Michael Sata, Zambia's new President, has consistently fought his political campaign around the thorny issue of foreign companies and how they treat native Zambians.
His victory in Zambia's fifth election has come thanks largely to his ability to tap into support from the working class and urban voters by channelling anger and resentment about foreign companies, particularly Chinese ones, for allegedly not doing enough to create jobs and development and for breaching labour laws.
Tensions rose in the run-up to the elections with allegations of violence against Sata's Patriotic Front party and allegations of foreign powers (rumoured to be the Chinese) bankrolling the Movement for Multiparty Democracy of incumbent President Rupiah Banda. There was some rioting and arson following delays in announcing the result, but when Banda accepted defeat in late September, the situation calmed down. Zambia's economic growth has averaged 5.6% since 2001 and last year hit 7.6%. Nevertheless there is a perception in Zambia (as in South Africa and Zimbabwe) that mining wealth is not being adequately distributed, thus presenting opposition politicians with a populist theme around which to rally support. But the demands of opposition are different from the demands of government.
The legitimate desire to ensure fair value for the people of Zambia from their resource wealth has to be balanced with the need to attract investment. Already Sata's former harsh rhetoric while in opposition has been replaced with the government language of diplomacy. The President has already indicated that the minimum wage will rise from its current $90 per month level but has not announced a precise figure. He has also raised the retirement age from 55 to 65.
China and Sata
Some of Sata's preelection bellicose statements such as: "The Chinese are scattering all over the world, but there is no such thing as Chinese investment, as such. What we're seeing is Chinese parastatals and government interests, and they are corrupting our leaders" made to the foreign media in May 2010 caused nervousness in some quarters.
Clearly these statements rattled Beijing since, prior to the 2008 election, a Chinese official threatened to cut ties with Zambia if Sata were elected. For China to deviate from its stated policy of not interfering in African politics suggests his remarks were taken very seriously. The shooting of mine workers last year by their...