No business as usual?

Author:Mwansa, Venarcious
Position:Zambia - Brief Article

Barely two months in office, President Levy Mwanawasa's government is already seeing red. It has denounced what it calls "an incremental manipulation of democratic principles in Zambia by some foreign powers poised to slowly erode the government's legitimacy for their own vested interests".

The government did not name names, but observers say Mwanawasa faces mounting challenges on both political and economic fronts.

Three leading opposition leaders have already petitioned the Supreme Court challenging Mwanawasa's victory. Anderson Mazoka (United Party for National Development), Lt-Gen Christon Tembo, (Forum for Democracy and Development) and Brig-Gen Godfrey Miyanda, (Heritage Party) all want the Supreme Court to declare the result of last December's presidential election null and void.

Meanwhile, a critical shortage of the country's staple food -- maize -- has drastically pushed up the price of mealie meal by nearly 100% -- from K25,000 for a 25kg bag to K48,000. Some retail outlets are even selling it for as much as K55,000.

But while government officials consider the maize meal shortage to be a short-term problem and the election petition an exercise in futility, they have taken seriously the uncertainty surrounding the Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The mining giant, Anglo-American Corporation, a major shareholder in Zambia Copper Investments which has interests in KCM, has threatened to withdraw funding as low copper prices threaten profitability.

But government officials say Anglo-American is being economical with the truth. They claim the mining giant "is simply not happy" operating under a Mwanawasa government as it thinks it could have been more comfortable with an Anderson Mazoka government. Mazoka is a former managing director of Anglo-American.

Ironically, Anglo-American's move has come at a time when KCM and Mopani Copper Mines (Zambia's major mining companies) have recorded a vast improvement in production, which came after a successful recapitalisation exercise and the introduction of new mining techniques.

As a result, by last November, Zambia's total copper production had risen 34% over the same period in 2000 to 270,158 tonnes. In addition, by last December, copper prices were rising slowly.

According to Citibank Zambia Treasury Newsletter, by December last year "the monthly average [copper price] had risen to 66.62 US cents per pound, posting a recovery of 6% in the last quarter from the low of 62.54 US cents in October".


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