This week was a special one here at ActionAid Zambia, as we welcomed Danish reggae star Shaka Loveless who was able to spend a few days with us learning about ActionAid’s work on the Tax Power campaign in Zambia.
Shaka – who is a part of the Danish urban hip hop and reggae music movement and has just released his second album - is ActionAid’s ambassador for the Tax Power campaign in Denmark and so was very keen to see ActionAid’s work on tax issues for himself!
After collecting a slightly jet lagged Shaka and ActionAid Denmark team from their hotel, we began with a trip to the Mopani Copper Mine, located approximately five hours’ drive north of the capital city Lusaka. Mopani Copper Mines plc is Zambian registered but is actually owned by several companies, with Glencore International owning a 73 per cent share.
Mopani hit the headlines in 2011 when a number of organisations – including ActionAid - analysed a leaked review of its accounts and estimated that the company’s practices potentially cost the Zambian Government up to £76m a year in lost corporation tax, significantly more than the £59m which the UK Government gave to Zambia in aid.
The team visited Kankoyo Township which is located right next to Mopani Copper Mine and spoke to some community members – who also provided us with a tour of the area - about the issues they have been experiencing as a result of living next to the mine. These included sulphur dioxide emissions affecting their health and cracks appearing in their houses due to the underground blasting. The community members believe that if companies like Mopani paid their fair share of tax, then the Government would be better placed to support them by relocating them to a different area away from the mine.
During the trip we visited at least three houses which had fully or partly crumbled to the ground during the last few weeks due to the underground blasting, with one community member and his family being forced to live in a tent and endure extremely hot temperatures. Shaka really enjoyed meeting community members but also felt outraged by what he heard and promised that he would share their stories on his return to Denmark.
The next day we travelled back to Lusaka, where we arrived in good time for Shaka to spend the afternoon and evening with some members of Activista Zambia – our youth network - at UNZA (University of Zambia) to learn about the activities they have been implementing as part of their involvement in the Tax Power campaign, as well as the challenges they face as part of campaigning in Zambia. Shaka’s visit was well timed as a number of our Activistas had been detained by police in Lusaka on Youth Day the previous week for wearing t-shirts calling for a national referendum and a new constitution, so they had some interesting stories to share!
We then headed to UNZA Radio, where Shaka participated in a lively interview with the presenters, where he was able to share his thoughts on his visit to Mopani Copper Mine and ActionAid’s work on tax issues in Zambia, as well as play some of his music. The lyrics were all in Danish but he was helpfully able to provide the presenters and listeners with a brief summary of what the songs were about and everyone who was squashed into the recording booth seemed to enjoy them!
The final part of the trip involved a visit to the Zambia Sugar plantation in Mazabuka. Zambia Sugar was in the news last year, when ActionAid revealed in its report Sweet Nothings that the company exploited legal loopholes to siphon over US$83.7 million (US$13 million a year) – a third of pre-tax profits – out of Zambia into tax havens including Ireland, Mauritius and the Netherlands. In addition, the report revealed that Zambian public services have lost an estimated US$27 million as a result of the company’s tax avoidance schemes and special tax breaks.
In addition to visiting the huge plantation, we were also able to visit a small clinic just outside the plantation area and speak to two health workers. They told Shaka that if the Government was able to generate more money through tax revenue and spend it on public services like health provision, then they would be able to expand and improve the infrastructure at the clinic, allowing them to better meet the needs of the local community.
On our return to Lusaka there was just enough time for a final meeting with ActionAid Zambia Country Director Pamela Chisanga and other members of staff, where Shaka was able to share information about his experience in Zambia, particularly the people he met and stories he had heard. He was also able to explain to the group what he will be doing on his return to Denmark to spread the Tax Power message with youth there, including appearing in a film, giving some media interviews and helping to promote Tour De Future, which will take place during April and May this year.
Good luck Shaka - it was great having you in Zambia! Come back and see us soon!