By Wynegood G. Malunga
In my view, one of the finest young people to ever step into the echelons of political power in Zambia was Kebby Musokotwane.
He was Member of Parliament for Katombora at the age of 27 and at 31 years-old, President Kenneth Kaunda appointed him Minister of Natural Resources. He was also Zambia’s Education Minister and later Finance Minister. At the age of 38, he became the youngest Prime Minister of Zambia.
I first met him in Nairobi in 1983 when he was in Prime Minister Nalumino Mundia’s delegation to Kenya. I was on a working assignment at Colgate-Palmolive, Kenya. We were both staying at the Nairobi Intercontinental and hit it off immediately.
Highly intelligent, he could handle the most difficult interviews with the probing Charles Mando with ease. Not a single paper with notes to refer to. He didn’t waffle and skirt around issues. The man was just darn smart. He had a wonderful sense of humor, which made us gel. I don’t like befriending stiffs.
When University of Zambia students rioted and burned a new Mass Media Complex bus, government closed the institution and organized UBZ buses to ferry students back to their homes in different parts of the country. I called him up and we had a heated argument over the arrangement. I told him, “those kids damage property and you want to spend my tax money sending them on buses? Let them walk!”
Kebby told me: “Comrade, the worser crime is for the party and its government to let those students find their own way home because anything bad can happen to them and we have to be responsible for their safety.” I learned something that day.
Later, Colgate-Palmolive Zambia was hosting a world-wide meeting for Manufacturing Directors at our Ndola offices and it occurred that when the delegate from C-P Brazil landed in Lusaka one early morning, he didn’t have a visa and was then stopped by immigration from entering. A staff member, Chimwevo Ngwira, who had been sent to Lusaka to meet him called the office to report the problem.
Our Manufacturing Director at the time, Derek Samuel, came to my office to tell me his predicament and asked me to help. I told him that if I went to Brazil without a visa, they’d put me on the next plane out of their country. I told him I couldn’t help.
Around lunch hour, Ngwira called again and said that the visitor was being put on the night flight to London. Immigration had totally refused to let him in. Again, Derek came into my office, this time with the Managing Director, John Townley in tow. “Wynegood, you can do this because it’s not going to reflect on us with the big boys in New York.” I picked up the phone and called a good friend of mine, Member of the Central Committee Mama Mary Fulano and explained the problem. An hour later, there was still no news. I called Major Wezi Kaunda who was Minister of State for Home Affairs and he promised to look into it.
At 16:00 hours, Ngwira called the MD and said nothing had happened and he was giving up and flying back to Ndola. The visitor had been taken to the departure lounge upstairs. John and Derek looked at me. I slowly reached for the phone and John asked, “Who are you calling?” “The Prime Minister”, I answered.
Prime Minister Kebby Musokotwane’s secretary answered, I told her who I was and that I wanted to speak to him. She told me that he was in a meeting and asked me to hold on. I thought she wanted to take down a message for him.
Less than a minute later, I heard that familiar voice: “My Comrade, how is the Copperbelt?” I was quite surprised because I didn’t expect him to take my call during a meeting. “CB is great”, I replied. I told him I had a problem and went on to explain the situation and that the visitor was being put on the plane back to his country that night.
“Are you sure he’s not a spy?” Kebby asked jokingly and I told him no way! “But how can you know? Only we can know!”, he quipped. He then told me he would take care of it.
In less than 10 minutes, our man in Lusaka phoned, almost screeming, “They’ve let him in!” Another call came almost immediately. It was Mrs Fulano, telling me that everything was okay, then Major Wezi Kaunda called as well. I thanked them all.
Shortly after Prime Minister Musokotwane phoned back to assure me that our visitor had been let into the country. Everyone in my office sighed with relief. Those guys knew I was well-connected!
As if that wasn’t all, our Colgate man phoned again to tell me that the visitor’s seat on the Ndola flight had been given to someone else and the flight on the Boeing 737 jet was full. I picked up the phone again and called the Zambia Airways MD and explained my situation. He said he would handle it. Again, another call came, “He’s been given a seat!”.
The next morning, Ngwira told me how immigration officials were telling him about the barrage of phone calls they had received from top offices.
So, this is really about Kebby Musokotwane. Not everyone who rises to that position will do small things like this. Some people even grow wings now when they become a DC, minister or President. Not Kebby! He was as genuine as they come. Charming, a great servant of the people of Zambia who served us well.
Photos: Left: Prime Minister Kebby Musokotwane.
Right: Delivering President Kenneth Kaunda’s message to President Saddam Hussein in Bagdad, Iraq.