Z for Zambezi

When a political party chooses a boat for its emblem, Lunghu takes notice.  And when they win a presidential election by defeating their well-financed incumbent opponent, Lunghu’s gotta mention it.  So hats off to King Cobra and the Patriotic Front of Zambia!

Zambian President Rupiah Banda has conceded electoral defeat to opposition leader Michael Sata.  Mr Sata, who has run for the presidency four times, was declared the winner [Friday morning] after polling 43% of the vote.  
Known as “King Cobra” for his venomous tongue, [Sata] has frequently criticized foreign mining firms –often from China– about labor conditions.  While the party has disputed media reports that it is anti-Chinese, his election is likely to shake up the way contracts are awarded. … Mr. Sata has promised to re-introduce a windfall tax on mining profits and to promote policies that will bring greater benefit to poor people. 

Sata’s dislike of Chinese influence in Zamba doesn’t appear to be mere xenophobia or racism.  Instead, it’s more likely to be a combination of reflexive antipathy to neo-colonial exploitation of Zambia’s natural and human resources … and good, old-fashioned international power politics.  According to the BBC, in Zambia’s 2006 election “there were reports –denied by Mr. Sata– that Taiwanese businessmen backed him.”

President-elect Sata has several personal characteristics that make the Anglo-American investor class quite nervous.  The Zambian currency, the kwacha, dropped to a 12-month low against the US dollar following Mr. Sata’s victory.

  • He worked as a policeman, a railway worker and trade unionist before entering politics in 1963.
  • He is a devout Catholic married to a doctor.  [Can liberation theology and nationalized health care be very far away?]
  • In the past, he has praised Robert Mugabe’s policy of seizing white-owned farmland in Zimbabwe:  “Mugabe hasn’t done anything wrong. It is the imperialists, the capitalist-roaders who say he is a villain.”

This doesn’t exactly sound like a leading candidate for running-dog lackey of the imperialist bourgeoisie.  But look on the bright side:  if populist democracy and a peaceful electoral process are what it takes to loosen China’s grip on Zambian copper, does the London-New York axis of capital really have substantive grounds for complaint?  This is a terrific opportunity for the UK and USA to deploy soft power in the service of their respective nations’ interests.  How about pitching in on a slew of rural development projects close to King Cobra’s heart?  Goodwill ambassadors from the NBA and Premier League –associated with specific, tangible initiatives like paving roads, assisting agriculture, improving transport, or purifying water supplies– can generate headlines and make a favorable impression in the hearts and minds of Zambia’s youth.  Just a fleet of bicycles could be huge.  And it wouldn’t hurt to clean up your act in the mining industry, either.

There are times when only one cox’n is one too many:  you just gotta shut up and row the boat.


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