|The Courier N° 121 March-april 1990- Dossier Refugees - Country Reports: Botswana - Zambia (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
|Zambia: Copper, a fickle friend|
Lusaka is one of Africans best-known capitals. Is this a reputation or legend such as Chicago, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Lagos and many another city have fashioned for themselves over the years? The image of Kenneth Kaunda, that veritable apostle of peace in Southern Africa, has of course rubbed off on Zambias capital, but, independently of KK, as he is familiarly known, the citys reputation is becoming something of a legend in the economic and social crisis which has been particularly acute for the past 10 years. Many an angle on Zambias problems gives an inaccurate view of the reality, as is clear when one arrives in Lusaka and brings an attentive eye to bear on the country, on Zambian society now, in contrast with what it used to be. The difference is striking.
Only one or two nationals and travellers from Europe now come to Lusakas once-busy airport. Flight arrivals and departures in the ACPs tend to attract huge crowds of people who think planes are really spectacular and this used to happen in Zambia. But in late 1989, alls quiet at Lusaka airport- to the left, a twin-engined army aircraft painfully preparing for take-off, to the right, two uniformed men, one of them armed but apparently not convinced of the usefulness of his weapon, and outside, nothing like the feverish activity of the airports in central and western Africa. And a little further on, beyond a vast, deserted parking lot, under a slightly cloudy sky, sprinklers gently water a green, English-style lawn in the heat. This is always the scene at the airport at this time of the year and the beauty of it all is even more apparent from the air.
The town centre is a few miles away down a fine, open road like a race track before the flag. Putting ones foot down is a temptation- but resisted with the appearance of the wrecks by the side of the road and the mangled cars abandoned on the highway itself. Spare parts are a problem here. They cost a small fortune. A set of headlights, for example, costs K 10000 ($ 600) and a tyre K 5 000 ($ 300)- the first sign of the extent of the economic crisis here in Zambia. And indeed not only here. The many wrecked cars in most of the ACP countries show that the difficulty of keeping large numbers of vehicles on the road is considerable and often out of all proportion to the real needs of the individual and the economy.
In Lusaka, the crisis has had profound effects downtown and in other areas. There are not the people in the streets there were 10 years ago, day or night, and even the Cha Cha Cha Road, the citys red light district, is no longer busy and bustling the way it used to be. Zambians still do their traditional rounds of the bars, of course, but custom is dwindling and the atmosphere is not what it was. The pubs called clubs here- are the best place to take the social temperature of the nation. The Zambians have not yet got over the social consequences of the crisis and it is obvious. They look grim, was the way one Britisher, come to visit a friend and potential partner in joint ventures, put it. Economic difficulties often hit harder in the towns than in the country, but they have affected a particularly large number of people in Zambia because the population is a highly urbanised one, indeed the most highly urbanised of the whole continent, and the effect is felt from Lusaka to Livingstone, in the Copperbelt, in Kabwe and in Chipata and Luangwa, in the eastern province, too.
Lusaka to Livingstone, for example, is a 500 km drive through uninterrupted savannah with no incentive to stop. The only breaks in the monotony are the townships (Chilonga), places like Mazabuka, a tiny little town where the 10 000-hectare Mazabuka Sugar Estate factory spews thick columns of smoke into the heavens, and Monze, whose claim to fame is, alas, a hospital where 50% of the patients have AIDS, the disease which is the scourge of the late 20th century. Sometimes customs officers appear, because the Livingstone road is the main highway between Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and it runs along the railway line between the Copperbelt and Johannesburg in South Africa. Livingstone is still a straggling town whose main attraction is the spectacular Victoria Falls on the Zambezi between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the bridge between the two countries, with its one international hotel and its railway museum. It has not progressed since the colonial era and at the Fairmount and North Western hotels, once said to be the pride of the local hostelries. there is no longer anything but the signs and the odd drink to be bought in settings that bear no relation to their former glory. The crisis has hit here, too, and the one or two tourists pass through quickly, leaving little money behind them.
Family life and social relationships hit
The economic figures (on inflation, debt, unemployment and so on) may well not mean much to many Europeans, but here in Zambia, they caused 15 deaths three years ago- the equivalent of 300 deaths in Venezuela with its debt of $ 34 billion. The economic crisis is beginning to have very profound effects on Zambian society, as I heard from an expatriate who has been living in the country since independence in 1964. Everybody here has had a rough deal, especially the middle-income workers who are used to luxury goods. One of the results of this is that Zambias social relations are developing in a way that is much closer to that found elsewhere in Africa, a much more self-interested way . Why should this be? Because What characterises Zambians more and more today is the collapse of family life and unregulated social relationships the expatriate said, maintaining that he feared for the future of the country which he said he really loved.
His point of view is clearly not unrelated to the realities of the crisis, but it is more a reflection of the behaviour of people in Lusaka and maybe the Copperbelt than the way of life of the Zambians as a whole- as is clear from the peasants living a long way from the main urban centres.
What do Zambians themselves think? Most of them are resigned to living through the crisis although there are those want to understand it and its effects. Any profound and lasting economic crisis will inevitably shake the socio-cultural foundations of society, a Zambian manager at the mining company in Kitwe, told me. And Kenneth Kaunda took an entirely new line in a speech he made in 19X9 when he said that the deterioration in our standards of living, the poor state of our economic infrastructure, poor standards in our health and education institutions, rising unemployment, rising crime rates, black marketeering, smuggling, acute shortages of consumer goods, and low productivity, were all leading to more poverty for the Zambians. And this poverty, the Zambia Daily Mail said recently, has also resulted in the country losing about US $ 300 million to unscrupulous businessmen who are under-invoicing exports, over-invoicing imports and selling foreign exchange on the black market. But who are these businessmen? An interesting question- which the newspaper fails to answer.
Penury may also he a source of income...