The life of Lungu: Mys­tery man­sion raises sus­pi­cion

Mail & Guardian - - Africa - Si­mon Al­li­son

Zam­bia’s pres­i­dent is build­ing a house on a lux­ury golf es­tate — in eSwa­tini, the na­tion formerly known as Swazi­land.

The plans for the dou­ble-storey man­sion were leaked on so­cial me­dia ear­lier this week, rais­ing con­cerns about why Pres­i­dent Edgar Lungu is buy­ing prop­erty abroad, and who ex­actly is pay­ing for it.

Maybe Lungu just needs a break: ac­cord­ing to its web­site, the Nkonyeni Lodge & Golf Es­tate of­fers in­vestors the chance to “re­dis­cover what your life should be about. What you’re pas­sion­ate about. What you’ve al­ready for­got­ten. To re­mem­ber the joy of liv­ing in the mo­ment.”

Zam­bia’s in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, Dora Siliya, con­firmed the planned res­i­dence does in­deed be­long to Lungu, and said the land on which it is be­ing built was a gift from eSwa­tini’s King Mswati III.

“These are nor­mal prac­tices when the pres­i­dent trav­els, that var­i­ous gifts are given in var­i­ous forms, and in this case it was land that was given to the pres­i­dent, and this land was pro­cessed and awarded to the pres­i­dent, so there’s noth­ing sin­is­ter about that, be­cause I do know that peo­ple like to cre­ate sto­ries when there are no sto­ries ... it is very nor­mal,” she said.

Ex­cept it’s not nor­mal. In most democ­ra­cies, gifts given to the pres­i­dent be­long to the state, not the in­di­vid­ual. In the United States, for ex­am­ple: “A tan­gi­ble gift of more than min­i­mal value ac­cepted for rea­sons of pro­to­col or cour­tesy may not be kept as a per­sonal gift, how­ever, but is con­sid­ered ac­cepted on be­half of and prop­erty of the United States.”

On Wed­nes­day, the plot thick­ened: the Times of Swazi­land re­ported that Lungu’s plot was not a gift from King Mswati III, but is owned by pri­vate com­pany Iny­atsi Prop­er­ties Lim­ited. The deeds registry states the plot was bought by Iny­atsi last year. Iny­atsi is run by busi­ness­man Mich­elo Shakantu, ac­cused by Zam­bian me­dia last year of hold­ing shares in Swazi Mo­bile on be­half of Lungu.

Lungu’s home in eSwa­tini has stirred up con­tro­versy in Zam­bia.

“My ques­tions are: How can he af­ford to build such a struc­ture in a foreign coun­try?” said Laura Miti, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Al­liance for Com­mu­nity Ac­tion, a Zam­bian ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tion. “With foreign re­serves around zero, how is he ex­ter­nal­is­ing money? Then, can a small coun­try like Swazi­land af­ford to give away land?

“With no ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion law, we can only imag­ine what we do not know about this gov­ern­ment.”

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