We would like to start by acknowledging the humility of the American Ambassador to Zambia His Excellency Mr Daniel Foote. This is not a man who has been very well known to us because he has mostly been loudly silent since he took over office from Mr Eric Schultz. But we have just realised that his deliberate low-key presence in this country has been granting him abundant time to interact with low-key Zambians – the ordinary citizens who usually never have opportunities to meet with such distinguished foreign envoys.
While other diplomats accredited to Zambia have taken off the gloves to trade verbal punches with our government leaders in the fight against corruption and embezzlement of donor aid, Ambassador Foote has been extending his footprint across the breadth of this country, getting to understand the lifestyle and challenges of the local people. But his low profile approach is fast being challenged by the overbearing recklessness of our government. The American Envoy can’t shy away anymore from the elephant in the room because Zambia has now just pricked his heart.
Before we talk about the disastrous government decision that has provoked Ambassador Foote to start questioning the reasoning of our leaders, allow us to share with you how this top American diplomat would like Zambians to know him. We learnt about this when he paid a courtesy call on Kabwe Catholic Diocese presiding Bishop Clement Mulenga on Wednesday this week.
“It’s wonderful for me to come and see you, and despite my title, I don’t consider that, and I don’t feel like I am a big deal. I don’t like to be treated like I am such a big deal. I am just a regular bonehead from upstate New York who has been very lucky throughout his life,” Ambassador Foote said.
“My aunt was a [Catholic] Sister of the Franciscan Order, so whenever I misbehaved as a boy, my mother would send me to the convent for the afternoon and all the sisters would help me to learn how to better behave. I can’t say that I have been a wonderful catholic in many years; I do go to church twice a year and that’s probably not very much. But I do talk to the big man upstairs privately very often.”
In short, Ambassador Foote was simply saying ‘ndine muzungu wapaize, or guy wapaize’ as we say it in Lusaka. There is nothing special about him and he has his own shortcomings in life. You don’t need to reserve him the most comfortable seat when he joins you for a meeting and neither do you have to exaggerate his diplomatic title in an effort to please him. But behind all this humility, we see an exceptionally intelligent bonehead from New York. He has a way of conveying a very firm message without intent to disrespect his subjects.
During that meeting with Bishop Mulenga, the American Envoy had a an entertaining way of bringing up his frustration over the failure by President Edgar Lungu and UPND’s Hakainde Hichilema to dialogue and unite a politically torn country.
“We have talked about political dialogue for over two years now. I told both the President and HH that I would love to see them have dialogue but I got to tell you I don’t think I’m a good marriage counsellor so hopefully they will and we will get them together at some point in time but that’s more up to them than it’s up to us. The church, Civil Society, ZCID, the US Embassy, the Chinese Embassy, the Pope, the Baroness of Scotland, everybody can try to get involved in this process but at the end of the day they are the two guys who need to sit down and have a conversation,” Ambassador Foote said.
We don’t think the American Envoy is a bad marriage counselLor. In fact, we believe that it’s part of his diplomatic training to be a good negotiator and unifier of political rivals. So he knows too well that his counseling skills remain unquestionable, but Mr Lungu and HH are just about the most arrogant and egoistic Zambian leaders who only listen to themselves. The failures in this case are Lungu and HH, not Ambassador Foote.
Anyway, coming back to the government decision that has baffled the American Envoy. Cabinet has just approved a concession for culling of about 2,000 hippos in the Luangwa River on grounds that the animals are dying from anthrax due to overpopulation. Ambassador Foote is asking one question; ‘before you murder those animals under the guise of protecting their species, where is the scientific evidence to prove that indeed a study was done and culling was recommended?’ He says there is a science that goes with game cropping and it is not determined by the scarcity of relish in someone’s household.
The government of Zambia must listen to this bonehead from New York because he is not only a strategic envoy to this country, but he is also a passionate conservationist who has been silently mobilizing millions of dollars for Zambia’s wildlife sector. This is money our government can never access without his involvement. The hippo culling issue is very close to his heart and he is warning that if the decision is not reversed, he will fold his hands and watch the tourism inflow to Zambia dwindle. This will go down with Zambia’s reputation of being a high-ranking and endowed wildlife conservation heritage destination.
But this government doesn’t listen to such advice; as long as dollars are involved it’s touch and go, no reverse gear. In fact, they are treating this caution from the muzungu community as mere noise that is distracting them from executing their deal with the company awarded a licence to kill our hippos.
Please ba Lungu and your Cabinet, leave the hippos alone. If the Luangwa River has too many hippos, redistribute them to other parts of the country where they will continue to add long-term economic value to Zambia’s conservation sector. At least continue bullying and traumatizing us your fellow humans, but spare the hippos because they won’t be able to answer back in 2021.