ABOUT ADULTS AND CHILDREN: A CASE OF MINING IN THE LOWER ZAMBEZI
By Sean Tembo – PeP President
1. In any community, there are adults and children. Here, l don’t mean adults and children by age, no. I mean by thinking capacity. You may be shocked to learn that there are plenty of adults by age who think like children, just like there are plenty of children by age who think like adults. However, for a nation to thrive and prosper, the adults have to be in Government. If you have children in Government, then no matter your economic potential, it will remain just that: economic potential.
2. When you have adults in Government, they are able to think and plan long-term. They are able to make strategically beneficial decisions which are over and above the petty noises made by children in our society. And trust me, there will always be children who are not able to see beyond their nose, who will always stand ready to challenge and oppose certain strategic decisions. They will climb the tallest mountains and speak on top of their voices about why a particular strategic decision is bad. But a Government of adults is not supposed to be easily swayed by the noises made by children against certain strategic decisions. Instead, Government is supposed to explain itself with the same tact and firmness that a father would explain to his children why it is necessary to buy a 30×20 plot than buying a television set. In as much as the children might be temporarily deprived of watching Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob SquarePants, they will benefit in the long-term by having security of shelter.
3. Which brings me to the issue of the Copper mine in Lower Zambezi. I have said before way back around 2018, and l will say again now in 2023 that l am 100% in support of that mine project. That is not to say the project does not have any negatives, no. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. You see, Zambia is dependent on mining in general and copper mining in particular. Most of our mining pits in the Copperbelt are old. Sometime in 2019, Mopani had to shut down it’s Mindolo shaft because it is old and it was no longer economical to mine it. What all that means is that if we are going to sustain and perhaps increase our copper production levels, we need to open new mines to replace the old ones that are being shut down. Therefore, a new mine in Luangwa district will not only create employment and revitalize the economic prospects of the area, but it is also critical to our economic survival as a nation in terms of forex earnings and balance of payments position.
4. That is not to say the mining in the Lower Zambezi does not have disadvantages, of course it does. Actually, adults know that there’s nothing on earth which only has advantages and no disadvantages. Even eating t-bone everyday will soon give you gout! That means decisions have to be made not by looking at whether disadvantages exist, no. But by weighing advantages versus the disadvantages. In the case of the copper mining in Lower Zambezi, of course the disadvantages include possible air and water pollution as well as displacement of wildlife. The adult question to ask is; can these disadvantages be adequately mitigated? The answer is a definite yes. The Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) just has to continuously monitor the copper mining activities and ensure that we do not have a repeat of KCM’s pollution of Kafue river.
5. This brings us to the current situation whereby Government has suspended all mining operations in the Lower Zambezi, apparently because an Environmental Restoration Plan was not submitted. To me, this sounds like a flimsy reason because an Environmental Restoration Plan is part of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which was long done and approved by ZEMA. You see, an EIA basically looks at all the environmental and archaeological issues that will arise from a proposed project and how the project sponsors intend to address those issues. The job of ZEMA in reviewing an EIA is to determine whether indeed all the pertinent environmental and archaeological issues have been identified and adequately addressed.
6. In the Lower Zambezi mining case, ZEMA approved the EIA and gave the project sponsors a go ahead to commence mining activities, which they did. My view is that it is not right for Government to now turnaround and halt mining activities on the pretext that a certain document was not submitted. If indeed a certain document was not submitted, it can be prepared and submitted while the mining activities continue. Halting all mining activities was an unnecessarily drastic decision on the part of Government. It may financially ruin not only the company undertaking this mining project but also has huge potential to ruin Zambia’s reputation as a mining destination in the eyes of international investors.
7. You see, mining is not only a complex activity, but it is also very expensive and delicate. For the project sponsors to have gone on site and commenced mining activities, they obviously had to sweat in convincing debt and equity investors alike to pump in hundreds of millions of dollars into the project. Before these investors could release their money, they had to weigh the risks of the project, of which an uncertain regulatory environment obviously ranked high up on the risk profile. The drastic decision of halting mining activities simply because of an alleged document which ZEMA overlooked before approving the project, has now actualized the risk of an uncertain regulatory environment. As we speak right now, the investors in this project are obviously debating whether to cut their losses and pull out of the project or hang in their. However, even if these investors decide to hang in there, the risk profile for the project has definitely gone up a hundredfold, which means the cost of financing will definitely go up for the project sponsors, much to their detriment. A Government of adults was supposed to know all this before taking the drastic decision of halting all mining activities.
8. Only a Government of children can think that a complex mining project such as the one in Lower Zambezi can be turned on and off like a light switch, at the whims of some bureaucrat sitting in a Ministry somewhere. In proper countries where the rule of law is respected and cherished, the drastic decision to halt these mining activities would be a good basis for a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Government. Therefore, other Governments out there would normally think long and hard before making such drastic decisions. But since we are in Zambia where the Judiciary sees the Executive as “mwana wapa nyumba”, such a potential lawsuit is farfetched.
9. Perhaps l can take this opportunity to directly address the children in our country, who have curved a career for themselves by opposing every developmental project. They opposed the proposed nuclear power plant in Chongwe area which was to be built by our Russian friends and would have possibly made us an electricity export powerhouse of the region, forgetting that all industrialized nations from the US to Japan to UK, China etcetera utilize nuclear energy for their electricity needs. These children in our country even opposed the construction of a shopping mall in woodlands next to St. Mary’s school, under the simplistic notion that it will disturb the learners, and blind to the mitigating measures proposed by the project sponsors in their EIA. These loudmouthed children of our country are now opposing the mining activities in Lower Zambezi on the pretext that it will displace wildlife, oblivious to the fact that the mine is located in a Game Management Area (GMA) and not a national park where the animals are located. Unlike a National Park, there are schools and hospitals and shopping malls in the GMA, and you can spend a month or two without seeing a single wild animal in a GMA. So which wild animals are going to be displaced as a result of mining activities? These same children of our country are also very self-contradictory because while they oppose mining activities on the basis that it will displace imaginary wildlife, they are quick to advocate for the reinstatement of safari hunting, which essentially involves killing animals not for food, but for trophies.
10. Anyway, our Government needs to decide whether it is going to be a Government of adults who are able to think and plan for the long-term benefit of this nation, or a Government of children who are easily swayed by the other loudmouthed children in our country. Children who can hardly see beyond their noses nor realize that for this nation to survive and prosper, we need mining. Diversification can come in due course, but for now we need mining. And our mining potential in the Copperbelt has significantly depleted, so we need new mines in other areas such as North-Western Province and Lower Zambezi. If we are not able to open new mines, our copper production will dwindle and with it our forex reserves, balance of payments position, exchange rate and overall economy. Indeed, if our Government is going to insist on being a Government of children, then they must step aside and pave way for adults to run the affairs of this nation. Adults who will be able to think and plan for the long-term good of Zambia.