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How will China influence Zambia’s elections?

A major topic of conversation in the African blogosphere over the past 18 months has been the increasing influence of China in Africa. Several of the better Africa-focused mainstream publications – Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, the BBC – have run stories on China’s rising influence, the US’s apparent unwillingness to play in “the next great game”, and increasingly, about India’s interest in Africa as well. Jen Brea has an excellent summary of links in this blog post; some of the stories that particularly caught my eye are in my del.icio.us feed, under the Africa+China tags.

Carolyn O’Hara – writing on the indispensible Foreign Policy Passport blog – has a provocative article today titled “China decides election in Zambia”. China has been a major investor in Zambia, focused especially on the copper industry, and may have invested as much as $300 million in the country. The incumbent president, Levy Mwanawasa, has encouraged these investments – challenger in the September 28th elections Michael Sata, seems sure to oppose them. Sata has spoken out about Chinese labor practices in copper mines in Zambia, has referred to Taiwan as a soverign state, and is reported to be meeting with Taiwanese businessmen.

Li Baodong, China’s ambassador in Lusaka, has responded by announcing that Beijing might cut ties with Zambia if Sata were elected. A Reuters story suggests that Chinese firms have already stopped investment, waiting for the outcome of elections before deciding whether to continue investing in Zambian mines.

It’s an interesting situation because this is one of the first times China’s economic influence in Africa has threatened to cross over into political influence. This is what critics of China’s rising influence have been worried about – if there’s strong evidence that China’s threats influence the voting process later this month, one can expect to see some serious soul-searching (in Africa, at least) about China’s rising influence on the continent. I’ll be very interested to see how friends in Southern Africa are following this story when I get the chance to meet with bloggers at the Digital Citizen Indaba at Rhodes University next week – hope to meet some of my readers there as well.

10 thoughts on “How will China influence Zambia’s elections?”

  1. Make no mistake, it was Zambia politicians who violated China soveirgnity first by involving themselves in Taiwan Strait affairs. China foreign policy is clear that it will not have ties with country that has diplomatic relation with Taiwan. Thus, it is reasonable for China to withold the investment until the situation is clear.

  2. Only makes sense that China is with-holding investments to Zambia….I am a Zambian living away from home, unfortunately. I am returning home shortly and am not looking forward to a nation run by Sata.

    Zambia and China have held very close ties since independence…and it’s unZambian for Sata to go on chantting anti-China songs. One expects that he would be more knowledgeable as having served in the goverments of the last to Presidents the nation has had.

    Even other nations would make a similar stance with the remarks presented by Sata.

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  4. China has no right to intervene in a countries politics, Yes they may have some investments but at what costs, some one please tell me how much money we have made for the recent rises in copper prices,or jus copper in genral over the last five years; how much goes to the state and how much goes out of the country.
    These are the same reason why we are always dependant and yet we still claim independence… think about it.

  5. China is not a force to recorn with in the development of one’s country.These so called investors (Chinese) do not play any part in the development of the Zambian economy.Because, every Zambian whose got ears to the ground can tell you that these guys(investors) do not set up or come up with projects or ventures that benefit a Zambian.

    What these so called “investors” interest is to make money and remitt it to their respective countries.They do not show any obligation to the Zambian community in any way.Because I know that as far as the community is conserned, any corporation thats in existence and is making profits should have an obligation to the community but these investors ho are bussy plundering our natural resources do not care for an ordinary Zambian. They are “business men”!Viva Sata.

  6. And where in the world have you seen an investor(corporation)going to another country with its own general workers?????these guys try to reduce unmployment in their countries….not where they are investing.

  7. It’s the name of the game folks! Welcome to the “Global Village”. Simply stated, Information + Money = Power. People with access to critical information and money have influence over elections. It happens every where. What’s different, and down right sad in Zambia’s case is that the people influencing the elections are foreigners; NOT Zambian corporations.

    Zambia, and perhaps many other African Nations must put stringent controls in place if they are to play fairly in the “poli-economical” arena of today.

    Political sophistication and economical saviness will be required in implementing stringent controls as the powers that be will vehemently oppose them.

  8. If Zambians don’t like the Chinese investment, they can always refuse Chinese money. They can stick with their European masters. Maybe they miss the slavery era. Of course China can also look at other sources for coppers. Zambia is not the only nation with coppers. But one thing is for sure, Zambia will pay heavily if it involves itself in China’s internal politics.

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  10. I’m a Zambian away from home pursuing my studies, I’m surprised to see some of the comments posted by some Zambians on this blog. In as much as I may agree to certain points such as the fact that the average Zambian does not directly benefit from Chinese Investment due to inappropriate ‘investments’ such as market stands that may even hardly employ Zambians but rather bring in unemployed chinese to Zambia. Another thing is no regulations have been put in place to protect the few zambians working at mines that are owned by the Chinese.

    What Zambia must remember is that we have had ties with China for quite a while (years), the amount of foreign direct investment that has poured into Zambia from Chinese investment is massive (a few hundred million dollars), they have built schools, roads in the underpriviledged parts of our society amongst other benefits. Yes as Zambians we may not directly benefit from this large investment, but look at how this has impacted on our country’s budget, our deficit has narrowed, there has been a slight boost in the economy as people have opened their eyes to even more opportunities for economic empowerement.

    The plan should not be to condemn the chinese and their efforts in our country, the mistake made in the past was that we entirely embraced their foreign policy without fine tuning it to our standards. We didn’t put the right regulations in place to protect Zambians. This has caused some of the flaws stated earlier.

    I’m very much threatened by the likeliness of Sata being president. His views align perfectly with Bob in terms of foreign policy. These guys are very aggressive, non-compromising characters. The same manner in which Bob failed to handle his country’s differences with the west in a diplomatic way is the same manner in whih Sata would treat the chinese despite the ties we’ve had and the investment they’ve made in our country. This is dangerous because China is already threatening to cut ties with Zambia if Sata is elected and we may suffer heavy economic consequences as a result of our actions.

    So on the 28th of Sep, let us Zambians talk to more and lets make informed decisions about the direction of our country.

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