By Prince Bill M. Kaping, a social and political analyst
Back in 2015, I received an invitation from the office of Tony Elumelu, a prominent Nigerian billionaire businessman and philanthropist, to meet with him at the Taj Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka when he was on an official visit to our country.
But, I’m sure some of you are wondering, why should this kapyopyo be considered for a meeting with a man who is regularly rubbing shoulders with Queens, Kings, and other significant international leaders?
Well……as was the case with a few others, the invitation came in my capacity as alumni of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP). Established by the Executive Chairman of United Bank for Africa, this is a 10-year, $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor and fund 10,000 entrepreneurs, capable of changing the face of business across Africa.
After a brief address, coupled with sporadic questions about our entrepreneurship journey of course, Uncle Tony announced that he had arranged for us to have lunch with our President so that we could’ve an opportunity to interact with him. Say what! I was one of those least concerned about meeting the President.
“You may be interested to learn that I’ve also done the same for your peers in other countries I’ve been to across Africa, in the past. I think it’s important for connection purposes,” he assured us.
At about 11:00 hours, we thus boarded a shuttle bus and circumnavigated our way to State House in the capital’s traffic frenzy. Little did we know we’d be subjected to a long wait in the parking lot as CEO of TEEP; Parminder Vir OBE, a diminutive British lady of Asian origin, trotted back and forth making frantic efforts to negotiate our passage into State House. However, her efforts seemed to hit a brick wall as the mean-looking, towering individuals in dark suits with walkie talkies who formed the wall of security at the imposing gate seemed unmoved.
After what seemed to be eternity, Margret Mwanakatwe, the Minister of Commerce, Trade & Industry materialized from State House.
“Are these my people from UBA?” she enthused as she walked towards our vehicle in her fake British accent.
Almost everyone was falling all over their feet as they jostled for vantage positions to take selfies with her. I remained rooted to my seat!
“What’s wrong with you, your friends are out there having a good time with your minister and here you’re…… Go out there and enjoy,” she prodded me. I apologetically explained to her I had my own personal reasons for not being part of the fun.
“Don’t worry guys, we are trying to make everything possible for you to meet the President,” the minister assured before taking leave.
It was well after another 2 hours when word finally filtered through that the President wasn’t going to see us. This came as a shock to us! Parminder was particularly incensed. She momentarily flopped in her seat to absorb the unexpected news.
“What’s wrong with Africa!?” she finally found her voice as she recovered from shock. “We travel many hours to come here after many months of negotiations and this is what we get? Now I understand why my brother wasn’t upbeat about our being here.”
Murmurs of agreement quickly echoed in the bus. A sustained hushed silence overwhelmed us as we found our way back in the lunchtime rush hour.
“Anyway, allow to break the silence!” a stout, balding individual who proudly identified himself as a PF party official from Chongwe dramatically rose to his feet. “At times, I tend to agree with assertions that we’ve a playboy in State house. What happened today was embarrassing and isn’t the first time! I’ll give a vivid example….”
He went on to recount an interesting anecdote, very similar to our situation.
A while back, a multibillionaire with business interests spanning continents landed at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport for a scheduled meeting with President Lungu at State House. As the gentleman in question waited to be cleared by security in the lobby, numerous cadres from around the city suddenly stormed State house to present a petition of some sort.
Of course, the President was always thrilled in the company of cadres; he had no qualms relegating his duties to attend to them! A buffet was hastily arranged as an assortment of gallons of alcoholic beverages rapidly made the rounds!
At last, when someone was sober enough to remind the President there was a very important guest waiting to meet him, it was too late. Alcohol seemed to have taken its toll.
And thus, the tycoon flew out of the country a very disappointed man! How many of such investment opportunities did the country miss during Mr. Lungu’s tenure? Instead of spending time working, Lungu was busy wining and dining in State house with questionable individuals.
As our beloved President HH settles into State House, it’s our only hope and prayer that sanity will return to our nation in all aspects of our lives, once and for all.