|The Courier N° 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)|
by Clifford SILWIMBA
An attractive feature of Zambian life under the new government is the freedom of the press. Opinions of all kinds are expressed in a range of newspapers and magazines, which make a speciality of publishing contributions from their readers commenting on government policies and performance. Many of these writers describe the economic hardships ordinary members of the public are having to go through and wonder if things could not be differently ordered. As a bow to this very distinctive tradition, and to air a dissenting political view, The Courier here publishes an abridged commentary by a freelance journalist based in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
On the surface, Zambia is supposed to be doing well economically. The country is rich in minerals and other natural resources. Mining statistics for 1990, for instance, are quite impressive i. Turnover by the mining corporation stood at K60.54 million, representing a growth of 103% over the previous year's turnover of K29.79 million. Although lead and zinc production declined by 8684 tonnes to a total of 16 004 t, finished copper production for the year was 448 468 t which was 32 823 t more than in the previous year. The annual average price for copper, which is the country's main foreign exchange earner, was £1639 (K45 810) per tonne.
Although these figures look impressive, the majority of both urban and rural dwellers in Zambia remain pathetically poor. The new Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) government, which has been in power since October 1991, is unable to deliver the promised goods to the people because allegedly, it inherited an empty state treasury. In short, the economy had been plundered.
Consequently, feeder roads in the rural areas remain impassable because no repair work or maintenance has been done for years.
Most bridges have long been washed away-as a result, relief food meant for the starving millions is stuck in urban and peri-urban areas, unable to reach the intended beneficiaries. This state of affairs, coupled with the devastating effects of the 1992 drought, has reduced most families in rural Zambia to mere beggars.
The new government claims to have brought 'democracy and a new culture' to Zambia in contrast to Kaunda's socialist dictatorship. To ordinary Zambians, however, such talk is little more than political rhetoric.
They want food, shelter, clean water and suffficient supplies of medicine in hospitals and rural health centres. At the moment, diseases such as malaria, dysentery and cholera are big killers. In November 1992, almost 400 people died of cholera in Kitwe, a city in the Copperbelt. Most victims die quietly in rural Zambia where half of the people still live.
Whereas the fallen Kaunda government tried to resettle people back in the rural areas at public expense, the MMD government has stated openly that there is no money in the state treasury for such ventures. Whereas the Kaunda administration tried to distribute 'free' millie meal to low income groups in both rural and urban areas, using the coupon system, the present government has put a stop to 'free' food, and has more than quadrupled the price of the staple food itself-from K225 per 25 kg bag to well over K1000.
Most Zambians have also come to realise that life is harsh in the urban areas, where jobs are scarce and food prices prohibitively high. In an effort to please the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank-two of the major donors-the government has instituted measures aimed at reducing the size of the workforce in the civil service and the para-statal companies. This is called retrenchment. In the process, thousands of workers have lost their jobs. The only alternative for many is to go back to their villages empty-handed. They have nothing with which to start a new life in the village. It is poverty at its starkest.
Despite raging inflation, the salaries for ordinary workers still in employment are very low. House servants, hospital cleaners and farm labourers earn between K3000 and K7000 a month and most civil servants earn less than K 15 000 a month. In sharp contrast, the new government, apparently closing its ears to public criticism, has raised the salaries of cabinet ministers from the K15000 set by the ousted Kaunda administration to K320 000 a month. Members of Parliament receive not less than K250 000 a month in salary and tax-free allowances. To ordinary citizens, cabinet ministers and parliamentarians have formed a new 'leisure class'. They have and enjoy the best that Zambia offers while the majority are living in abject poverty. This apparent selfishness on the part of the leaders has surprised and annoyed a lot of observers-especially members of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, university students, church leaders and the workers who are being retrenched in accordance with the dictates of the structural adjustment programme tailored by the IMF and the World Bank.
The country's President, Mr Frederick Chiluba, had a tough task at a recent press conference, when he tried to justify the high salaries awarded by his administration to ministers and parliamentarians. He said this was done to avoid corruption- but many people saw no logic in this answer. The question is- just how much money is enough to prevent corruption? And which category of worker is not prone to corruption? Time alone will tell! C.S.