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Verve People
June 26, 2019

The Zambian High Commissioner On The 5655-Carat Emerald She Unveiled And Her Peripatetic Lifestyle

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

Zambia’s high commissioner to India, Judith K.K.Kan’gona Kapijimpanga tells Verve about what it’s like to be a woman in power and the things she loves about India…

Recently, the most expensive single Zambian emerald rough, The Inkalamu Lion emerald, was unveiled in the capital by the High Commissioner of the Republic of Zambia, Judith K.K.Kan’gona Kapijimpanga, at Diacolor’s store in the tony DLF Emporio mall. The jewellery brand had recently acquired the rare gemstone from the Gemfields auction held in Singapore. The 5,655-carat emerald, that boasts remarkable clarity and is endowed with an eye-catching goldenish green hue, was the cynosure of all eyes at its unveiling in New Delhi.

Like this highly-acclaimed emerald that has travelled far from its homeland, Zambia’s High Commissioner too has charted her own route to India, where currently she also has extra accreditation to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Nepal, Myanmar and Maldives. Earlier, she had served as High Commissioner to Tanzania (her first posting) – during which time she was also Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Comoros. In addition, she held the same title at the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region as well as the East African Community.

In a conversation with Verve, the engaging diplomat talks about living away from home in new lands, being a woman in her profession and discovering new cultures….

Home to you is…..
My home is in Zambia. It is a place where I am comfortable and it is also the place where I have my family, friends and associates.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part, especially in Asia, is to persuade investors to get to Zambia, and to convince them that their private capital is safe there. They are not fully aware of the depth of Africa and its business environment. But we continue to speak to them and have managed to convince quite a few people.

Did you ever face a gender bias at work?
Yes, and, no. You see, when you are a woman in a leadership position, sometimes because of our background – our traditional culture and norms – at work some men who are chauvinists may not really respect the fact that you are the leader. But I am an easygoing person. I am a good reader of character. I prefer to have harmony wherever I am. So, I try to work with every person as an individual.

I remember one incident where ambassadors and high commissioners had been invited for an event. I stood in the queue along with the other dignitaries. A police officer who was directing us told me, “The line for spouses is on the other side.” I didn’t get offended by his remark. In fact, I was amused. And I realised that the world was still looking at men as the only leaders.

What is it about India that is similar to your homeland?
The environment in India, the way of life here, is in many ways like that of countries of Africa. There is a great similarity as far as culture is concerned – the norms and traditions are similar. In Zambia and in India, in towns, women are working in banks, participating in politics and more. But in the villages of both India and Zambia, the status or condition of women is the same. In an Indian village I saw women carrying firewood on their head. It happens in Zambia as well.

What do you like most about India?
As Zambia is a land surrounded by eight neighbours, it has been very mystical for me to see the Indian Ocean at close proximity, touch the water and walk in it. I like Indian dances, music, poetry and the variety of artefacts. I like Indian food.

What are the Indian elements that have found their way into your wardrobe?
I have bought a few kurtis and some Indian jewellery. I like the way of dressing. I like the sari, though, of course, when I buy one, I make a dress out of it. I am trying to get at least one or two ready-to-wear saris to take back home, as they will remind me of India.

What is it that you miss the most about Zambia when you are away?
I miss the African food. We have a hot porridge which we call nshima. It is more or less like sooji, but it is basically very thick. I also miss the leafy vegetables that we get back home. Also, most of us in Zambia are non-vegetarian. There are certain foods there that are not found here. But I have got acclimatised to India now. I eat chapattis with my meals and enjoy them.

One of the many facets that Zambia is known for is emeralds. What would you say is their unique appeal?
Our emeralds are a very deep green that makes them attractive to the eye. I feel that the gem is symbolic of nature. That is what makes it so appealing. If you look inside some of the other emeralds, you can see the lines and the crux. But the Zambian emerald is so deep-coloured, that you can only see the green sea. When you peer within it you can appreciate its beauty. Its colour seems to be talking to you.

An emerald gets named if it is special. What is the significance of the moniker, Inkalamu for the 5655-carat emerald??
Inkalamu means lion – it is one of the Big Five animals found in Africa. Just looking at its magnitude, you can see how this emerald can ‘roar’ back at you. This is a special emerald from Zambia that may go down in history, so that everyone knows where it has come from.

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