Evident economic progress in Zambia

HARARE - Zimbabwe's neighbouring country Zambia is on its 13th year of successive economic and social growth and the uptake is evident in the country’s capital city of Lusaka.

The buoyant economy marks a change in fortunes for a country which just a decade ago was ravished by poverty.

And the changes are also evident in the media. A group of 15 Zimbabwean female journalists travelled to Zambia under the auspices of the United States embassy in Harare’s Women Journalist Mentorship Programme, and had an opportunity to visit Zambian newsrooms, the US Embassy in Zambia, NGOs and the ministry of Gender and Child Development and the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zambia chapter offices in Lusaka.

The media in Zambia is diverse with over 60 community radios and three major newspapers and one State broadcaster, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation.

The Zimbabwean team of female journalists visited the three newsrooms and other media outlets. The public media’s offices are archaic and poorly resourced, especially the Zambian Daily Mail.

The Zambian Post newspaper — which became popular for being the voice of the voiceless before President Michael Sata came into power — has plush offices.

A number of reporters left The Post newspaper to join Sata’s government. Questions of the newspaper’s ethics were raised as it seemed that it is less critical on the current Zambian Government.

Critics say it has lost its bite. However, officials at The Post stressed that the newspaper has not changed its editorial policy.

Zimbabwean female journalists were given a chance of meeting with senior Zambian female journalists who expressed their worries that they were not being offered the top jobs in the media. Issues of sexual abuse were raised and the journalists urged Zimbabwean journalists to be strong, work hard and excel in their careers and hope to be promoted to top posts.

Zimbabwe can learn some lessons in luring investors from Zambia and tolerance of multiple community voices through fully opening the airwaves.

Right now the country is teeming with South African franchise shops perched at every mall — giving locals and tourists’ abundant places to shop and relax.

Zambia’s economy has experienced strong growth in recent years, with real Gross Domestic Product growth between 2005-12 more than 6 percent per year.

Privatisation of government-owned copper mines in the 1990s relieved the government from covering mammoth losses generated by the industry and greatly increased copper mining output and profitability to spur economic growth.

Copper output has increased steadily since 2004, due to higher copper prices and foreign investment.

In 2005, Zambia qualified for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative, consisting of approximately US$6 billion in debt relief.

However, poverty remains a significant problem in Zambia, despite a stronger economy. Zambia’s dependency on copper makes it vulnerable to depressed commodity prices, but record high copper prices and a bumper maize crop in 2010 helped Zambia rebound quickly from the world economic slowdown that began in 2008.
Zambia has made some strides to improve the ease of doing business.

A high birth rate, relatively high HIV/Aids burden, and market distorting agricultural policies have meant that Zambia’s economic growth has not dramatically decreased the stubbornly high poverty rates.

US ambassador to Zambia Mark Storella told journalists that the economic growth can be attributed to the uniting power of Zambian founding president Kenneth Kaunda.

“One man can make a difference. President Kaunda coined the theme One Zambia One Nation that unified people. He would be seen as a great man in building a nation,” he said.

Storella said Zambia has challenges given that poverty levels have not changed since 20 years ago despite the 13 years of progressive economic growth.

Ordinary Zambians are still struggling but efforts are being made to ensure that they enjoy a slice of the economic cake.

Zambia’s ministry of Gender and Child Development has programmes aimed at benefiting disadvantaged women by offering them small grants.

However, a women’s organisation said the money is not readily available to women of different political orientation.

Some farmers evicted from Zimbabwe are now doing trade in Zambia, boosting that country’s agriculture.

Zambia is co-hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, congress with Zimbabwe and the country is anxious on what is happening in its neighbour’s political sphere. Storella said what happens in Zimbabwe can have an impact on Zambia. - Margaret Chinowaita, Community Affairs Editor

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