With the President Nyamasoya making six foreign trips every month, there is hardly a journalist in Zambia who hasn't experienced the marvellous perk of an international trip.
And so it was that last week that I found myself in the back of the presidential jet. We were on our way to Malawi, and I had the privilege of sitting next to the famous Presidential Advisor, Prince Akana-Akashitilila Lwinso-Lwinso, known to everybody as Akana because nobody - including himself - can ever remember his full name.
Looking out of the window, there was nothing to see except the endless monotonous green of untouched virgin forest. But then the view suddenly changed to a progression of freshly ploughed fields, interspersed with tobacco barns, irrigation systems and neat feeder roads. Then we heard the loud voice of Nyamasoya up front, exclaiming 'We're coming into Mongu! Look at the development! See the results of my wise agricultural policies! No wonder they love me so!'
'What's he talking about?' I hissed to Akana, 'I thought we were going to Lilongwe!'
'Shush!' said Akana, 'We told him we're going to Mongu to meet the Buntungwa!'
'But surely he'll find out as soon as we land in Lilongwe!'
'He tends to believe whatever I tell him,' whispered Akana. 'I am his trusted advisor.'
'Wouldn't it have just been easier to take him to Mongu, if that's where he wanted to go?'
'Things are not that simple in politics,' explained Akana. 'He's not popular in Barotseland, and he has an awful habit of saying the wrong thing.'
As we were talking, the plane landed. Nyamasoya rushed to the door as soon as it was opened, and gave his one finger MMD wave, which happened to be the very same symbol used by the Movement for Malawian Development. At the bottom of the steps he was greeted by President Mutakatifu, who was flattered to be addressed as His Excellency the Great Buntungwa. In honour of the visitor, the dancing Mbumba had put Nyamasoya's face on their new MMD chitenges, causing him to distribute brown envelopes liberally as he made his way regally to the convoy of waiting Benzes.
That evening, the banquet at Mutakatifu's palace was a great success. Nyamasoya stood up and made a marvellous speech, saying how impressed he was by the great development of the city since he was last there in 1959, how pleased he was to see the prosperity of the people, and how he hoped everybody would vote for their excellent president at the next election! This pleased Mutakatifu as much as it did Nyamasoya, and they both applauded themselves for a full ten minutes, while the secret police watched all the guests carefully to see if anybody stopped applauding.
The next morning I met Akana at breakfast.
'I don't see how your deception can last much longer,' I said. 'Today, when they meet for private talks, the awful mistake will soon become apparent.'
'You'd be surprised,' laughed Akana, 'each of them is more interested in himself than the world around them. When they meet they just exchange greetings, exchange pleasantries, exchange compliments, exchange gifts, exchange girlfriends and that sort of thing. After a few drinks they can't remember where they are, who they are, or who they were with.'
'But the day he bumps into the real Bungtungwa,' I warned, 'you're going to be in real trouble.'
'He's very old,' chuckled Akana, 'almost blind and very forgetful. He's totally reliant on what I tell him.'
'Its your neck, if you're caught. Keeping him away from reality is a very risky business.'
'Less risky than telling him the truth,' retorted Akana. 'If anybody tells him the truth about Zambia, he has them arrested. So we take him to nice foreign places, and tell him he's in Zambia. Once we took him to Beijing and told him it was Kitwe!'
'What did he say?'
'He said he was very pleased that Zambian copper money had built such a large city, and this must be the result of his government's economic policy.'
'A strangely perceptive remark!' I laughed. 'Where else have you taken him?'
'We took him to Niagara Falls and told him it was Mosi-o-Tunya. He was very pleased to see so many American and Canadian tourists, and claimed that this was the result of his new tourism policy.'
'What did he say about shopping in Paris?'
'He said that Manda Hill has grown marvellously as a result of his free market policies.'
'So you haven't had any problems?'
'We nearly got found out when a game ranger tried to arrest him for barbequing a buffalo in Kruger National Park, but we managed to persuade him that Kruger was just a miss-spelling of Kafue.'
'So as the Advisor, it seems that your advice is to keep him out of the country permanently. Is that really a good idea?'
'Oh yes. Then we can hold the party conference, and elect somebody else.'
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