A Vendetta against Vedanta?

Articles

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, hate.” — Chanda Chisala, ZOL.

A video that recently leaked on Youtube showing Vedanta’s founder, Anil Agarwal, talking about how he bought the KCM mine has infuriated many Zambians, with many calling on the government to nationalize the mine. Mr. Agarwal was speaking in his home country, and he proudly explained how he managed to pay only 25 million dollars in cash for a mine that was being sold for 400 million, by proposing that the rest of the money (375 million) would be spent investing in the mine itself.

The speech was apparently meant to be a motivational talk to members of his audience who had a desire to do business on a big level. His point was simply that one should not count himself out of opportunities just because of how impossible they look (he did not have the 400 million dollar asking price at the time of the sale). Instead of simply telling himself that he had no ability to take part in such a bid, he thought of an ingenious way of presenting a proposal that would basically pay for itself. He didn’t hold a gun to the head of the government of Zambia to accept this deal; he simply wrote a professional-looking proposal that argued his case logically, and he actually didn’t expect it to work. He figured he would just try and if it failed he would lose nothing, but if it worked, he would gain the world!

Most Zambians who have heard this speech have instead heard only one thing: the man is boasting for cheating our government out of a deal, and he is mocking our government in front of his people. Others are more upset that he is even “boasting” about making so much money in profits after paying so little to get the mine and not paying “enough” in taxes. They say that he should be forced to either pay much higher backdated taxes or even to forfeit the mine back to the Zambian government.

What you choose to focus on is really up to you. There are only two kinds of people in this world. There is one kind who see lessons for inspiration in any story of achievement, and there is another kind who only see reasons for grievance and victimhood in such stories.

These kinds of reactions are nothing new and they are not limited to Zambia. When a company in the US announces that it has made 50 billion dollars in profit, some Americans immediately demand that it should be taxed more and they look for the harms it has done to humanity, to the environment, the earth, etc besides the “inequality” it has contributed to by paying its executives “too much” money. Other Americans hear the same news and they are amazed and impressed that a determined entrepreneur, starting from humble beginnings, could form a company that ultimately makes more money than the GDP’s of entire nations!

When Apple announced that it had more money in the bank than the entire US Treasury, some people immediately pointed to Apple’s “evil” side: they were using cheap labor “sweat shops” in China to make their phones; they had hidden some of their profits in tax havens; etc etc. Other people felt inspired by the story of a man, Steve Jobs, who had formed this company in a garage with his friend and managed to build it into the most valuable company in the world — just by applying his brain and persisting in the face of daunting challenges along the way!

These two attitudes can be seen in Zambia when someone says he has built a big house or bought some expensive cars or something. Some people immediately tell themselves that it could only be because he is involved in corruption. That way, they feel better about their own failure to do the same. In less educated parts of Zambia, they don’t know much about corruption, so they accuse whoever achieves something big in their community as being a “Satanist” and/or “sacrificing children to the devil” for his wealth, and so on. It is much easier to believe that than to believe that he is just more hard working and smarter than them!

Although it is possible that it is sometimes through corruption that these fortunes are made, a man who has a positive spirit will hear such a story and automatically assume that it was mostly done through disciplined hard work and initiative (until proven right or wrong), whereas a man with a negative spirit of envy will first just assume that it is through corruption (until proven right or wrong). How you are inclined to respond says more about you than about the person you are hearing about.

In short, some people use these stories of achievement as fuel for their own ambitions, to inspire themselves to take on big opportunities and challenges in their lives, refusing to feel too small in the face of gigantic challenges. If someone else who had nothing to begin with could do it, they tell themselves, so can I. Those who react in the other way, looking for the “evil” in all such achievements and achievers, have resigned themselves to a world in which the human mind is impotent: it can’t really achieve anything, so those who seem to be achieving are only doing so by crooking and stealing from others — especially from “the little man.” They feel better if government snatches more money from such people in punitively high taxes, or increased regulations, or even just downright nationalization. Anything, just anything, to pull them down.

Post your comments

5 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Florence Sichone Mjeldheim
Florence Sichone Mjeldheim
7 years ago

A wonderful summary of the two choices Chanda, well presented. Hoping it will spur more of us to strive to persevere than to choose to slur in the face of another’s accomplishments.

S. Banda
S. Banda
7 years ago

Sums up the PHD – pull him down – syndrome in Zambia’s culture. It is the same reaction whether the achiever is a foreigner or a neighbour.

Nelson Chifuka
7 years ago

Refreshing write up and certainly worth reading. A must read article.

Areaboy
Areaboy
7 years ago

Yep! Pretty spot on analysis and argument. Lasting success comes from hard work and identifying and utilising ones God-given talents and acquired skills.

Parikshit Dhar
Parikshit Dhar
7 years ago

I had been screaming hoarse about this theory, but didn’t have the patience to write this about. I have heard the speech and being an Indian I know that the spirit in which it was delivered was totally different than what it has been interpreted as. While Mr. Agarwal expressed his astonishment and admiration at the grand reception he received at Lusaka, it was interrupted as something else. Thanks for clearing the air.