1 Sata dies

President Sata diesIncumbent President Sata, 77, died in London on 28 October 2014, after three years in office, during which his health deteriorated almost right from the beginning. His death came as a shock to many people, as government tried to conceal the true nature of his condition. Sata went on so-called working holidays, and even disappeared for days at a time, always without any official explanation. Each time he was busted by the online media, which revealed visits to medical facilities in England, India and Israel, fuelling rumours of cancer. Eventually, Sata probably died of a heart attack. He had already suffered one attack in 2008, but this time round he was too weak, as became obvious to anyone watching him trying to open parliament one month earlier. He died at King Edward VII’s Hospital Sister Agnes, a leading private hospital in London, also used by the UK royal family. After 14 days of national mourning, and a state funeral attended by several SADC heads of state, the country started preparing for the presidential by-election on 20 January 2015. Vice-President Guy Scott was appointed Interim President for a transitional period of three months, making him the first white leader in Africa since South Africa’s FW de Klerk stepped down in 1994.

2 Power struggle in PF

The ruling PF party spent a large part of 2014 bogged down in infighting triggered by President Sata’s refusal to choose a successor. Last year’s struggle between then Defence Minister Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba and then PF Secretary General and Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba spilled into 2014. Kabimba worked hard at consolidating his power, but went one step too far, when his ally, Post Editor-in-Chief Fred M’membe, embarked on a smear campaign of Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda. Sata fired his crown prince, replacing him with Edgar Lungu, who just before Sata’s death was wearing four important hats, including those of PF Secretary General, Defence Minister, Justice Minister and Acting Republican President. As Sata’s lieutenants saw the writing on the wall, many became preoccupied with securing their positions. Thus, as Sata’s health deteriorated, everything slowed down in the PF, government and Zambia. After his death, the PF held not one but two General Conferences to elect two presidential candidates (Edgar Lungu and Miles Sampa). We now have two distinct factions in the ruling PF party, who are fighting it out in the courts. The infighting is probably the main factor that could unseat the ruling PF party; a sad legacy for Sata who built up the party in 10 years, from establishing it in 2001 to winning the presidency in 2011.

3 Konkola falls from grace

It was a truly terrible year for Zambia’s second largest copper producer, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). In February, a grassroots group, Foil Vedanta, claimed that KCM’s owner, Vedanta Resources, was concealing profits at KCM to justify casualisation of workers and environmental damage. This came a few months after the company threatened to lay off 1,529 workers as part of a mechanisation programme. In May, Anil Agarwal, Vedanta’s majority-shareholder-cum-chairman, told a group of businesspeople that he had bought KCM for a song, but that the company was giving Vedanta millions of dollars every year. Yet, KCM continued to declare financial losses. This led government to accuse Vedanta of deliberately building up liabilities at KCM with a plan to file for bankruptcy, leaving government to pay the bills. Vedanta then agreed to a business improvement plan, involving Vedanta investing in KCM and paying off its debts of over $1.5 billion as at August 2014. The company also assured government that it was here for the long haul. Yet, in August, its miners protested over not being paid, and in September, the Copperbelt Energy Corporation had to temporarily ration KCM’s electricity over an outstanding bill of about $50 million. KCM also failed to improve on its poor safety record. It had several serious accidents with three deaths reported. KCM duly launched a safety campaign towards the end of the year, but it still has a long way to go in restoring the credibility of what used to be Zambia’s flagship mine.

4 Plunder of Zambia’s timber

timberIllegal trade in Mukwa (Pterocaspus angolensis) exploded in 2014. The trade was driven by demand from China in particular, although western countries such as the US and France are implicated as well. This year, China banned logging at home after years of intense deforestation, which helped to stoke demand for timber from the Congo River Basin and the Miombo woodlands further south. In Zambia, as traditional hardwood areas in the western part of the country are being depleted of teak, rosewood, mahogany and mukwa, logging has spread to other parts as well. In April, Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Permanent Secretary In’utu Suba stated there were “logs strewn all over the place” in Rufunsa District, Lusaka Province. In 2013, government imposed a ban on timber export, but trade resumed after new regulations were put in place. Yet, monitoring and management of timber remains weak, which has opened the door to a flourishing illegal cross-border trade, raising concerns in regards to rural livelihoods and the environment. In 2014, authorities impounded trucks with illegal timber on a regular basis, suggesting that many more are being overlooked. Officials from police, government and chiefs were implicated. Once the timber reaches China it is turned into furniture and other wood products, often for export.

5 Rape of minors becomes regular

Defilement assumed epidemic proportions in 2014. Not a week went by without new cases being reported. Most cases involved girls less than ten years old. Many were younger than five years old. The youngest victim, a nine-month-old baby girl, was defiled in Kalundu Township in Monze in September by an unknown man. Many of the defilements were, however, carried out by relatives of the victims, suggesting that the social fabric is fraying in Zambia. Stricter sentences have been suggested, although defilers already receive sentences of 30, 40 and 50 years’ imprisonment. The reality is that many defilements go unreported. Defilement is deeply rooted in inequality and exploitation upheld by men and women alike.

6 Government runs out of money

Under the late President Sata, Zambia witnessed an unprecedented focus on capital investment in infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, roads, rail and energy. In fact, Zambia has not seen a similar flurry of activity since first President Kenneth Kaunda. However, this year government ran out of money. Several projects have therefore slowed down, while others have been shelved, including the new international airport in Lusaka. The problem is that the investments have suffered from a lack of prioritisation according to national goals. Many projects have been driven by populism and political thanksgiving. As a result, government has implemented some projects of little value, such as the remote Luangwa Bridge-Feira Road, rather than socio-economically important projects, such as the Lusaka-Ndola Dual Carriageway or the outer Lusaka Ring Road. Given the reduction in resources, sharp prioritisation of future investment is essential.

7 Kwacha drops to its lowest ever

The Kwacha set a new record for how low it could go. In May, it broke the K7.1 per US dollar level, having dropped more than 29% since closing 2013 at K5.5 per US dollar. The slide was spectacular enough to make news around the world, with Bloomberg pointing out in March that the Kwacha was the world’s worst performing currency in 2014, after Ukraine’s Hryvnia. In a bid to stabilise the Kwacha, the Bank of Zambia applied one intervention after the other, including injecting millions of dollar into the economy, increasing the statutory reserve ratio, the overnight lending facility rate, the policy rate, and revoking Statutory Instruments 33 (illegal to use US dollar in Zambia) and 55 (import and export control). Government claimed the depreciation was due to external factors and a domestic banking cartel, but commentators accused the central bank of ignoring internal factors such as Zambia’s growing fiscal deficit driven by huge infrastructure projects and pay rises to civil servants. The Kwacha has since stabilised, currently trading at around K6 25 per US dollar.

8 The never-ending by-elections

After 13 rounds of parliamentary by-elections since the PF assumed power, involving 26 constituencies, each costing at least K5 million, the PF finally managed to secure a majority in parliament in September 2014. This made it a lot easier to steamroll legislation through the system. Before, government preferred to rule by Statutory Instruments whenever it could, in an effort to circumvent parliament. The forthcoming presidential by-election is, however. likely to lead to a new string of by-elections as allegiances have to be reconfirmed or reformed.

9 Big accidents continue

Zambia has a sad record on large road accidents. Each time government has promised to do something about it. Irrespective, 27 people died in November when a truck overturned in Mbala District, Northern Province. The truck was overloaded with 97 passengers. Another 71 people were wounded. Zambia has however seen worse, such as the death of 51 people in a bus accident in Chibombo in 2013.

10 Mining allowed in national park

Lower Zambezi National ParkIt came as a bombshell when then Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Harry Kalaba in January overrode the Zambia Environmental Management Agency to allow a mine in the Lower Zambezi National Park. The owner of the Kangaluwi Copper Project, Zambezi Resources of Australia, promised to develop the “cleanest, greenest and safest copper mine ever built”, but even the local community, which otherwise could have been lured by employment, rejected the mine due to long-term environmental and health risks. A group of green NGOs managed to obtain a court injunction to temporarily halt the project, and a report released towards the end of the year (Evaluation Report: Kangaluwi Open-Pit Copper Mine in the Lower Zambezi National Park) argued that the information provided by the company is “intentionally misleading or demonstrates gross incompetence”. It also questioned the true scope of the project, arguing that copper mining appeared economically unviable at the site. Zambezi Resources has not concealed that its mine is supported by “senior ministers”, and commentators have questioned the PF government’s rush to develop several roads within and around the Lower Zambezi National Park. The case highlighted the unresolved conflict between short- and long-term utilisation of natural resources in Zambia, as exemplified every year by the Victoria Falls running dry in a quest to produce electricity.