Zam­bia: Still shack­led by hunger

Finweek English Edition - - IN THE NEWS -

The q ue st i on bug gi n g a num­ber of peo­ple on both s i des of t he Zam­bezi i s whet he r i t wa s wor t h cel­e­brat­ing Zam­bia’s golden ju­bilee.

It’s not a rhetor­i­cal point. It stems from the cu­ri­ous mix: the eco­nomic growth rate is a swel­ter­ing 7%; l ife ex­pectancy is a mild 57. Not only is t he kwacha (t he countr y’s off icia l cur­rency) los­ing value, but it is this year’s worst per­former in Africa, and job­less­ness is ram­pant. More t han half the pop­u­la­tion lan­guish be­low the dol­lar-a-day poverty line (or R300 per month).

Dur­ing t he i nter­reg­num, Guy Scott, who has been in­terim pres­i­dent since the death of Zam­bian leader Michael Sata (77) on 28 Oc­to­ber in London, where he was hos­pi­talised dur­ing the coun­try’s 50th in­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions on 25 Oc­to­ber, is set to invest much time to pre­pare for the polls (likely in Jan­uary).

Sata’s death saw the kwacha los­ing 2.6% against the dol­lar. The next in­ter­reg­num ends late 2016 – the date for the next five-yearly polls. Sata’s rul­ing Pa­tri­otic Front (PF) has fared well but it’s now marred by in­tra-party tiffs. This week things got tense when the 70-year-old Scott axed then re­in­stated heir ap­par­ent and de­fence min­is­ter Edgar Lungu, PF high-up and act­ing pres­i­dent while Sata was in hos­pi­tal.

If the plan was to side­line Lungu, who turns 58 this month, the spat has em­bold­ened his pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions, i f pub­lic re­sponse to his sack­ing is any­thing to go by. How­ever, in­stead of f lex­ing his mus­cles or play­ing mar­bles, Scott ought to ad­vance what the PF

stands for: cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment t hat i s con­ducive f or s ocia l a nd eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The for­mer pres­i­dent, whose sharp tongue earned him the ‘King Cobra’ moniker, was seen as un­wel­com­ing to in­vestors. South Africa’s business sec­tor got in­tro­duced to Sata when, weeks i nto his j ob, he l ef t First Na­tional Bank red-faced by rev­ers­ing its $5.5m buy of Fi­nance Bank of Zam­bia owing to a dis­puted process.

A look fur­ther back sug­gests that post-in­de­pen­dence Zam­bia’s trou­bles be­gan after a good 10 years of pros­per­ity when it suf­fered a de­bil­i­tat­ing 40% slump in cop­per prices in 1974, an ex­ter­nal shock. And, it is no­table that as it still the case now (with African De­vel­op­ment Bank peg­ging it at 70%), Zam­bia’s source of for­eign ex­change was cop­per. “The ef­fects of the shock were trans­mit­ted to all sec­tors,” ob­served aca­demics Ma­nenga Ndulo and Dale Mu­denda in a the­sis.

With t he countr y of fi c i a l l y i n t he dold r ums i n t he 1980s, t he In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) and World Bank pre­scribed what Ox­fam ca l l s “a cold s hower” of struc­tural adjustment pro­gramme that spanned not only pri­vati­sa­tion and mar­ket lib­er­al­i­sa­tion but dev­as­tat­ingly huge and rapid cuts in pub­lic spend­ing.

Glob­al­is­ing Africa con­tex­tu­alises the un­for­tu­nate ef­fects of the IMF pro­gramme by not­ing that from 1990 to 1993, Zam­bia (now home to 15m peo­ple) spent a sorry $37m on pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion – a frac­tion of the $1.3bn tax­pay­ers there used to ser­vice loans.

Ken­neth Kaunda, t he found­ing fa­ther, as­serted that the pro­gramme had t ur ned Zam­bia i nto a mere ex­is­tence “to pay the IMF”, re­ported Ju l i u s E Nya ng ’ o r o i n Be yo n d Struc­tural Adjustment in Africa: The Po­lit­i­cal Econ­omy of Sus­tain­able and Demo­cratic De­vel­op­ment.

That wa­ter pro­vi­sion re­mains poor and l i fe ex­pectancy was, a decade ago, a sorry 37 is, in part, a relic of the past. On the up­side, the fact that gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tions have helped add another 20 years, al­beit from a low base, in ex­pectancy is doubt­less worth cel­e­brat­ing.

Fred­er­ick Chiluba, who t urned a promis­ing mul­ti­party democ­racy into a spaza repub­lic and snatched mil­lions f rom ta xpay­ers dur­ing his decade­long ten­ure, also de­serves blame for wors­en­ing both the econ­omy and an al­ready poor stan­dard of liv­ing.

Chiluba’s pres­i­dency was char­ac­terised by para­noia t hat lef t no room for dis­agree­ments. He f i red min­is­ters who op­posed graft and was tougher on po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, bought a judge, spir­ited tax­pay­ers’ funds to the UK, and, to top it, ar­rested Kaunda who he said was be­hind the foiled coup.

“There are those who con­tinue to view [Chiluba] as an icon, a per­son who f ought f or democ­rac y a nd work­ers’ rights,” re­marked the Lusaka

Times in a trib­ute to the for­mer head of state. “How­ever, there are oth­ers who saw him as a li­a­bil­ity, a plun­derer who moved huge bank notes in the dark hours of the night while chil­dren were moved in op­po­sites di­rec­tions in coff ins due to lack of medicines or ad­e­quate med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties.”

From an eco­nomic an­gle, things got out of con­trol circa 2008, amid the global re­ces­sion that turned buoy­ant towns l i ke Cop­per­belt’s Luan­shya, in the north, into less-than-a-dol­lara- day mis­ery as tens of t hou­sands suf­fered i nstant l ay­offs. Pawn­ing sud­denly be­came the largest in­dus­try.

Cop­per has lost almost a third of its value since 2011 to trade at $6 800 per ton this week. Un­til the na­tion beefs its man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity, mod­ernises its agri­cul­tural sec­tor, learns from Ian Khama’s Botswana how to turn tourism into hard cash, and, crit­i­cally, di­ver­si­fies into an ar­ray of other in­dus­tries, how will it es­cape the “stag­ger­ing poverty lev­els” that Sata al­ways spoke of?

Cur­rently, the econ­omy is too small. There are no jobs. En­trepreneurs can only make so much si nce i ncome lev­els are de­pressed in the f irst place. And how will gov­ern­ment be able to im­prove both ed­u­ca­tional, nu­tri­tion and health out­comes with such a slim tax base?

Sata rou­tinely re­ferred to pover­tyre­duc­tion pro­grammes. He also spoke of his party’s goal to cre­ate jobs no­tably for young­sters, who re­main at t he pe­riph­ery of this low-in­come econ­omy whose GDP sits at $22.4bn – lousy for a coun­try of 15m peo­ple. At a $1 500 GDP per capita – it’s dire. It’s a f ifth of neigh­bour­ing Botswana’s and a tenth that of Chile, a peer cop­per-ex­port­ing na­tion.

“My gov­ern­ment shall con­cen­trate its ef­forts on skills train­ing and cre­at­ing se l f- e mploy ment op­por tu n i t i e s , es­pe­cially for the youth of our coun­try. The PF elec­toral vic­tory […] is owed in large mea­sure to our young gen­er­a­tion,” said the man whose rise was on the pro-poor PF ticket.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial statis­tics, 75% of the 6.7m work­ing pop­u­la­tion is “eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive”. On the sur­face it looks man­age­able. It’s not.

For one, a third (or 1.7m) of “eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive” are “un­paid fam­ily work­ers”. In other words, they are en­gaged but don’t have much to show by way of buy­ing power. This does noth­ing for the stretched ta x base.

Many of t he 5m for­tu­nate to earn wages, whether in the 89% in t he in­for­mal sec­tor, pocket f lat en­velopes. It doesn’t help that the cost of liv­ing is too high in this coun­try. Added to civil ser­vice, a host of multi­na­tion­als (in min­ing and else­where), aid and donor or­gan­i­sa­tions, as well as lo­cal fi r ms Zam­beef and Zamtel, JSEl isted heav­ies l i ke MTN, Sho­prite and Stan­dard Bank are among t he very few en­ter­prises that of­fer for­mal em­ploy­ment.

Some­where in the mix as or­di­nary peo­ple, i nclud­ing “un­paid f am­ily work­ers” and those un­able to at­tend s c hool as it ’s un­af­ford­able, were de­bat­ing the mer­its of the fete, last month – state of­fi­cials, on one hand, re­hash num­bers and anec­dotes to ar­gue t hat t here is ever y rea­son to mark the mile­stone that is Zam­bia’s half a cen­tury of in­de­pen­dence.

“I nde­pen­dence Day i s not s o im­por­tant to me,” Richards Sikazwe blogged ahead of t he 24 Oc­to­ber mega-party that drew Africa’s po­lit­i­cal f in­est. “What is the point of achiev­ing a nd cel­e­brat i ng i nde­pen­dence i f peo­ple can­not en­joy the benef its of de­vel­op­ment?”

For Tizi­wenji Tembo a nd her fam­ily the an­swer would prob­a­bly be a ‘yes’. Ac­cord­ing to Ox­fam’s re­port,

Even it Up, Tembo, who has lost 11 of her 15 chil­dren, now cares for four grand­chil­dren. “Un­til re­cently, she had no reg­u­lar in­come and she and her grand­chil­dren of­ten went with­out food. Her chil­dren of­ten re­fused to go to school be­cause t hey did not have uni­forms and books, and their fel­low stu­dents would laugh at them,” t he re­port says. “Their l ives were trans­formed, how­ever, when she be­gan to re­ceive a reg­u­lar pen­sion worth $12 per month, which has en­abled her fam­ily to eat more reg­u­larly, buy school uni­forms and re­pair their house.” How­ever, a story that ap­peared in

The Post just two weeks ago, sug­gests much is yet to be done. The pa­per ex­posed a sad “bread for sex” scheme in the South­ern Prov­ince – which bor­ders Zim­babwe. Zanec, a lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion NGO, raised the alarm about “teach­ers at weekly board­ing fa­cil­i­ties in South­ern Prov­ince of­fer­ing pupils bread in ex­change for sex,” the pa­per said. “Such vices have con­trib­uted neg­a­tively to the in­creas­ing num­ber of school dropouts in the coun­try.”

Th­ese are the is­sues t hat Scott and who­ever is next in line need to bear in mind. Half a cen­tury since the in­de­pen­dent na­tion’s flag was hoisted in 1964, Zam­bia f inds it­self shack­led by hunger. Only a holis­tic ap­proach – from clos­ing the in­fra­struc­ture deficit, di­ver­sif ying t he econ­omy, rais­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness, to im­prov­ing health and ed­u­ca­tion out­comes, and food se­cu­rity – would res­onate with peo­ple like Sikazwe and those in ru­ral ar­eas, slums or town­ships like Kalin­galinga or Mten­dere. Here, the dol­lar-a-day strug­gle and des­per­a­tion are the way of life.

Guy Scott

Michael Sata

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