Zambia at 54 : Where to Next?

One of the first African countries to gain independence in the 1960’s, Zambia turns 54 today, 24th October. Its future lies in limbo with too many scandals of corruption, misappropriation of funds and questionable leadership that has hindered development.

The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) took over power in 1991, ending one party rule in   Zambia. Under the leadership of Frederick Chiluba, the state worked with Bretton Wood institutions to boost a free market economy.  Chiluba led the privatization of state owned institutions and for a short period it appeared that Zambia was on a tenable democratic trajectory. Unfortunately a downfall of the country’s economy soon became clear as politicians and other key actors privileged their own interests at the expense of overall development and the state suffered the consequences of privatization.

As Chiluba’s two terms came to an end, the third republican president Levy Mwanawasa began to turn things around with his fight against corruption. Zambia enjoyed its most prosperous period, until he died in 2008.

African countries have seen their debt rise and this has come at the cost of citizens. Poor governance has seen leaders strike deals that are not beneficial in the long term. Zambia is not an exception and such deals have seen it fall at the mercy of excessive borrowing which currently is heavily from the Chinese government.

Since the Patriotic Front (PF) government came into power in 2011 under the leadership of the late Michael Sata, the leaders in power have lost focus of their promises. Debt has risen from about $2bn to $14bn in a period of 7 years. On top of this, Zambia will soon have to start paying back the $750m Eurobonds it borrowed.

The economy is on a downward spiral and its recovery is likely to take time. Zambia’s biggest export, Copper for example has been  hit the hardest by the US-China trade war. Speculation and uncertainty has seen the Kwacha weaken against the dollar.  “Without further steps to curb spending and limit non-concessional borrowing, the likelihood of IMF support in the near term appears low,” Maria Paola Figueroa, an economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington, said in a research note on August 23. “Amid dwindling foreign reserves, and in the absence of an IMF program, the economy remains highly vulnerable.”

Health, education, social welfare and agriculture are all important areas for improvement. The government’s budget, set to come into effect in 2019 does little to see these sectors improve in the long term. With no proper middle class, a poor health care system, low literacy levels and  unemployment rates very high, development is happening at a very slow rate.

The future of the country lies in its youth who account for majority of the population. With an election coming up in 2021, Zambia will once again decide what happens to future generations. It is yet to be seen if the current regime under the leadership of Edgar Lungu can turn things around.

It is not yet known whether president Lungu will stand for re-election as he has already run in two elections. There is currently a dispute in the Zambian courts as to whether he will be eligible to run again as he would have only served 7 years by 2021 due to Michael Sata dying whilst in office. The Zambian constitution stipulates that a President can serve for two term. However, a term is 5 years and that is where the dispute is. Judgement is yet to be passed from the courts.

Once hailed the next breadbasket of Central Southern Africa, following the demise of Zimbabwe, this prediction is yet to become a realisation and the sooner Zambia begins to clean up its act and improve its governance, the better it is for the country and the rest of the continent. The  question however remains on whether Zambia will ever reach her potential.


Featured image | Zambia grunge flag | Nicolas Raymond | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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