Africa’s largest copper producer has elected and sworn in a new president, “anti-China” candidate Michael Sata. During his campaign, Sata accused Chinese mining companies of exploitation, while decrying the corruption and inequality that mining-led development has fostered. From The Wall Street Journal:
The victory of Mr. Sata, who ran unsuccessfully for president in three previous elections, comes after his campaign seized on Zambians’ frustration with Chinese investment in their country.
Mr. Banda, the 74-year-old incumbent, has welcomed capital from China and other countries as a way to create jobs and bolster the country’s currency. Chinese companies have invested heavily in mining and have set up two special investment zones in Zambia.
But Mr. Sata railed at what he said were abusive Chinese labor practices in the mining sector. There have been at least two incidents of managers at Chinese mines shooting protesting Zambian workers.
Mr. Sata’s party also argued that the country’s economic growth has passed over most Zambians, and that the majority lack the income to buy a balanced diet for their family. He has said he wants to review ways to raise tax revenue from Zambia’s mines and reduce government reliance on foreign aid.
While Sata has dropped threats to deport Chinese investors, his victory has created an atmosphere of uncertainty amid fears that he may now revert to a harder line. From Reuters, who reported a modest slide in the Zambian kwacha in response to the news:
“Right now there’s a bit of uncertainty about what changes in policy we’re going to see with Sata,” said Coura Fall, an Africa analyst at Citi in Johannesburg.
“The kwacha will continue to be vulnerable, at least until there’s clarity about what’s going to happen. Everybody is trying to see what Sata is really about.”
France 24’s Eric Olander tweeted soothingly:
Sata is a smart guy & will likely not do anything to jeopardize Chinese investment, [but that] doesn’t mean he won’t freak out investors.
Despite allegations of vote-rigging and some impatient violence, EU observers reported that it was a “free, fair and transparent” election, which others have suggested could stand as an example to other African nations. From The Wall Street Journal:
“Banda’s smooth handover of power shows good and mature leadership,” said Alex Ngoma, president of the Foundation for Democratic Process, a civil society group in Zambia. “We hope other African leaders can emulate his magnanimousness.”
Indeed, some analysts say the small landlocked nation in southern African has set an encouraging example ahead of what are likely to be tumultuous votes in the Democratic Republic of Congo in November and, possibly next year, Zimbabwe, where political parties are locked in a fractious coalition resulting from a bloody 2008 election.
“This is extremely positive sign for the region and the Zambian political experience,” said Piers Pigou, southern Africa project director in Johannesburg for the International Crisis Group.