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.”
In a controversial decision that left many shocked and confused, yesterday the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) judges ruled 3 to 2 that the opposition petition should be dismissed without hearing. This reversed the previous ruling on Friday night that gave the petitioners and the respondents two days each to present their arguments.
The ruling disregards the right to a fair hearing and leaves a huge rift unhealed, as the opposition party UPND and their candidate Hichilema were not allowed to make their case after a hotly contested election characterised by political violence, major curbs on media freedom and striking irregularities in the counting process. The opposition rejected the ruling and Hichilema mentioned yesterday that he might try to move the case to the High Court. The constitution however does not provide any other avenue beyond the ConCourt to challenge the presidential election results.
This leaves a legal and political void, because no due process has taken place to allow the two main parties to begin a process of reconciliation, and to reassure Zambians that a peaceful and democratic environment will be restored.
President Lungu has decided to press on with his systematic attack on the rule of law, and continued to put pressure on the ConCourt judges until they gave in. Lungu was not willing to let the law take its course. He is set on consolidating his grip over state power, and is showing no willingness to negotiate with anybody who disagrees with him, or represents different interests and views.
With the main independent media shut down, the opposition party silenced, and the constant threats sent by State House and the PF supporters in the streets, Zambians who have a different view of how politics should be run will not be able to voice their concerns freely and without fear. The uncertainty and instability that marked the last few months are only likely to increase.
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.
In a comment on my Facebook wall, geographer Emmanuel Nuesiri brings in an important African perspective on the struggles against austerity in Greece and the choices in the Greek referendum: “It’s amazing to see how the structural adjustment programmes which did much damage in Africa has come full circle to Europe. The Greeks are in for a lot of pain any way they vote. Voting no may be best in the long-term. Best wishes to fellow citizens of planet Earth.”
Emmanuel makes a crucial reference to the story of rapid structural adjustment of the 1980s and 1990s (and in many ways, ongoing still today) in Africa – something people familiar with recent African history know well. Yet, what is so striking looking at this from Europe is that this basic fact has actually not been considered in the discussions – in fact, one struggles to hear it even in circles that are supporting radical change against austerity. The lesson should be clear: there is nothing to gain for people by continuing on the path of austerity.
Greece is key in the global struggle against austerity – and certainly will set the pace of events in the rest of Europe in the short-term. The country has been broken by structural adjustment, and quickly – the situation it now finds in is not so different in terms of methods and effects from the rapid privatisation and social collapse experienced for instance in Zambia in the 1990s.
Despite this, there is a palpable fear that the alternatives will be worst than sticking to the planned ‘death’ proposed by the creditors. It is this fear that the neoliberal regime of technocrats and capitalists are feeding, evoking catastrophic scenarios – as if the current state of affairs is somewhat not ‘catastrophic’ enough.
After the bold move of calling a referendum, let’s hope Tsipras and the Greek government don’t give in to the destructive proposals of the creditors. Let’s also hope that there will be a critical mass in Greece holding them accountable if they betray their mandate, even if out of fear and driven by good intentions.