It’s very clear that the mass media landscape, both social and mainstream media in Zambia, being a former British colony still has a leaning towards propagating western (Western Europe and USA) views, ideology and interests to Zambian citizens.

For instance, when global cable and digital TV was introduced in Zambia by South African Naspers owned DSTV, western news media like BBC and CNN became available to the wider community of Zambians, further spreading and propagating western views and ideologies. DSTV thrived on already existing national broadcaster, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation – ZNBC assets. ZNBC even showed some one hour DSTV viewing that gave them a footing into the Zambian market.

But when Chinese owned Star Times – Topstar used the same model of riding on national broadcaster – ZNBC assets and even went deeper by adding the refurbishment and construction of provincial television studios in all the 10 regions of Zambia, its today not uncommon to hear or read western that ZNBC has been taken over by the Chinese.

The battle for the control of Africa’s and in effect Zambia’s rich natural resources has always played out globally. For students of history, the infamous Berlin conference which took place in Europe and specifically Germany were African territories and its vast resources were being shared like confetti among Western European countries is an example.

The biggest beneficiary of this Berlin conference were the British, the French, the Spanish, the Germans and the Portuguese. Belgium also got a lions share, the massive and resource rich Congo, today referred to as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Suffice to say that Africa was being divided in a conference were there was no single African leader. The result was the blighted and massive plunder of its natural resources in what has come to be known as Africa’s colonial era.

It’s difficult for us to write more about this 1885 Berlin conference because whatever was discussed and published there had no single African leader with African interests present to give his account of what really transpired. Suffice to say, Africa went through a period of massive regression and under-development as the Western countries become even more richer in financial and economic terms. Deteriorated race relations, abuse of human rights and apartheid in South Africa remain as a historical scar on this era.

Double standards of the west on Zambia’s debt situation

The problem that Zambia continues to have is not developing its own authentic ideology and plans and sticking to them. The national development plans are subject to heavy influence by either western or eastern ideology via non-governmental organizations and various non-national interest groups who mostly carry the agenda of their financiers.

If it’s the International Monetary Fund – IMF and the world bank, we wonder how they still have the face to advise Zambia despite the massive failure and social hardships inflicted on Zambians of their sponsored Structural Adjustment Programs – SAP, first from 1983 to 1991, then from 1991 to about 1998. Zambia which had built a base for local manufacturing embarked on wanton liberalization on advise of these Breton woods institutions to an extent were today, even small items are like tooth picks imported.

Post these failed IMF/world bank sponsored SAPs, Zambia found itself as a highly indebted country and landed in the Highly indebted poor countries Initiative – HIPC, the country had accumulated debts from mostly western lenders way beyond its ability to pay back. It’s industrial base was privatized and sold to mostly western western companies.

That is how most African and developing countries which included Zambia lobbied for this debt right off on moral grounds as it was argued that the interest rates and payment terms given by mostly the IMF and the World bank and other bilateral and multilateral lenders were unjust and crippled the chances of Zambia’s economy ever raising.

So, it therefore shows that while it was okay for western countries to lend to Zambia beyond the country’s ability to pay back, today they are the ones in the fore front depicting that the Chinese debt that is an alternative source of funding will make Zambia’s debt repayments impossible or unsustainable? The question is, are these questions being asked for west’s own interests or Zambia’s interest? from history, it would appear that it’s more from their own interests point of view.

Just last month, after the International Monetary Fund – IMF produced a report that said that Zambia was sliding into a “debt distress” situation, we saw the Minister of Finance, Margerate Mwanakatwe signed a Euro 110 million facilty with the European Investment Bank as financing for the rehabilitation of the great north road stretch from Mpika to Chinsali. Now, if a country is sliding in a debt distress, why would a responsible lender who postulates to be concerned at the debt levels in Zambia proceed to sign off this facility?

The IMF itself has a pending credit facility of about USD1.25 billion packaged as a balance of payment support that they want to book with Zambia, since this is a balance of payment support, these funds will most likely not even touch the Zambian economic system. The IMF lending and their conditions are a subject of debate in Ghana were the promise of stabilization of the economic after the west African country signed off the Extended Credit Facility – ECF for about USD 955 million did not deliver the much hyped promises.

So for the initiated, the IMF program and facility is not a silver bullet to Zambia’s economic independence, but one of the options on the table. The IMF has its own interests which at most times may be at variance with Zambia’s long term interests. It’s therefore calls for sober negotiations for any alternative financing package that is put on the table.

Why Zambia should define its own interests and negotiate for the best possible deal

Zambia as a sovereign country has its own unique culture, its own unique people with their own unique socio-economic aspirations. These are what must be funneled into what the national long term national interests are. The solutions to Zambia’s economic and social challenges are peculiar and not a one size fits all.

Once the country is clear of what its key national interests are, then there should be consideration for selecting which countries to be friends with, which financing options will be most ideal and most efficient in terms of economic and social benefits and costs.

We are not in any way suggesting that the Chinese debt is better than western debt, no. China also has its own interests. The country must be fully aware of this so that negotiations are done with this aspect in mind. The time for giving unquestionable trust to any party on the negotiating table is gone, It’s the meeting halfway of these interests that should determine who the country will go with and sign up deals for Credit facilities. Seeking of the win win situation as its depicted is the modern mantra for negotiations.

Some sophisticated lenders and countries package debt as grants, but as a country and people, its high time we shrugged off the scales of naivety and accept that these so called grants or aid have strings attached, there is no free lunch. Even grants are utilized to extract concessions at a letter date, grants and aid are also used to influence public policy which in the long run ends up benefiting the grant or aid giver.

Now that it’s clear that there is an alternative to obtaining financing between the West and the East, between bilateral and multilateral institutions, its gives Zambia the option to look at its own long term interests and make deals that are in line with those interests. Let’s avoid being easily swayed by the West’s propaganda against the East (or Chinese investment and funding) or vice-versa that the Chinese do not interfere in local politics, all these are mere selling points for their engagement.

Zambia should equally recognize that China has its own national and global interests to pursue and Zambia should not make deals or contract debt emotionally or because its been offered. The country needs to have its own authentic strategy and plans that should inform the quest for amounts and targeted returns on any debt, grant, aid or whatever form of financing is contracted.

Zambia’s current leaders therefore should utilize this unique situation were there are more options today to extract the best possible financing deals for the long term interest of Zambia and its future generations. As a nation state, only Zambians will develop Zambia, at household level, only the family heads or members can develop your household. Putting hope in the government or your neighbour or your friend or your relative to develop your household is simply leaving yourself open to a lifetime of manipulation.