Sean Tembo
Sean Tembo


By Sean Tembo – PeP President

1. As one of the residents of the global village, Zambia has to maintain good relations with all other countries at regional level, continental level and global level. As former United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger once said; there is no friendship among nations, only common interests. That means, in order for Zambia to sustain its “friendship” with another country, we need to be adding some kind of value to that country, either as a trade partner or as a diplomatic ally or something to that effect. In other words, for us to cultivate long lasting friendships with other countries, we need to add some value to those other countries. It has to be a two way street. Like Marilyn Monroe, the American actress, model and singer once said; give and take is a fair game.

2. This brings me to the events of the past week in which the Republican President, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema met a Special Envoy of the King of Saudi Arabia at State House. The President took advantage of this occasion to publicly appeal to the King to convert the $13 million loan that we owe the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, into a grant. In other words, that the loan should be cancelled.

3. This public request by the President did not sit well with me for a number of reasons. First of all, historically, Saudi Arabia has been an all weather friend of Zambia since the days of KK. They have done a lot for this country over the years. Currently, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is constructing a $145 million hospital in Chalala area of Lusaka, which is poised to be the biggest hospital in Zambia taking over from UTH, and is a donation to this country. If the President possessed sound diplomatic skills, he was supposed to utilize the occasion of the visit by the King’s Special Envoy to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for all the good deeds that they have done for this country, and further offering what we can do for them.

4. It is my humble submission that the President behaved in a morally bankrupt manner when he publicly requested the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to cancel our $13 million loan. At a personal level, if you have a friend who is apparently well-to-do than you, and that friend occasionally gives you some handouts and also some loans, it would be wrong for you to ask that friend to convert one of the small loans into a handout. It is a dishonorable act which is likely to reduce your standing in the eyes of your friend. If you borrow money from someone, you need to take it back. It should be up to the lender to say; no just keep it. It is not up to you to ask the lender if you can just keep it. Such is the behavior of a morally bankrupt person.

5. Some people have argued that there is nothing wrong with asking for debt forgiveness, and that late former President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa also did it, which resulted in more than $7 billion of Zambia’s debt being forgiven. That may be true, but the context is totally different. Before you copy and paste something, always pay attention to the context. Some of the salient facts about the $7 billion debt that was forgiven by various creditor nations are that; firstly it was not only Zambia’s debt which was forgiven by these creditor nations who called themselves the Paris Club. The total debt forgiven was in excess of $300 billion to more than 40 developing countries mostly in Africa.

6. There are two moral issues that made the debt forgiveness possible. Firstly, the creditor nations that made up the Paris Club were former colonial masters of the debtor nations whose debt was being advocated to be forgiven, and the argument was that during the time that these countries, including Zambia, were colonized, the creditor nations looted alot of natural resources and that the debt could therefore be netted off against the looted assets. The second argument for debt cancellation was that the debtor nations had been servicing these debts for decades, but due to high interest rates and penalties, there was little amortization to the principal amounts, despite the debt amount having been paid out many times over. It was more a case of kaloba. These two are very compelling arguments and the rich creditor nations, who are also former colonizers, had no option but to forgive the outstanding debt to poor debtor nations, of which Zambia benefited about $7 billion in debt write downs.

7. Clearly, the circumstances in which Mwanawasa advocated for, and managed to achieve debt forgiveness in the early 2000s, are totally different to the circumstances in which Hichilema is now seeking to obtain the $13 million debt forgiveness from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Unlike the former colonizers rich creditor nations that made up the Paris Club, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is neither a former colonial master of Zambia nor are they a first-world country. They are also grappling with issues of poverty, disease, lack of education, etcetera for their people. Their per capita income for 2020 was only $21,000 against about $63,000 for the United States. So when they decide to donate a $145 million hospital to Zambia, it is not because they have too much money, and it is not in our place as a nation to beg for a further $13 million in addition to the $145 million being given to us. That is the behavior of a morally bankrupt person. If they wanted to write down the $13 million loan, they would have done it by themselves without being hustled. Just like they decided to donate a $145 million hospital to us without being hustled.

8. If we are going to sustain good relations with countries that like us, our foreign policy must seek to add some kind of value to such countries. For instance, during the many visits by former Heads of State to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which we solicited for cheaper oil, the Kingdom did express a need which they have and which they hoped we could fulfill. That was to export some goats to them, possibly because they are largely a desert, and their goats do not have enough pasture. But up until now, we have not exported a single goat to them. But they proceeded to donate a $145 million hospital, which will be the biggest hospital in Zambia once completed. And when the King’s Special Envoy visits Hichilema at State House, instead of hosting a huge state banquet for him, as a way of saying thank you and also as a way of apologizing for our failure to send any goats up there, he is met with a public request from the President for more freebies in the form of debt forgiveness. And also, the fact that the debt forgiveness request was made publicly instead of privately, smacks of blackmail by the President. As things stand, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be compelled to forgive our $13 million debt even if they have no capacity to do so. Just because our morally bankrupt President blackmailed them to do so. That is shameful diplomacy by the President.

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SET 26.03.2022


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