Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Poverty Reduction is the True Measure of Social Progress

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By Dr. Yobert K Shamapande

Chibamba Kanyama did well to highlight the economic strategies or the “daunting challenges” facing HH and his New Dawn team. The strategic priorities seem to stress “creating an environment for the private sector to thrive,” as well as the adopting of more prudent financial management measures and the building of partnerships for the restructuring of the country’s crippling $17 billion debt. (Lusakatimes.com, January 21,2023).

But missing from this conversation, I believe, is one critical element: what is the strategy for mitigating the conditions of equally crippling extreme poverty that still afflicts 60 to 80 per cent of our fellow citizens? Those, in urban and rural settings, who eke out a living under distressful circumstances just to find food to eat or clean water to drink. Those without decent shelter and proper sanitation and who fall victim daily to hostile elements and preventable diseases.

Those still struggling to access basic education who, like the children of Senga Hill of Muchinga and elsewhere, still attend classes without desks, nearly sixty years after independence . Those ever swelling armies of unemployed youths, clearly a national ticking time bomb, who still wait for emergency programming of national resources to address their plight. Those expecting young mothers who lack access to rudimentary antenatal healthcare and are ever fearful of dying in childbirth. And not to mention those suffering from the vagaries of malnourishment, disease etc in the remote settlements of Chienge, Chavuma, Gwembe, Malambo, Nangoma, Shang’ombo.

These social groups are impatient. They needed relief yesterday.

To the poor, government preoccupations about the broad strategies for economic growth, private sector investment, foreign debt restructuring, or even inflation reduction, stabilization of the Kwacha or, indeed, how to attract foreign direct investment ( FDI), amount to distant mirages.

Clearly, there must be a concrete programme , complete with measurable deliverables, targets and timetables, to alleviate widespread poverty in Zambia, and to bring relief to so many through the expansion of social protections, including subsidies for the needy , unemployment support, food security or nutritional assistance, disability care, elderly care, social cash transfers etc.

This is no time to practise conventional economics.

Public interventions should be bold, quick, visible and focussed on the social or human development priorities — ordinary people must see and feel that there was a change of government in August 2021.. Focus should not be so much on servicing the Eurobond loans, or on attracting FDI or just that the private sector should thrive. The United Nations warns that only seven years remain to realizing the global “Sustainable Development Goals” – foremost among which is to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030.” Obviously, this will be a daunting task for Zambia. But people expect the New Dawn government to begin on that path.

As for the FDI, it always follows a period of uncertainty. My decades in the international development arena observing the FDI behaviours inform that foreign investors in Zambia are probably still hovering on the fences. They want their hegemonic business surveillances to signal the overall stability of the Zambian environment as to a) whether the country continues to operate on a strong, durable constitution with critical institutional structures in place, especially relating to the dependability of the separation of powers; b) that Zambia’s adherence to the rule of law endures, especially concerning the fight against corruption; c) that a clear policy consistency on the development agenda exists – that government says what it means and means what it says; and d) that indeed prudent economic management will prevail – without erratic or reckless instincts to borrow, beg or steal.

Given Zambia’s recent past – burdened by rampant corruption, overborrowing and debt defaults — getting the required policy alignment in these areas will be a tall order. Zambia still needs some time to endear itself fully to new investors and lenders. What is more, the New Dawn government’s mandate now has only three more years to go.

But I see optimism and potentialities as well. There are meaningful measures underway on the ground in three important areas. Most notable, is the policy for free education from primary to secondary school levels. This was accompanied by the recruitment of some 30,000 teachers to mitigate the manpower shortages and overcrowding in the education system.

Free education, undoubtedly, also means immediate relief to the struggling rural mother who could not afford to pay school or examination fees for her daughter. Second, the expansion of social safety nets, including social cash grants is a welcome feature to support the most needy and vulnerable in our society. What is critical now is proper implementation of these programmes to ensure help reaches the intended needy without leakages. And third, is the expansion and refocusing of the constituency development fund (CDF) – boosted by the New Dawn government from K 1.6 million to nearly K 27 million.

The CDF feature brings development closer to the people. If well managed, properly targeted and utilized, the CDF tool has the potential, in my view, to be centre for the most effective, innovative social programming in addressing the burning issues of poverty alleviation, skills development, and enhanced access to basic needs, including basic education, primary healthcare, decent shelter, clean drinking water as well as for youth and women empowerment initiatives in every region. It should be a highly impactful feature in uplifting the lives of the people.

Finally, the key point I want to conclude on here is this: Zambian development strategies must integrate the pursuits of private investments and economic growth with the human dimensions of equity and distributive justice. Ultimately, that will be the true measure of social progress in our society.

3 COMMENTS

  1. It’s refreshing to hear from my President that left us stranded. Where are you? I totally agree with you, and perhaps let me add: We need to deal with the big man syndrome as well. Zambians must begin to be disgusted when a person that was walking to town not along comes to donate mattresses because he’s been elected to Parliament. Charity from apparently stolen resources can’t drive wheels of development. This misconception by many Zambians that a good leader is one that gives chitenge and buys you drums of chibuku has caused us many wrong decisions. It’s easy to elect criminals in Zambia. It’s disgusting to see Zambians praise criminals because they lavished them with money. This is why most resources end up being stolen

  2. Not when you have Politicians in Government….we need to get rid of all Politicians and replace them with Managers

  3. Not much space here to say in full all I want to say. I agree with the observation that this is not the time for conventional economics but we cannot do away with insights from the discipline altogether. I wish Yobert Shamapande would visit again the rural settings he grew up in and other similar places in Zambia. Our people do not know alternative ways of organising production to suit their circumstances. Sole trading, partnership, limited liability company, cooperative, public limited company are all different ways of doing the same thing. But Zambians are stuck with working alone and dream of partnerships with foreigners but won’t partner with each other.

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