Former State House Press Aid Dickson Jere mourns president Rupiah Banda’s friend. Jere shares some insights about the deceased.
President Rupiah Banda is a creature of habits – so he stayed at the same lodge in Chipata where he used to go before he was President. He refused to move to the Presidential Guesthouse or Protea Hotel.
On the bumpy gravel road leading to “Mama Rula Lodge”, there are few village huts by the banks of Lunkwakwa River. One of the inhabitants was Mr. Mbulo, a blindman, with an amazing flair of English. He was the “President’s friend” who always addressed him as “Rupiah” despite several warnings that the correct way of addressing the Head of State was “His Excellency”.
“I am waiting for Rupiah…” Mbulo would say as he stood in the middle of the road when the presidential motorcade was approaching. And the President would order the fast-moving motorcade to stop.
“Let him come…,” the security detail would escort the blindman to the presidential limousine. The two friends would engage in endless discussions and full of laughter.
“He is a vey intelligent and wise man…,” the President would tell us after his conversation with his friend.
But Mr. Mbulo was a nuisance sometimes – refusing to give way to the presidential motorcade whenever he was told that the President was rushing for an important engagement and that he would see him later. Physical confrontation would ensue with the security detail. He threw punches and hit back with his walking stick while his guide, a small kid, would cry uncontrollably to attract attention.
“Rupiah is my friend, why are you stopping me from seeing him…” Mbulo would throw tantrums knowing well that the President, If he sees him, would stop the motorcade.
I, and the Chief of Protocol, devised a plan to be giving Mr. Mbulo money in advance so that he can clear the road especially when the President is riding with a visiting Head of State in his vehicle.
“It is not money I want. It is Rupiah I want to see…” Mbulo once told us off.
By the way, he had great respect for me. In contrast, he always addressed me as “Your Excellency Sir”. So I happened to have bought land and it turned out that the huts where Mbulo lived were right inside my farm. He then called me.
“I wish to report to you that I am your senior squatter your Excellency Sir and I seek permission to continue living on your land…” Mbulo politely sought permission.
Without much ado, I allowed him and the family to live on my land and he became the most reliable source of information and security. He even reported his own children who were trying to destroy my trees!
We bonded very well. So, three weeks ago, I received a telephone call from him.
“I am upset with you. How can you miss ncwala ceremony?” he asked.
Every February during the ceremony, I took clothes and food to Mr. Mbulo and his family and it became a ritual for 8 years until this year when I missed. I told him I could not travel as I was scared of being “gassed” on my way. He laughed his head off!
“Even you, Your Excellency is scared of gassing..” that was the last conversation I had with him.
And today, I just got a call that our Mr. Mbulo – the President’s friend – was no more! Go well well Sir…
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