RAO NARENDER YADAV / IAT
After a gap of a decade and a half India saw a state visit by any Zambian President, when Edgar Lungu arrived in New Delhi on August 20. The last time a Zambian President paid a state visit to India was 16 years ago when Late President Levy Mwanawasa visited from April 20 to 25, 2003. Lungu’s visit is also the first state visit of any African head-of-state after the formation of new government in India. President Edgar Lungu, who was in India on a three day State Visit, reaffirmed the age-old friendly relations between the two countries. Last year, President of India Ram Nath Kovind had also made a three day State Visit to Zambia in April 2018, first time by an Indian President in 30 years.
President Edgar Lungu was received at the airport by V. Muraleedharan, Minister of State for External Affairs and Zambia’s High Commissioner to India Judith Kapijimpanga. The visiting President was accorded a 21 gun salute and inspected a guard of honour at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address called Zambia an important and trustworthy partner. He also announced that the Government of India will cooperate in setting up an Incubation Center in Zambia. Additionally, India will provide 100 Solar Irrigation pumps to boost agriculture and send 1000 tons of rice and 100 tons of Milk Powder to Zambia. He expressed his happiness that Zambia has joined India’s ambitious program of tele-education and tele-medicine, e-Vidya Bharati and e-Arogya Bharati.
Prime Minister Modi also said that the large community of Indian origin in Zambia is a strong link between the two countries and cultural exchanges and cooperation in capacity building add new dimensions to these relations.
Zambia has a large and vibrant Indian community many of them had settled down in Zambia decades ago. There are about 25,000 Indians/PIOs in Zambia and some have taken up Zambian nationality also. Majority of Indians/PIOs are from Gujarat. Zambians of Indian origin play a significant role in Zambia’s economy, especially in trade, industry, hospitality and transport sectors.
In his statement President Lungu thanked the Indian Government for the support and cooperation over the years in areas of trade, investment, energy, health, infrastructure development, capacity building and agriculture among others. The President congratulated India on the 55th anniversary of the India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme under which many Zambian officials have been trained, experts deployed, studies undertaken and financing provided to Zambia. The President also expressed gratitude for providing US$ 100,000 for the Mahatma Gandhi Primary School which is being utilised for the upgrading of the school to secondary level. He also thanked India for the donation of medical equipment worth US $3 Million, which follows India’s President Ram Nath Kovind’s announcement during his state visit to Zambia in 2018.
During the three-day visit President Edgar Lungu held talks with the President of India Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and met Zambians resident in India and addressed the India- Zambia Business Forum. Six Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs)/Agreements were exchanged, aimed towards enhancing further bilateral co-operation in various fields. This includes an MoU between Election Commission of India and Electoral Commission of Zambia, MoU on EVBAB Network Project, MoU between Foreign Service Institute of India and Zambian Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, MoU on cooperation in the field of Arts & Culture, cooperation in the field of Defence and in the field of Geology and Mineral Resources.
Standoff with Vedanta on KCM
Despite taking up the matter at the highest levels, during the visit, it seems the issue of KCM between Zambian government and Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta group has not find a way out.
In a statement ahead of President Lungu, Vedanta had said that its relationship with Zambia is a long-standing one, reinforcing the mutually supportive relationship between India and Zambia. Vedanta’s Chairman Anil Agarwal’s message to President Lungu during his visit was “Vedanta welcomes you to India, and thanks you for your leadership and direction as our teams work together to resolve the KCM matter.”
“I want to express my deep and humble appreciation to you, Your Excellency, for the manner in which you were willing to engage with us in Lusaka last week,” Agarwal said. He added ,”Your leadership and stature meant that we should be on track to resolve KCM’s future in a way that will benefit Zambia and the Zambian people.”
Just a few months back President Edgar Lungu had said that the government is resolved and determined to part ways with Vedanta group of companies who are currently running Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). “Zambians wanted Vedanta out of the Copperbelt, out of this country. The Zambians people have decided that they want a responsible investor,” President had said during his visit to Ndola. Mining tycoon Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta group has been doing rounds of reconciliatory meetings with Zambian government at various levels as it is on the verge of losing the profitable Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) for allegedly defaulting on tax payments and violating operational licence. Zambia is Africa’s second biggest copper-producing country after Democratic Republic of Congo.
Meanwhile, V Muraleedharan, Minister of State for External Affairs has hoped that the stand-off between the Zambian Government and Vedanta will be resolved soon.