Welcome to 2023! This article advocates 50/50 ownership of the coming Electrical Vehicle Battery (EVB) venture; to be anchored on the cobalt metal located in Zambia and Congo D. R. The proposal is that the cobalt deposits be Zambia’s equity contribution. The article does not suggest nationalization which as a policy, failed before in this country. However, this is a matter concerning our heritage and ultimately our sovereignty. It does not, therefore, fall for seeking consent from the World Bank, the IMF or other cooperating partners. Parliament, I pray, should view it as a bipartisan matter, not otherwise. The author is a Zambian, writing from the experience of how FDI has in the past and present, captured the copper mines in Zambia for own gain, against the state, and locked the mines into perpetual bondage; through tax evasion, VAT refunds and inflated costs of production. The author prays that cobalt, especially under the coming EVB venture will not suffer the same fate. The case for 50/50 ownership equity in a strategic resource, was already made and settled in similar circumstances by the Republic of Botswana-the Diamond Mines- with the Oppenheimers; in this neighbourhood. Two related aspects of political economy are briefly discussed below; to buttress the germane point.
Liberalization– it came with a bang, in the early 1990s. A good development, as it brought about freedom of choice and relative price stability, away from the stressful shortages of the time, under the watch of the UNIP government. However, the complexion of the present liberalization does not, in economic terms, benefit a weak economy with weak production base such as Zambia. The other side of this same coin is this: overwhelming imports, whether from China or from ‘Western Democracies’ take away our jobs regardless. This is a well-researched fact. Therefore, Zambia should not fail to locally produce and target self-sufficiency; and thereby reduce imports especially in the following areas; fish, beef, pineapples, citrus fruits and staple grains and cereals. That target once achieved, will be very beneficial to the economy of our country; taking the gaze of food security and cutting down on imports, to make essential savings.
The Mining Industry – Here Zambia should learn from history; (not about Adolf Hitler or “Splendid Isolation”), but about the copper mines operating in the country. According to Zambian veteran Journalist and business mogul Andrew Sardanis (1934-2021), copper has proven to be our boon (blessing) and our bane (curse). Read chapter 30 of his third book: “Zambia The First 50 Years” (2014). Sardanis arrived at that conclusion after he researched and established several corporate shenanigans which he published in the foresaid chapter. In there, he depicts the copper mining industry which is entirely in private hands, as a place where the Gospel of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is preached, while the aberrations of tax evasion, inflated costs of production and patriation thrive; via creative accounting, against the spirit and letter of the Laws of Zambia. Two years earlier than Sardanis’ book, the Times Of Zambia Newspaper of 19th December 2012, reported a relevant story. It said: “Washington- based group Global Financial Integrity (GTI), has disclosed that Zambia in the last 10 years has lost more than $8.8billion, through corruption and tax evasion. The lost money, most of which can be traced to multinational copper mining operations, is equivalent to almost half of Zambia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)”. The same issue of the Times of Zambia, quoted then Deputy Minister of Finance; Miles Sampa. “Mr. Sampa has accused multinational mining companies of using legal tax avoiding measures to escape $2 billion a year in taxes”.
Naturally, Zambians are entitled to ask; will the Cobalt Electric Vehicle Battery (EVB) venture suffer the same fate under the FDI? Will the venture be bondaged the same way as the copper mines, applying the colonial doctrine of “partus sequiter ventrem”? (Latin) –a daughter or son of an enslaved woman would themselves be born enslaved. Here again, a good reminder of the English saying; “once beaten twice shy”!
The above history teaches us that as Zambia proceeds to license more mines to open and operate on our soil, both the GRZ and citizens must be very alert! There is a saying in Lunda; “Sambila kunyinka, mukwenu wandimbili”. The saying is equivalent to “once beaten, twice shy’’. For example, we should not vilify those of our nationals who hold the view that the cutthroat privatization agenda undertaken in Zambia in the period 1992- 1996, was only overtly justified by some loss-making parastatals; while the real objective was for outsiders to wrestle control of our copper mines from nationalist custodians (KK in power and his Comrades). The protagonists further argue that while that was acquiesced here, what transpired in the Arab world in 1973 is the correct economic panacea. In September 1973 the nationalization of the Middle Eastern oilfields cracked open the oligopolistic system that had been carefully built and nurtured by the companies called; Seven Sisters for decades. As OPEC nations seized control of their oilfields, they diverted the flow of petrodollars from the companies coffers to their own. Again, away from nationalization, here I am advocating 50/50 ownership in the coming/historical EVB venture, to be anchored on Zambian and Congo D. R. cobalt. The two countries should aspire for cobaltdollars, and become cobaltstates, by keeping 50% ownership of the venture and the attendant wealth. The Republic of Botswana, under President Khama (Senior), ably negotiated and secured a 50/50 ownership deal in the Diamond Mines; with the Oppenheimers! The secret for achieving and sustaining this, lies in what Zambia and Congo D. R. can learn from Botswana. And by the way, Botswana is still a darling of both the Oppenheimers and ‘Western Democracies’! There is no Earthly reason therefore, why Zambia and Congo D. R. cannot do the same. Enough Of Being Rentier States.
The Author is a social chronicler of events of national importance. Contact: 0972947972