The United Progressive Party leader Saviour Chishimba has resurfaced with very interesting observations about what is happening in Zambia with regards Chinese investments. We find his description of the economic relationship between the two countries well simplified.
Of course, in his usual emotional way, the opposition leader went overboard, scandalising specific Chinese companies in a manner that could only be justified if he produced incriminating evidence to support his claims. Further, the UPP leader insinuated that it was very easy for the Chinese to wipe out the Zambian population using some unorthodox means, especially that citizens were drinking imported water. As punishment for bringing corruption to Zambia, the opposition leader demanded that the Chinese must be banished, and went ahead to incite citizens to rise against the Chinese people who are doing businesses in this country.
For a person of Mr Chishimba’s political experience and exposure, we would have expected him to be a little more careful when uttering sentiments that border on diplomatic relations. Considering that Mr Chishimba was old enough during Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s era, it would have been fair for him to outline what Zambia has benefitted from it’s love affair with China, and then point out where things have gone wrong.
We also think it was inconsiderate to suggest that Zambians must rise against the Chinese people in that unspecified manner because, if not properly understood, his remarks could denote a xenophobic suggestion – which we do not support. We feel when government critics are condemning the Chinese influx to Zambia, they must bear in mind the fact that thousands of Zambians arrive in the Asian country every month, for business activities. Some Zambians actually live in China permanently, for that matter.
But there is something else that Mr Chishimba observed which we loved so much. He poured his heart lamenting about how Zambia was losing its sovereignty to China.
“What we have is not Chinese influence, it’s beyond influence. China is ruling Zambia. Are you a professor, a marketeer, a young person, I want you to know that we have lost our sovereignty. There is state capture. China is controlling Zambia. How is China doing this? When you hear of the debts that we have contracted from China, the total is $30 billion. This money has not come into the coffers of Zambia. If it came in the coffers, you and I wouldn’t be struggling with cash issues today. But there is no money in Zambia,” said Chishimba.
“These Chinese; here is how they do it. They go to their government where they get the money, lets say they get a $10 billion facility, they don’t give that money to the Zambian government, its given to [a company like AVIC. Then AVIC comes to the Zambian government and tells them ‘give us the projects we are going to do it with our money, but at some point you will repay the money with interest’. Then they set the interest and inflate the costs by as much as 400 to 500 per cent. Who will pay, it’s the people of Zambia.”
Chishimba is right on that score. Zambia is fast being colonised by China. Our huge indebtedness and continued reliance on Sino-aid for infrastructure development is stripping the country of its pride and identity. The unmeasured preference for Chinese investment is questionable, especially given the corruption allegation that surround government contracts awarded to the “all weather” friends.
Top of China’s investment list is construction, but the money that is gladly received for development projects in Zambia, as in much of Africa, is no less than controversial. For the most part previously, this was due to the fact that human and environmental concerns were overlooked in the implementation of Chinese funded projects – as outlined in the 2011 Human Rights Watch report entitled “‘You’ll Be Fired If You Refuse”.
But today, we are faced with a totally different danger imposed by Chinese influence. The PF has sold Zambia’s soul to the Chinaman. If you see how the Chinese flag flies with pride at all major construction sites in the country, you would think Zambia is the new Shanghai, and since we can’t even read what they write on the signboards, we can only imagine that they are probably calling our country Shambiai by now. These people are here to develop and own vast pieces of land.
We feel the Chinese Embassy must be concerned about the cries of the Zambian people and send a message to Beijing, urging government to engage the private sector in that country to introspect on their business ethics. It shouldn’t come to a point where Zambia’s opposition political parties start inciting their supporters to rise against the Chinese people. How can it be that no day passes without a headline in the media reporting Chinese negativities?
No doubt, Zambia needs Chinese investment, but both countries must step back and see how the lack of transparency and human decency is eroding the long term relations of the two countries. Tomorrow, Zambia may wake up from slumber and a new regime may embark on a Zimbabwe-like land reform programme, that would see the Chinese losing all the land and property ‘donated’ to them by the PF. A possibility of that future should worry both Zambia and China.
But perhaps China has such a strong love potion which it feeds to African Presidents. We say this because we recall that in 2010 before being elected president, Michael Sata vowed to kick the Chinese out of Zambia because they were taking up small businesses meant for the poor majority of Zambians, and also abusing mineworkers. He made it a major campaign issue. But immediately he was elected into power, the first diplomatic luncheon he held at State House was for the Chinese. Sata U-turned and started praising the Chinese, saying: The Chinese are very good people, but when you give the Chinese a project without specifications, don’t blame the Chinese, blame yourself.”
Under President Edgar Lungu, government has taken the love affair with China to another level. They are not only corruptly awarding contracts to China, but they are defending and singing the Love Potion song for Chinese companies like Mafikizolo on radio and television. The effects of this juju love are all over.
In the eyes of China though, Zambia is nothing but a slay queen, and so they will continue pampering the country with imaginary money, while they squeeze out the juice. Those in government know that this is an abusive relationship, but it seems they can’t afford a break up and lose the fancy gifts which they are pocketing. They don’t mind getting us molested as long as China is bringing free Vaseline, in the name of interest-free loans, to ease the pain.