Zambia’s ‘King Cobra’ Pledges to Spread Wealth as President

Zambia's Patriotic Front Leader Michael Sata
Zambia’s opposition leader Michael Sata won the country’s presidential election, Chief Justice Ernest Sakala said. Photographer: Thomas Nsama/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Sata, known to his supporters as “King Cobra,” was sworn in as Zambia’s president today and promised the nation’s poor a greater of the wealth in Africa’s top copper producer.

The 73-year-old Sata, who leads the Patriotic Front party, beat incumbent Rupiah Banda in the Sept. 20 presidential election, said Ireen Mambilima, chairwoman of the Electoral Commission. Sata, who narrowly lost three previous elections, had 43 percent to Banda’s 36 percent with more than 90 percent of votes counted and couldn’t be beaten, she told reporters in Lusaka, the capital.

Sata’s party also won the most seats in parliamentary elections. The victories end two decades of rule by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

Sata, known by his moniker because of his aggressive campaigning style, attracted followers among the southern African nation’s youth with a promise to create jobs and spread wealth by extracting more benefits from a rapidly expanding copper industry.

The government must do more to address poverty and seek policies that help the country’s poor share in economic growth, Sata said in his inauguration speech in Lusaka, broadcast on national television. The government will continue to work in partnership with investors, who are welcome in the country, he said.

Favorable Taxes

“The fact that 70 percent of our people live in poverty is unacceptable,” Sata said to loud applause from tens of thousands of people outside the country’s Supreme Court. “It’s time to put Zambians first. No-one should be above sharing the benefits of development.”

Favorable taxes and regulations helped lure copper-mining companies and boost production to more than 700,000 metric tons last year. While economic growth averaged more than 6 percent a year in the three years Banda was president, the country was among the 20 lowest-ranked nations on the United Nations Development Programme’s 2010 Human Development Index.

A Sata presidency will probably lead to higher taxes for mining companies, Leon Myburgh, sub-Saharan Africa strategist for Citigroup Inc. in Johannesburg, said in a note to clients.

“Clearly, they will want to make some changes from the MMD government, and it seems as if the most likely change will be to mining taxation,” he said.

Credible Election

The elections were seen as “credible,” Maria Muniz de Urquiza, the head of a European Union team that observed voting and counting, told reporters in Lusaka on Sept. 22.

U.S. President Barack Obama commended the African country’s “commitment to multiparty democracy,” according to an e-mailed statement from the White House.

“Today is a day for Zambia to celebrate their democratic achievement,” he said. “I hope that all Zambians will find common ground as you address the challenges and seize the opportunities facing your country and our world.”

While an opinion poll by the Lusaka-based Centre for Policy Dialogue had forecast a Banda victory, a surge in new young voters boosted Sata’s chances. The number of registered voters climbed to about 5.1 million from 3.9 million three years ago, according to the electoral commission.

Banda conceded defeat today, saying “the people have spoken.”

“We must all face the reality that sometimes it is time to change,” he said in a nationally broadcast speech from Lusaka. “It’s time for me to step aside, my time is done.”

Double Production

Zambia may become the world’s fifth-largest copper miner by 2013, Sophie Chung, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie’s metals research unit, Brook Hunt, said in July. Production may more than double to 1.44 million metric tons by 2015, Brook Hunt said. Producers including First Quantum Minerals Ltd. and Vale SA are planning more than $6 billion in investment.

Chile is the world’s biggest copper producer, with annual production of more than 5 million tons.

Shares in First Quantum, which plans to invest $1.9 billion in two Zambian mines, slumped 6.3 percent to 914 pence in London. Shares in the company fell 33 percent in the past five days, their biggest five-day drop since November 2008. The Bloomberg Europe Metals & Mining Index slid 15 percent over the same period.

Vedanta Resources Plc, which also operates mines in Zambia, fell 0.4 percent to 1,113 pence in London, extending its decline to 22 percent this week.

Zambia’s kwacha lost as much as 3.4 percent to 5,160 against the dollar, in Lusaka, its weakest level in more than a year. It was at 5,145 at 6 p.m.

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