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China dominates the Zambian discourse

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By MICHAEL CHAWE
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In Zambia, the Sino-Zam relations debate is commonplace. It covers the sale of cheap goods, manufacturing and even mass unemployment, occasioned by Chinese doing jobs like chicken rearing or selling roast corn by the roadside, that should be a preserve of the locals.

But perhaps more dominant and emotive is the talk about the Chinese slave labour conditions, whipped up by then the opposition in the 2011 election campaign in which the current Patriotic Front (PF) party led by Michael Sata swept to victory.

PF rode on anti-Chinese wave and scored big. However, it now was like the chickens coming home to roost as the narrative takes a new spiral, “colonialism and forceful public asset takeovers”.

The debate has taken a new dimension and revolves around the ever increasing debt that Zambia owes the Asian country. China is also giving other African countries billions of dollars in aid, without the political and economic strings attached by the West. Numerous roads, hospitals and stadiums have sprouted across the continent, thanks to the Chinese.

The relationship between Beijing and Lusaka date back many decades. It was, however, solidified in the 1970s as the father of modern China, Mao Tse Tung built Zambia a 1,100-mile railway for its mining exports after the route through the white-ruled Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa was cut by sanctions. The West had refused to help, saying such a project was not viable.

The Chinese have, in the recent past, managed to pump millions of dollars into the Zambian economy and resuscitated mining firms which were long unproductive after the privatisation bid in the early 90s as the country switched from a socialist-orientation to a liberal one.

The current Zambian government’s penchant for borrowing-two Eurobonds due to mature- has been hair raising, leading to the mounting speculation about debt swap with state assets for Chinese liabilities.

As at March this year, Zambia’s outstanding debt stood at $9.3 billion, having risen from $8.7 billion at the end of 2017.

Last week, Finance minister Margaret Mwanakwate dismissed media reports that Zambia was offering its electricity firm, a broadcaster and the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to China as security against loans.

“The Zambian Government has not offered any state-owned enterprise to any lender as collateral for any borrowing,” Ms Mwanakatwe said.

She also dismissed claims that the government was exploring debt/asset swap options.

China is funding major infrastructure projects in Zambia among them the $300 million upgrade of the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

Beijing has invested more than $2 billion in Zambia’s mining, agriculture, service and housing sectors. It has also built multimillion-dollar stadiums, schools and roads.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the country was at a high risk of debt distress, an analysis President Edgar Lungu says is “false”.

On Friday, President Lungu defended Zambia’s ties with China amid reports that some parastatals had been offered as collateral for Chinese loans.

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“Our friendship with China is mutual and no amount of malicious propaganda will deter us from the opportunities that lie in what we share,” he told MPs in Parliament.

“I urge everyone to remain focused and not be moved by the ongoing mischaracterised information suggesting that our friendship with China suggests colonialism,” he said, adding that “China has never been known for such!”

An Academic from the University of Zambia, the country’s largest public university, Mr Alex Ng’oma, too does not share the view that the “debt albatross is a tactic that would colonise Zambia”.

“What, colonialism in this era, how is even that possible?”

“Those running with that story just want to malign our government and make us lose trust in our institutions. So I urge people to dismiss this story.”

A lawyer and governing party lawmaker, Mr Tutwa Ngulube, told the state broadcaster that Zambia had every reason to be grateful to China due to its unflinching support in building infrastructure all over the country.

“Investors from China should be allowed to come to Zambia just like investors from other parts of the world. But the Finance ministry should avail information on loans obtained from China in order to avoid speculation,” he advised.

Zambian should not bow down to the propaganda machinery that has been launched against the Chinese government, he said.

But the China-African colonialism debate goes beyond Zambia. It was reverberating all over the continent and beyond.

Former Comesa secretary-general Sindiso Ngwenya was recently quoted weighing in on the matter.

Mr Ngwenya, who worked for the economic bloc for 34 years, said the China-Africa relationship has always been based on a win-win basis.

“I recall vividly that during this period [colonial] there were no voices that spoke about the People’s Republic of China supporting the decolonisation and African countries because of self-interest that is based on exploitative relationship.”

“It is therefore disingenuous for those who only yesterday and for centuries were involved in the enslavement of Africans and exploitation of natural resources to turn around and proclaim that they have clean hands and that China’s partnership is based on the model of exploitation that they know.”

Comesa is the largest regional economic organisation in Africa, with 21 member states and a population of about 390 million. Comesa has a free trade area and launched a customs union in 2009.

To their credit, however, Zambian youth continue benefitting from the hundreds of jobs being created by Chinese loans and investments.

The new Chinese ambassador to Lusaka, Mr Li Jie, said soon after the Presidential address on Friday: “I heard some description of China being a face of new colonialism. It feels really strange. We don’t want to have this hat, it is not appropriate for China. Colonial policy has never existed in China’s diplomacy and practice. China never colonised any African country in their history. On the contrary, all the challenges the African countries are facing now…originate from their colonial pasts.”

To the US envoy Daniel Foote, some caution was necessary in the Chinese relations.

“We’re not telling you [Zambia] what to do, but all we are asking you is to walk into these deals with your eyes open,” he said.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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