Zambia Socio-Economic Snapshot: A Historical Context
By Prof Henry Kyambalesa: Regis University, Denver, CO (& at Agenda for Change (AfC) Party
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Zambia’s historical quest for heightened socio-economic development, and the necessity of competent leadership.
1. The United National Independence Party (UNIP) Era in Zambia
As the World Bank has observed, Zambia was the richest country in sub-Saharan Africa at independence in 1964. Twenty years later, however, it was one of the poorest, with nearly 70% of its people wallowing in abject poverty. The decline in the country's socioeconomic well-being was a culmination of several factors described in a nutshell below, and which are rooted in poor national leadership.
1. Monocultural Economy: Our initial failure to diversify economic activities away from the mining industry subjected the national economy to the vagaries of steep decreases in copper prices and production levels.
2. Petroleum Prices: Unprecedented hikes in petroleum prices by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973/74 and 1979/80 resulted in a steep rise in the price of imported oil from US$2.50 to US$35 per barrel, thereby draining the public treasury.
3. Mismanagement: Rampant economic and public-sector mismanagement resulted in diversion of human, financial and other national resources to unproductive projects and programs. For example, the creation of the Central Committee (a somewhat parallel structure to the National Assembly) and the position of Prime Minister that followed the introduction of a One-Party State in 1972 contributed greatly to the misappropriation of public resources.
4. Socialist Policies: UNIP's socialist policies barred both local and foreign private investors from certain commercial and industrial sectors of the country's economy and recommended the creation of state and parastatal companies to operate in such sectors of the economy from the late 1960s to 1991. The policies—which former president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, promulgated through his April 1968, August 1969, and November 1970 addresses to the UNIP National Council—ushered in an era of both parastatal and state enterprises. Naturally, the monopolistic position enjoyed by both state and parastatal companies in the country's economy culminated in complacence and gross inefficiency because, in the absence of competition, they apparently found it unnecessary to seek innovative ways and means of improving the quality and quantity of their product offerings. The rampant commodity shortages which the country experienced during the UNIP era were largely a direct result of the socialist policies of the Government of the day.
5. Postponement of Adjustment: UNIP's postponement of the macro-economic adjustment—which would have enabled us to create a competitive and more productive socio-economic system—on May 1, 1987 exacerbated the situation.
These five factors, directly or otherwise, compelled the government of the day to borrow heavily from external sources of funds in order to keep the economy and the Party and its Government afloat. During the 1980s, Zambia was engulfed in unprecedented socio-economic problems that partly evoked a nationwide clamor for a new breed of leaders. The resounding victory scored by the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) in 1991 was a clear reflection of such a clamor.
2. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) Era in Zambia
To paraphrase Wilfred Mwenya, has continued to be reduced to a nation that could be best described as poverty-stricken during the MMD era, with everything in the country having apparently fallen apart. In October 2001, Mwana Muchende provided a bird's-eye view of the socio-economic conditions that characterized such an era in an article published in The Post newspaper: "access to health care services, basic material necessities of life, and education and vocational training had become almost impossible by over 70% of the population."
The Status Quo: The socio-economic situation in Zambia today is, unfortunately, not much different from that described by Mwana Muchende in the same newspaper article alluded to above: "We all know that the ordinary Zambian is visibly poorer than he has ever been. People are out of jobs, and those who work do not receive salaries unless the `hand that giveth' donates. Most children under five years of age are malnourished. Farmers who once fed ... [us] are now in urban areas begging for food. Graveyards bury tens of bodies an hour due to the proliferation of deaths resulting from a deteriorating economic environment."
One would also do well to consider the following excerpt from a 2004 Social Watch report (cited by Bivan Saluseki in The Post newspaper of July 2, 2004): "Even though the country has not formally been at war since independence in 1964, prevailing conditions affecting human existence are equivalent to those in a country at war."
Clearly, our country is at the crossroads. And unfortunately, heightened and sustained socio-economic development will not come to Zambia like manna from heaven; it will need to be adequately planned for and diligently pursued. And competent national leadership is indispensable in this endeavor! We, therefore, have a historic opportunity to turn our country around and set it on the right course for economic take-off through good leadership. This, I believe, is the major challenge our beloved country is currently facing.
3. The Need for Competent Leadership
Socioeconomic conditions in the domestic, regional and global environments are changing constantly. As such, yesterday's approaches to the resolution of problems facing Zambia—and any African country as a matter of fact—are not likely to do an effective job; after all, they have evidently and lamentably failed to do the job in the past! We, therefore, need leaders who are willing to develop new attitudes, skills and strategies in order to wrestle successfully with the complex and volatile socio-economic conditions of our time.
And such leaders need to be technocrats, and not clueless figureheads! Accordingly, competent citizens who need to be considered for top-level government positions should come from such institutional settings as the Bank of Zambia, the World Bank, educational and research institutions within Zambia and in the Diaspora, professional associations, the civil service, the business sector, and existing political parties and alliances.
They should be among Zambia's sons and daughters who are adjudged to possess the necessary knowledge and skills relating to the overall missions and objectives of the government ministries and agencies which they would be expected to administer.
Besides, we need leaders who understand the need to make a quick transition from campaigning to governing upon being appointed or elected to positions of authority. We also need leaders who recognize citizens' right to vote for candidates of their choice without being threatened that their communities would be excluded from the development process if they do not vote for candidates fielded by the ruling political party. Every person and every place in our beloved country deserves a fair share of the national cake!
Allow me now to share with you my understanding of what constitutes good and exemplary leadership in the governance of a country. Firstly and foremost, a leader should always put the people first, and serve them diligently, honestly and impartially. Secondly, he or she should always seek to make a positive and noticeable impact in the lives of his or her institution's stakeholders.
Thirdly, he or she should always refrain from misappropriating public resources, and always make an earnest effort to advise other public officials and civil servants to do the same. And fourthly, he or she should always avoid questionable uses of the authority entrusted upon him or her. Leadership at the individual level should, therefore, be conceived of as a means to the serving of one's fellow citizens. Ultimately, a Zambian government that would have the potential to significantly improve the livelihoods of ordinary citizens nationwide would have to be graced by leaders who would genuinely consider themselves as servants, and not masters, of the people. In all, there is a need for voters and the appointing authorities to make an earnest effort to avail our country the kinds of leaders it needs in an era of democratization, globalization, and knowledge-based economic management; that is, leaders who are:
(a) Patriotic, selfless, law-abiding, visionary, fair-minded, self-critical, and moderately flexible;
(b) Enlightened enough to make prudent and effective decisions on socioeconomic issues affecting our nation in the context of a highly complex and turbulent global economy;
(c) Truly committed to the noble cause of redressing the development needs of our beloved country; and
(d) Capable of enlisting the advice and administrative skills of experienced politicians in setting up administrative procedures and protocols.