‘Say no to China’: Anger mounts in Zambia over Beijing’s presence

“China equals Hitler” said the sign held up in the Zambian capital Lusaka by a protester opposed to Beijing’s tightening grip on the economy of the southern African nation.


The demonstrator, James Lukuku, who leads a small political party, was picked up by police and spent several hours in a cell reflecting on his one-man protest.

But he is not alone in opposing China’s growing presence in President Edgar Lungu’s Zambia and in particular its major programme of loans to Lusaka.

In fact his criticism echoes concerns shared by many across swathes of Africa and beyond, where some fear that China’s mega-projects risk leaving already fragile economies in even worse shape.

“I want to bring to the attention of the international community the Chinese influence and corruption in Zambia,” said Lukuku who wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan #sayno2China.

China is the main investor in Zambia as it is in several other African countries and with its offers of “unconditional” aid, most public tenders are awarded to Chinese bidders.

In Lusaka and across the country, China is busy constructing airports, roads, factories and police stations with the building boom largely funded by Chinese loans.

“China is about to take everything from Zambia.

They have taken over our economy through these criminal debts.

This government is contracting debts from China even without parliamentary approval,” said Lukuku.

Zambian public debt is officially around $10.6-billion (R150-billion) but suspicions have grown in recent months that the government is hiding its indebtedness – as happened in neighbouring Mozambique, which in 2016 was forced to admit it had kept secret $2-billion (R28.5-billion) of borrowing.

Fearing that Zambia might be in a similar position, the International Monetary Fund at one point delayed talks over a $1.3-billion (R18.5-billion) loan deal.

The slump in the price of copper, Zambia’s leading export, has led to fears that Lusaka might even struggle to service its existing debt.

Lukuku and his supporters believe that the state is on the verge of handing control of the Zesco national electricity company, Lusaka airport and the ZNBC state broadcaster to China.

Stung by the criticism that he was selling out to China, Lungu has hit back at critics.

“I implore you to ignore the misleading headlines that seek to malign our relationship with China by mischaracterising our economic cooperation to mean colonialism,” Lungu told lawmakers recently.

Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe has also come out to insist that, in the first half of 2018, $342-million (R4.87-billion) was paid in interest to creditors, of which 53% were commercial sector – and only 30% of which were Chinese.

But the country’s main opposition party has put China’s debt dominance at the forefront of its campaign to unseat the government.

Opposition figure Stephen Katuka warned against the “rate Zambia is entertaining Chinese nationals which are displacing Zambians through big financial offers”.

Katuka, who is the secretary general of the United Party for National Development, described the replacement of Zambian workers with Chinese labourers – as is customary on Chinese-run projects – as “a time bomb”.

“If this situation is allowed to degenerate, it may lead to aggression on foreign nationals,” he added.

There have been several high profile incidents of Chinese managers allegedly mistreating their Zambian workers.

“In some instances the Chinese are beating Zambians in places of work for simply failing to follow instructions,” said Katuka.

Typically reclusive, China’s ambassador to Lusaka Lie Jie was drawn into the growing furore to defend Beijing’s intentions.

“I feel strange when I hear we want to colonise Africa,” he told journalists recently, categorically denying that China was seeking to buy Zambia’s publicly-owned companies.

Economist and head of Zambia’s Private Sector Development Association Yosuf Dodia told AFP that Chinese investment should be seen as an opportunity not a burden.

“Zambia has been dominated by the West for 100 years… and we are seeing poverty all over the continent,” he said.

“The partnership level is around $10-billion (R142.6-billion) – and that is good. There is no other country that offers those kinds of opportunities.”

The benefit of such vast investment is not always felt on the ground, however.

“I am not happy with the dominance of Chinese contractors. In the first place, the money that they get from these contracts is externalised and all that they return here are meagre wages,” said Edgar Syakachoma, himself a contractor.

“Let the government also give us the contracts so that they benefit Zambians.”

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  1. China! Beware the “Ides of March”!!

  2. People of Africa are poor because of the leaders

  3. in article above, substitute ZAMBIA (and the named institutions) with ZIMBABWE (and its institutions), the story becomes true of the latter. same banana

  4. in article above, substitute ZAMBIA (and the named institutions) with ZIMBABWE (and its institutions), the story becomes true of the latter. same fanana

  5. Pple of Africa are poor because they are full of shit in their heads

  6. While this is not to condone Chinese forays into Africa, the buck stops at the power hungry mediocre beauracrats who call themselves African leaders and their so-called technical advisors who can’t negotiate a decent sound deal’s desk. Also one cannot rule out the involvement of the British from behind the scenes in stoking up the anti-Chinese propaganda flames. What this simply points to is the fact that we Africans are still not so sophisticated to grasp even the simplest of issues so much that we are still a NOT-OUR-OWN-MAN race. The desperate British who foolishly resolved to leave the EU banking on easy return to controlling the former colonies, and their Anglo-Saxon kinsmen, are busy subtly psyching Africans against the Chinese, and very soon we will find ourselves back in their colonial web as some of our very own have already started desperately begging to be readmitted into the so-called Commonwealth. Several decades to come Africans will once again, be turning to the Chinese to beg arms of war to fight British colonialism. And so the cycle goes on and on till the end of time. When are we Africans ever gonna be our own man or evolve from the monkey stage that even the our armed struggle Chinese friends are now calling us?

  7. Comment…they deserve respect because they bring development which the whites deny Africans. long after they are gone infrastructure will still be there to remind some fools with shortsightedness. look at TAZARA when was it constructed? Many years back and it is still saving the Zambia people in their export business. All that is needed is a correct way of doing business with the Chinese. They west is scared stiff about China taking steps ahead of them economically in Africa. They want to liken this to their scramble for Africa way back in 1880s. The Chinese are doing it in a totally different way. while they are taking resources out of Africa they are leaving infrastructure and knowledge to the black African. Today thousand of Africans are trained in China in different fields.
    Well,this is a trade war between the west and east. let them fight and don’t be used in this war.

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