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Chinese assistance holds key for Zambia

Loans drive long-term economic growth, providing more opportunities for locals

By Chali Mulenga in Livingstone, Zambia | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-20 10:18

People attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Zambia-China Friendship Road in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, on May 27. WANG CHUNYAN/XINHUA

Sustained financial assistance from China has significantly improved connectivity in Zambia, producing major projects that have formed the backbone of the country's infrastructure, said experts.

"China has contributed more to Zambia's infrastructure than any other country," said Francis Mwape Ndilila, founding partner at Ndilila Associates Architects, a major architectural designer based in the African country's capital Lusaka.

"If you remove the infrastructure built by the Chinese, there wouldn't be much left," he said, highlighting the profound dependency on these projects for the country's infrastructure backbone, including the Mukuku Bridge, the country's longest bridge and the 500-kilometer road linking Kasanka National Park with Luapula.

The roads, bridges and other projects, many of which were built with loans from China, have opened up new areas, driving long-term economic growth and development, and provided many employment opportunities for locals, he said.

Laveni Apuleni, a business consultant based in Livingstone, said loans from China have played a crucial role in the country's development.

According to Apuleni, Zambia's journey into large-scale loans began around 2011, during the presidency of Michael Sata, who was determined to improve connectivity in the country.

"The debt incurred was aimed at building infrastructure that would unify Zambia, making it easier for people and goods to move across the nation," he said.

The ambitious infrastructure projects spearheaded by the then government included extensive road networks and the creation of new districts.

Regional integration

These developments were seen as essential for boosting economic activities and integrating remote areas into the national economy. Without such investments, many regions in Zambia such as Mwandi and Luano would have remained isolated and underdeveloped, Apuleni said.

"The Chinese debt is one of the best debts because there is no one who can say they have not seen where the money was used," Apuleni said.

He added that new roads, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure developments, many of which were built with Chinese assistance, are projects that have positively impacted the lives of many Zambians, and have laid the groundwork for economic growth and development.

Ndilila also believes that the debt incurred for infrastructure development is justified.

"The debt was not for consumption but for infrastructure development. Infrastructure is going to be forever," he said, adding they have opened up areas, driving long-term economic growth and development.

Apuleni said while loans have produced a positive impact on the country, it is clear that Zambia faces a delicate balancing act.

He said the government must navigate the challenges of debt repayment while ensuring that the benefits of infrastructure investments are maximized.

Apuleni said this includes addressing any inefficiencies and ensuring that future projects are undertaken with greater financial prudence.

In a significant step toward restructuring debts in Zambia, China has taken a proactive role by co-chairing the Official Creditor Committee, or OCC.

China's role in the OCC underscores its significant contribution to Zambia's infrastructure and is now playing a pivotal role in steering the debt restructuring process toward a favorable outcome.

China was the first official international creditor to relieve Zambia's debt, as well as making efforts that will lead to significant progress in restructuring its debts, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

As the complex debt restructuring in Zambia continues, Apuleni said there are tangible benefits that cannot be overlooked, adding that the key lies in leveraging these benefits to create a sustainable and prosperous future for all Zambians.

Chali Mulenga is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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