Can Sata change Zambia's economic and political landscape?
by Chris Chawe in Lusaka
Zambia's new President Michael Sata has a Herculean task to deliver on his economic promises to the young and unemployed electorates who propelled him to power without rattling foreign investors in southern Africa's biggest copper producer.Shortly after his inauguration on Friday, Sata, popularly known as "King Cobra" for his venomous tongue against poor labour conditions in foreign mining firms, a gruffy populist and, critic of Chinese investment said he planned to start some economic programmes within 90 days as promised by his party, the Patriotic Front.Foreign investors have anxiety due to a lack of knowledge about what Sata stands for beyond the campaign rhetoric that swayed thousands of young, urban Zambians to vote for him.
His victory symbolises the long excursion he has undertaken since resigning from his now opponents’ Rupiah Banda former ruling party the Movement for Multi Party Democracy [MMD] in 2001.It was Sata’s fourth attempt to run for the presidency, having earlier contested in 2001, 2006 and in 2008 [in a presidential by-election necessitated by the death of Levy Mwanawasa] where he narrowly lost to Banda.Worth pointing is the fact that Sata's win within a region that has witnessed fewer electoral victories by opposition parties, could ‘bully’ other opposition parties into action -like Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change[MDC]-in terms of their strategies.The smooth transition of power has been welcomed and seen by many as an encouraging sign of democracy, especially against a backdrop of recent bitterly contested presidential elections in Cote d'Ivoire in 2010, Zimbabwe in 2008 and Kenya in 2007/8.
“In my view it sets a very good example in the region and puts Zambia on the map to become a beacon for democracy,” Robert Musonda said an economic student at the University of Namibia [UNAM].Outgoing president Banda accepted the results and conceded defeat, “I would say that it is an example that election results should be accepted and even an electoral defeat should be accepted graciously. Peaceful transfer of power is possible,” said Musonda.Chinese companies, which have invested US$2b into Zambia to secure a share of its mineral wealth, may still be unnerved by Sata's past accusations that they had created slave labour conditions with scant regard for safety or the local culture. Sata says he’s expecting ‘mutual relationship with the Chinese.’
After his win, there have been various opinions on whether there will be any change in Zambia's economic, domestic and foreign policy positions. Although Sata has previously used what bordered on nationalistic rhetoric to canvass support, some think his ideological stance has been hugely motivated by mere politicking and as a campaign strategy.
“Sata has made a lot of promises to Zambians so he will have an internal or inward looking policy so the implications to the region won't be much. His government won't play a leading role in the region in resolving regional problems. He has a good relationship with all leaders in the region except Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika who declared him a persona non grata and Zimbabwean prime minister [Morgan Richard Tsvangirai] whose party Movement for Democratic Change he described as a stooge for the West."But I believe he will be on a working diplomatic level with them.”Zambia’s electoral process had been generally smooth except flashes of riots and intermittent protests particularly in the capital Lusaka and northern mining region [Ndola, Kitwe and Chingola] bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Anxiety was compounded by a ‘temporal court injunction’ to restrain the media from announcing results that were not verified by the Electoral Commission of Zambia. This was apparently in reaction to the posting of record landslide victories for Sata by 'some people' who in a move to pre-empt any attempts at rigging, had allegedly hacked into the Electoral Commission's website.Sata's recent departure from his populist policy position where he previously called for increased taxes on mining companies, to a new position that favours a broader tax base inclusive of foreign mining investors demonstrates that he realises the risks of tinkering with the economy and possibly not much could change in terms of economic policy.
On this new approach, it has been observed that it is unlikely that the PF will depart from the MMD's pragmatic policy agenda that involves a tilt to market-oriented agenda and macroeconomic stability.Others, however, are of the opinion that Sata faces high expectations around foreign investments and alleged violation of labour laws and that his government will resort to drastic policy changes if it has to assuage, rather than alienate those who voted for him.
Sata has toned down his rhetoric against foreign mining firms, especially from China, in recent years but made clear on Friday that he wanted labour laws observed.Sata's manifesto promises the electorate 'lower taxes, more jobs and more money in your pockets.' Chief Justice Ernest Sakala declared Mr Sata the winner after he received 1,150,045 votes compared to Mr Banda's 961,796 with 95.3% constituencies counted. Mr Sata received 43 per cent of the vote also contested by many minor parties.
There are high expectations from the youth and urban-based population who form a greater part of the PF's support base and who are mostly affected by poverty and unemployment. Banda's economic achievements demonstrated by precedented levels of foreign direct investment (FDI), with a growth rate estimated at 7% and FDI pledges amounting to more than $4bn in 2010, did not trickle down to the people. But delays could immediately undermine the 74-year-old's image as a man of action after energetic terms as governor of Lusaka in the 1980s and a cabinet minister in the 1990s.