“My first few days in Lusaka have been every ambassador’s dream. Having arrived late on Monday, I presented my credentials to His Excellency President Lungu within 72 hours, this morning, and am now meeting hundreds of Zambia’s leading lights through this Queen’s Birthday Party reception, which has been arranged at my Residence without any effort on my part. This is the perfect start to my time in Zambia.
“I should like to begin, therefore, by thanking State House and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their guidance and efficiency. I have been an ambassador three times previously – in Seychelles, Malawi and Liberia – but have never presented my credentials as quickly as has happened this week.
“And I should like to thank everyone involved in arranging tonight’s event. The High Commission team have done a terrific job. I am grateful to the main sponsor, Jaguar-Land Rover, manufacturers of the classiest four wheel-drive vehicles available, whose sole Zambia distributor is Alliance Motors. Incidentally, I have personally owned five Land Rovers over the past 25 years; my latest Land Rover Defender is currently being shipped to Zambia, with plenty of room in it for my wife and our three adult sons, as we explore every corner of this country.
“Thanks also to Zambia Breweries for providing the beer and soft drinks.
“Let me begin with a brief introduction. You may struggle to remember my rather unusual surname. But perhaps you can remember two interesting facts about me.
“Firstly, I am the same age as Zambia. We are both 51 years old. Zambia was born 3 months before me which means that, if we were brothers, I would need to say respectfully:
“Bakalamba bandi, Bakulu banga”.
“The difference is that, while Zambia has the potential to grow from strength to strength, the best to which I can aspire is a gradual decline into old age. The examples of Zambia’s First President and Her Majesty the Queen, however, make me hopeful that I still have a long and productive time left.
“Secondly, I have lived in Zambia before. When Zambia and I were both in our early 40s, I spent two years here as Deputy High Commissioner. I worked closely with President Mwanawasa and his government. Indeed, I enjoyed that experience so much that I have returned to Zambia for more. I am the only British High Commissioner to have previously served as a Deputy High Commissioner in Zambia.
“I have been a British diplomat for nearly 30 years, specialising in this fascinating continent, working in north, west, east and southern Africa. I believe that Britain and Africa have a mutually beneficial future as partners, building on our close associations of the past. Britain remains a major global player, as the world’s fifth largest economy, a significant military power, and a huge influence on the world through our massive development programme and through the projection of our culture – from the Beetles to Cold Play, from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, from David Lean to Danny Boyle.
“2016 is an important year for Britain. We have a very significant referendum on our EU membership to be held in 2 months’ time. It is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (about which more later). And this evening we celebrate the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen. Having met Her Majesty several times, and as the proud recipient of an award from her last year, I can personally testify to Her Majesty’s wisdom accrued over seven decades from meeting leaders and ordinary people across Britain and across the world. My eldest son, Lt James Cochrane-Dyet, is an officer in the Household Cavalry Regiment, which is, in effect, part of the Queen’s personal bodyguard.
“2016 is also an important year for Zambia. I am glad to be here in time for the forthcoming elections. During the 2006 elections, as an election observer in Kabwe, I witnessed Zambia acting as a beacon to the rest of Africa through its conduct of free and fair elections meeting international standards. It was humbling to stand at a remote rural polling station somewhere near Mukobeko, watching a grandmother with a mobile phone dangling from her neck on a cord, as she cast her vote. The highly professional Zambian Electoral Commission has one of the best election management records in southern Africa.
“This adherence to international standards of governance and human rights matters a lot. Zambia has commendably avoided the instability and conflict that has brought misery to millions of people elsewhere in the region. International businesses, weighing their investment decisions, are encouraged and reassured by the presence of functioning democratic systems, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.
“This is why the UK has stepped forward as the largest bilateral supporter of the elections. We are providing more than £4m to help Zambians vote. We are planning to assist with domestic observation to ensure local but independent assessment of the vote; encourage more women to vote and be voted for; and provide voter education to help Zambians better understand the process and reduce the risk of fraud and mis-information. With others, we are also contributing to the updating of the elections regulations manuals used by the police – and have recently trained police trainers on those regulations.
“The UK is committed to assisting Zambia’s growth and development as a long-term partner, supporting, ultimately, a sustainable Zambian transition away from aid. The UK Department for International Development has been increasing the share of its spending on economic development in Zambia and will do so again this year. This will be combined with a real push on women and girls through targeted programmes. We will also be working closely with the Zambian Government and our cooperating partners to strengthen the Government’s capacity sustainably to deliver more and better services.
“As the father of three grown up children, I know only too well the importance of education and of investing in the next generation. I am pleased that, over the last couple of years, we have continued to expand British Government scholarship schemes here, last year sending over 30 promising young Zambians for postgraduate education in the UK. I am also pleased to announce that, for the first time, a Zambian citizen has been included in the British Government’s International Leaders Programme. Launched in 2013, this is a flagship visit programme designed to connect and develop lasting relationships with future leaders who may have an impact on the UK’s global interests.
“Zambia has an important role seeking solutions to regional and global issues. I note that Zambia recently successfully hosted the Inter Parliamentary Union Assembly in Lusaka. And next month Zambia will host the African Development Bank annual meeting to discuss the key themes of energy and climate change. Zambia’s unanimous election to the AU Peace and Security Council underlines the respect that Zambia enjoys throughout this continent and beyond. I am very pleased that the UK was able to support the recent deployment of the second Zambian peacekeeping battalion to the Central African Republic.
“Finally, 2016 marks four hundred years since the death of William Shakespeare, one of the world’s greatest cultural figures. His work has been translated into over a hundred languages, and he is on the curriculum in half of the world’s schools. In the UK there is a year-long programme of commemoration and celebration called Shakespeare Lives, and in Zambia the British High Commission and the British Council have put together a programme of Shakespeare related activity which includes film showings, participating in a world-wide social media event called Play Your Part, and providing Shakespeare materials for schools. We have also brought out a British theatre director, Ben Spiller of the 1623 Shakespeare Theatre, to direct Lusaka’s own Barefeet Theatre in a Zambianised version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We will see a short excerpt from this play later, and the full performance will be this Saturday at 3pm at the Lusaka Playhouse.
“Thank you for listening. I look forward to meeting you all tonight or in the near future. My wife, Susie, looks forward to meeting many of you too, during her visits from the UK, where she has full-time responsibilities, including for our aged parents – my 91 year old father being one year older than Her Majesty the Queen, something that he likes to point out at every opportunity.
“Toast to His Excellency the President Edgar Chagwa Lungu.”