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Unravelling Zambia’s rapid and sustained economic growth

ZAMBIA has been experiencing rapid and sustained economic growth especially in the last decade with an average rate of 6.4 percent.
Unfortunately, no assessment has been made as to the nature, scope and sustainability of this economic boom.
This article provides a critical assessment of the economic growth being experienced so far.
Its aim is to set the tone for serious constructive debate on what can be done to make the growth more inclusive and sustainable.
Firstly, many questions can be raised regarding the claim that the current economic growth can be attributed to the adoption of liberal economic policies.
This is not only because liberal-inspired Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) had debilitating effects on the Zambian economy in the 1990s, but because such an assessment blurs the issues of inequality and poverty alleviation.
It can be argued that the much celebrated positives of economic liberalism only benefit very few Zambia.
A causal glance at products on the Zambian markets, commercial activities and industrial undertakings in the country will lead to the conclusion that the economic arena remains largely foreign-dominated.
Therefore, when people talk of 6.4 percent economic growth rate there is also need for a critical assessment of who is really benefiting from the alleged development.
Again, measuring development solely on economic terms such as the average annual economic growth rates has always been disappointing because it negates other critical dimensions of development.
These other dimensions include political, cultural, technological, agricultural and social progress.
Development should also include human development which concerns widening people’s choices, empowering them to make decisions, greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services.
It should also include more secure livelihoods and a sense of participation in community activities.
The people of Zambia this month celebrate 50 years of independence whose last decade has been marked by rapid economic growth.
As they do so it is important for policy-makers and the entire population to think of strategies that can translate this economic growth into poverty alleviation and increased opportunities for all.
And the economic growth is said to be a result of favourable copper prices. The problem with this factor comes from the question of whether Zambians have control over their natural resources or not.
A quick answer to this question is a big NO because the mining sector still remains under the control of foreign players.
Again, the statistics regarding economic performance tell us very little about issues concerning environmentally friendly development and sustainability of the mining sector.
Therefore, as the people of this beloved country celebrate five decades of independence and look forward to a more prosperous future, one of the challenges is how to empower mining communities.
This obviously requires a well thought-out strategy on how to ensure that the people have control over the exploitation and disposal of their natural resources. Beneficiation of the minerals into semi and finished products should be another strategy that will bring more benefits to the people of Zambia.
The third and final observation is that agricultural activities continue to play a background role as far as economic growth in Zambia is concerned.
This is despite the fact that the sector contributes about 70 percent of employment opportunities in the country.
What is required now is that relevant authorities should explore more opportunities within the agriculture sector that, when combined with liberalisation policies, can open more doors for Zambian farmers in southern Africa.
For example, there are agriculture-related products besides maize that can bring valuable revenue to the economy.
Zambia can explore markets for chicken products in countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Zimbabwe, for example, imports about 40 percent of its chickens for domestic consumption, yet Zambia is yet to grab this opportunity.
At one point Mozambique was importing about 65 percent of frozen broiler chickens from Brazil, yet it is Zambia’s neighbour.
Supply of stock feeds to these two countries is another opportunity that can boost our agriculture sector.
The author is a lecturer in International Relations and Development at Mulungushi University, Kabwe.

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