The African state’s current 'rosy' picture is not without its blemishes, as Maurice Jones reports
Although there is a wide range of minerals and potential minerals sourced from the earth in Zambia the mining industry there is still dominated by one metal – copper - most of which is extracted along the Copperbelt bordering with the ‘pedicle’ of and sharing the same geological structure as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Zambia is Africa’s largest producer of copper and seventh in the world.
Although far less than copper ores, there are also significant deposits of coal, gemstones (including the world’s largest emerald mine), lead-zinc, uranium, gold and, associated with the copper mining, much of the world’s reserves of cobalt. Zambia ranks second in world cobalt production.
The Chamber of Mines of Zambia (http://mines.org.zm/, which includes all the largest mining operators, has projected that copper production will increase to 1.5 million tonnes over the next five years. According to the Chamber, investment in the rehabilitation and expansion of new processing plants has totalled US$ 6 billion since privatisation of the mining sector. Five new mines are due t come into production by 2017.
However, the current rosy picture is not without its blemishes. Zambia is sill largely dependent on copper for its overall economy, and copper prices are volatile. Also, the presence of Chinese mining interests and other investments has led to a propaganda war between these and western organisations, mainly over alleged human rights abuses and safety records. China’s presence in Zambia is long-standing but still small relative to western mine interests, but China remains Zambia’s largest export partner with 34.8 per cent of the total.
While the Copperbelt has high levels of its main product (up to 4 per cent grade), its position in the centre of Africa far from the sea has hampered exploitation during many periods. Only recently the transport routes (rail and road) have become to be more developed in most directions. In the past, in addition to topographical barriers, events such as the Angolan war and the dispute with Zimbabwe, prevented free flow of product to export markets.
Overall the Zambian economy has enjoyed a substantial growth rate of over 6 per cent recently which, coupled with a stable political environment, has encouraged investment. Competition for influence between foreign countries has been intense, with, in addition to the UK, US and China, others such as Brazil, Canada, Germany and Sweden seeking to gain influence. Privatisation of the mines has resulted in improved production and profits but with the fragility of copper prices, the country remains vulnerable.