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ZAMBIA – HOPEFUL ECONOMIC PROSPECTS AND DOWNSIDE RISKS

IN a global environment bedevilled by the insidious corona virus (Covid-19) pandemic, Zambia has held on remarkably well, inflationary spirals apart. Inflation punishes most severely the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population whose belts have snapped to the point of being almost beyond the pale.

There are silver linings which give cause for hope and suggest a cheerful prognosis for the future. The positive developments in the primary agro sector, largely as a result of the current administration’s commendable efforts to provide the requisite tools to the far-flung rural communities, suggest a possible leap forward.

Of course, there is always the attendant issue of sustainability and more enhanced outlays on areas like extension services so that officers have mobility and are meaningfully motivated by good conditions of service.

Small-scale farmers producing higher yields from their small holdings with proportionately little increase in the input costs is not only an insurance for essential national food security but poverty alleviation.

Sustainable economic growth in all the economies of the world is only an assured goal and objective if it is consumer-driven. Consumer power to sections of the people mired in poverty and debilitating misery is a boost to essential internal dynamics on which sustainable salutary growth is predicated or anchored on.

Thus, what the country is experiencing now by way of small farmers accounting for the bulk of the bumper harvests is a critical and desirable prelude for Zambia’s way forward and poverty reduction and ultimate eradication.

Supportive ancillary programs like social cash transfers add more requisite impetus to this process of poverty reduction. The external donor community or benefactors, though, may not be unambiguously eulogistic but they are useful allies in these programmes of social cash transfers as veritable weapons for poverty reduction.

Beneficiaries of social cash transfers are using their small resources effectively and optimally. This can only help to create useful multiplier effects, the only way to get beleaguered economies out of the stagnation and regression and attain sustainable upward thrust.

Business as usual – “sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper” (as it was in the beginning, now and forever) is untenable and decidedly a recipe for doom.

Emphasis on fully exploiting the huge and endless potential of agriculture can never be a misplaced notion. Land, with appropriate care or husbandry, is a perpetually renewable resource unlike extractive alternative ventures like mining.

Minerals, however abundant, deplete and are not replenishable and renewable. Minerals require excessively large capital outlay relative to quite insignificant capital expended on agriculture.

The impressive development of Kenya in the context of the continent is a good example of how well-organised agriculture can stimulate modest industrialisation, whatever obstacles and inhibitions exist in Kenya now.

The contrast between Zambia and Kenya is rather remarkable; in terms of surface area, Zambia is over 200, 000 square kilometres larger than Kenya. A substantial portion of Kenya is desert and her population is thrice that of Zambia which has large tracts of arable land.

What we are doing in Zambia now, enhancing the momentum in the agricultural area is very laudable. We have the versatile mining sector but mines are expensive ventures and they need enlightened support from authorities in the form of conducive policies, including in the area of taxation.

Copper is our lifeline but we are not as fortunate as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The mines in Katanga are open cast with 4-5 percent copper content in ores whereas our Copperbelt mines are deep mines with less than two percent copper content and high dewatering costs.

In the North-Western Province, our open cast mines have only 0.5 percent copper content. Mines consume disproportionately large amounts of electricity.

A smelter may consume up to or more than 100 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to a third of the electricity produced in Malawi.

The high prices of copper, currently about $10, 000 per ton, should not induce inordinate euphoria because the high prices merely represent supply blips or bottlenecks; another two or more years and the copper demand/supply disequilibrium will be dealt with.

Already, the Chinese, the largest consumers of commodities, are taking measures to deal with prices of commodities because their inflationary impacts could distort China’s  economy and obliterate its competitiveness.

High metal prices help commodity producing countries to acquire or accumulate foreign exchange earnings which help with importation of capital goods and also the servicing of external debt obligations.

A well organised agro sector which embraces large-scale processing that take account of economies of scale and resultant lower per unit costs can do a better job than the mineral sector in terms of foreign exchange earnings.

This is because relatively smaller resources are invested in agriculture with assured large benefits. The $50 million which may not even be enough to sink a single mine shaft, being invested in cashew nuts in the Western Province, will in three years from now bring hefty returns to the country by way of foreign exchange earnings.

Zambia has massive land resources to deepen and deliver development to uplift people from abominable squalor in the shortest time possible – the celebrated economist Lord John Maynard Keynes warned humanity that in the long term, we are all dead!

The compelling need for more expeditious development is therefore that all things that impinge or revolve on human development are time sensitive. Just like progress or advancement, stagnation and regression have multiplier or exponential dimensions.

Demography has a large role in development; from just under three million people at independence in 1964, we currently have a population of about 18 million in Zambia.

Consequently, more schools and hospitals are needed. Above all, we require vast job opportunities for a population in which the 0-30-year-old age group is 70 percent.

Adequate jobs is an inescapable moral and practical imperative. Nobody will have a magic wand to create jobs at the stroke of a pen. Logically, as stated, making small-scale farming earn a fair and reasonable recompense, alongside social cash transfers, is a very reasonable component of job creation.

Zambia is not static and is moving on from a diversity of fronts. Development is essentially preconditioned on capital, a requirement that no country can sidestep.

Not often recognised, the key or most critical component of capital is human capital – that is to say, people armed various forms and levels of knowledge and a desirable work ethic or culture.

It is gratifying to note the rapid rise in skills, itself a function of education, the only sure way that all nations enhance the productive capacities of citizens. A remarkable feature of skills development is that women have not lagged behind their male counterparts in this welcome evolution.

Women give tremendous impetus to development and gleefully women in Zambia have performed tasks assigned to them within both the public and private sectors with passion and competence.

The youth, the most numerous segment of our population, are a valuable resource that, with the necessary strategic support that furnished them with the requisite diverse levels of skills, can yield a large dividend. They are the greatest challenge.

The downside risks

Mean or modest annual economic rates in single digits, when discounted for annual population growth rates averaging 2.8 percent, have often resulted in negative growth rates. This is the underlying challenge of the country’s economic development process. There are inevitably tremendous, not to say prohibitively stupendous backlogs, to address to ensure sustainability of our upward thrust.

Relative to what has transpired in the past without disparaging heroic past achievements that provide a base, the Patriotic Front (PF) development agenda has been robust and transformative.

All development without regard to locale does generate disparities. It is necessary to admit and accept such occurrences so that we can refine programmes to make sure that the goal of not leaving anyone behind continues to enjoy centrality in all the nation’s development programmes and endeavours.

Consumer-driven development in Zambia can and will be hampered by income disparities and extremely low earnings of the bulk of the populace.

Double digit growth rates thus become a noble crusade or, to borrow from one of America’s Presidents, a moral equivalent of war. Ending poverty goes beyond even the most dazzling and ingrained rhetoric. It requires not only the most passionate commitment but accomplished management.

The situation that obtains in Zambia with regard to a large public service outfit is most inappropriate. The political leaders face firm red lines from the electorate, but functionaries in the civil service and state-owned outfits are assigned, rather inadvertently, unfettered impunities, thus rendering accountability a futility.

A large public sector, managed by apparent absentee landlords, cannot be an ideal recipe for accelerated development which is a crying need to sustainably move forward and to end misery and squalor.

Politics

The political scenario in Zambia is overdue for streamlining and refinement. A proliferation of parties, such as we have, is not bad per se; it is the signals that are fundamentally flawed.

There is dire need for the country to pool our meagre intellectual resources to tackle the key challenges of unemployment and the poverty which it accentuates.

We are in the midst of electioneering. It does not matter that some political parties have scanty opportunities; the many lofty ideas articulated by different candidates can be part of the enormous reservoir of ideas.

What is needed is avoiding disturbing the peace and tranquillity that is a common property of Zambians and a useful legacy to posterity. The peace in Zambia stands us in good stead in the international community.

We should all find it repulsive that families can be hacked to death by criminals in our midst, as happened in Chingola.

Politicians of all parties need to join hands to foster the freedom of our people, but that freedom must be accompanied by a profound sense of duty and responsibility to the Zambia, our wonderful and glorious habitat!

PF presidential candidate Edgar Lungu

All parties have unrestricted leeway to choose their presidential candidates. In accordance with the wishes of the party structures, the Patriotic Front (PF) assigned the honour of presidential candidate to Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu.

It is not illegitimate and certainly not too much for us in the PF to request for respite from other parties for our candidate. President Lungu has been to all parts of the country without a chip on his shoulder, no pomposity and no arrogance.

The hallmark of PF is fellowship and purposeful national unity which our dearly departed founder of the nation, Dr Kenneth David Kaunda, and selfless fellow freedom fighters tenaciously stood for.

Zambians throughout the country have noted the sense of fellowship and compassion that have stood Mr. Lungu in good stead as a candidate and hence his high approval rating in the PF.

Let the other parties brush up the images of their candidates – a barrage of obscenities and spates of vile campaigns anchored on malice and hatred without development roadmaps and scripts are a waste of opportunity.

Zambians are facing incredible hardships resultant from inflationary spirals that are largely exchange rate induced. Only a serious party like the PF with a proven track record of performance and successful fostering of national togetherness can ensure the much needed way forward.

Let us all work together with our different views but in harmony and meaningful fellowship.

*The author is PF Finance Committee chairman.

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