The recent presidential elections in Zambia saw the emergence of a familiar face, Michael Sata, who was sworn in as the country’s new president after three failed attempts. This change in fortune for the former British Rail worker was largely down to his much-publicised stance on Chinese investment in Zambia, as he looks to put an end to the ease with which Chinese investors have torn through the country’s resources – particularly copper – over the last few years.
As the Telegraph’s Southern African correspondent Aislinn Laing put it, the former Zambian President Rupiah Banda “made life as easy as possible for the Chinese,” introducing policies that cut the windfall tax on mine earnings and other investor-friendly legislation. Sata’s anti-Chinese rhetoric, though less pronounced than in previous years, reflected the mood within the Zambian population, particularly the largely unemployed youth.
There are few places where its [China’s] presence is felt more than Zambia, where Chinese investment in agriculture and the country’s bountiful copper mines exceeded $1bn in 2010…The Chinese claim they have created as many as 150,000 new jobs and point to investments in infrastructure as proof they are giving back…But there have also been accusations that Chinese businessmen in Zambia act with impunity – and treat local workers badly with poor pay and working conditions. Anger boiled over into protests last year when two Chinese managers shot and injured 13 workers at a coal mine…With two thirds of Zambia’s population still living on less than $2 a day, dismay is growing at his [Banda’s] perceived failure to make the relationship work for his countrymen…Mr. Sata, although toning down his anti-Chinese rants for this election … has pledged to reinstate the windfall tax to combat the problem…The affect that pledge has had in some of the country’s poorest slums was evident yesterday, where crowds of youths rampaged through the streets ripping down posters of Mr. Banda and chanting for change.
Change is indeed what the Zambian population got, as the election, a supposed ‘referendum on China,’ saw Sata receive 43% of the votes, with Banda receiving 36%. Sata, as expected, has immediately begun his attempts to reduce Chinese exploitation of his copper-rich country. He announced that China would have to play by the rules, through employing more Zambian workers and limiting the number of people the Chinese investors bring to Zambia.
This leaves the door open to continued Chinese investment in Zambia, and with Sata in charge, the African country might be able to strike a more balanced deal with Chinese companies, and better use the promise of Chinese investment to improve the lives of its people.