By Mwansa Prospery Chalwe Snr
The vanquished Patriotic Front (PF) party’s campaign was partly based on depicting Hakainde Hichilema (HH) as a representative of Western interests. He was falsely accused of intending to sale the country’s resources to the West once he gains political power. This was a very a disingenuous claim by the PF. They conveniently forgot that under their watch, Zambia had borrowed heavily from China (30% of foreign debt) and the country is in fact currently beholden to China. And to his credit, HH did not bite the bait, and for the first time since 2001 or thereabouts, there was no Chinese bashing on the campaign trail by the main opposition in Zambia, as a populist strategy. This has put HH in very good position to talk to President XI Jinping in order to reset Zambia-China relationship on an even keel so as to ensure that it becomes indeed a win-win situation unlike now.
In recent years, the geopolitical and economic rivalry between the United States and China has reached fever pitch, and African political leaders have to be very careful on how they handle their relationship with the two super powers. China and Africa are soon to hold their three year cooperation conference, the Forum on China – Africa Cooperation ( FOCAC) next month, September, in Dakar Senegal. This is a MUST attend conference for HH because it provides him with an opportunity to meet all 54 African heads of state as well as to meet President Xi Jinping of China so soon after taking over power. It will be a great blunder if HH decided to skip such a conference.
In this article, I will discuss the issue of the sort of relationship that Zambia should have with the two super powers – US and China- and provide some advice to the HH administration on how to handle this very delicate and sensitive issue.
From the outset, it should be clear that the answer to the question as to which country and economic development model Zambia should choose between the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus; the answer is a straight: neither of them. Zambia needs both. The two countries- China and the US – and their economic systems bring different positive aspects which are beneficial to Zambia and could facilitate its development. The two countries should not necessarily be in open conflict in Zambia as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed on her visit to Zambia, on a five nation tour of Africa in June 2011.
“The United States does not see these Chinese interest as inherently incompatible with our own”, Clinton said. “ We are , however, concerned that China’s foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance, and that it has not always utilized the talents of African people in pursuit its business interests.”
The researchers Larry Hanauer and Lyle Morris of Rand Corporation in the United States share the same view with Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they stated the following in their paper: “ U.S and China goals in Africa do not necessarily conflict, and the engagement of both economic powers could be advantageous to Africa.”
In relation with the United States, the HH administration should continue and even improve the relations with them which were severely damaged by the Lungu
administration through the expulsion of the former Ambassador Daniel Foote for condemning corruption and human rights abuses. Zambia stands to continue to benefit from the massive aid that it receives from the United States of about $500million per year. Zambians will also benefit from the democracy and human rights support that the US champions and intends to improve further as per recent pronouncements by Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken. The PF administration under former President Lungu, was an emerging dictatorship without doubt. Zambians have overwhelmingly ditched authoritarianism in 1991 when they got rid of late President Kaunda’s UNIP dictatorship. And now, again they have shown PF and former President Lungu the door by rejecting their dictatorial tendencies and economic mismanagement. Zambians have long chosen multiparty democracy as their political system due to the country’s diversity. There is no question about that. The United States is, therefore, urged to lend more support to civil society in Zambia to strengthen our democracy. The U.S can help, for example, with reforms such as converting the seemingly compromised Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), which is always perceived to be beholden to any Party in power into a truly independent body as is the case in South Africa in order to reduce election disputes.
In view of the United States’ intention of resetting its economic policy towards Africa as per its Strategic Competition Act 2021which is meant to facilitate competition with China in Africa, one hopes that U.S companies will now be attracted to Zambia and compete with Chinese Companies. The business competition between the United States and China on Zambian soil can benefit us in so many ways. The benefits include Zambia being able to negotiate better commercial deals with the respective foreign investors rather than being beholden to one or the other. It may be quite possible that if more US companies were involved in Zambia, for example, they are likely to be engaged in different business practices based on western values, such as employment of locals for skilled and unskilled positions, transfer industrial technologies to local partners, engage in more humane working conditions, and contribute to initiatives that promote the health and welfare of their workforce. Consequently, it is most likely that such civilized business practices could encourage the more than 600 Chinese enterprises in Zambia to emulate the Americans in order to secure deals, compete in the local labour and consumer markets.
In far as China is concerned, Zambia should continue with the excellent government to government relationship that exists but the new administration should double down on its economic cooperation with China by ensuring that ordinary Zambians benefit from the cooperation.
If HH and the UPND alliance wants to fast track the country’s economic recovery, the main road should lead to Beijing. China offers two massive opportunities to Zambia in terms of Capital and Market. The impression one gets is that the former PF administration’s dealings with China were anchored on graft and personal benefits to the Zambian leaders and those connected to them, rather than ordinary Zambians. There are immediate, short term, medium term and long term economic strategies that the UPND alliance can adopt in relation to China that are beyond the scope of this article. I could share such opportunities based on the knowledge acquired during my extensive research while writing my recent book :China-West Battleground in Africa: Debt Ridden Zambia.
It is very clear from the above analysis that Zambia should cooperate with both the United States of America and China as it stands to benefit by facilitating its development because the two bring different but complementary menus to the table. As at present, the US is playing a critical role in providing Aid to Zambia and should in fact increase its involvement in Zambia through the promotion of democracy and human rights. On the economic front, it will be up to the private sector in the US to make decisions whether to invest or not as government cannot force them. On the other hand, Zambia and China should continue with its cooperation but recalibrate the relationship so that the economic cooperation results in poverty alleviation and genuine win-win situation unlike now when it is lopsided. Chinese capital and market provides a massive opportunity for the UPND alliance to exploit to speed up economic recovery.
This article comprises a few excerpts from my recent book whose link is below
CHINA-WEST BATTLEGROUND IN AFRICA: DEBT RIDDEN ZAMBIA: Why U.S. May Lose Geo-Economic Competition to China https://www.amazon.com/dp/B097DVXBKH/ref=cm_sw_r_wa_api_glt_7PR5H7YBZZ14FCDNT54Y
The writer is a retired Chartered Accountant and Author. He is a financial commentator and Analyst, and an Op-Ed Contributor to the Hong Kong based, Alibaba owned, South China Morning Post (SCMP). Contact: [email protected]