Thursday, June 13, 2024

ZAMBIA’S DEEPENING POVERTY AFTER 59 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE – CAN CDF BE THE “GAME-CHANGER?”

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By Dr Yobert K. Shamapande

Concerned Senior Citizen

Three weeks ago, on October 24th, Zambia commemorated 59 years of independence with the usual pomp and circumstance. But poverty is also deepening in our society with no viable relief on the horizon. So, what’s the way forward?

I believe the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) could be the compelling and potentially impactful policy intervention to spur development at the local grassroots levels, especially in the rural Zambia, while mitigating the multi-dimensional extreme poverty afflicting more than 70 percent of our fellow citizens.

Recently, President Hakainde Hichilema has also embarked on a nationwide evaluative activism marking his and UPND’s two years in power, and saying “We are working hard to improve the lives for ALL Zambians.” Undoubtedly, the two-year period has been characterized by both achievements and setbacks, including the challenges posed by the out-of-control cost of living, especially the high prices of mealie meal — a crisis demanding urgent attention and reversal.

I have, however, chosen to examine the potential impact of the CDF exercise here, because of its broader transformational implications for Zambia’s developmental trajectory and the efforts to reduce poverty for many years to come. If well managed, CDF could become the “game-changer” as remarked recently by Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane during his budget presentation to Parliament.

For contextual perspective, CDF was a legislative creature under the 2018 Act of Parliament intended to spread development throughout the country. But the effort has never featured prominently until after the August 2021 elections.

The programme has three key development components, including community projects; youth, women and community empowerment; as well as secondary boarding school and skills development bursaries – all entail sustained public engagements to assist people at the grassroots levels with social empowerments, skills development, self-help and cooperative projects, including ventures into individual entrepreneurships.

After ascending to power in 2021, Hichilema and his New Dawn administration gave impetus to CDF by integrating it as a critical anchor in the expansive strategies for economic recovery and transformation, following the socioeconomic wreckage inherited from the PF.

To that end, Hichilema’s administration robustly increased the funding levels of the CDF from a token K1.6 million under PF to nearly K 28 million. And more importantly, by December 2022,
the entire CDF had been disbursed to all 156 constituencies with each of them receiving a total amount of around K 26 million. To demonstrate further commitment, government has again raised the CDF levels under the 2024 budget to K30.6 million per constituency.

Clearly, such massive public investments into constituencies stand to generate large economies of scale to be leverage for broader social improvements in combating poverty.Therefore, CDF has become government’s policy cornerstone in the efforts to take development closer to the people as well as to enhance social delivery at the micro local,village and ward levels.

However, I have some concerns about the execution of the CDF. Why, in the first place, would such a critically important policy intervention not catching on fire across the country? And why
hasn’t government given the effort greater emphasis through popular sensitization for it to garner the broad-based support it deserves?

Further, it seems to be in the DNA of the Zambian political class to engage negatively to any innovations government proposes no matter how valuable, as well as to play disruptive rather than developmental politics focusing on the pressing issues of importance to the people — the development of the country we all love, based on concrete, solution-based initiatives such as the CDF intended to uplift our people’s lives from perpetual conditions of suffering and squalor.

I lament thus because, as pivotal as CDF promises to be, it still meets some resistance and, as a result, few Zambians have become aware of its potential benefits or impact on their living conditions.

Two issues, I believe, seem to be at play here: first, government itself appears tentative in promoting or effectively communicating the immense advantages of the CDF project, its benefits and the remarkable performances. Presumably, this is so because government wants to avoid the appearance of over-politicizing the exercise. But that stance,unfortunately, would be shortsighted and missing an important opportunity — to use the CDF to inculcate a culture of development into the minds of the people as the project unfolds throughout the country and gains broader support in implementation.

Here is my fundamental argument on this: the CDF, by its nature, is a major national development initiative, NOT to be confused in anyway as a political gimmick. And as such, it is
imperative for government to effectively communicate its contents to the people with absolute clarity.

By communication here, I mean a more strategic developmental and educational conversation or dialogue necessary between policy makers and those to be Impacted by such policies. Therefore, government should convey and clearly articulate the basic issues:

Why was it necessary to adopt the CDF as a development strategy in the first place and what are its primary goals? What kinds of assistance does the programme emphasize and what are
the expected benefits? And how best and timely would the people be able to access such support? Additionally, government should highlight exactly what lessons have been learned
from the performances, activities, implementation, and outcomes of CDF in other participating communities.

That is the kind of communication or national dialog, in my view, underpinning the cardinal adage long respected in the development circles: “Go to the people. Live with them. Love them. Learn from them. Start with what they have. Build on what they know. And … when the work is done, the people will rejoice: ‘We have done it ourselves!’”

My second concern: recent commentaries have begun questioning the CDF’s effectiveness and asserting that it has failed to achieve its intended mission of reducing poverty, without even acknowledging its larger developmental potential. More ominously,critics like Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa have heaped all the blame on Hichilema and the UPND-led government for what he called “ the worsening living conditions since August 2021” allegedly because of “the anti-poor policies of Hichilema and his UPND.”

Obviously, these are contested narratives by people who should know better; they smack of wilful blindness in the face of glaring factual and statistical evidence to the contrary.

We now have evidence that there were policy failures and neglect during the period from 2015 through 2022. Zambia Statistics Agency in its Eighth Living Conditions and Monitoring Survey of June / July 2022, has demonstrated that poverty levels escalated in Zambia during the period from 2015 to 2022, as the national poverty rate worsened from 54 % in 2015 to 60% in 2022. While rural poverty increased from 76.6 % to 78.8 %, urban poverty also rose steeply from 23.4% to 31.8% over the same period. Meanwhile, predictably, poverty in the rural provinces of Zambia, including Muchinga, Western, Luapula and others, grew more pernicious, resulting widespread suffering and squalor. Ironically, such extreme poverty and multi-dimensional misery took place precisely during the period when the purportedly “pro-poor” socialist / populist PF regime was in power!

We also now know that some genuinely pro-poor policies have been espoused over the past two years. Call them whatever you may but to me and, I believe, to any objective analyst, the measures below taken over the past two years represent socially progressive and pro-poor policies, including:

  • Payouts to the perennially suffering Zambian retirees of their long overdue benefits represented pro-poor policies, reflecting compassion and humanity for the elderly who served our country. Sadly, prior to that action, many retirees had passed on from depression without accessing the benefits for their families.
  • Strengthening social cash transfers to help people meet their basic needs and thereby not just alleviating extreme poverty but also breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty, was progressive and pro-poor. Now, some rural poor can rejoice about receiving K 400 of social cash transfer on their cell phone, a huge step towards alleviating poverty. What was retrogressively anti-poor people, however, was the stealing of more than K 335 million from those funds by people in authority as it happened in 2020.
  • Free education and elimination of examination fees from primary through secondary schooling, were certainly pro-poor and anti-poverty declarations. Now the poor rural mother can sleep easy knowing her daughter or son will go to school without contending with those educational impediments along the way.Obviously, some of us would have preferred a more far-reaching education policy – of declaring not only free, but universal and compulsory education for every school-age child in Zambia, in keeping with the United Nations and other international protocols and conventions. Such policy would give every child a fighting chance; it would go a long way towards solving the most pernicious scourges haunting our society, including the plight of street children, child marriages affecting girls, child labour and other forms of exploitations of children.
  • Recruitment of over 30,000 school teachers was certainly a pro-poor measure, to alleviate school congestions, improve the pupil-to-teacher ratios while enabling the staffing of the idling rural educational schools, outposts and thereby expanding access to basic education.
  • Recruitment of some 11,000 healthcare workers was progressive and pro-poor, to decongest the healthcare system, enable a functioning and better-quality care as well as to
    adequately staff some remote rural clinics, healthcare outposts servicing some of the most needy and vulnerable populations.
  • Restructuring of $6.3 billion of foreign debt in two years, has pro-poor implications. What cynics may not know is that restructuring helped free up desperately needed resources to enable social programming for free education, healthcare services and critical safety nets for the needy, and so forth. And cynics may think that debt restructuring was easy because of many creditors’ good will for Zambia. False! Knowing the international financial complexities of securing debt relief as I do, it involved painstaking negotiations to accomplish. For if it were easy, PF would have done it in the previous seven years. Instead, PF did what was easy — to recklessly pile up nearly $30 billion of debt over a short period of ten years (2011-2021) and thereafter default on loan payments, thereby damaging Zambia’s international reputation almost irreparably.
  • Finally, the CDF exercise taking place countrywide is a massively progressive and pro-poor endeavour. It has decentralized significant amounts of public assistance and social investment directly to the local level grassroots population, especially to the rural settings.

I certainly do not downplay or minimize the brutal challenges facing our people in terms of the high cost of living, especially regarding the cost of food and other essentials. It is incontestable that any time the cost of living escalates in the society, the poor bear the brunt because they can least afford access to such critical essentials.

But these crises simply mean that we still have much work to do as a society. Rather than just questioning or tearing down policy initiatives like the CDF, let’s instead embrace them for the sake of social progress.

In developmental terms, it means embarking on significant policy reorientation. It means that people of good will in the society, especially the none-poor, should press the government to design more drastic, concrete measures under the CDF to address poor people’s plight. It means that government policies should be better aligned and focussed on increasing maize production through agricultural subsidies to mitigate food prices. It means strengthening, not weakening, existing farm input programming, especially to assist the poor. it means subsidizing consumption for the poor through cash transfers and other safety protection measures giving the poor a fighting chance in an environment of high costs for food and other survival necessities. It means working with millers to calm and stabilize the mealie meal situation. And finally, it means suspending all grain and mealie meal exports until the local food security stabilizes. There are no silver bullets in the development business! None.

Now, we have long professed Zambia as a Christian Nation. That also means faithful adherence to Christian principles of developmental implications — to compassionate responsibilities and obligations in pursuit of a more equitable and a just society – that is, to do good by God’s people whose lives have been crushed by extreme poverty and social deprivation; it means doing greater good and promoting social justice for the “least of these.”

There is no doubt, however, that CDF’s success or failure will depend, to a large measure, on the enthusiastic support and involvement of all stakeholders at every stage of implementation.

And President Hichilema has recognized the centrality of citizen engagement. During his recent remarks when presenting 156 Land Cruisers to be used for monitoring CDF activities (a move I thought was ill-advised given that the MPs and local authorities already have adequate means of transport to do the job), he stressed that “it is the government’s duty to deliver services to our people and we must consider this as unity of purpose and we must work together.”

In my judgement, this should constitute the critical synergy or intersection between the commitments of government under CDF and the activities of religious institutions involved in various development efforts – centring on the singular focus on delivering to the often neglected sections of the population, especially those inhabiting the rural areas.

Therefore, the church has always been there as a force for good in Zambian development. Those of my generation well recall the profoundly impactful works of the religious institutions in building schools, providing health care services to the people, feeding the hungry and providing other critically important life-saving social protections to the needy in the remotest settlements and villages of the country.

The church, will therefore continue collaborating with government and other stakeholders to ensure that CDF reaches and benefits the intended people in every part of the country.

Examples abound at the moment about the impressive, collaborative works and projects already under execution on the CDF front throughout the country. Some constituencies grappling with food insecurities have applied CDF to head off hunger or malnutrition (Luangwa District, Siavonga); other constituencies have sought to expand educational opportunities and health facilities by adding classroom blocks, provide decent staff housing or make extensions to rural health centres (Lumezi, Luangeni, Pambashe, Pemba, Chongwe); some constituencies have responded to urgent situations of providing desks and other learning requirements for needy children (Senga Hill, Chongwe); yet others have used CDF to acquire earth-moving equipment necessary for the construction of new feeder road networks and rehabilitation of old infrastructure, thereby opening access to remorse settlements (Kanchibiya); indeed CDF has enabled constituencies to give out soft loans and bursaries to people, promote entrepreneurial skills, construct new health posts, schools or clinics complete with ablution blocks with water-borne sanitation (Solwezi, Chifubu, Chongwe, Chilanga District); and yet in other constituencies, CDF has funded the refurbishing of old markets as well as bringing clean piped water to large numbers of the population (Ndola Central). And so on and so forth.

These are not theoretical speculations; they are concrete solutions helping better the lives of real people.

Fundamentally, therefore, the core challenges facing the CDF are about implementation.

And beyond the usual bureaucratic technicalities, I have delineated below some of the strategic and compelling contours and elements that CDF implementation should entail:

  1. Sustained focus on fighting poverty. The United Nations tradition in me dictates that the most effective attack on the structures of poverty, is to devote significant CDF resources to meeting the six core human needs, including: to ensure adequate nutrition or food security, clean drinking water, decent shelter with proper sanitation, clothing for the most needy, as well as access to basic education and primary healthcare, especially for the rural communities.
  2. Adherence to transparency and accountability. Government should ensure CDF never becomes just another exercise in futility, of throwing money at the constituencies hoping they can put it to good use in the interest of the people. Development must be intentional and never left to chance, as to do could just enable untrustworthy individuals to game the CDF
    activities to their personal advantage. Some creative, activist MP or district officials, for example, could misdirect the purposes of the project from the intended larger community
    priorities and interests to personal needs.

Rather, as the recent government consultations with stakeholders have guided, government must demand strict supervision and robust monitoring of the CDF to ensure it is professionally implemented and competently managed with transparency and integrity.

  1. Proper resource targeting to priority areas of depressed rural constituencies. Ideally, CDF programming as practised in India, Ghana, Kenya and elsewhere, has been designed to promote equitable regional development through poverty indexing of resources to maximize impact on the poorer and distressed sections of the country.

In Zambia, however, the CDF allocations have been applied on the principle of one-size-fits-all, with all constituencies receiving equal amounts of resources regardless of their levels of
development.

While, theoretically, this method makes sense, it poses practical drawbacks as well.One such flaw is that at the stage of implementation stage, more and more resources tend to be
absorbed by the better endowed constituencies with superior infrastructure, leaving the less developed constituencies behind, thus exacerbating, rather than remedying, the
country’s urban-rural disparities and social inequalities.

Such defects, however may be rectifiable in the following ways: first, by intentionally skewing increased CDF investment to the less developed constituencies while also providing them with the necessary technical support for the implementation of their activities. The second way to remedy resource drift from less to more developed constituencies, is by the national departments strengthening the technical and professional capacities or backstopping the less endowed constituencies to ensure effective implementation of or delivery on their priority programmes.

4.Meaningful participation and ownership of process by ordinary citizens. To be effective, people need to own CDF, its projects and the resource programming. That implies people getting thoroughly involved in all aspects of the process, including in working with government structures at various levels, serving on local implementation committees as well as in collaborating with NGOs and other stakeholders to a) select and define the scope of project priorities, b) target resources for implementation, c) establish clear timetables for accomplishing the tasks at hand, and d) determine and agree on the desired final outcomes beneficial to the community.

5.Proper needs assessment to establish priority requirements. There is no substitute for accurate data and information in targeting development. Beyond the traditional macro consultations with the constituency, traditional and other local authorities, emphasis should now be on micro targeting — on capturing the sense of individual local participants in the villages or wards on what their priority entail and the kind of assistance required to improve their social well-being. Always ask people the basic question: which are the critical projects do they want to do, in what order and how? The locals know best their developmental predicaments and expectations; they can nail down with specificity, on a scale of 1 to 10, their priority projects and the resource requirements for accomplishing the tasks.

6. Breaking the back of youth unemployment and defusing the ticking time bomb. The CDF projects should be well aligned with and targeted to the needs of youths to engage them productively across the multi-sectoral activities of national development, including in agriculture,industry, education, healthcare, and labour. The focus should be primarily in two areas:skills development, to get them to acquire usable, especially marketable artisan skill sets in these areas; and second, exposing the young people to opportunities of pursuing entrepreneurships or working in cooperative and other social or business settings. This would broaden the range of opportunities and possibilities for the young people’s self-employment or for entering the traditional labour market.

7.Correcting the inequalities and social injustices among rural population.

Viewed more broadly, development is about the expansion of economic opportunities for all through a multiplicity of tasks, including income-generation, job- creation, skills development as well
as the provision of basic needs such as food, clean drinking water, decent shelter, proper sanitation,basic education, primary healthcare, social protections etc. for all, intended to improve the wellbeing of everyone in the society.

However, for greater impact, the CDF programming should be more intentional, more focused on uplifting the welfare of rural women. There is a saying in Kiswahili, which roughly translated into
English means, “a poor person doesn’t sleep” — but keeps on thinking about how to survive the next day and the day after that. That captures accurately the plight and daily travails of a rural mother. She constantly worries about whether she has adequate mealie meal and relish, where to draw water from or fetch the firewood necessary for preparing nshima for her
family today, tomorrow and the next day.

Mitigating these inevitable stressors of rural life, requires CDF activities to prioritise rural women in providing them, among other things, with clean drinking water – such as a single
borehole facilitating sustainable water supply for a village – thereby removing the burden of women having to trek long distances to fetch water.

While rural women also benefit from subsidies under the larger Farm Input Support programming, the CDF should expand women’s opportunities in other horizons including
introducing them to various modern skills of engaging in potential income-generating activities, in proper packaging and marketing of their farm produce as well as giving
them skills in cooperative agriculture, food preservation and in storage management to avert chronic food shortages and hunger.

So, what are the stakes here for CDF? – To promote an inclusive, compassionate, more equitable and regionally balanced development as well as to mitigate widespread poverty among our people
and, above all, to strive towards a fairer and more just Zambia.

I believe therefore that the basic thrust of CDF is sound. Once it becomes fully implemented, it could also prove to be a vital investment for peace and peaceful coexistence in our society.
As experience elsewhere has shown, the more ordinary citizenry becomes fully engaged in inclusive, productive development efforts intended to fulfil their potential and realize their hopes,
dreams and aspirations, the less frictions or conflicts that society experiences.

Thus, it could be argued in the case of Zambia, that all the chaos, turmoil, mayhem, violence, social conflicts, nepotism, tribalism, regionalism, intolerance, unprecedented greed and corruption with individuals aggressively amassing wealth overnight, criminality, including the killings and gassings of innocent citizens plaguing the country during the dark decade of 2011- 2021, were, in large measure, the consequences of the lack of any meaningful, coherent or unifying national project around which to rally the population.

Ultimately, therefore, with the vast majority of Zambians still overwhelmed by abject poverty, the pursuit for social justice is the only covenant binding us with each other as a people — Be kind and fair to me; I shall be kind and fair to you! One Zambia, One Nation!

Dr. Shamapande is the author of the book titled: Why Bother About the Poor? The politics of Poverty, Peace and Development in Southern Africa.

16 COMMENTS

  1. CDF is mostly for infrastructure. But the country requires to produce goods which CDF falls far short to achieve. What is required is state farms in all provinces. This tuma farming block issue here and there is too inadequate just like ZNS is not everywhere. Highly productive state farms to feed the region and the world sorts out both the biggest problem the country has right now of unemployment and will bring in the much needed foreign exchange and will stabilise your kwacha

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    • I agree just like you have ZCCM IH in the mines, government needs to have a hand in farming, you cannot leave 752,000 sq km of arable land in the hands of peasant farmers and commercial farmers alone, the high food prices has shown you that the current arrangement is not workable. These Agriculture loans being given now will not increase production, maybe highly mechanised farms initially belonging to the state can work. The environment is not yet enabling in terms of financing, land availability for broke youths and women.

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    • These guys should start journals and publish these academic styled articles therein. Newspapers and news sites aren’t designed for theses. They are designed for faster reading.

  2. I personally know the author Yobert Shamapande who’s now retired from the UN system in the USA. He’s a rural boy made good by education and is probably overstaying America’s welcome now. It’s high time he came home to Zambia for good and give something back to the nation that has given him so much. No expense was spared to educate his generation in the 1960s and 1970s and the expectation was that they would repay the country by making their expertise available.

  3. Such long articles on LT end up boring to read. Perhaps this author should encourage the establishment of dialogue forums which uses all major languages of Zambia on CDF and other so called decentralised development initiatives. In order to enable grassroot citizens take lead roles in CDF as he suggests, such dialogue forums in local languages including visuals which relate to each local context needs to be used. In future any such articles should be brief, precise and to the point while covering the relevant subject matter.

  4. Poverty has been exacerbated by a combination of factors that can’t be addressed by a single anecdote. Paramount of all is the collapse of systems. Sir Roy Welensky ran a lean but efficient government. Barotseland and Balovale were one province, just like Luapula, Northern and Muchinga. Luangwa, Feira, Chongwe, Chisamba, Mumbwa Chilanga & Kafue were part of Lusaka City Council. We have divided and subdivided these and others and created parasitic jobs for friends and relatives and other useless characters at great cost. If we have improved, why’d the Ministry of Land issues deeds for one plot to 4 different persons? CDF can’t cure that. Why’d a sane President make 60 foreign trips on a space of 24 months? If we can’t deal with this monster then let’s forget about development

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  5. CDF is a game changer. A good initiative. In fact it is working capital for local government as we wait for capital projects’ funding contrywide from Lusaka.
    Implementation and monitoring of CDF is haphazardly done because guidelines and laws don’t fully address the Fund itilisation and disbursement from councils. In the end the Fund looks like it is a UPND and not a socioeconomic vehicle for all citizens in the community.

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  6. What were the sources of revenue for local authorities? Fees and levies and councils were able to provide services like street lights, public toilets, garbage collection, residual spraying against mosquitoes, etc. These levies have been increased and are still being collected but there are no services because systems have collapsed. CDF alone can’t address all these issues. Current indications are that it may not be sustainable. Out of K28.3M only K5.9M has been released this year. We’re in the final quarter and there’s no indication that the balance will be released soon. These are signs of failure

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  7. Please help me, I want to understand how Community Development Funds can be the magic wand for alleviating household level poverty of more than 70%. I have never been a recipient of CDF but I always think that CDF is quite selective in its application to addressing community projects.
    I’m sorry if the answer has been given in this article, it’s just too long to digest. I think the article is meant for a specific audience. Maybe economic advisers to the government.

    • It’s premature to dub CDF a game-changer because supervision of how the money is spent is unsatisfactory. Who’s checking to ensure that the buildings being erected meet minimum quantity standards? Can we rely on municipal construction experts, the same people who are failing to enforce construction standards resulting in much of Zambia turning into a slum? We still have a long way to go.

    • Is there a robust CDF framework? Do councils receive the money as stated? What happens when they don’t receive full amount or get nothing? Do councils send back the unused money?
      The community is mostly cowed, lured and coerced into believing the money is for and from UPND. Same way marketeer and CEEC moneys have been weaponised. CDF if well managed and administered is one of the best tools for success and empowering locals. The idea is to bring development closer to people. CDF is one sure way of dispersing (rolling out) power from Lusaka to councils elsewhere. The how and at what cost is the most intriguing part.

  8. Firstly, lets re-write that Headline: ZAMBIA’S DEEPENING LACK OF POLITICAL MANAGEMENT EXPERTISE AFTER 59 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE – CDF CANT SOLVE IT
    Zambia is not a poor country. Its rich with untapped resources that naive selfish politicians have failed to manage.

  9. There is a tendency to think distribution of public resources for development of local communities has no political implications. We have to realise that in Zambia any public institution given mandate to spearhead the planning, utilisation and monitoring of CDF or decentralised funds will face the political realities on the ground. So a huge part of the work should be to demonstrate in practice and not just words that the resources are not being distributed based on partisan favours. Which local level institutions in Zambia can demonstrate to be fully independent of partisan influences?? For CDF we have MPs elected on partisan lines as well as district commissioners who are appointed on partisan lines as well as councillors playing influential roles.

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