By Nkonkomalimba Kafunda
After Zambia held tripartite polls in August 2021, the country ushered in a new government led by President Hakainde Hichilema dubbed the new dawn administration .ending ten years of inept Patriotic Front rule that had left the country debt ridden, bankrupt, lawless and polarized.
As a result, the United Party for National Development inherited a country gripped by serious economic challenges which had led to our people going through severe hardships. The economic problems have been excecated by the effects of Corona Virus induced shut downs which limited economic activity. The war in Ukraine has further caused economic upheaval as pries of fuel and food have soared owing to supply chain constraints resulting from the conflict.
Against this back drop, the new administration has managed to control inflation, reduce and stabilize the Kwacha exchange rate against major convertible currencies, decentralized resource allocation through enhanced CDF, created employment in education and heath, among others. Additionally, increased Foreign Direct Investment due to restored investor confidence has seen FQM investing over US$1.2 billion in existing mining projects as well as a US$250 million investment in setting up the biggest Nickel mine in Africa.
Other notable succusses of the past one year include, but are not limited to, making the Zambian kwacha the world’s second-best performing currency and Africa’s 6th most powerful currency
The country has also led the way in restructuring the developing world’s humongous indebtedness to China. Over the last few months China has co-chaired Zambia’s debt committee with France, bringing the Asian giant to the common debt management framework for the first time. .
On August 22, China announced debt forgiveness for 16 African countries without giving details. Zambia having been the restructuring trail blazer is no doubt a major beneficiary.
However, the cost of living crisis is overshadowing most of these advances, the major reason being there has been little, if any, tickle down effect felt by the populace . Prices of basic commodities among them mealie meal, sugar, transport, shelter remain high and mostly unaffordable as poverty levels show no significant signs of abetting. Social protection, though, has, to some extent, been streamlined to benefit the most vulnerable.
The scarcity of money, though an essential quality of any serious currency, has hit hard. Government in it’s quest to pay only genuine suppliers of goods and services through a prolonged audit and verification process has, in effect, bankrupted many businesses, particularly small and medium sized suppliers ones. . While the problem of ‘air suppliers’ was real and pandemic level rampant under the PF, after a year the chaff should have been judiciously separated from the wheat. This is a major system failure as it has negatively effected the health sector, for instance, where supplier mistrust is causing erratic availability of drugs in health institutions.
Macro economic stability has been further enhanced by the enacting of the Bank of Zambia Amendment Act no 15 of 2022, that, among other things, secures the tenue of the Governor and the two deputies, positions prone to political manipulation as evidenced in the recent past.
In the area of law reform, strides have been made to repeal and amend the archaic Public Order Act though citizens continue to be held in remand without sight of trial as laws, mostly unfairly and maliciously enacted, continue to be used punitively against suspects who may or may not be guilty. Generally, though, accused persons are not being detained unnecessarily and trek to court from the comfort of their homes. This is a great improvement though more can be done to in terms of wide accessibility across suspects’ social economic status.
Many beneficiaries of these normalized bail and bond conditions are suspects of economic crimes known in common parlance as plunderers of national resources, who are as varied as they are numerous. The corruption fight which has suffered significant set backs in the past seems to have picked up momentum after the appointment and ratification of new board and Director General, though we are yet to see successful prosecutions subsequent to the much heralded arrests.
On the political front, alliance partner Kelvin Bwalya Fube (KBF) has formed his own party. Its impact, if any, is yet to be seen, suffice to say KBF campaigned extensively and quite effectively for HH, featuring on radio stations countrywide with very compelling pro Bally arguments. Should this ‘defection’ be a cause for concern? The jury is still out.
In mining, the impasse at Konkola Copper Mines continues raising doubts of the veracity of achieving the lofty 3 million tons of annual copper production target Revelations of the callous extravagance of the former provisional liquidator have not helped matters. Additionally, it is yet to be seen if tax breaks gifted to mining companies in the current budget have yielded the desired investment levels leading to higher production and resultant future taxes.
On a more positive note, planned value addition of Congolese and Zambian minerals through robust manufacturing before export has been roundly welcome as long overdue.
The notoriously volatile fuel prices have made the transport sector unpredictable, the multiplier effect being that prices of goods continue to fluctuate against the flow of reduced inflation.
Even though major policy pronouncements meant to increase efficiency such as giving inputs directly to farmers rather than cooperatives have been made, the agriculture input supply chain appears to have been severely disrupted to an extent that as August comes to an end there is no clear indication as to when inputs will be in the country or where they are coming from. This is, surely, a cause for serious concern for future national food security.
All in all, the administration has fared well under difficult circumstances. The upcoming by elections in Kabushi and Kwacha , nonetheless, will be important litmus tests as to whether urban domiciled Zambians are willing to give more opportunity to the UPND and Bally to fix what was almost irreparably broken or vote in protest against the high cost of living, equally astronomical unemployment and stratospheric poverty..
One year into transition, it would be unfortunate if what was being commemorated was the departure of the Patriotic Front rather than a celebration of the arrival of the United Party for National Development.