Dangote’s Investment In Zambia – Friend Or Foe?
Police in Masaiti last Wednesday fought running battles with hundreds of Dangote Industries workers who staged protests demanding improved conditions of service.
The workers were also demanding, among other things, that Dangote management endorses their application to be unionised. Police came in to try and address the workers on behalf of Dangote management. The workers refused and ran amok. Police fired tear gas, which, unfortunately, landed on nearby grass-thatched houses, causing a fire.
The problem here is that the interests of Dangote in this country are more protected than those of the workers. When Dangote lands at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, everyone in government is shaking and the Minister of Finance is the one who often goes to pick him up and carry his briefcase. Everything Dangote wants, there is a top government official there to do it for him. Dangote is a small god in this country. Why? Money! If you have money in this country, you become everything, you become a small god, even the president of the Republic worships you, praises you everywhere. Why? Money speaks.
It is surprising that a few days ago, Edgar Lungu was praising Dangote as a model foreign investor and today, the Zambians working for Dangote in Ndola are protesting against poor conditions of service. How can a model foreign investor fail to provide acceptable conditions of service to his workers? This brings into question the criteria for judging who is a good or bad foreign investor. It seems whoever pleases, in whatever way, those in power is a good investor. It doesn’t matter what that investor does to or for the workers.
And it is clear here that Edgar is not praising Dangote as a good foreign investor because of the way he is treating his Zambian workers. It is on the basis of something else other than this.
It is also clear that the government in its deals with these investors does not make the plight of workers a priority. Most Zambian workers are getting a raw deal from foreign investors and the government is not there to protect or promote their interests. They are more concerned about making the foreign investors happy and conditions of service of the Zambian workers are a by-the-way matter that doesn’t get much of the attention. Even when there are disputes between a foreign investor and the Zambian workers, our successive governments have often taken the side of foreign capital. When the mining workers went on strike against KCM under the Levy Mwanawasa regime, the president sided with the foreign investors against the Zambian workers.
Today, police officers are being unleashed on protesting Zambian workers at Dangote’s cement factory in Masaiti. When did the police become an agency for resolving disputes about workers’ conditions of service? Again, the police, like other state agencies, are there to protect the interests of capital and not those of the workers. A workers’ government or state protects and promotes the interests of the workers. And only when workers have such a state can they be protected against the unbridled exploitation of foreign capital. Therefore, the behaviour of the police in Masaiti is in line with the nature of the state in Zambia today. This is a state that is there to protect the interest of capital and not of the workers. The petty bourgeois and comprador elements that today run the affairs of this country are not doing so on behalf of the workers or the broad masses of our people but for capital in all its forms.
The workers applied, as per requirement of the labour laws, to have their union recognised by the management of Dangote. But this application, it is said, has been pending for a very long time without any meaningful response to the union. Dangote’s cement factory is not a small kantemba, it is a big industry employing many workers. These workers deserve effective, efficient and orderly trade union representation. And such a union will be in the best interests of both Dangote and the workers because without it, it will become very difficult to amicably resolve industrial disputes. To forego a trade union, the management and operations of Dangote have to be sufficiently democratised. But we know that most of this foreign capital doesn’t operate in a democratic manner, with workers participating in all key decisions. Workers can only forego a trade union if they feel sufficiently represented in all the key decisions being made by management and that their interests are well protected under that arrangement. If not, the workers will not surrender, and have no good reason to do so, their rights to a trade union. The police cannot be substituted for a trade union. How many times is Dangote going to call on the police to help resolve industrial disputes with workers?
Workers deserve better representation because international capital, whatever the guises, has never been known to represent their interests. And our petty bourgeois politicians are not there to protect the interests of the workers. They are employers themselves and with no working class ideological inclinations. They will always be on the side of capital. Of course, here and there, when it suits their political circumstances, they will do a bit of prostitution, talking tough to foreign investors, but doing nothing for the workers and everything for capital.