Observations: 49 years of Independence

By Barbrah Musamba Chama Mumba

The time to reflect on the achievements and shortfalls in Zambia’s different socio economic aspects including political developments could not have come at a better time than now as we await the 49th independence anniversary tomorrow, the October 24, 2013.

It is best first to remember those fallen heroes that fought for the attainment of political in-dependence from Britain on 24 October 1964.

The list of those if written is long some are unsung heroes and others are notables ones like Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Mainza Chona, Reuben Kamanga, Lewis Changufu, Arthur Wina, Nalumino Mundia, Wesley Nyirenda, Axon Soko, Elijah Mu-denda, Humphrey Mulemba and many more.

Those still living include Kenneth David Kaunda, Grey Zulu, Sikota Wina, Simon Zukas, Vernon Mwaanga, John Mwanakatwe, Rupiah Banda and Alexander Chikwanda to name only a few.

Political history

Zambia has gone through many processes in its quest to perfect its political divide and achievements of an all-inclusive political participation.

When Zambia attained independence, it practiced multi-party democracy but this was aban-doned when regional politics became a norm to a point of threatening the unity of the coun-try. Thus for purposes of fostering the much needed national unity, the President then, Kenneth Kaunda banned opposition political parties under the slogan One Zambia One Nation.

From 1972 – 1991 Zambia was ruled by a single political party the United National Inde-pendence Party (UNIP) led by Kaunda.

However, in 1990 Kaunda repealed Article 24 that earlier banned opposition multiple political parties as to pave way for plural party politics. The following year, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) was formed and managed to challenge UNIP at the polls late 1991.

Frederick Chiluba defeated incumbent Kenneth Kaunda by a landslide victory to become Zambia’s second president.

MMD under President Chiluba ruled from 1991 – 2011 with Levy Patrick Mwanawasa taking over as president from 2011 till his death in 2008. Rupiah Banda succeeded Mwanawasa from 2008 and led MMD to its defeat to the Patriotic Front (PF) under the leadership of former UNIP and MMD senior member Michael Sata.

The Zambian parliament is represented by four political parties namely PF, MMD, United National Development Party (UPND) and Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and by four independent MPs.

Zambia has had five general and six presidential elections since 1991. However, Opposition political parties have almost been denied access to public media in almost all elections in the run up to elections.

This has created an unfair political playing field coupled with the use of government resources by the ruling party thus taking an upper hand in the political sphere.
The current government has exhibited high levels of intolerance. It has denied opposition po-litical parties holding rallies.

Opposition political leaders have been arrested in bizarre circumstances, like one opposition leader and his Member of Parliament (MP) was jailed for visiting a local chief on the Cop-perbelt.

Economic developments

Zambia’s economy has seen many processes in terms of participation due to various policy shifts.

In 1964, the private sector contributed 50 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but this changed in the early 1970s when the UNIP government nationalized almost all essential private companies including the mines.

Zambia’s economy has been heavily dependent on copper since 1964. Zambia is one of the largest copper producing nations in the world.

Alongside copper, other minerals like Cobalt and Zinc contributed 75 per cent of Zambia’s export earnings.

The over reliance on copper has affected the country’s economy at different times especially when the copper prices dip on the world market.

For example, the collapse of copper prices and the increase of oil prices in the 1970s saw the country contract at annual rate of 5 per cent for a period of twelve years from the 1970s till 1990.

This had a very devastating effect on the economy and accrued debt of about US$7bn that UNIP government left.

When the MMD took over government in 1991, it had to carry out Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) as part of its policy to liberalize the economy and create macro stability hence, it embarked on a privatization program.

The MMD created institutions to ease the process of doing business befitting a market driven economy led by private society. It set up the Lusaka Stock Exchange, eased foreign controls, created an independent Revenue collection authority and the role of the central bank was changed.

Stringent conditions were set by the World Bank and IMF so that Zambia could reach the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) so as the debts could be written off.

This greatly affected the government’s investment infrastructure and the provision of social services.

When the MMD left office in 2011, it left behind foreign reserves of about US$3.4bn which had never had happened in Zambia for many decades. The external debt stood at less US$500m.

The PF government has embarked on a massive infrastructure development mainly road and university construction. This has led to a debt accrual of US$3.2bn in a spate of two years. The foreign reserves have slightly gone down.

In its quest to meet its campaign promises, the PF government should not go on a rampage spree of borrowing money that it will never participate in paying back but will be left for fu-ture generations.

It will be irresponsible for this government to lead us back to the ages of a highly indebted country, which will make borrowing expensive and higher taxes for future generations.

In effect could affect future development.

Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is still in its infancy and needs a deliberate support so as to en-courage local processing of raw materials into finish products.
Agriculture.

Despite having an arable land suitable for agriculture, Zambia is still lacking in this area. The government needs to take a bold step and promote agriculture as a major economic activity.

Other spheres of Zambia human endeavor

Social Developments

Population Growth

When Zambia attained independence in 1964, its population stood at 3.6m whilst today, it stands at 14.3m (2013 estimates), representing a population increase of 397 per cent over the last 49 years.

Whereas, at independence Zambia had 70,000 Europeans who took up the best jobs this has now changed with more native Zambians taking up the jobs due to the deliberate program that the UNIP government had embarked on.

Two fifth of the current population is under sixteen combine that with the sixteen to twenty four year olds, it makes up sixty six per cent of the population.

This in itself brings about many challenges of creating employment and providing quality education so that they become useful to the economy.

Education

In 1964, there were only 109 university graduates. The number of increased steadily after the University of Zambia (UNZA) was built in 1965. By 1972, about 2000 graduates came from the UNZA.

Today there are tens of thousands graduates from the three major public universities in Zam-bia namely Copperbelt University (CBU) in Kitwe, Mulungushi University in Kabwe and UNZA in Lusaka.

At the time of attaining independence, less than 0.5 per cent of the population had completed primary education. And none were women.

Literacy levels in Zambia now stand at 80.3 per cent of the population while the human re-source development index level is ranked 164 in the world.

Over the years, educational standards have fallen despite heavy investment in educational infrastructure. The fall in education standards has mainly been attributed to lack of learning materials including poor learning conditions.

This has been further hampered by the poor working conditions of teachers which fail to at-tract many qualified teachers.

Teachers’ housing is almost non-existent.

Health

Disease, mainly HIV/AIDS has ravaged the country since the 1980s and has affected all sec-tors of the economy, from intellectuals, politicians, sportsmen and women, the civil service and ordinary labour.

Government should continue the fight against the vice with much consented effort and politi-cal will.

The provision of well-equipped clinics and hospitals should be the goal of this government.

The provision of clean water to every citizen should be achieved.

Housing

Public housing is non-existent ever since the sale of council and government housing thus making it difficult for the newly graduated citizens to live a decent life in decent affordable accommodation.

People living in peri-urban areas are also not living in decent accommodation.
The shanty compounds in the urban areas are a sorry sight. People defecate in chibuku con-tainers. There is no order in these compounds, not only is this a health issue but also a security one.

Inequality, which comes in various forms including disparities between urban and rural econ-omies, between men and women and between formal and informal workers, is very high in Zambia.

There is need to institute measures to address these inequalities if social development was to take place.

Life expectancy, Poverty and Unemployment

Life expectancy is now 52 years, this has to be improved. 64 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and 14 per cent of the labour force is unemployed.

Conclusion.

It can be seen that whilst we have attained political independence, it has not yielded econom-ic independence and improvements in the standard of living of the ordinary Zambian.

The world has evolved since we attained our independence, whereas we were dependent on the western world to sale our raw materials, the market order has now shifted to the east, very soon it will be Africa. Zambia needs to be ready for these trends in the world economy so as to benefit its citizens.

The country needs to invest in relevant education, science and technology, research and de-velopment whilst providing an environment that is conducive for its locals and investors to conduct business.

Protection of people’s lives and property should also be the government’s priority. The par-ticipation of its citizens in the country’s affairs should not be marred by intimidation by the ruling party.

The attainment of independence is meaningless if people’s freedoms of association, move-ment and expression are deliberately curtailed or restricted by politicians to perpetuate their political hold of government.

Happy Independence to all Zambians!