” he said. “So this is typically Zambian, we do that. If it is not you travelling, the one who is travelling is wasting money.
If you are travelling, it is okay. As they are in the opposition they travel also, I meet them on planes. That is Zambian money they are spending, it could be coming from their pockets but it is Zambian money and foreign exchange from this economy. We must stop these trivial politics,” he said. He said as a statesman, he has a duty to tell the nation the truth about the importance of both bilateral and multilateral engagements at presidential level.
“The truth is that we should appreciate that we have a President who is strong, who is energetic, who is well educated and [when] he goes there, he is the face of Zambia. I am sure that the majority of ordinary Zambians are proud when they see the face of the President at high-level meetings and say tiliko nase [we are there also],” he said.
Citing international gatherings such as the United Nations General Assembly and the African Union Heads of State Summit, the former President said Zambia is obliged to attend such meetings at head of State level, among other engagements like the recent trip to Japan for the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). He said TICAD is a big gathering for Africa’s developmental agenda, and Zambia cannot afford to be left out. Mr Banda said Zambia has enjoyed cordial relations with Japan for a very long time and many developmental projects have accrued to the benefit of the country.
“They [Japanese] are very quiet, they do not make noise about it but they have been great supporters of Zambia. ZNBC (Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation), you see, was built by the Japanese money. The schools with long windows that you see around the country were built by Japan. “So it is obligatory.
If you are a member of an organisation of heads of state, you are obliged to attend these meetings unless something big has happened to stop you from attending these meetings,” he said. Mr Banda said even those criticising President Lungu’s international trips would do the same, if not even travel more, if they were given an opportunity to be in government. “Let me tell you something. I am prepared to bet K1,000 that the same people who are speaking like that, once they become President, they will travel even more, it is simple as that,” he said. Mr Banda said sending the VicePresident or a minister to a gathering of heads of state disadvantages and relegates the country in terms of protocol.
“All these meetings are about development and we need a lot of developed countries such as Japan, United States of America, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the Arab world, the Middle East and many others. We need them. “The President is a symbol of the country. Besides, even if the President has travelled, there are government leaders who remain to continue handling the affairs of the country,” he said. And on high mealie-meal prices, Mr Banda said the situation is not peculiar.
He said the good part is that there is recognition by leaders that there is a problem of hunger and they are trying to do something about it. “In a way it is very sad but one would be happy that there is acceptance that there is a problem in the food sector, particularly the pricing,” he said. “Politicians are humans also, they are just like us. I used to be one myself.
Where there is an opportunity, they try to take advantage and politicise the problem, but that is not right because at the end of the day, it will affect all of us,” he said. He said it is disheartening that some Zambians are peddling falsehoods to the outside world that there is maize shortage in Zambia when in fact not. Mr Banda said the problem is high mealie-meal prices.