Lord Almighty: Lungu calls day of prayer and fasting, for God to save bleeding kwacha

“These days are like the last days": All bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues instructed to shut on Sunday, for nation to pray for its currency.

ZAMBIA’S President Edgar Lungu wants his people to pray for the kwacha on a national day of devotion and fasting on Sunday to reverse a decline in the world’s worst currency and fix a litany of problems from plunging copper prices to electricity shortages.

All bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues have been instructed by the government to shut on the day, while the Football Association of Zambia has canceled domestic games. Church leaders are rallying their members to heed the president’s call in a nation where more than 80% of the 15 million population are Christian.

“These days are like the last days,” Gordon Chanda, a driver for a law firm, said as he sipped a Mosi beer at Sylvia’s Comfort bar, taking cover from a heat wave that hit the capital, Lusaka, this week. “We need more prayers.”

Lungu, 58, is seeking divine intervention to help an economy in crisis as government efforts fail to halt the kwacha’s 45% slump against the dollar this year, the steepest drop of 155 currencies tracked by Bloomberg. 

Zambia’s woes began with the slide in copper prices last year and has worsened in 2015 as falling water levels at hydropower plants triggered the worst electricity shortage on record.

“Anxiety and distress prevail throughout the land,” Lungu said last month when he proclaimed the day of prayer and fasting. “Indeed, hope seems to have deserted the minds of the people. It is almost as if the wise counsel of the learned among us are not a match to the crisis before us.”

The kwacha gained 0.2% to 11.66 against the dollar as of 9.40 a.m. in Lusaka on Friday.

Copper prices have dropped more than 20% in the past year, prompting companies such as Glencore Plc to consider shutting mines and fire thousands of workers. Zambia is Africa’s second-largest producer of the metal, which accounts for 70% of export income. The slump in the industry will slow economic growth to a 17-year low of 3.4% in 2015, according to estimates from Barclays Plc.

Zambians have been forced to endure power cuts of as long as 14 hours a day in Lusaka as drought caused water levels to drop at Lake Kariba hydropower plants, which supply the nation with almost half of its electricity. Dry weather has also caused a 22% slump in production this year of corn, the staple food, boosting inflation.

Opulent building
Bishop Joe Imakando of the Bread of Life International Church, housed in an opulent building across the road from one of Lusaka’s biggest townships, urged Zambians to pray for an improvement, referring to a call by King George VI of Britain in 1940 for a national day of prayer during World War II.

“The depreciation of the kwacha against the dollar has resulted in prices escalating by 30% to 100%,” Imakando said in a statement on the church’s website. “Efforts by government to reverse the situation have not yielded any fruit. The impending increase on fuel will cause yet another price escalation, which will further complicate matters. What we need is divine intervention!”

Fighting accusations of mismanagement of the power and economic crises, Lungu may be seeking a way to deflect criticism. 

Since taking office in January following the death of his predecessor Michael Sata, Zambia has been beset by policy uncertainty and a weakening in spending controls that’s led to ballooning debt. The government has steadily raised its target for the budget deficit this year from 4.6% of gross domestic product to 6.9%.

While Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda pledged in his budget speech on Oct. 9 to bring the deficit down to 3.8% of GDP in 2016, market analysts and credit-rating companies such as Fitch Ratings Ltd. have raised doubts, since spending is projected to soar 14%.

“No matter how many prayers you make it doesn’t change the fact that you have a fiscal deficit and you’re not doing anything to reduce that fiscal deficit,” Trevor Simumba, managing director at Sub-Saharan Consulting Group Zambia, a business advisory firm, said by phone from Lusaka. “We know God can do miracles, but He cannot change things that are facts on the ground.”

-Bloomberg

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