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Zambia President says progress made on economic recovery

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Jacquelyn Martin/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Five months after taking over a heavily indebted country, the new government of Zambia is making significant progress in the recovery of its economy, its credibility and its solvency, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema said Thursday in an interview with AFP.

With loans estimated at 12.7 billion euros, a third of which is due to Chinese creditors, the country had become last year the first in Africa to have defaulted on its debt since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, due to the lack of agreements between previous governments and creditors.

But after 100 days in power and intense negotiations, the new Zambian president obtained a promise of 1.24 billion euros in aid from the IMF at the beginning of December, a chance for the country, which has been strangled by a colossal debt, to get its head above water.

The debt problem "could have plunged the new government into crisis" but "we managed to manage this default quickly", said to AFP Mr. Hichilema, insisting on the fact that the previous governments "had tried to find an agreement with the IMF, for seven, ten years, without succeeding.

According to him, it was a question of "credibility, seriousness, to join the gesture to the word, there is no doubt about it", he declared during an interview given on the occasion of a trip to Johannesburg, in South Africa.

The three-year agreement in principle was conceded on the government's commitment to undertake deep economic reforms.

Difficult reforms

Mr. Hichilema concedes that the task "is not easy", while highlighting his initial achievements.

The Zambian president is particularly pleased with the fact that "for the first time in 17 years, the local currency has appreciated" and that "in the first few months (of his presidency) we have been able to bring down inflation.

However, "we know how difficult it is. Some things will take a little longer because the hole is deeper, but we have to get out of this hole together," he said.

Elected in the presidential elections in August, "HH", the eternal opponent, was elected on the promise of eradicating rampant corruption, reviving the economy and bringing back investors. His election has raised hopes in the landlocked southern African country and beyond, interpreted as good news for democracy on the continent.

In this poor country, despite its copper wealth, half the population lives below the poverty line and expectations are high, commensurate with the hope raised after the election victory.

Elsewhere in Africa, Hichilema's surprise election has also raised hopes among some opposition parties on a continent where incumbent leaders regularly rig elections.

Zambia's president is urging leaders in the region to respect their countries' constitutions.

Despite being a "new kid on the block, I'm learning at the same time, sending a message to my colleagues that we can do better," he says.

"As a continent, we can be defined differently. We should not be defined by military coups" but by "constitutionalism, respect for human rights, democratic space, inclusion and not exclusion".

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