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February 2004
Our Man in Zambia : Heavy Levy
Kafue National Park

Zambia's president, Mr Levy Mwanawasa has been likened to an elephant by British satirist Roy Clarke.

Zambia's president, Mr Levy Mwanawasa, is a big man.

Jamie Baldwin
Nottinghamian Jamie Baldwin, takes a walk on Zambia's wild side.
SEE ALSO
Our Man in Zambia

Our Man in Zambia : Part Two

Our Man in Zambia : Part Three

Our Man in Zambia : Part Four

Our Man in Zambia : Part Five

Our Man in Zambia : Part Six
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Jamie Baldwin
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FACTS

Zambia:
Population: 10.8 million (UN, 2003)
Capital: Lusaka
Major language: English (official), Bemba, Lozi, Nyanja, Tonga
Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs, Hinduism, Islam
Life expectancy: 33 years (men), 32 years (women) (UN)
Leader: Levy Mwanawasa
Monetary unit: 1 Kwacha = 100 ngwee
Main exports: Copper, minerals, tobacco Average annual income: US $320 (World Bank, 2001) Internet domain: .zm
International dialling code: +260

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Zambia's president, Mr Levy Mwanawasa, is a big man. Like a heavyweight boxer, he's a guy who likes to throw a few punches and ruffle a few feathers. The Roy Clarke saga has just been the appetiser for a difficult start to the year for the big man.

Politics is a big thing for your average Zambian. Everyone has an opinion on the war on terrorism, debt relief, corrupt systems, tax rises and even our very own Mr Blair. Oh yes, tax rises, are always the one thing that is bound to cause national unrest. Governments have lost elections for merely mentioning the dreaded phrase.

Protestors in Zambia
Protesters in Zambia.

So when our man Levy, announced in the recent budget tax increases up to 40% in conjunction with
a wage freeze for civil servants, the proverbial excrement hit the fan.

Last week we witnessed strikes from irate workers as well as calls for resignation from the opposition. The effect of such tax increases are put in perspective when one realises that one Zambian wage supports, on average, 14 people.

A tax rise here does not simply mean one less pint in the pub or trip to the cinema; it has far worse repercussions and can be a matter of life and death.

What is perhaps more interesting is that the Government's hand is being forced somewhat by the elusive search for that holiest of grails for developing countries - the prospect of debt relief. Zambia is heavily laden in debt to the tune of some $7 billion. Despite being on the brink of receiving debt relief of $3.6 billion, through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, for the last three years Zambia has never quite reached the completion point.

Whether this is by design or default is questionable, but Levy is pinning his hopes on it and by the end of this year we should know whether this has been achieved.

You see that's the problem with 'debt relief', it comes with more strings attached than a Punch and Judy show, with our puppet president taking a lead role. It's why street sellers trying to scrape a living are rounded up for tax evasion, while foreign companies are embraced with 5-year tax breaks as they come to plunder the country's resources and make a fast buck.

It's why Levy has a personal travel pot of 30 billion kwacha (about £3.75 million) while the national education and health budgets have been cut. It's not just happening in Zambia either, last week, over the border in Congo, the World Bank instigated the opening up of an area of virgin rainforest the size of France to international companies.

It all seems a long way from the seeds of hope and idealism sown during Independence from the British in 1964. Zambia's first president, a chap called Kenneth Kaunda, is widely acknowledged as the man who brought Zambia together with his doctrine of 'One people, one nation' and 'humanism'.

He is the main reason why Zambia has remained a peaceful nation while its neighbours such as Angola and Congo have been ripped apart by civil war and tribal fighting. But, as his critics point out, he is also partly responsible for letting Zambia get into the economic pickle it now finds itself in.

As one striking worker said to me last week: "KK put the people before profits, while Levy is putting profits before his people." To many it seems as though Levy could do with a bit of 'humanism' from a fellow heavyweight, for the good of his presidency and his people.

 

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