Chinese investment in Zambia questioned

The leader of Zambia’s main opposition Patriotic Front (PF) party says the government’s announcement of a US$1 billion Chinese investment to help build an electric power plant is a “cheaply conceived” ploy to garner votes ahead of next year’s general elections.

Michael Sata questions the timing of the announcement saying it is “premature and presumptuous” for the government to make such claims when negotiations with a Chinese bank to finance the project are still ongoing.

“The whole point is any investment of any magnitude is welcome in any developing country or even in a developed country. But, the reality is where are they building this plant? Because we [the] people in Zambia, we don’t know and our electricity tariffs are the highest in the region. So, we don’t know where they are building it. Probably, they are building it in heaven or in hell,” he said.

President Rupiah Banda’s government announced that China plans to spend $1 billion to help build a power plant to boost Zambia’s electricity supply by 600 megawatts.

An official said the China Development Bank will provide equity amounting to $1 billion for the Kafue Gorge Lower power plant. The government says the Kafue Gorge Lower power plant will cost about $1.5 billion.
But, opposition leader Sata said the government’s plan is not pragmatic.

“Those are wishful thinking, and what they are doing that is a political campaign. We have adequate facilities at the Zambezi River and the Kafue River. We don’t need a need a new Chinese plant. If we wanted to expand our existing facilities…we could extend those, but they are using that for general elections next year. There is nothing realistic,” Sata said.

Local media quoted energy minister, Kenneth Konga, as saying the government is seeking to wrap up negotiations with a Chinese bank to ensure that the electricity project will begin as originally planned.

Opposition leader Sata has often been accused of showing hatred towards Chinese investors. He was recently quoted as saying Chinese and other Asian mining firms in Zambia are creating “slave labour” conditions in Africa’s top copper producer with scant regard for safety or local culture – charges Sata denies.

“The point is I have not condemned any investment worth talking about, but imaginary investment. And, we don’t want human investment we have enough human beings in Zambia; artisans and ordinary laborers. We don’t need Chinese labourers to come to Zambia and to call that investment…I have nothing against the Chinese, but they must be realistic and they must be honest and sincere,” Sata said.

Analysts say construction of the electricity plant is scheduled to begin next year, and possibly completed in 2017.
But, opposition leader Sata dismissed the assessment.

“First of all, $1 billion is a lot of money. If it is [a] $1 billion project, where are they building this project? How do you build a project of $1 billion without feasibility studies? How do you build a project of $1 billion without showing the site where this thing is going to be?” Sata asked. – VOA