By Nicky Shabolyo
Perhaps one of today’s most trending topics in Lusaka, if not the country, is the one on the early morning workouts led by Zambia’s President, His Excellency Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu. A good number of individuals of various standing in society have by now had an opportunity to be part of the ‘Presidential Keep Fit Runs’ which are held twice a week.
It would be usual to assume, on first instance, that these are probably just some of those casual exercises taken by the affluent or the bourgeoisie where no form of vigorous activity is entertained. Just a pass time activity of some sort. You would even be inclined to conclude that the intensity of the workouts should be reduced to even lower levels particularly for the reason that it involves the Head of State. I mean, who would want to subject the entire President to some activity that would leave him panting and sweating. This is not a sight we can easily or want to imagine.
To the contrary, President Lungu is one creation of a very physically fit person. During the now-popular morning jogs, he is one who even takes the lead in rallying everyone else to keep up pace or do a particular drill the right way. Basically leading from the front.
This was my recent experience when I was invited to be part of the ‘Presidential Keep Fit Run’ on 2nd March, 2019. It dawned on me soon after I got the details of the event just how early this had been scheduled for. If we were to start at 05:30 hours, it meant that some of us had to get out of the house by about 04:00 hours in order to get to the starting point on time. I almost relaxed on the need to observe the 05:30 start-time as I thought no one would be on time that early. Just then, I realised that several other sessions had been held prior to the one I was to take part in, and have also started at the same time.
With this, my mind was set and focused on my next day’s early morning mission as I went to bed.
As I drove through the deserted streets of Lusaka the next day to find my way to State Lodge, which had been appointed as the venue, I noticed the darkness of the morning and thought to myself if indeed there was any other person who had sacrificed their pleasant early morning sleep for what could be a ‘torturous’ early morning workout.
It was only when I was a few metres from the venue that I realised that it was actually myself who had nearly been overcome by the negative energy of being less ambitious. The premises were already streaming with other participants while some were dashing out of their vehicles, as they eagerly jostled to join the rest of the group.
As I was finding a spot to park, I briefly raised my eyes and even in the not-so-well-lit morning, I could not fail to make out a towering figure in the centre of the crowd which I quickly established as that of His Excellency Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu. He was ready and raving to go.
On this morning, the President had also invited doctors and lawyers to join him. Also in attendance were Minister of Health, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya; Presidential Affairs Minister, Mr. Freedom Sikazwe; Special Assistants to the President for Press & Public Relations, and Legal Affairs, Mr. Amos Chanda and Mr. Sukwana Lukangaba, respectively; Lusaka Province Minister, Mr. Bowman Lusambo; Health Permanent Secretary, Dr. Kennedy Malama; Attorney General, Mr. Likando Kalaluka; Solicitor General, Mr. Abraham Mwansa; the President’s Senior Private Secretary, Mr. Daniel Siwo and Lusaka prominent lawyer, Mr. Dickson Jere. The President’s daughter, Tasila, was not to be left out.
There were also other senior government officials from the Health and Justice ministries as well as other prominent citizens.
A certain air of excitement filled the space with a lot of zeal expressed in most of the participants as they hit the road, with a good number wanting to show-off their prowess. It was not long that I noticed that a couple of those who had given a head start were slowly beginning to fall back. I tried to keep on with the President’s pace for most of the time although I must honestly point out that this was not an easy accomplishment.
A few times, I did pause from the run and break into some brisk walks just to catch my breath. In fact I was not the only one; there were several others, who also carried bottles of water for rehydration along the way. I had to tack mine away when I realised that the President actually did not have anything. In fact I recall noting that the Head of State did not take a sip of water during the entire close-to-three hour workout session.
The hardest and, I think the most dreaded stages of the workout, are when you do the ‘Reverse’. This is when you approach ascending terrain and are required to go up hill facing the opposite direction. And this is still in jogging mode. This was, of course not an easy one for the majority as for long stretches, most could be seen breaking off and turning to face the direction in which they were going. But not the President! On several occasions, I took an interest to check and I never found him in any other position apart from the ‘Reverse’. The procession would go on like this until the terrain flattened before reverting to normal. This sequence would repeat each time we got to a hill and went on until we finished the three-hour or the close to 14 kilometre stretch.
An interesting feature, which I thought I should not end without mentioning, is the ‘choir’. From observation, this is a group made up of those who have now become permanent companions of the President during his runs. They have a way in which they keep you entertained and motivated through song as you push that extra mile. Taking the front position all the way, they would go on chanting some humorous songs. Similar to those done by the military during their drills. This would be spiced up with calling out of names of those in the crowd. Interesting how they get to identify individuals. Quite entertaining!
It takes a disciplined person and requires a lot of sacrifice for one to adopt such lifestyle, let alone to sustain it. President Lungu, himself, has been going on these runs every Saturday and Wednesday since 2015. He believes that exercise is an essential requirement for one’s well-being. The President is on record as pointing out that about 23 percent of deaths where as a result of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attack, and that routine exercise was one of the best ways to curb this. The President is hopeful that his morning jogs will serve to sensitise people in communities on the best health practices.
One can never cite a better way through which to encourage or motivate the nation into taking up routine exercise as a healthy lifestyle. Despite possibly being the busiest citizen, President Lungu has made it a point to find time and be an ambassador of healthy living through his morning workouts every week. It will be important for us to individually and, eventually collectively as a nation, emulate the President and make routine exercise a part of our lifestyle. It is for our own good!
The author is Counsellor at the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Stockholm, Sweden