Copper-rich Zambia, the first African country to default on its debt during the Covid pandemic, on Thursday secured a deal from creditors to restructure its debt at a global finance summit in Paris.
Here are five things to know about the southern African nation of 19.6 million inhabitants, which is a key target of China’s massive Africa investment drive.
– Crippled by debt –
In 2020, Zambia became the first country in Africa to default on its foreign debt since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Around a third of its debt was owed to Chinese creditors.
Zambia was already struggling with its debt pile before Covid hit, hammering the prices of the commodities that prop up the economy.
The accord reached on Thursday after two years of negotiations, is key to unblocking an $1.3 billion IMF rescue plan over three years for the country.
The restructuring of the external debt covers bilateral loans from individual countries, worth $6.3 billion, of which $4.1 billion for China alone, according to a French government source at the summit, which brought together the main creditors.
– Copper is king –
Zambia is the second-biggest producer of copper in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the seventh producer in the world.
But a sharp decline in copper prices, weaker exports to China and a clampdown on foreign influence in the mining sector sapped investor confidence in the sector.
– Chinese control –
China is Zambia’s top foreign investor, taking huge stakes in the mining sector and launching a huge infrastructure drive, including new airports, roads, factories, stadiums and energy projects.
The imbalance in the relationship — and claims by Zambian workers of exploitation — have caused resentment towards Chinese bosses to periodically flare.
Three Chinese textile factory bosses were brutally murdered by aggrieved employees in 2020 and in 2012 a Chinese manager was killed during a riot over wages at a coal mine.
– Victoria Falls –
Zambia’s main tourist attraction is the spectacular Victoria Falls, named Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) by the local people before being named by Scottish explorer David Livingstone after Britain’s queen in 1855.
Located on the Zambezi River, the falls straddle the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the two countries share the flow of tourists.
– ‘African Gandhi’ –
Kenneth Kaunda, who died in June 2021 at the age of 97 was Zambia’s founding father, taking power in 1964 after leading the struggle for independence from Britain.
Nicknamed the “African Gandhi” for his non-violent activism, he ruled for 27 years under a single-party system before leaving power peacefully.
His trademark symbol was a white handkerchief which he said he carried as a peace sign.
The current President Hakainde Hichilema is a business tycoon who emphasizes his humble beginnings as a “cattle boy”. He ran for president six times before winning the job.
He has repealed the death sentence and a colonial-era law making it a crime to defame the president.
© Agence France-Presse