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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Reframing the Lower Zambezi Mining Copper Debate

Editor's note: This is a guest post by Michael Chishala, a Zambian writer and regular contributor to the discussions on the ZE Facebook page. Follow him on Facebook. 
The Zambian government recently made a controversial decision to grant a licence to Zambezi Resources Ltd for copper mining activities in the Lower Zambezi National Park. The action triggered a hullabaloo that has no signs of abating, what with a court injunction granted to environmental groups to halt the process for the moment. 

Although I am a very fierce critic of the the current Patriotic Front government, this is one of the few things they have done right, even if it is for totally selfish reasons. The main argument given by opponents of the project is an environmental one (i.e. that mining activities will destroy the beauty of the national park and reduce its tourism value). There are also arguments on pollution from the mining process. My observations are as follows:

1. Have the people opposed to this project produced any figures of how income generated from tourism in Lower Zambezi compares with projected income from the mining? The park collected about $600,000 in 2011. Compare that to the revenue that will be collected when the planned half a BILLION Dollars is invested.

2. The mine will only use up 245 square kilometeres out of 4,000 (6%). Why are people acting like it is the whole park? Tourism Minister Sylvia Masebo gave the most dishonest argument in her submissions to the parliamentary committee on tourism and arts by claiming that Government risks losing safari fees amounting to over K84 million and photographic revenue worth over K9 million if mining is allowed in the national park (about $17 million in total). How does the usage of 6% of the land conceivably translate into such a loss?

3. Mining activities have a far greater impact on the economy than tourism. This stems from the higher value of copper and poor infrastructure in tourist attractions (roads, bridges, airports, telecommunications, etc). In contrast, the mining sector is well-developed with a ninety-year history. Lower Zambezi is massively inaccessible (it takes three hours of excruciating driving in a 4X4 to get there from the nearest town, Chirundu). It is ludicrous to think that this problem will be sorted out anytime soon and make Lower Zambezi a cash cow. All the fancy statistics of how tourism in Zambia is growing after the WTO summit last year are meaningless with respect to the park because the vast majority of the tourists are not going there. In contrast, Zambezi Resources will get proper roads built which will infact make the national park more accessible and ironically increase its tourism value.

4. Why are animals and plants or the natural beauty of the park more important than the lives of people? How do you reduce poverty without increasing economic activity through projects like this? Imagine if this argument had been used for every single mine that currently exists and all projects were shelved. Where would we be today? I will never understand how people can essentially argue for MORE POVERTY in the name of the environment.

5. Giving examples of pollution on the Copperbelt Province as an argument against the project ignores that fact that Copper mining techniques have improved and pollution is much less a problem.

6. Lower Zambezi National Park is just a creation of man that can be "uncreated". It was actually a game reserve for first president Kenneth Kaunda until 1983 when he turned it into a national park. There is so much idle land in Zambia and other national parks can be easily created to replace Lower Zambezi if necessary. Someone has to explain what is so special about it that we can just throw away all opportunities to exploit the resources there and improve the lives of Zambians.

7. There are countries in the world that do not have national parks (eg Hong Kong, Singapore, etc) and they are not any worse off.

8. A totally dishonest argument people make against mining is that copper mining contributes only 2% to domestic revenue. This figure only measures direct taxation through mineral royalty and corporation tax but ignores secondary taxation. Mines engage thousands of contractors who they pay for various goods and services like lubricants, fuels, clothing, cleaning services, food, safety equipment, outsourced employment, etc. These contractors pay taxes and they consume services from other companies who also consume from yet other companies, and so on. Imagine if we add up all the taxes levied on the income from this long chain in the country. It certainly will not come out to a measly 2% by any stretch of imagination.

Now, there are legitimate concerns from the opposing camp. The Environmental Impact Assessment report raised some red flags. But this cannot be a showstopper as there is an abundance of technology to mitigate negative effects. Environmental groups should just lobby for better inspections to keep pollution in check, not for outright banning of mining. There is also the argument about the possibility of high-level corruption in this deal but this is just a red herring. It is like nationalizing Zamtel by claiming that the deal was corruptly done.

In conclusion, it appears to me that this is another issue where too much mob psychology rules, instead of rational sober analysis.

Governmental Lawlessness and Lower Zambezi Mining project
Court 'stops' mining in Lower Zambezi National Park
Zambezi Resources Ltd 2013 Annual Report
Kangaluwi mine - an environmental dilemma where everyone is right
Masebo, Kalaba differ over Lower Zambezi National Park mining
Massive Copper Mine in the Heart of Lower Zambezi National Park Approved
Zambia's Greatest Wilderness: The Lower Zambezi National Park
Mining sector leads Zambia's foreign earnings
No Mining in Lower Zambezi National Park (Facebook Page)
Mining Sector contributing less than 2% of domestic revenue-ZCTU


  1. The article above expresses a short-sighted and one-sided point of view. Western countries have had the opportunity of being able to test the consequences of putting industrial development before ecosystem services and have paid the price. They have traveled the road that Michael Chishala suggests is the best road, and found it grossly wanting. For that reason, if Zambezi Resources was proposing this mine inside a National Park and water catchment in Australia it would not be permitted. Zambezi Resources does not have the economic interests of the Zambian people at heart, they see an opportunity to exploit a country that does not have the same level of environmental safeguards in place as their own country.

    The author seems to imply that mining, a short term exploitative industry, should have precedence over everything else due to potential economic benefits. It is clear there is no understanding of the ecosystem services which people need to survive, including clean water, clean air and productive soils to grow crops. It is not a case of protecting wildlife and nature at the expense of people, people need nature and functioning ecosystem processes to survive. His example of Hong Kong as a successful economy without any National Parks is a perfect illustration. Hong Kong's pollution is so heavy it reduces visibility and the city is approaching the record of being the darkest capital city in the world with the least amount of sunlight hours. University research has estimated that pollution-related diseases cost them $21 BILLION per year in lost productivity and hospital admissions. Many people in Hong Kong would dearly love access to the sort of National Parks that Zambia has.

    Reverting to such a prehistoric argument, of people versus nature, serves no purpose and will take Zambia backwards. Zambia has instead been moving forward, its policy of economic diversification, including the development of sustainable industries with longer term benefits than mining, is progressive and provides an opportunity for Zambia to avoid the mistakes that many developed nations have made. There is a reason that ZAWA and ZEMA exist, a reason for due processes to make sure that mining is not undertaken at the expense of other important resources, services and industries. Mining must co-exist with other industries, including tourism and sustainable natural resource management. There is abundant space for mining in Zambia outside of National Parks.

    I agree with one thing the author said, that decisions should be made on rationality, evidence and science. The initial license for this project was granted without due process, as admitted by the Minister, and communities and stakeholders are still waiting for the documentation that shows how social and environmental impacts from this project will be mitigated. So far only a grossly inadequate and internationally criticized EIS has been presented which was rejected by ZEMA on valid grounds. Since then there has only been PR spin - where is the evidence?

    As for community benefits, this company has already failed to deliver in that regard, including failing to build a community school promised years ago, and failing to rehabilitate an exploratory site which polluted a tributary to the Zambezi. Is this the sort of company Zambia wants to trust with its future, and its health? And does Zambia wish to be liable for polluting a major river system shared by Zimbabwe and Mozambique?

  2. Mr Chishala’s post refers and is submitted in point form relevant to each of his numbered comments. I post without prejudice in what I truly believe, as a patriotic Zambian citizen, to be in the National Interest.

    1. The investment by lodges in the Lower Zambezi extends into many millions of $, and their contribution to the Zambian economy is annually. Specifics can be obtained from ZTB and TCZ, which gather statistics on the same. The safari lodges employ more Zambians from the area (at least 800) than the mine can employ, whilst not destroying the resource. The mining company has no track record of mining except for the unrepaired excavations it abandoned in the Zambezi escarpment contrary to Zambian environmental regulations, and an un-built school that it promised to local communities?

    2. The mine is within the catchment area and about 400M above the Zambezi valley thus by gravity all toxins will find their way down into the flood plains and Zambezi river. ZEMA, the government agency, has cited these among other environmental reasons for rejecting this project, along with concerns that Zambia does not have the capacity to adequately monitor mining in a protected area or make the necessary repairs in the likely event of degradation.

    3. Experience shows that building of roads into poorly managed/protected tourism areas can increase the amount of poaching, charcoal burning and other illegal, degrading activity, thereby reducing the conservation status and hence tourism value of the LZNP. Mining is not the only threat to the LZNP - these include poaching, encroachment, charcoal burning and poorly managed limits of use. More roads will worsen all these most especially whilst ZAWA is still in difficulty.

    4. This is an argument for improved health, reduced poverty and more jobs through sustainable tourism. Not only do people need fresh air to breathe, unpolluted soils to grow their crops and clean water to drink, people need beauty and wildlife to periodically escape to from the already polluted and toxic cities/mines within which they live and work. There is room in Zambia for both mining and wildlife/tourism as much of the country's rural areas remain undeveloped. Zambia has a very clear policy on tourism - that it should be sustainable, but allowing mining in Zambia's protected areas defies all sustainable practices.

    5. The Copperbelt pollution is real; please cite examples of these improved techniques, why are these examples, if they really exist, not being followed in Zambia, and why these were not included in the mining company’s original proposals?

    6. The LZNP was created by God, not Man, and was declared a NP because it is an area of unique intrinsic natural beauty. It cannot be replaced as Man lacks the ability to create (only destroy) such natural wonders. The Zambezi river is also an international source of water, do the people of Mocambique and Zimbabwe want to drink Zambia's mining effluents; do they want their fish, soils and wildlife contaminated?

    7. Hong Kong is one of the planet’s most polluted places, and is one of the centers in the illegal trade of endangered wildlife. The people of Hong Kong need places like Zambia to come and visit, to escape their own toxic environment and they will pay a big price to do this. The Asian tourism market is a growing one that Zambia will miss out on if it sells its key and unique wildlife areas short in favour of short-term extractive, unsustainable policies.

    8. According to ZEMA and other experts locally and abroad the red flags are showstoppers.

    Zambia needs mining but does it need to destroy the unique LZNP for this one seemingly marginal, speculative mine with limited, theoretical benefits whilst abundant copper resources are available outside of LZNP?

  3. Thank you gentlemen and just a small addition. China is a developing nation just like Africa. We may think that they are far better off but when you check their population and the rate they are going is the reason they target Africa because our laws are not structured. They need to feed their people and the reason China focuses on resources. They can't go to the USA, Europe or Australia because they know they won't go far. After Australia takes what it's in search of Zambia it will be even more poor than it already is. Australia has enough but it's the greed of always wanting more and why not if they can get it. So they target someone like Harry Kalaba probably exchangeable hand shakes and he grants them what they want. There is no such thing as sustainable mining or the first echo green friendly mining and just rubbish in my eyes. They will come up with fancy words to make themselves look good on paper. In the end Zambia will get the short end of the stick like always. If Australia wants to mine in that particular area, then what does it really have for them to want it so bad? What Harry Kalaba is doing is not thinking long term but on short gains. Mining depends on water and they have the perfect source right in that area. If the Zambezi River is polluted with toxic waste it will be a catastrophe not only affecting Zambia but neighbouring countries who share the water source. Animals will die, people will die and so will tourists. Zambia will be black listed all because of a very bad decision made by one man. These developed nations know there are political instabilities in Africa and know corruption is abundant and you can go to anyone. Please think long term let's conserve and keep what is rightfully ours. If the Australians want it that bad then we need it 10 times more. This is what will happen to Zambia and we can't just sit back and watch.


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