In 2017, Russia and Zambia signed a deal to cooperate in the construction of a nuclear science and technology centre in Zambia, which is expected to begin in 2019. Sputnik spoke on the issue as well as on additional prospects for cooperation between the two countries with Zambian Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Malanji.
Sputnik: What do you plan to discuss during your meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov? Will you be signing any agreements with Russia during your time here?
Joseph Malanji: This is a scheduled meeting and following the directives after the bilateral meeting by the two heads of state on the side of the BRICS in Johannesburg. As you may know, Zambia has had a cordial relationship with Russia since its independence, and the frequent communication between the two heads of state and of course their bilateral meetings is basically a renaissance to the relationship that was partially dormant.
No, it’s purely preparations. We are not signing any agreements this time but of course, it is just the interaction between the two countries that are having a bilateral relationship that is coming to fruition after the new engagement by the two heads of state.
As for now, there are no agreements being done but the preparations are in place to sign key memorandums in key sectors. Of course, you know, Zambia has had even currently 85 places in scholarships, which is 11 percent of African portion in scholarships given to Africa. Thus, this is quite a good portion of a share for Zambia to get. So, you can tell from that position that there is a solid relationship between the two countries.
[Memorandums] in key sectors — education, nuclear energy, agriculture, mining.
Sputnik: Do you have a more specific date for when in 2019 Rosatom will begin construction of a research reactor in Lusaka?
Joseph Malanji: Our technocrats are at it and Zambia is keen to engage Russia. Of course, the prowess displayed by Russia in that sector — nuclear — is incomparable. So we are really eager to engage Russia on that and of course for peaceful use of nuclear energy in our country. As soon as our technocrats meet the prerequisites, by the International Atomic Agency, we should be eager to have progress on that.
It’s all dependent on how quick this will be done. We will not go through a supersonic speed, we want to make sure that we meet the international standards and prerequisites to this program and thereafter, of course, we will proceed to
Sputnik: Will Zambia expand its cooperation with Russia in the field of nuclear energy by constructing additional nuclear reactors or signing agreements on nuclear cooperation?
Joseph Malanji: Yes, of course. The engagement by our technocrats, the soil samples have been done, the preliminary process is already on the ground. So, it is from that premise that I can assure you that we have moved miles [ahead] regarding that program and it wouldn’t be long that we start implementing.
It is in the northern part of the country, just close to one of the biggest rivers in Zambia. Of course, the place has already been identified and we are miles ahead of this program.
Like I alluded to earlier on, as soon as we meet the prerequisites to this program. It is not something that will be independent, we want to make sure that we are as transparent as we can afford to be. As you may know, this is something purely for peaceful usage, as opposed to other notions.
Sputnik: This is also a project with Rosatom?
Joseph Malanji: Yes.
Sputnik: What will be the cost of this project?
Joseph Malanji: I cannot give any cost analysis as for now. This is a complex program, so it is not one size fits all. You have to consider the context on the ground. It is difficult to tell the cost implication as for now but it is a program that will require some good funding.
Sputnik: Previously Zambia’s ambassador to Russia stated that Zambia would likely sign an agreement with Rosatom on the construction of a nuclear power plant at ATOMEXPO 2019. Could you confirm that this will take place?
Joseph Malanji: Yes, this is something which we are equally keenly looking at and actually Zambia is more than ready for this program. As you may know, Zambia is centrally located and land linked so we are eager to at least have a nuclear power plant which will be in excess of two gigawatts. And when you look at Zambia’s position, we have interconnected grids that are being done in the region and we would like to fully
Sputnik: What is the cost and timeframe for the project and where will the plant be constructed?
Joseph Malanji: Timeframe cannot be indicated but I will be glad to announce to you, even on the sector of nuclear, the president has just recently appointed the secretary to the cabinet, which is a very senior portfolio, to specifically handle this program. So that actually tells you how committed we are to these two programs.
Location has not been picked yet, but of course, we have vast land. Zambia is 750, 000 square kilometres, so we don’t have a land deficit for such a program.
Not off hand, but it is not something that will go less than $16 billion. This is a ten-year program for implementation stage, so it’s not something that will go less than that amount.
Sputnik: Are there specific agreements that Zambia is looking to sign with Russia in the field of mining?
Joseph Malanji: Yes, of course previously there have been those engagements. You know, Zambia is endowed with quite a large variety of minerals, so exploration is cardinal. We are looking at investors that are going to come into that sector. At any given time, we would want to engage them and we have seen potential by Russia in that area. Nature doesn’t allow for a vacuum. We are desperate, we are in a hurry to develop. At the moment we explore our potential in enhancing our economic resource for the better. So we have seen the potential in mining by Russia and hence this engagement, to have formal agreements done in the sector.
Zambia has got abundant copper ore bodies all over the country. Zambia has got manganese, we have got cobalt, we have got diamonds, we are looking at doing serious exploration on oil. So, that goes even to as specific as precious minerals as emerald, and diamond, of course, is not something that we have clinched, but when you look at the belts on the surrounding countries, we should be able to have a belt that should give us diamonds in the country.
Sputnik: When do you expect these memorandums on mining to be signed?
Joseph Malanji: As I’ve indicated there have been quite frequent interaction between the Zambian government and the Russian government, to explore avenues through which we can have mutual benefit through our bilateral cooperation. That, of course, extends to the volume of business that we are going to have in between our two countries and specifically a harmonised trade balance. So the quicker we engage the corporate world from the Russian side, and of course the Zambian side, the better for both countries.
Sputnik: When should we expect an official visit from H.E. President Edgar Lungu to Russia, and are you preparing for the visit of any Russian officials to Zambia?
Joseph Malanji: Definitely, of course, this interaction is a preparation for quite a good number of commitments. Of course, initially I couldn’t come with a barrage of other portfolio ministries but I will be glad to indicate to you that I have actually come with officials from the Industrial Development Corporation, to engage their counterparts here. From that premise they will actually give us sectorised engagements so as we go specific portfolio ministries will now start engaging each other.
Outside that, of course, we are equally preparing for our President Edgar Lungu to have a state visit or vice versa. Indicators have already been given and of course, at the technocrat level they should be arranging any time for one or either to make a state visit.
Sputnik: When could President Lungu make his state visit?
Joseph Malanji: We are looking at the first quarter. All being equal we are looking at the first quarter.
Sputnik: And the reciprocal visit of President Putin?
Joseph Malanji: Those are the preparations that will actually come in as we have primary implementation of what has been arranged before. So thereafter we can have reciprocal visit from President Vladimir Putin.
Sputnik: Zambia has recently signed the AfCFTA. When do you expect the agreement on the trade zone to come into force? How do you expect Zambian inter-African trade turnover to change with the implementation of the AfCFTA?
Joseph Malanji: It shouldn’t be long from now. The ceiling point is two member countries signing that, and 18 so far have signed. We are looking at a member-driven legal framework that will drive the AU and the implementation of that, if you look at Zambia, we recently had a blueprint of our seventh national development plan, to which
Joseph Malanji: Our medical practitioners are equal to the task. Of course, Zambia is sharing a boundary of about 1,930 between Zambia and the DRC, so the influx of people from Congo to Zambia and Zambia to Congo is quite high, but precisely because of developments that the country had we had quite a good number of refugees coming into Zambia. We have had engagement with Medecins Sans Frontieres, in areas where the refugees are and going beyond. This is something that we are lucky that the World Health Organisation equally has attached quite some good commitment to this program to make sure that we eradicate the virus.
Sputnik: There have been indications that the Batoka Gorge hydroelectric power project is nearing the completion of feasibility studies. When do you believe the construction can begin?
Joseph Malanji: I will be rushing in giving you specific time of implementation prematurely, because we actually on the drawing board now are trying to put legal documentation in place, the MoUs between the financiers. This program, I hope you realise, involves two countries, who are both keen and agreeable to make sure that it is put in place.
We are on track to make sure that this program starts as quickly as possible. Like I indicated, Zambia has got 40 percent aqua expanse in the SADC region, whose potential was not fully utilised, hence now that we have got interconnected grid that we are doing under SADC from Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, there is one yet to come that will connect Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, so we want a widespread network that will create a good infrastructure on these grids for power export.