/ 18 May 2018

The life of Lungu: Mystery mansion raises suspicion

President Edgar Lungu
President Edgar Lungu

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.”