Bars and nightclubs were shut across Zambia over the weekend as the country prayed and fasted for its currency, the kwacha, to reverse its sharp nosedive and for copper prices to stop tanking, as the economy slides into crisis.
Church leaders rallied their members to heed President Edgar Lungu’s call for a national day of devotion. Thousands were counted at the Show grounds this weekend in the capital city Lusaka for the five-hour open-air prayer session with top religious and political officials.
Some 80 percent of Zambia’s the 15 million people are Christian.
The kwacha has fallen 45 percent against the US dollar this year. Food prices have soared and crippling power shortages have been triggered by drought and low water levels in Lake Kariba, where hydropower plants supply much of the country’s electricity.
Zambia is Africa’s second-largest producer of the copper, and it exports make up 70% of government revenues. Prices of the metal have slipped by 20% over the past 12 months due to falling demand — particularly in China, Zambia’s largest trading partner.
“Most operations are in distress” Jackson Sikamo, a board member of Zambia Chamber of Mines, said last week. “Low prices are putting more pressure on the already stretched margins.”
Up to 60% of the country’s nearly 30,000 contract miners have been put on notice for possible layoffs, according to James Chansa, president of National Union of Miners and Allied Workers.
“Our God has heard our cries; he has forgiven us our sins, and we are sure he will heal our country [as] we face serious social-economic challenges,” Lungu told a gathering of some 5,000 Zambians, including former presidents Kenneth Kaunda and Rupiah Banda.
He also appealed to Zambians with “brilliant ideas” to come forward and assist the government.
Even some ordinary Zambians were talking in apocalyptic terms about the economy. “These days are like the last days,” Gordon Chanda, a driver told the Al Jazeera newswire. “We need more prayers.”
Efforts to reverse the unequal distribution of copper mining profits may have come too little too late. President Lungu’s calls for new and higher taxes were rebuffed by some of the multinationals miners who threatened to exit the country rather than pay more taxes.
And billions in capital has already been hidden in foreign banks. According to a report by Global Financial Integrity on “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries,” Zambia has lost $8.8 billion in illicit financial outflows – the proceeds of crime, corruption and tax evasion – between 2001 and 2010. Of that, $4.9 billion can be attributed to trade misinvoicing, according to Transparency International, which is a type of trade fraud used by commercial importers and exporters around the world.