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Zambia’s political crisis is not just about democracy

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Check out my latest piece on the ongoing Zambian political crisis, published today in Al Jazeera English.

Here are some extracts:

“[Zambia] is the world’s seventh largest copper producer. This metal is essential to economic development in the global North and BRICS. While Chinese investment is growing, the main player in the Zambian mining sector is white capital from South Africa and the West.

There are considerable reserves of uranium, a mineral in high demand with the increase of civilian nuclear energy projects around the world. Uranium is of strategic interest to global superpowers, as fears of global conflict fuel debates about propping up nuclear arsenals.”

“Zambia, like the rest of Africa, needs a new deal to recover its stolen wealth parked in tax havens around the world. Big capital from the West and BRICS have coopted local politicians at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. The priorities should be nationalisation and redistribution programmes.

Zambia cannot go at it alone. There is a need for a strong African Union and regional alliances to fend off the rule of foreign capital. The popularity of similar proposals in the West – for instance, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Manifesto in Britain – can be harnessed to normalise African demands.”

Another eurobond for Zambia, is it sustainable?

Yesterday, Zambia borrowed another US$1.25bn at 9.375% interest rate, much higher than the previous two eurobonds in 2012 and 2014 – which are now also facing higher interest rate repayments, over market doubts about the sustainability of Zambian public debt.

The problem is not so much the debt per se, but the lack of clear plans for repayments, and what the borrowed money is spent on. There is no doubt that previous eurobonds have had some positive redistributive effects in the economy and that significant infrastructure development (especially roads) has been achieved. But there are still concerns about how much of the money has been spent to finance personal and party interests, diverted from much needed public service improvements for the benefit of all Zambians. The danger with this latest payment is that is simply going to fuel an unstable government intent on distributing money for short-term electoral purposes – general elections for parliament and a new president will be held in little more than a year.

If Zambia doesn’t make a plan, this amount of exposure makes it vulnerable to painful restructuring, austerity and resource grabbing by creditors in the near future – as the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently, the Greek crisis remind us. Full repayment for the first eurobond is scheduled for 2022. Peter Sinkamba, presidential candidate for the Green Party, does well by opening up the discussion on his Facebook page today. Other presidential candidates and parties should follow suit.