Up there with Khama in the land of Mosi beer
In Ndola, Zambia
A late-notice invitation by the Office of the President to cover the official opening of the 46th Zambia International Trade Fair comes as something of a cherry on top of a joyful World Cup quarter-final weekend.
The newly built Sir Seretse Khama International Airport terminal goes through a stress test on a Thursday morning as a steady flow of travellers check in with Vuvuzelas tucked into every backpack en-route to Durban. In keeping up with the vibe I find myself in a deep analysis, with strangers, of the big game ahead. So intense is the debate on Ghana’s chances against Uruguay that my flight leaves before I reach the check-in counter.
Luckily enough a South African Airways attendant agrees to check me into their flight and I reach Johannesburg in time to join media colleagues from eBotswana, BTV and BOPA. After a four-hour wait at the OR Tambo airport we finally board our connecting Airlink flight to Ndola where we check-in at a budget guest house. The topic for the night, as we drain a few bottles of ‘Mosi’ brew into the rest of the night, is more on the quarterfinal game than the trade fair and as we retire for bed we all hope Ghana will proceed to the semis.
Friday morning has all the characteristics of a typical month-end weekend and having changed our substantial per diem money to local currency we catch a cab and join a posse of other ‘millionaires’ headed for the trade fair.
The weeklong event has brought together various exhibitors from Zambia and internationally with participation averaging 70 foreign companies and 400 locals. For the 46th time the colourful event is held in Ndola towards the end of June and the beginning of July, coinciding with the celebrations to mark the Unity and Heroes Days which are public holidays.
After visiting the various stalls including the Lobatse Clay Works, Nortex, Francistown Knitters and many others under the BEDIA umbrella, we treat ourselves to the Zambian delights of pap and fish before heading back to the guest house.
As evening approaches an occasional ‘vuvuzela’ blares from a corner street while most of the soccer- crazed local folks, whom the fashionable horn has been priced a little out of their pockets at R250, either whistle or wave flags in display of Africa’s solidarity behind the ‘Black Stars’.
The moment of reckoning comes at kick-off and after the 90 minutes of regulation time everyone is on their feet at a local bar across the street from the guesthouse. The reality checkpoint comes at extra time when, against the run of play Asamoah Gyan, the man holding Ghana’s key to the run-in misses a crucial penalty that would have seen Ghana through. The penalty shootout confirms Ghana’s exit from the tournament and the dejected fans file off with discussions drifting to the trade fair and African politics.
Everyone has put the World cup disappointment behind them and are looking forward to President Khama and it appears his stand against Robert Mugabe, after the infamous elections that led to the unity government, has earned him popularity in Zambia.
On Saturday morning, Khama who is the toast of the day arrives in Ndola for the official opening of the trade fair. After touring the stalls with his host President Rupiah Bwezani Banda various speakers give speeches before Khama is invited to the podium amid whistles and ululation from the elated Zambians.
While everyone anticipates a political punch line, Khama begins his speech on a lighter note expressing his disappointment with the quarterfinal result. He calls on Sub-Saharan countries to focus on preparing for major tournaments. Being a sportsman and soccer fanatic himself Khama takes the enthusiastic crowd through his early army days when BDF XI used to poach players from Zambia and advises that southern Africa should look closer to home and not rely on West African countries for glory.
“While our West African brothers (Nigeria) go on two-year suspensions, we should work hard to be the best and fly the continent’s flag higher,” he says.
After a brief speech on the success of the trade fair and the effect it has on the bilateral relationship between the two countries, the soccer mood returns and everyone has accepted the quarterfinal result.
Sunday afternoon is time to return home and at the OR Tambo airport I realise that the attendant had not booked my return ticket to Gaborone but luckily there is space for one on the Air Botswana flight. As the bright Jo’burg lights fast disappear I remain immersed in my own thoughts with the only challenge being the hour-long flight back home.