Let us go to the Copper country

April 2, 2009
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, LUSAKA, Zambia, April 3 – When one of the organisers emailed me to say that my application for a workshop on corporate governance reporting in Zambia has been accepted, I was excited.

Partly because I thought the four-day conference would provide an opportunity for me to get a few days off my daily office routine and secondly I knew this was a chance for me to see what Lusaka has to offer.

Come Monday, March 23, I together with three other journalists from local media houses converged at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) ready to start our ‘short holiday’.

We were scheduled to fly with Kenya Airways (KQ) at 8.30 am and I must say I was impressed with how prompt the airline- that is known for among other things its delays- was.

It was a two and a half hour flight to the Zambian capital and we were on time. However, as we approached the airport, the pilot announced that he had to fly in circles for a few minutes because he had not been cleared to land. Reason? That there was a VIP (Very Important Person) who had to access the airport and therefore no plane could land or take off.

Talk of vanity! My colleagues and I started speculating…maybe it’s the Pope who’s on transit, maybe it’s the Zambian President! But to close off the airport for about 15 minutes just so a senior government official or whoever it was can ‘use’ it? Come on!

Finally, the pilot was given the green light and we disembarked from the plane. It was about 10.40am local time (which was one hour behind Kenyan time) and the Lusaka International Airport was not busy. It looked strange to me because subconsciously I must have tried to compare it with JKIA which is almost always a bee hive of activity at certain times.

Anyway, it was nice to be served by immigration officers with a smile. They even had time to chat one up and wish you a nice time in Zambia.

A shuttle from Hotel Intercontinental Lusaka was waiting for us (we knew before hand that we would be staying there and that someone would be waiting for us), and the four of us were joined by two ‘wazungus’ and a few minutes later, we were off to the hotel.

Now the Lusaka airport, again compared to JKIA is not big. But again I was struck by how desolate even the parking spaces were. In a space that can possibly accommodate more than 200 vehicles, there were less than 50 cars.

Immediately, I thought of my fellow Kenyans and how they never let an opportunity to make money pass and thought how they would be delighted to see such a virgin taxi industry ready to be exploited. Although there were probably not many cabs because the airport was not busy, I think the entrepreneurial nature of Kenyans would not just let it be. I think they would somehow try and find a way to make it work.

As we skirted out of the airport, we were welcomed by a field that had nothing but acres and acres of lush green vegetation. In the first five kilometers, occasionally, you’d see a tower here, a building there, but on the whole what prominently stood out is the vegetation. This is unlike Nairobi’s Embakasi constituency where as you leave JKIA all your eyes can take in are hundreds of industrial and commercial buildings.

There was little conversation in the bus because everyone was busy gawking at the beautiful and quiet scenery and probably in their minds comparing it with that of their home country’s. Fifteen minutes into the drive and suddenly a good number of ‘signs of civilization’, residential houses, huge bill boards and many vehicles. (Since we left the airport, I had only seen a few cars and was beginning to wonder what their vehicle population was).

Not to worry though because soon enough there were enough vehicles to cause a traffic jam and drivers waited to obey the traffic lights. But just in case you are wondering, compared to what we have in Nairobi, the snarl-up was child’s play. I didn’t see anyone jumping the lights as Kenyans and particularly Nairobians are notorious for and no there were no cops to ‘control traffic even when the lights were working perfectly well.’

Did I tell you the road network at least to the hotel was superb? The road was wide enough, smooth and I didn’t see any pothole. I am no engineer but I can tell you the roads are of high quality.

We arrived at the hotel about 25 minutes after leaving airport and after checking in, we all proceeded to our rooms. As I opened room 663 which was going to be my ‘home’ for the next four days, I was struck by how serene it was, how the colour scheme complemented the furniture, the curtains and everything in there and how the paintings seemed to perfectly fit in.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long enough to take in the beauty of the room as the workshop was about to kick off and we had the Zambian Vice President George Kunda officially opening. I joined 24 other journalists from East and Southern African countries and after being treated to a boring sight of bodyguards trying to ensure that the room was ‘secure’ enough for their boss, the program was underway at about 2.30 pm.

Remember, I told you how I was going for a holiday? Well those hopes were dashed once I looked at the intensive program and realized that the organisers really wanted nothing else but for us to grasp all the issues surrounding corporate governance.

This is because unlike other conferences, this one didn’t have any cocktails nor get together and no media visit to any site, (I was particularly interested in visiting the copper mines which contribute 65 percent of the country’s GDP).Effects of the global financial crisis perhaps?

However, despite this initial disappointment, I went on to learn so much not only on how to identify a company that does not conform to sound ethical and corporate governance principles but also how to analyse financial statements.

I also got to meet different characters including the rowdy Botswana ‘self appointed leader of the House’ and the well informed, eloquent presenters of the topics under discussion.

The food, well there was not much variety and I ended up having chicken and rice for both lunch and dinner for three days in a row. The other option was to have ‘Nshima’ which is similar to Kenya’s Ugali (which is a meal prepared from maize meal) or ‘kalulu’, which is rabbit meat. Someone mentioned that the rabbit is in the rodent class and with that went my desire to be daring enough to engage my taste buds.

Four days flew by pretty fast and before we knew it, it was time to go back home. And although I felt sad for leaving the hotel, (I was beginning to get attached to room 663), I was happy to come back although I experienced one of the most nerve-racking turbulence ever.

For once, I missed my bed and the variety of home-cooked meals that Kenya has to offer.

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