By Masimba Tafirenyika
When, on the eve of taking power in Zambia in 1991, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) started talking of introducing changes in its domestic and foreign policies, the message sent both shock waves and excitement though the international community, depending on which side of the political spectrum one belonged.

Zambian participation in southern African politics, particularly its role in the liberation of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia continues to earn it the admiration of many.
Its contributions within organisations such as the Frontline States, the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) have been invaluable.

As far as the country’s domestic policy was concerned, notably its economic policy, no-one doubted the need to introduce new measures to deal with Zambia’s ailing economy. The on and off policies of the previous government had brought the economy to near collapse.

What attracted more attention was the new foreign policy the MMD government was advocating. Today, eight months after assuming office, the government has re-established diplomatic relations with Israel and opened a trade mission in South Africa.

On the Israel-Palestine issue, the new government justified its move as the beginning of an open door policy which sought to encourage talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, even though some have questioned the necessity and the urgency of such an act.

However, economic rather than political considerations prompted Zambia to open a trade mission in South Africa. All SADCC countries, with the exception of Angola and Tanzania, have always
maintained close economic links with South Africa because of past colonial history. Zimbabwe and South Africa have always had trade missions in each other’s territory.

Despite its strong opposition to apartheid, particularly sanctions against South Africa, the former President Kenneth Kaunda’s government kept trading links with Pretoria untouched. The only difference with the new government is that there is no contradiction between what is being said and done.

In a joint communique issued at the end of an official visit by a South African delegation to Zambia in May, the two sides resolved to enhance bilateral trade, economic and technical cooperation. They also proposed the establishment of a Zambia-South Africa chamber of commerce; the promotion of direct private South African investment in Zambia and the creation of opportunities for South African
companies to be involved in projects in Zambia financed by international donors.

The communique also took notice of the need for expansion of Zambian exports to South Africa and to address the imbalance of trade between the two countries.

Like most African countries that recognize where their economic interests lie, Zambia has also been making strenuous efforts to improve its relations with the West.

Some analysts have rightly argued that “the West and its dominance over economic relations on the (African) continent is a reality that cannot be ignored or marginalized, unless one wants to be

With a total population of 8.5 million and an external debt of more than US$7 billion, Zambia has one of the largest debts per capita in the world. The government has been pleading with the West “to write off debts of those African countries turning to democracy”.

Zambia’s opening of a trade mission was, however, more of a diplomatic victory for Pretoria than an economic triumph of President Frederick Chiluba’s government. South Africa, realizing that the road to acceptance into the community of nations is through Africa, is trying to lure these countries into re-establishing links even though a lot still needs to be done towards dismantling apartheid.

Although President F. W. de Klerk’s government has been the most reformist in the history of South Africa, apartheid is still very much alive. Witness the current carnage in the townships alongside well documented evidence that the government’s security forces are involved.

Within SADCC the new MMD government’s entry into the field of foreign policy as a new player has been received with mixed feelings.

Current relations between Zambia and Zimbabwe, for example, are at best cautious.

Particularly worrying was the hint by Zambia to review all agreements entered into between Zimbabwe and the ex- Kaunda government when the two sides failed to agree on charges for
transmitting electricity from Zaire to Zimbabwe using the Zambian grid.

Because of the drought which is currently ravaging the region, power generating capacity at the Kariba plant has not been enough to meet Zimbabwe’s needs. This has forced the country to look for other sources of power.

Under an agreement signed between the three countries, Zambia was to get 8.5 percent of the cost of wheeling electricity to Zimbabwe from Zaire. However, for reasons still unclear, Zambia demanded 27.5percent of the charges.

In order to force it to stick to its earlier agreement, according to local press reports, Zambia was “reminded that it was forgetting Zimbabwe would be asked to co-operate in the speedy handling and movement of its maize requirements … that they realised they were not the only ones with the means for exerting pressure on other countries and squeezing them in the process.”

That the two sides had to resort to arm-twisting diplomacy was not in the true spirit of brotherhood that had been known to characterize SADCC working relationships.

Regional linkages are an economic reality which no country can afford to ignore. These range from trade, transport, energy, migrant labour to tourism.

Recently the Zambians, alongside all who cherish and respect human rights, have been giving Malawian exiles tutorials in democracy. Malawi, under its ageing life President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, has one of the most repressive regimes in Africa.

Nobody denies the right of the Zambian government to conduct its foreign policy the way it sees fit. The basic objective for any policy is to serve the interests of its citizens. However, be that as it may. It is also in the interest of all countries in the region to co-operate for the mutual benefit of all.

The setting up of SADCC, first to fight apartheid and now to integrate southern African economies, was a historic achievement. Its objectives must be promoted and supported by all its members. (SARDC)

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