Zambia’s president and when leaders who came with nothing own everything

What you need to know:

  • A far cry from Uganda where most of the ‘tycoons’ have become so through building alliances with prominent politicians to loot the Treasury and steal national assets in broad daylight.

It is one of the times I strongly felt I really ought to sue the Lord God Almighty – for, inter alia, discriminatory treatment and unreasonable or manifestly excessive punishment. Crazy-cat lawyers like Isaac Ssemakadde or Eron Kiiza can come up with something clever here – in terms of forum, procedure, documents and how to serve Him with court summons.

There are countries in Africa that are getting proper leaders; people who come to power with no objective except to do their country good – people satisfied with what they have and show no interest in looting the national coffers or stripping the country of its assets. Talking about leaders who come, serve and go; with no interest in hanging onto power till death do them part. You look at Uganda, and the only plausible explanation is that either God is discriminatory or He is punishing us for sins we’re not sure about, and even then, being unreasonably harsh in levying the punishments.

I was having lunch – deep in some African village - with Prince, a Kenyan activist, and Salma, an Egyptian in European exile, when a nice-looking, light-footed young Zambian walked up to our table, delicately peeping over a full plate to see where he was going; then took a seat, made himself comfortable – and asked if he could join us at the table. 

We were discussing the Kenyan elections (and failing to agree on whether it is William Ruto or Raila Odinga that deserves to win). Then we turned to why and how the Egyptian Revolution failed. Just then Brian, who was manifestly enjoying his meal and had eaten a reasonable part of it, so he could see us without raising his head, looked up and announced that Zambians had just ushered in the best president since Kenneth Kaunda, bless his soul.

“Amassing wealth was never his game,” Brian said. “After leading Zambia for 27 years, Kaunda left without a personal house.” I choked on my tea! “It is the citizens who mercifully and lovingly built him one,” said Brian, a good talker and to whom we all decided to listen. I learnt a few things.

First that Zambians passionately followed the Ugandan election, with Bobi Wine inspiring millions of Zambians. In fact, said he, the huge win of new President Hakainde Hichilema (contesting for the fifth time) owed a lot to the inspiration of Bobi Wine, who is a hot cake in Zambia. I put knife and fork down.

Second, Brian noted, between mouthfuls, HH (as he’s fondly called) doesn’t stay in State House. He goes there every morning to work, goes back home for lunch and siesta, then back to work till evening. Clearly, he has no unhealthy interest in the place...unlike some people in certain places.

Brian also explained that HH declined the official presidential motorcade. Using his own money, he bought himself a vehicle for official use. In fact, when people accused him of using public funds to give his home a facelift, he made available his financial records which clearly showed it was his personal money and explained how it was spent. Chap sounds American! 

“Did I tell you that HH rejected salary and allowances?” asked Brian. “He is fighting the corrupt, chopping foreign travel and size of government delegations and he forbade the taxpayer from meeting his personal bills abroad.” Even Prince and Salma stopped eating.

When HH came to power, he had already proved himself an astute businessman and was making quite a bit of money. He shows no interest in state assets. Zambia is a far cry from most African countries where leaders come to power known to have nothing and within a short time, they own just about everything that is big and bustling.

A far cry from Uganda where most of the ‘tycoons’ have become so through building alliances with prominent politicians to loot the Treasury and steal national assets in broad daylight.

Brian who is by all standards a happy Zambian, finished his food and even looked up at the serving deck to check if there was anything left, for a second helping. My own food…let’s just say it stayed untouched.

Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda

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