By Chris Zumani Zimba
In his statement to unveil new USA policy on Africa in relation to China and Russia on 13th December, 2018, the U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton said that “China’s quest for more power in Africa was evident in nations like Zambia, where China was poised to take over utility company Zesco to collect the $6-10 billion debt”. This statement did not sit well with both the Lusaka and Beijing governments for one simple reason, the figure was totally not accurate, thereby misinforming and misrepresenting both Zambia and China on the global platform. Bolton had called the business practices of China and Russia in Africa “corrupt” and “predatory” and said the United States planned to counter their economic and political influence.
At first, President Edgar Lungu’s spokesman, Amos Chanda told Reuters that China was not planning to take over Zesco and that the figure of between $6-10 billion given by Bolton was wrong. Zambia’s total external debt was now $9.7 billion including $3.1 billion owed to China, Chnada guided.
In the same vein, Zambia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 16th December, 2018 officially submitted a formal “de’marche” (official protest) to the United States of America (USA) government through the American embassy in Lusaka to request a retraction of a portion of the statement made by a senior US official John Bolton, who alleged that the Chinese government intends to takeover some state owned enterprises because of government’s alleged failure to settle China’s outstanding loan. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joe Malanji said the Zambia government was optimistic that the American Embassy in Zambia was expected to transmit the de’marche to Washington DC as soon as possible as “there is no state assets or state enterprise were at risk of being repossessed as they have not been used as collateral security….Such misinformation gives a bad name to America’s foreign policy,” Mr. Malanji added.
On 17th December, 2018, the Chinese government responded through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Speaking in Beijing at a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying said “I hope they can learn a lesson and reflect on things, and going forward not blurt things out again,” Hua said. She added that this wasn’t the first time a U.S. official had been caught out on this kind of issue, cautioning the US government over its Zambia-Chinese debt statement without elaborating further.
Ambassador Foote was responding to Zambia’s notice of a letter seeking clarification from the USA government on the matter, US Ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Lewis Foote, clarified in Lusaka that USA National Security Advisor, John Bolton referred to widespread international reports on Zambia regarding Chinese loans and state assets. “While I have seen no evidence pointing towards a ZESCO takeover, the White House referred to widespread reports and approaches the Chinese have already taken in other countries,” he noted. He explained that the thrust of USA Government concerns remained the way China was extending its loans to Africa. “Such non-transparent contracting and debt acquisition impose unsustainable debt on recipients, fueling corruption and limiting the options for the citizens of recipient countries to determine their future.” Foote said
Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles.