People in Zambia are angry at China. Many feel that the Chinese government is trying to ensnare the African country in a debt trap, holding a death grip over their economy, politics, and resources. And a look at what Beijing has been up to in Zambia lately is enough to convince anyone of some devious designs.
Trapped in debt
As of 2017, Zambia had an external debt of US$8.7 billion, out of which US$6.4 billion was owed to China. To make matters worse, many believe that the debt is being underrepresented by the government in a bid to make itself look good and that the actual debt is much higher.
A similar incident took place with the African nation of Mozambique, which had underrepresented their debt by US$2 billion. Even the IMF had, at one point, postponed a debt talk with Zambia out of concern that the debt figures released by the government may not be true.
If Zambia defaults, then it will have to hand over assets pledged for the loans to China, including the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport. And given that China gleefully took over the Hambantota Port when Sri Lanka defaulted on their loans, Zambians are worried that their country’s prized assets are going to be soon under Chinese control.
“I want to bring to the attention of the international community the Chinese influence and corruption in Zambia. China is about to take everything from Zambia. They have taken over our economy through these criminal debts. This government is contracting debts from China even without parliamentary approval,” the South China Morning Post quotes James Lukuku, leader of a political party in Zambia.
Poor working conditions
China is known to force its own citizens to work in pathetic conditions. And in Zambia, they seemed to have exported the habit. Many people in the country are not happy with how Chinese managers are mistreating Zambian nationals at workplaces.
In 2010, Chinese managers had shot and injured 11 Zambian workers at the Collum Coal Mine when they protested against poor working conditions. Instead of punishing them, the Zambian Court cleared their names citing “lack of evidence.” Chinese companies are also bringing in more workers from China, replacing Zambian locals.
Times Live quotes Stephen Katuka, secretary general of the United Party for National Development, who warned the government against the “rate Zambia is entertaining Chinese nationals which are displacing Zambians… If this situation is allowed to degenerate, it may lead to aggression on foreign nationals… In some instances, the Chinese are beating Zambians in places of work for simply failing to follow instructions.”
Fear of their country being colonized by the Chinese is also running high among Zambians. And the publication of a Mandarin article in a local paper seemed to have ticked off many people who were offended that a language that literally no Zambians spoke was being forced upon them.
“Times of Chambia?: Mwebantu, is Chinese Mandarin, now the 8th official Zambian language now? Can an article written in Chibemba, Chitonga, or Silozi appear in a major national newspaper in #China?” asks a tweet by a leading Zambian portal Mwebantu.
Chinese officials jokingly rubbed off accusations that they had colonial intentions in mind and have stated that they just wish to do business in Zambia. But many Zambians fear losing the sovereignty of their land when their government starts defaulting on debts.