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DEVELOPMENT-ZAMBIA: ‘Real Changes Needed in Policy and Implementation’

Ephraim Nsingo interviews PATRICK MUCHELEKA, executive director, Civil Society for Poverty Reduction

LUSAKA, May 5 2011 (IPS) - Zambia has enjoyed economic growth of around six percent per year over the past decade, says Patrick Mucheleka, but the government is failing to translate this into social and economic development for the majority of citizens. The upcoming conference on least developed countries in Turkey offers an opportunity to recalibrate the country’s approach to development.

Mining truck at Nchanga: strong economic growth on the back of commodity exports is not enough. Credit:  Blue Salo/Wikicommons

Mining truck at Nchanga: strong economic growth on the back of commodity exports is not enough. Credit: Blue Salo/Wikicommons

Mucheleka, who heads Civil Society for Poverty Reduction, a network of more than 140 pro-poor develompent organisations in Zambia, says the economic growth figures have to be discounted against the growth in the country’s population. Further, the sectors that have driven growth are capital-intensive, creating relatively few new jobs.

Zambia will be among the countries participating in the United Nations Fourth Conference on Least Developed Countries in Istanbul beginning on May 9. The conference – along with a forum on the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act which will be hosted in Lusaka in June – offer fresh opportunities to recalibrate Zambia’s approach to development.

Q: What issues with Zambia’s economic performance and governance record do you think should be addressed at the LDC conference in Istanbul to ensure that development benefits all Zambians? A: There are a number of issues. Zambia should address the need for targets on human development and be able to state by what percentage we shall reduce poverty in particular years.

The country should also discuss stimulation of economic growth in rural areas.

African Growth and Opportunities Act

Despite the immense opportunities under AGOA, says Patrick Mucheleka, Zambia has lagged behind in taking advantage of U.S. market. It is however hoped that hosting the AGOA forum in June will put Zambia at the centre stage of international trade and investments.

Zambia has not fared well in trading with other African countries, it is therefore hoped that the forum will also help Zambians create regional linkages.

During the AGOA forum, Zambian entrepreneurs would have an opportunity to discuss partnership arrangements with their US counterparts which would enable them to export high-quality products into the American markets. The AGOA forum in Lusaka would give local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) an opportunity to showcase their products and make business linkages with international SMEs.

The conference also presents an opportunity for Zambians to show their potentials in improving their livelihood through trade. Zambians will have a chance to discuss and come up with solutions to problems they face in exporting their products.

In the extractive industries, the Development Agreements signed during privatisation of the copper mines were not favourable and therefore contributed to low benefits derived by the Zambian Government. Zambia should talk about this during the conference to get the world’s support. Immediate revision of these agreements will enhance gains of the Zambian government from exports of copper, especially in view of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative programme.

The government should also address the empowerment and active participation of the poor in the governance on one hand and the accountability of public institutions to the poor on the other hand. This constitutes a critical platform for human development and poverty reduction.

Q: What specific recommendations would you make in relation to the energy, mining and agriculture sectors as we ready for the conferences? A: Emphasis should be placed on the agriculture sector as it is the provider of livelihood for majority of the population and has a direct link to poverty eradication. The sector needs substantial investment in infrastructure and research as well as effective farming practice, sustainable technologies, access to financing and marketing mechanism.

The Zambian government has to think broadly about agriculture, for example the focus on maize production to the neglect of other sub sectors like fisheries and livestock development is not helping the development of agriculture in Zambia.

In the mining sector, the country needs to enhance revenue collection from minerals so that they benefit Zambians and generations to come. As a country we need to move away from copper dependence, long-term and large-scale formal investment in minerals such gemstones, manganese, uranium and other precious metals.

Zambia needs a minerals policy – this policy should state the development of mineral resources taking into consideration the national and strategic considerations.

Energy still remains a challenge across the country. People in especially in rural areas still rely on traditional sources of energy [like firewood and charcoal]. Lack of adequate energy has constrained the development opportunities in Zambia. It is therefore important to expand power infrastructure and increase capacity for energy generation, especially renewable energy.

Q: There has been the suggestion from certain quarters that not enough is being done to attract foreign investment. A: We first of all have to deal with our governance challenges – corruption and constitutionalism.

We need to have a clear roadmap for foreign direct investment. It should be handled in a way that ensures Zambians benefit. For examples investors should be told about the “dos and don’ts” in Zambia, this will help guide them for example on issues of casualisation of labour.

Q: The 2011 African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) forum will be held in Zambia in June, under the theme “Enhanced trade through competitiveness, value addition and deep regional integration”. How can Zambia enhance its own economy and pro-poor development in light of this theme and of AGOA itself (ten-year old U.S. legislation intended to offer support and incentives to African countries trading with the U.S.)?

A: The theme itself summarises key issues in enhancing trade – and i would say nothing can be more important than addressing competitiveness, value addition and regional integration – all isues that continue to be a challenge for Zambia. Often our products are not competitive at the regional and world markets.

Generally Zambian products face challenges of low value addition to meet international standards. The theme therefore represents Zambia’s trade challenges and solutions.

What Zambian traders need is access to finance and market information. Access to loans with reasonable interest rates will help trades produce competitive products able to compete at an international level. Access to information would help them to find market for their produce. Traders will then gain in terms of profits.

Q: What should be done to ensure that Zambia gets the best out of the two upcoming conferences?

A: Firstly Zambia should provide a truthful analysis of development efforts with their challenges that we are going through as a country. It should not try and paint a picture which is does not exist. The government needs to be open to criticism.

Conferences such as the AGOA and LDC-IV will come up with very good recommendations. The challenge has always been the implementation part of it. It is our hope that this time we shall see real changes in the implementation system in Zambia.

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