French president Emmanuel Macron welcomed his Zambian counterpart Hakainde Hichilema Wednesday (May 10).
The thorny topic of the restructuring of Zambia’s debt was among top issues since France co-chair of the Creditor Committee with China.
On the sidelines of their conversation, Hichilema gave an interview to the AFP in which he pleaded for "economic diplomacy" at a time when some analysts predict a return to a bipolar world.
"Our continent, Africa, has been lagging behind," the Zambian president said. "We must do something dramatic to lift Africa up. We cannot continue with the old ways. And that's why, in our talk with President Macron, as I said, it was a debt issue, but also the opportunities for investment, for trade."
"And in this investment, Africa now, our shift in Zambia, Africa, is towards value addition rather than extracting raw materials and exporting raw materials but to extract these and process them in country in joint venture with others."
Zambia is a top producer of copper. Since Hichelema's election, Western countries have been courting him.
The French Secretary of State in charge of the Development of the Francophonie and International Partnerships, Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, recently cited Zambia as an example: a "democratic country that can feed Southern Africa" and which has become "an important partner" to France.
Hichilema said Paris was "the place where to ensure that debt restructuring" issue is resolved so as to " devote resources, time and attention to development."
Partnerships not "puppetship"
"I am no one's puppet," Hichelema retorted to those who accuse him of being used by Western nations. Zambia's leader asserted his pragmatic approach to international relations. "We have issues of mutual interests with France. When I am in the United Kingdom, the same applies. And it is the same when I am in Beijing."
The 60-year-old politician highlighted the importance of partnerships, in a vision where countries are sovereign and not puppets of other superpowers.
"I think we're talking about not a puppetship, but partnership! That's the way to go! And that to keep our world, you know, having common interests, vested interests."
"When we have that effectively, government to government, region to region, continent to continent, then the global community, vested interests in each other, you'll see, you should see, less instability because on one side, we are all invested in each other in terms of peace and stability, but more important on the economic and social development side."
During his conversation with president Emmanuel Macron, Hichilema reiterated Zambia was "ready for business" as he lauded the "opportunities" his country has to offer in sectors including energy, minerals, agriculture.
"Zambia is a country that must take its role in the global world,' he said as he pointed to "the importance of accelerating (its) economic development" and "creating opportunities and jobs" for youth since "60% of the population is under 30 years old".
On Twitter, Hakainde Hichilema said his French counterpart and him "held fruitful talks." Adding he was "reassured by his [Editor's note: referring to Emmanuel Macron] commitment that Zambia's debt restructuring programme, should be conclusively dealt with, before the June Summit for a New Global Financial Pact".
Hichilema attended Thursday (May 11) the Zambia Investment Forum in London.