By Chibamba Kanyama
I understand Zambia is about to be mortgaged! In an election year, the buzz resonates well in the minds of campaign strategists. The traction in terms of influencing voter decisions may be very limited but the conjecture makes excellent menu for political discussions. Such discussions, however, fizzle out primarily because most of the campaigners equally have private motives to advance. This can be likened to an individual who whistle-b…lows on a friend, ‘I reported him for corrupt activities because he did not share the booty with me’!
Does mortgaging a country have the semblance of the activities of the British South Africa Company (BSACo) signing concessions with local kings for the exploration of minerals from Mashonaland, through the now Copperbelt into Katanga? If that be the case, are we seeing into the future the re-emergence of colonialism as happened in 1924? Do the dynamics still hold for that to succeed?
Could mortgaging reflect the selling of additional mineral exploration rights to foreign investors with a few people pocketing the proceeds (rent-seeking); enhanced privatization programmes, additional sovereign bonds as we are witnessing today?
Did Angola mortgage its economy when it allowed Exxonmobil, Chevron, BP, Total explore oil into its deep waters, making it the highest growing economy on the continent (15 percent annual growth rate, GDP US $122 billion/ Zambia US $21 billion)?
If the above are the parameters that define the mortgaging of a country, then Zambia has been mortgaged for two decades now. It means that while we are showing great appetite towards knowing who the prospective mortgagees are, we should also be asking who the current ones are. Could it be that those currently enjoying the rent are anxious about losing the plot to another?
Politicians who possess prospects of winning an election may usually be courted by business/political interest groups from East to West. I am not sure if this is happening at the moment though. However, in 1991, these ‘mortgage’ funds helped usher in a new democracy in Zambia (only KK cried foul at that time!). Some of those involved declared why they did it: ‘Spur the wind of change in Africa’. In ZIM, MDC was strongly supported to give it equal force to counter a strong political machine (leading to a government of national unity).
In short, while issues of ‘mortgaging’ should be a healthy enquiry, there must be defined parameters about what politicians should do and not do and this will shift the enquirers from NGOs to a constitutional body- the ECZ. Only strong legal systems, robust institutions of governance and an open accountability framework can set limits on what is acceptable. As for the voter, ‘mortgaging’ remains an academic issue. On the contrary, some voters consider these funds as a necessary evil serving national interest against corrupt regimes! (Please note the views in this post are mine).