Five things to know about Zambia

Lusaka (AFP) –


Zambia, which holds presidential elections on Thursday, is a copper-rich nation in southern Africa once hailed as a regional success story.

Over the past decade, however, it has been hit hard by political and economic problems.

- Copper is king -

Zambia is the second biggest producer of copper in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the eighth producer in the world.

Zambia Jonathan WALTER AFP

But a sharp decline in copper prices in 2011 and weaker exports to China, along with a series of government policy reversals, have undermined international investor confidence.

Most of the copper companies are owned by foreign, notably Chinese, investors.

- Debt crisis -

Long considered a promising African country with annual growth exceeding 10 percent in the 2000s, Zambia has been in severe economic and financial difficulty for several years because of the drop in copper prices.

It also faces serious energy problems, with an erratic electricity supply that can see long cuts lasting up to several hours in a day, with devastating consequences for the economy.

In 2020 Zambia failed to pay $42.5 million in interest on its debt, becoming the first African economy to default during the pandemic. It missed another repayment this year.

- Food insecurity -

According to UN estimates from 2020, nearly 2.3 million of Zambia's 17 million people are threatened by food shortages caused by drought in 2019, the worst the country has seen in 35 years.

- Victoria Falls -

The country covers 752,614 square kilometres (291,000 square miles) -- larger than France and slightly smaller than Turkey.

Home to several animal reserves, its main tourist attraction is the Victoria Falls, one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls.

Located on the Zambezi River, the fourth-largest river in Africa, they lie on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the two countries share the flow of tourists.

- 'African Gandhi' -

Kenneth Kaunda, who died in June, was Zambia's first president, taking power in 1964 when the country gained independence.

Zambia's first president Kenneth Kaunda, pictured here in 1975, died this year at the age of 97
Zambia's first president Kenneth Kaunda, pictured here in 1975, died this year at the age of 97 - AFP/File

Leader of the main nationalist party and nicknamed the "African Gandhi" for his non-violent activism, he ruled for 27 years under a single-party system before leaving power peacefully.