Saturday, June 24, 2017

Zambian Politics

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. Zambia has close trading links with Democratic Republic of Congo, especially the copper-rich Haut-Katanga Province in the southeast.
Zambian politicians operate as local agents of foreign capital. Big capital from the West and BRICS have coopted local politicians at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. They sold off national assets for a fraction of their value and brought taxation revenues and public spending to appalling lows. 
According to a 2015 report, the country is losing $3bn a year in tax dodging by multinational mining companies. Repeated attempts by successive governments to change this state of affairs have been neutralised by mining lobbies.
President Edgar Lungu could not have won the 2016 election without the support of former President Rupiah Banda, who led the exodus of powerful factions of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) into the PF ranks. The MMD was in power from 1991 to 2011. Banda has strong ties with big capital, and exerts considerable influence over government economic decisions.
Despite his recent anti-colonial rhetoric, Lungu himself has ordered the state's mining investment arm to drop a $2.3bn fraud court case against Canada-based mining company First Quantum Minerals. The dispute will be settled out of court.
The government is in negotiations with the IMF over a $1.3bn loan to avoid default on its public debt. The details of the deal have been kept outside public scrutiny, but the IMF's familiar rhetoric about fiscal discipline suggests hefty conditionalities. 
In recent years, Zambia and other African states borrowed heavily on the international bond markets. Since the commodity downturn in 2015, investors' confidence and state revenues have gone down, while interest on debt has gone up. Zambia risks losing the few strategic assets still under state control. The announced 75 percent electricity tariff rise will further aggravate the dire economic conditions of most people, who are struggling with mass unemployment caused by the contraction of the mining sector. Cuts to fuel subsidies are also in the cards.

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