President Levy Mwanawasa has been jeered by UNZA students angered by the sale of shares in the state bank Zanaco to a foreign buyer, witnesses said on Saturday.
Mwanawasa, who has come under fire for his economic policies, was booed by University of Zambia students late on Friday when he visited the campus to lay a foundation stone for the construction of more hostels.
“The students jeered the president over the sale of Zanaco (Zambia National Commercial Bank). It was so embarrassing that at one point he was forced to stop speaking,” said a witness.
“The students shouted that it was shameful for the president to agree to International Monetary Fund (IMF) proposals to sell Zanaco shares to a foreign bank.”
Earlier this month some 4,000 protesters demanded the government set aside IMF proposals for tax increases and the reversal of the sale of 49 percent of shares in Zanaco to Rabobank of the Netherlands.
Zambia’s economic growth has accelerated in recent years thanks to an increase in copper production and prices as well as the strength of the agricultural sector. It has also won praise from Western governments for prudent economic policies.
But Mwanawasa has battled a growing public perception that his strong fiscal record has done little to benefit most of the 10 million people in the copper-rich nation.
Poverty remains widespread and critics say Zambia should be reaping bigger benefit from its resources.
Mwanawasa narrowly won a second five-year term last year in a campaign which largely revolved around economic policy.
The sale of Zanaco shares was part of a larger government drive to privatise some state assets under a programme agreed with the IMF.
The privately-owned influential Post newspaper carried a front-page photograph of students demonstrating at the university.
“I and my ministers have listened to you and I do not expect you to interrupt me when I am speaking. I came here to (state) the long term measures and I can only (speak) if you listen to me,” the Post quoted Mwanawasa as telling the students.
University students in Zambia have regularly carried out protests over what they say is the government’s failure to improve their allowances and construct more hostels amid regular strikes by lecturers demanding better pay.