Zambia economy rebounds, but no boost for president

(AFP)-Resurgent copper prices have lifted Zambia’s economy, but the gains haven’t rubbed off on President Rupiah Banda, who has been embroiled in battles over media freedom and fighting corruption.

Banda took office last year, just as the bottom fell out from global commodities prices, including Zambia’s economic mainstay copper which tumbled by 50 percent in a matter of weeks.

Copper has now bounced back from a low of 2,800 dollars per tonne to trade around 7,000 dollars.

When the crisis was biting, Banda met with mining companies to limit the job losses and pressed ahead with efforts to diversify the economy towards farming and tourism.

“Perhaps his handling of the crisis in the mines and the economy faced with a major crisis stands out as the key achievement of President Banda for the past one year in office,” said political analyst Tenthani Mwanzah.

The economy this year is projected to grow by three percent, a solid showing when compared to battered economies around the world. Next year growth is tipped at 4.2 percent — still far below the levels needed to ease poverty in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“The Zambian economy has shown a lot of resilience because it has gone through some partial diversification and because of that, it is somehow recording some gains,” said economist Chibamba Kanyama, a border member of the Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM).

Last week’s visit by South African President Jacob Zuma ended with promises of 600 million dollars in investments, mainly in mining, agriculture and the services sector.

China and India have also sought to invest in mining, which is helping to create jobs, according to unions.

“With some investors coming from China and India, there will be jobs created but the problem is that they pay people as low as 360,000 kwacha (about 70 dollars),” said Rayford Mbulu, head of the Mine Workers’ Union of Zambia (MUZ).

“Nobody can survive with such an income.”

Zambia has generally won praise for its economic policies. Inflation is easing back downward from 12.3 percent in October to 11.5 percent last month.

The kwacha has stabilised, though has still lost about 40 percent of its value against the dollar compared to one year ago.

For Banda, the good economic news has been clouded by a slate of political controversies which have raised concerns among donors, who are financing the government’s 2010 budget to the tune of 215 million dollars.

In August, a court acquitted former president Frederick Chiluba of corruption charges, even though he had already been convicted of embezzling state funds in a British court.

An attempt to appeal the ruling was quashed, the lead corruption buster sacked, and the special anti-graft panel that led the case was disbanded. That’s left Banda on the back foot in defending his credentials in the corruption fight.

Banda also personally ordered the prosecution of an editor at the private Post newspaper on obscenity charges, over unpublished photos of a woman in childbirth during a doctors’ strike.

The journalist was acquitted, but her colleagues still face contempt charges, fueling concerns that Banda’s government is trying to muzzle the media.

“He has to work on his government’s relations with the media, because without journalists whatever he says will remain just within the premises of State House,” Mwanzah said.

Banda, 73, has deflected the attacks on his leadership, saying he wants to remain focused on improving the economy to help the nation’s people.

“The president will not spend time answering to his critics. His focus and preoccupation is to improve the people livelihood,” said Banda spokesman Dickson Jere.

Courtesy of AFP

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