Politicians have a long history of embarrassing themselves on trips to foreign lands. Boris Yeltsin famously offended his hosts in Ireland in 1994 when he refused to get off his plane at Shannon airport. The Russian president suggested afterwards that he had simply ‘overslept’ – an excuse the Irish Press suggested should be taken with ‘a large measure of vodka’.
But even if a legless Yeltsin was unable to meet the Irish Taoiseach that day, one hopes at least that he knew which country he was offending. The same cannot be said of Britain’s Africa minister, James Duddridge, who was in Zambia this week to attend the funeral of the country’s founding president and liberation leader, Kenneth Kaunda, who died last month.
Speaking at the ceremony, the minister extolled the virtues of Kaunda, whom he described as a ‘great man, an African hero, and a highly respected friend of the United Kingdom who helped end apartheid in South Africa and was firmly committed to the Commonwealth.’
Duddridge went on to say that, ‘today the United Kingdom mourns Dr Kaunda’s passing alongside his family, the people of Zimbabwe and indeed the wider world.’
Only unfortunately for the Africa minister, he was not in Zimbabwe, but neighbouring Zambia. Oops.
The gaffe was certainly noticed at the event, with the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa seen almost clutching his head in his hands.
A top tip for the minister: make sure to bring an atlas the next time you travel.