state meddling

Zambia: Mining head Dolika Banda steps down amidst reports of political interference

By Chiwoyu Sinyangwe

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Posted on June 7, 2023 11:56

 © Dolika Banda (photo: facebook)
Dolika Banda (photo: facebook)

When Dolika Banda, an international finance and banking expert, was appointed to chair Zambia’s investment arm in privatised mines in December 2021, it was seen as one of the smartest decisions that reflected the new regime’s ambition to promote transparency, in a company where shady deals were commonplace.

This daughter of the late Rupiah Banda, the country’s former president, became the first female board chairperson of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines-Investments Holdings (ZCCM-IH).

However, the high expectation that Banda’s appointment would help to turn around ZCCM-IH’s overall corporate governance footprint came to a crashing halt when she announced her decision to step down in May, just 15 months after her appointment.

She resigned on 5 May, just days before ZCCM-IH was temporarily suspended by the London Stock Exchange on 8 May for not publishing their audited financial results from 2021 and 2022. 

“I believe at the core of its mandate, ZCCM-IH is capable of advancing Zambia and its citizens through leveraging the country’s billion-dollar mining sector. This country has massive opportunities with all the natural resources, critical minerals endowment, and its people,” she said in a farewell note to ZCCM-IH seen by The Africa Report.

“We have to work with global partners to maximise these resources, and Zambians have got to be part of the equation,” she said.

First ‘new dawn’ appointee to resign

Banda did not publicly disclose her reasons for resigning, but multiple sources say she was frustrated that State House and other power officials close to the president continued to usurp the role of ZCCM-IH in key decisions on the country’s mines.

She becomes the first high-profile appointee of the ‘new dawn’ regime to voluntarily vacate her position.

In April 2022, a few months after her appointment, Banda told The Africa Report: “It is a huge privilege for me to serve my country, especially in this capacity, and I don’t take it for granted looking at how crucial mining is to Zambia and where the sector is today.”

“I told the appointing authorities that I have spent over 30 years in building my reputation in Africa and beyond, and therefore I wouldn’t engage in anything that would make a dent on the many decades of consistency,” she said.

The resignation of our chair suggests that the promised independence and end to political interference are nothing but hot air

ZCCM-IH is 60% owned by the government’s own Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), and the state also directly owns 17.2%. The National Pension Scheme Authority, the country’s biggest pension fund, retains 24.1% and minority shareholders, most of whom are based in Paris, own 7.47%.

“The resignation of our chair suggests that the promised independence and end to political interference are nothing but hot air,” Thierry Charles, spokesperson of minority shareholders of ZCCM-IH told The Africa Report in an emailed response.

“…we have been able to measure the great professionalism and competence of our chairperson Dolika Banda, her interest in leading ZCCM-IH forward and defending the country’s mining interests. Therefore, her resignation is incomprehensible and a very bad sign for ZCCM-IH and the country’s mining interests,” Charles says.

Mines Minister Paul Kabuswe said the government has accepted Banda’s resignation. She has been replaced with Kakenenwa Muyangwa, a chartered accountant who previously worked as a mining engineer in some of the mining companies on the Copperbelt.

The crux of the matter: KCM and MCM

President Hakainde Hichilema’s United Party for National Development won the Copperbelt in the 2021 elections by promising voters in the swing province that he was going to deploy his business acumen to help revamp the two largest mines in the areas. The Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) and Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) were nationalised by the former Patriotic Front regime in a failed attempt to increase value extraction.

However, 20 months into his presidency, the two mining giants remain under government control, deteriorating daily as they continue to be starved of the much-needed capital injection to reboot output.

Copper production at KCM has drastically fallen to lowest levels since privatisation in 2002 while the story is similar at MCM after years of steady growth. Glencore withdrew from MCM in 2021 following a fractious relationship with the former ruling party Patriotic Front officials.

The government forcibly took over KCM from India’s Vedanta Resources Plc in April 2019 after residents in its operational towns – Chingola and Chililabombwe – protested after years of mismanagement. However, since the takeover, the situation at KCM has worsened to a point where most operations are at ‘care and maintenance’ level.

The government has agreed, in principle, to end the legal spat over the capital injection required to revamp KCM’s operations, but the disagreements continue to drag on.

Sources from both sides of the negotiations tell The Africa Report that Hichilema is not convinced the capital Agarwal is pledging to invest would be enough to revamp operations at the mine.

This has been frustrating to ZCCM-IH because the president [Hichilema] seems to listen more to his close business friends and inner circle than the mandated institutions.

Zambia nationalised MCM when ZCCM-IH agreed to buy Glencore’s majority stake in a $1.5bn deal funded by debt following years of acrimonious relationship. ZCCM- IH has planned to seek a new investor to take over Glencore’s shares.

However, ZCCM-IH has struggled to find a suitor and Zambia lacks cash to support the mine’s operations – comprehensively summing up the economic mayhem at the mine.

In April 2022, Banda said: “Resolving Mopani was less complicated than KCM” and a new investor to inherit the Glencore stake was expected by the close of 2022.

Finding suitors for the two mines has remained elusive and sources close to the transaction blame it on Hichilema’s influential strong inner circle.

“ZCCM-IH had made significant progress, which also saw the hiring investment bank Rothschild & Co for a strategic review of Mopani to basically help the investor to take over from Glencore,” says a close source to the transaction who’s not authorised to speak on the record.

“This has been frustrating to ZCCM-IH because the president [Hichilema] seems to listen more to his close business friends and inner circle than the mandated institutions. That is what frustrated the [former] board chairperson,” the source says.

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