FOREIGN Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Stanley Kakubo says although there have been concerns that the President has traveled too much, his opinion is that the Head of State is actually behind schedule as he has not visited all SADC leaders in the region.

And Kakubo says President Hakainde Hichilema is scheduled to travel to Belgium to participate in the sixth European Union – African Union (EUAU) Summit scheduled for February 17 and 18.

Meanwhile, Kakubo says President Hichilema is scheduled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican City on February 19.

Speaking during a special interview on ZNBC, Monday evening, Kakubo said some of the trips the President made were to inspire confidence in the international community.

“The tradition of SADC is that when a new Head of State is elected, he must visit the chairman of the African Union. The new Head of State must meet the chairman of SADC because that is the regional body we belong to. After the President makes these two serious meetings, the President is expected to visit members of the SADC region. If anything, while I know that there have been concerns that the President has traveled too much, our opinion is that the President is actually behind schedule because he has not visited all the SADC leaders in the regions. He has taken advantage of certain situations to engage them but Zambia needs friends, we do have strategically selected regions that the President must make,” Kakubo said.

“We must understand the challenges of the country, especially what we have faced in the last 10 years, where we are now and what it is that the President is trying to fix. First of all, how are we perceived by nations outside looking at our immediate past history? You will see that we went through a serious phase where political space had shrunk, democratic space had shrunk, freedoms of our people had shrunk, the economic performance had shrunk. Where the loans had increased, where issues to do with corruption had gone up. So, the perception that is out there is needed to be fixed at the highest level possible. Some of the trips that the President has made is to inspire confidence in the international community to ensure that the new Zambia, the new dawn government is perceived in the correct way.”

Kakubo said investors were nervous about Zambia owing to the things that had happened in the recent past.

“When our people are free, it is a prerequisite to any investor activity in the country. It makes them feel safe because people are observant, people are able to speak. The things that have happened in this country in our recent past, anyone from outside is nervous about Zambia. Are our people really free? Can business be done, is it safe for money to come into this country, are we friends with anybody? Those are the things that have necessitated the President to come in,” he said.

“Also, the issue to do with bilateral agreements, bilateral agreements must be properly managed. It is not a question of signing them in a hurry, we have to understand the needs of the countries that we are dealing with. The countries must also align themselves with the things that Zambia is interested in. Then you find common ground and sign. These are the things that we have been doing. Our position in terms of diplomacy now has a firm position, we have to do trade, we have to do business with other countries but also primarily we must ensure that the environment for this is safe, is secure in terms of security. There should be peace in the regions that we are dealing with in order to ensure that this a platform on which any sort of business can be done.”

Kakubo said President Hichilema had been traveling to certain countries to also ensure that certain assets that went into the wrong, corrupt hands, were also recovered.

“Anybody from outside can come into Zambia and do a test and see how the police is running. People are guaranteed police bonds, it was never the case before when we were in the opposition. But then we must understand what government is trying to do. Those that are alleged to have embezzled public funds, government must be given its space to ensure that institutions of governance that investigate people that are alleged to have done that are not necessarily looked at as being abused in any way. Investigations must happen and we must recover public funds. Which also fits in with why the President has been traveling to certain countries to ensure that certain assets that belong to this country that went into the wrong corrupt hands are also recovered. That is key to our recovery,” he said.

Kakubo justified the trips which the President had taken in the last five months.

“The first trip that President Hichilema made to the US to attend the UN, the President travelled with a very lean delegation, cutting costs. What I found on record is that the previous President will travel with a delegation of over 120 individuals, the current President traveled with less than 20 people. The previous President, his delegation would leave the country one month before the UN summit, people getting allowances, not managing expenditure. When you look at the current President, lean delegation, straight into business. The moment the business finishes, the President travels back, very efficiently. The previous government, when the President traveled out, people were hiring yachts on the sea and having parties. Traveling with musicians. And that is the difference between the two Presidents,” he said.

“This President is focused, there is work to be done and some of the issues that the President is dealing with when he travels, for instance, the example I have given when he travelled to the US. The moment he finished giving his maiden speech and also the bilateral agreements, the President quickly engaged the IMF. There was no point in meeting the IMF after 10 months, after two years. Then the recovery process of our economy delays. These were urgent trips that the President needs to make early in his Presidency to deal with the issues that are affecting the Zambian people now. No need to do that after four years, then we are not fixing the country. When he travelled to the UK, the President also managed to meet the bondholders that were not actually not engaged by the previous government. The President went straight to the people that we owe money, sat down with them. Half the bondholders have had a one on one meeting with the President, that is the kind of leadership you need.”

And Kakubo also explained President Hichilema’s trip to South Africa.

“We issued a statement as Ministry of Foreign Affairs towards the travelling of the President to South Africa. I attended the meetings that the President attended in South Africa. He had closed door meetings with President Ramaphosa discussing pertinent issues to do with regional peace being the head of the SADC organ that deals with peace. That was crucial for Zambia, that was crucial for the region. It needed the two Heads of State to sit down one on one and look at the possible solutions. When a schedule of the President is made, for instance, while in South Africa the President decides to attend church, was there going to be controversy?” he asked.

“If the President had a bereavement in South Africa, what was expected? The President to drop his security and go in his private capacity? The issue to do with the President engaging in a book launch was part of the President’s agenda to attend it but only if he had time to finish the major business with the President. So the President will continue to engage even on the spur of the moment outside issues that we have outlined in the briefing to say ‘the President will do ABC.’ If anything comes up while the President is away, he is obliged to attend.”

And in a statement, Tuesday, Kakubo said the EU- AU Africa summit would be held under the theme, ‘Africa and Europe: two continents with a joint vision for 2030.’

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation wishes to inform the nation that Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, President of the Republic of Zambia will participate in the Sixth European Union – African Union (EUAU) Summit scheduled for 17th to 18th February, 2022, in Brussels, Belgium. The EU-AU Summit, which is held every four years, has been convened under the theme: Africa and Europe: Two Continents with a Joint Vision for 2030. The Summit will provide an opportunity to deepen partnership and greater cooperation to ensure prosperity for mutual benefit. President Hichilema and other Heads of State and Government from Africa and Europe are expected to deliberate on thematic issues which include growth finance; health systems and vaccine production; agriculture and sustainable development; peace, security and governance, and private sector support and economic integration,” Kakubo said.

“On the margins of the Summit, President Hichilema is also expected to hold meetings with His Excellency Mr. Charles Michel, President of the European Council; His Excellency Mr. Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Commission Vice President, and other high level officials including His Excellency Mr. Werner Hoyern, President of the European Investment Bank. In addition, the President will hold bilateral meetings on matters of mutual interest with different leaders of Member States of the European Union.”

Meanwhile, Kakubo said President Hichilema was also scheduled to meet Pope Francis.

“The President will also travel to the Vatican City, after accepting an invitation to be granted audience by His Holiness Pope Francis on Saturday 19th February, 2022. On Saturday 19th February, 2022, President Hichilema is scheduled to meet His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican City. The Catholic Church has been instrumental in advocating for socioeconomic development and continues to make distinctive contributions in the areas of health and education, including humanitarian affairs. To this end, a meeting between President Hichilema and His Holiness Pope Francis will provide a platform for the two leaders to discuss issues of common interest especially those pertaining to peace which is a prerequisite for economic development. The President is scheduled to return to Zambia immediately after his visit,” stated Kakubo.