“China equals Hitler” said the sign held up in the Zambian capital Lusaka by a protester opposed to Beijing’s tightening grip on the economy of the southern African nation.
The demonstrator, James Lukuku, who leads a small political party, was picked up by police and spent several hours in a cell reflecting on his one-man protest.
But he is not alone in opposing China’s growing presence in President Edgar Lungu’s Zambia and in particular its major programme of loans to Lusaka.
In fact his criticism echoes concerns shared by many across swathes of Africa and beyond, where some fear that China’s mega-projects risk leaving already fragile economies in even worse shape.
“I want to bring to the attention of the international community the Chinese influence and corruption in Zambia,” said Lukuku who wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan #sayno2China.
China is the main investor in Zambia as it is in several other African countries and with its offers of “unconditional” aid, most public tenders are awarded to Chinese bidders.
In Lusaka and across the country, China is busy constructing airports, roads, factories and police stations with the building boom largely funded by Chinese loans.
‘These criminal debts’
“China is about to take everything from Zambia. They have taken over our economy through these criminal debts. This government is contracting debts from China even without parliamentary approval,” said Lukuku.
Zambian public debt is officially around $10.6 billion but suspicions have grown in recent months that the government is hiding its indebtedness — as happened in neighbouring Mozambique, which in 2016 was forced to admit it had kept secret $2 billion of borrowing.
Fearing that Zambia might be in a similar position, the International Monetary Fund at one point delayed talks over a $1.3 billion loan deal.
The slump in the price of copper, Zambia’s leading export, has led to fears that Lusaka might even struggle to service its existing debt.
Lukuku and his supporters believe that the state is on the verge of handing control of the Zesco national electricity company, Lusaka airport and the ZNBC state broadcaster to China.
Stung by the criticism that he was selling out to China, Lungu has hit back at critics.
“I implore you to ignore the misleading headlines that seek to malign our relationship with China by mischaracterising our economic cooperation to mean colonialism,” Lungu told lawmakers recently.
‘The dominance of Chinese’
Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe has also come out to insist that, in the first half of 2018, $342 million was paid in interest to creditors, of which 53 percent were commercial sector — and only 30 percent of which were Chinese.
But the country’s main opposition party has put China’s debt dominance at the forefront of its campaign to unseat the government.
Opposition figure Stephen Katuka warned against the “rate Zambia is entertaining Chinese nationals which are displacing Zambians through big financial offers”.
Katuka, who is the secretary general of the United Party for National Development, described the replacement of Zambian workers with Chinese labourers — as is customary on Chinese-run projects — as “a time bomb”.
“If this situation is allowed to degenerate, it may lead to aggression on foreign nationals,” he added.
There have been several high profile incidents of Chinese managers allegedly mistreating their Zambian workers.
“In some instances the Chinese are beating Zambians in places of work for simply failing to follow instructions,” said Katuka.
Typically reclusive, China’s ambassador to Lusaka Lie Jie was drawn into the growing furore to defend Beijing’s intentions.
“I feel strange when I hear we want to colonise Africa,” he told journalists recently, categorically denying that China was seeking to buy Zambia’s publicly-owned companies.
Economist and head of Zambia’s Private Sector Development Association Yosuf Dodia told AFP that Chinese investment should be seen as an opportunity not a burden.
“Zambia has been dominated by the West for 100 years… and we are seeing poverty all over the continent,” he said.
“The partnership level is around $10 billion — and that is good. There is no other country that offers those kinds of opportunities.”
The benefit of such vast investment is not always felt on the ground, however.
“I am not happy with the dominance of Chinese contractors. In the first place, the money that they get from these contracts is externalised and all that they return here are meagre wages,” said Edgar Syakachoma, himself a contractor.
“Let the government also give us the contracts so that they benefit Zambians.”
Angolan and Zambian held the symbolic launch of the visa-free agreement for ordinary passports holders of both countries.
The ceremony held in Luanda, presided over by the Secretary of State for Interior, José Bamóquina Zau, was attended by the Zambian ambassador, Lawrance Chalungumona, and Foreign Affairs Secretaries, Tete António, and Tourism, José Alves Primo.
The Zambian diplomat declared that the symbolic act represents the opening of the two-way doors for a closer relationship between Zambia and Angola. The implementation of this process, will allow Zambians and Angolans to travel without needing to apply for entry visas, have been created in their country added .
While the secretary, José Bamóquina Zau, recalled the importance of the excellent relations of cooperation between the Ministries of Interior of the two countries, which also extend to the agreement of extradition or exchange of prisoners and others. The bilateral agreement on visa waiver in ordinary passports, signed last May, applies to nationals of both countries for holidays, tourism, family visits, private business, as well as official or transit visits.
The visa waiver agreement allows a stay in the visited territory for a period of 30 extendable days, not to exceed 90 days per year.
Zambia did not sign the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as it was still conducting internal negotiations on some protocols in the agreement, a Zambian official said Thursday.
On Wednesday, 44 African countries signed the agreement to launch the AfCFTA during an extraordinary summit of the African Union (AU) in Kigali, Rwanda.
Zambia's foreign minister Joseph Malanji said Zambia only signed the African Free Trade Area Declaration and not the agreement. He said in a statement that Zambia had negotiated the protocol on goods and services and the dispute settlement mechanism, while the remaining protocols, including on trade competition, investment and the intellectual property, were yet to be negotiated.
The minister, however, said the signing of the declaration shows that Zambia stands with all other African countries in the quest to improve intra-Africa trade.
Meanwhile, Zambia's commerce, trade and industry minister Christopher Yaluma said in the same statement that Zambia will not sign the protocol on the free movement of people as the country was not ready for it.
He said the government would only engage in treaties that had a positive bearing on Zambian people especially the youth and women. The decision to form the AfCFTA was adopted in January 2012 during the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU while negotiations were launched by the AU in 2015.
The AfCFTA was aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services with free movement of businesses and investments. According to the AU, this will pave the way for the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union. The AfCFTA could create an Africa market of over 1.2 billion people with a GDP of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars.
The agreement, after being signed, will be submitted for ratification by state parties before it can enter into force.
AU targets to ensure effective implementation of continental free trade area within one year
The African Union (AU) targets to start implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) within a year, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga has said.
The implementation of the AfCFTA requires at least 22 countries to ratify the agreement to establish the free trade area, Muchanga told Xinhua on the sidelines of the 10th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU on the AfCFTA on Wednesday.
Forty-four African countries signed the agreement on the AfCFTA during the one-day extraordinary session in Kigali, capital city of Rwanda. The agreement will be submitted for ratification by state parties in accordance with their domestic laws.
"Our target is to ensure that within a year, a minimum number of 22 African countries have ratified the AfCFTA for its effective implementation," said Muchanga.
"After, we shall have a comprehensive plan for the AfCFTA that outlines what topics will be discussed and reviewed during the AfCFTA implementation," he said, adding that these will include among others discussions on tariff reductions to ensure smooth trading under the continental free trade area.
The decision to form the AfCFTA was adopted in January 2012 during the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU while AfCFTA negotiations were launched by the AU in 2015.
The AfCFTA is aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services with free movement of businesses and investments. This, according to the AU, will pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union.
Vehicles using the Victoria Falls bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia will have to pay up to $30 in toll fees from next year, as the two countries say they need to raise funds to maintain the facility.
The two neighbours share the 110 year old bridge, whose maintenance is carried out by the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and Zambia Railways (ZR). In a statement, issued on Friday the Emerged Railways Properties, a joint company owned by NRZ and ZR said the toll fees will come into effect from January 1.
“Following the enactment of Statutory Instrument 171 of 2012 in terms of Section 6 of the Toll Roads Act (Chapter 13:13) published in the government gazette dated 2 November 2012, all motorists traversing the Zambia-Zimbabwe border of Victoria Falls are hereby notified the Emerged Railways Properties will commence the collection of Toll Fees for the use of the Victoria Falls Bridge effective 1 January 2017,” the statement reads.
The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RATSA) will collect the fees on behalf of the two governments at the two border posts and entry points to the bridge. Haulage trucks will pay $30 while buses and mini buses which are mostly used by tour operators on a daily basis will fork out $7 and $5 per entry respectively.
Heavy vehicles will part with $10 while taxis and small vehicles below two tonnes will be exempted, according to the statement. The bridge, said ERP in the statement, is key to the socio-economic life of both countries as well as the SADC region hence the need for regular maintenance for it to cope with increasing levels of traffic.
“It is against this background that the government of Zambia and Zimbabwe have resolved to put in place the requisite legal instrument for the tolling of the bridge. The Victoria Falls toll fees will be used specifically for the refurbishment and maintenance of the bridge in order to guarantee its long term existence.”
The bridge was constructed in 1905 by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company and is the gateway to the Sadc region.
Listed beverages manufacturer Delta Corporation, (Delta), says it is set to acquire a controlling stake in Lusaka Stock Exchange-listed sorghum beer company, National Breweries Plc (NatBrew), from its parent firm, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV (AB InBev).
Company secretary Alex Makamure said while the acquisition was still subject to regulatory approvals, the board was optimistic of prospects.
“The entity is being acquired from Heinrich’s Syndicate, a subsidiary of AB InBev…,” he said.
NatBrew is a leading sorghum beer producer in Zambia whose products are marketed under the Chibuku brand.
“The impact of this transaction is currently being determined but is not material for Delta,” Makamure said.
Delta, an associate of Belgian brewer AB InBev, reported that it’s sorghum beer volumes for the quarter to September had gone down three percent on the back of Zimbabwe’s cash shortages.
Delta’s revenue for the second quarter was up one percent on prior comparable period.
- The Source
MINISTER of Transport and Communications Brian Mushimba says the establishment of a national airline is the surest way for Zambians to appreciate Government’s massive investments in the aviation sector.
And Mr Mushimba has brokered an agreement between Zambia Railways Limited and its former employees who retired in 1992, 1995 and 1998 for the payment of about K44 million to those who were underpaid.
In an interview at the ongoing Zambia International Trade Fair in Ndola on Saturday, Mr Mushimba said he is happy with the US$1.7 billion infrastructure investment spread across the Zambian aviation space because it is in line with Government’s vision of ensuring that Zambia becomes a transport hub in the region.
“That’s why we want to establish our own national airline because we don’t want to be like that person who will build a nice garage only for the neighbours to come and park their cars there,” he said.
Mr Mushimba said his ministry is actively looking at the best option in terms of how the national airline will be operated.
Credit: Lusaka Times
The speaker of the Zambian National Assembly, Patrick Matibini, has suspended 48 opposition legislators for 30 days as a punishment for unauthorised absence from the parliament. Their offence? To have been missing for President Edgar Lungu’s state of the nation address in March.
The suspension of the MPs does not come as a great surprise. Hardliners from the ruling Patriotic Front have been pushing for something along these lines for some time. The ruling party was quick to try and disassociate itself from the Speaker’s actions. But, as Zambian commentators have pointed out, the action fits into a broader web of measures designed to intimidate those who question the president’s authority.
The most significant was the arrest of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who remains in jail on trumped up treason charges.
While the latest development in Zambia’s growing political crisis doesn’t come as a shock, it will disappoint those who were hoping that Lungu would be persuaded to moderate his position. Instead, it appears that the International Monetary Fund’s decision to go ahead with a bail out package despite the government’s democratic failings has emboldened the president to pursue an authoritarian strategy.
As a result, a swift resolution to the current political standoff seems unlikely.
Roots of the crisis
For some time Zambia was considered to be one of the more competitive democracies in Africa. But a period of backsliding under Lungu has raised concerns that the country’s inclusive political culture is under threat. The current impasse stems from the controversial elections in 2016 when Lungu won a narrow victory that remains contested by the opposition United Party for National Development.
Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development, has stated that his party will not recognise the legitimacy of Lungu’s victory until its electoral petition against the results is heard in court. The initial petition was rejected by the Constitutional Court. But its decision was made in a way that had all the hallmarks of a whitewash. The UPND subsequently appealed to the High Court. Hichilema’s decision to make his party’s recognition of the president conditional on the petition being heard was designed both as an act of defiance, and as a means to prevent the government from simply sweeping electoral complaints under the carpet.
Until the court case is resolved, the opposition is committed to publicly challenging the president’s mandate by doing things like boycotting his addresses to parliament. In response, members of the ruling party have accused the United Party for National Development of disrespect and failing to recognise the government’s authority. It is this that appears to lie behind Hichilema’s arrest on treason charges.
The suspension of United Party for National Development legislators needs to be understood against this increasingly authoritarian backdrop. It is one of a number of steps taken by those aligned to the government that are clearly designed to intimidate people who don’t fall into line. Other strategies include public condemnation of the government’s critics and proposals to break-up the influential Law Society of Zambia.
Efforts by the president’s spokesman to disassociate the regime from the suspensions have been unpersuasive. The official line of the ruling party is that the speaker of parliament is an independent figure and that he made the decision on the basis of the official rules. It’s true that the speaker and the parliamentary committee on privileges, absences and support services have the right to reprimand legislators for being absent without permission.
Nonetheless the argument is disingenuous for two reasons. The speaker is known to be close to the ruling party, a fact that prompted Hichilema to call for his resignation earlier this year. And the committee’s decisions are clearly driven by the Patriotic Front because it has more members from it than any other party.
The claim that the suspension was not government-led lacks credibility. This is clear from the fact that Patriotic Front MPS have been the most vocal in calling for action to be taken against boycotting United Party for National Development MPs.
IMF lifeline for Lungu
There are different perspectives on the crisis in Zambia. Some people invoke the country’ history of more open government to argue that Lungu will moderate his position once the government feels that the opposition has been placed on the back foot. Others identify a worrying authoritarian trajectory that began under the presidency of the late Michael Sata. They conclude that things are likely to get worse before they get better.
One of the factors that opposition leaders hoped might persuade President Lungu to release Hichilema and move discussions back from the police cell to the negotiating chamber was the government’s desperate need for an economic bail out. Following a period of bad luck and bad governance, Zambia faces a debt crisis. Without the assistance of international partners, the government is likely to go bankrupt. This would increase public dissatisfaction with the Patriotic Front and undermine Lungu’s hopes of securing a third term.
But the willingness of the IMF to move towards the completion of a $1.2 billion rescue package suggests that authoritarian backsliding is no barrier to international economic assistance. In turn, IMF support appears to have emboldened the government to continue its efforts to intimidate its opponents.
IMF officials, of course, will point out that they are not supposed to take political conditions into account and that their aim is to create a stronger economy that will benefit all Zambians. This may be true, but the reality is that by saving the Lungu government financially the IMF is also aiding it politically. Whatever its motivation, the agreement will be interpreted by many on the ground as tacit support for the Patriotic Front regime, strengthening Lungu’s increasingly authoritarian position.