Saturday, June 15, 2024

Creating a Culture and Sense of Embracing Outside Ideas: The Missing Link to Innovation


Zambia is a country celebrated for its peace, cultural diversity, and religious tolerance. However, beneath this veneer of tranquility lies a complex web of social and structural challenges that stifle innovation and progress. Over the years, I have observed several troubling patterns that undermine our nation’s potential. As a forestry advocate and a committed member of the Forestry Institute of Zambia, I believe that the key to unlocking our country’s latent innovation lies in fostering a culture that genuinely embraces outside ideas and promotes meritocracy over nepotism.

Nepotism and Structural Instability

Zambia is plagued by nepotism, camouflaged under a guise of piety and superficial Christianity. With every change in political leadership, there is a corresponding upheaval in civil service structures. New governments often purge existing civil servants, replacing them with individuals aligned with the ruling party. This trend, observed from the era of His Excellency Dr. Rupiah Banda through to His Excellency Michael Sata, and exacerbated during His Excellency Dr. Edgar Lungu’s tenure, continues today. Civil servants, purportedly non-partisan, are often deeply entrenched in party politics, eroding the integrity of public service.

Public Media and Truth Suppression

The public media in Zambia is excessively dependent on the ruling government, often to the detriment of truthful reporting. This reliance distorts public perception and undermines the accountability of those in power. The media’s primary allegiance seems to be to the government rather than to the Zambian people, who have the right to unbiased information.

Corruption and Justice

Corruption is a persistent issue, frequently addressed by political elites in rhetoric but seldom in practice. High-profile corruption cases involving powerful figures are rarely pursued to conclusion, while ordinary citizens face protracted and often futile battles for justice. The disparity in how justice is administered undermines public confidence in our legal and political systems.

Permanent Secretaries and Institutional Memory

The role of Permanent Secretaries, meant to provide continuity within the civil service, is undermined by frequent political appointments. While the office remains, the occupants change with alarming regularity, disrupting institutional memory and long-term planning. This instability hampers the effectiveness of government operations and policy implementation.

Neglect of University Research

Innovations from our universities are left to gather dust, a consequence of inefficiencies within civil service structures. When unqualified individuals occupy critical positions, they pursue personal agendas at the expense of broader innovation. Universities, which should be hubs of research and development, are sidelined, and their contributions ignored.

Parastatals and Private Sector Dynamics

Parastatals and private entities often fail to embrace research and development. Since 2009, I have witnessed numerous innovations from young graduates being dismissed by organizations. My personal experience with proposals for improving wooden utility pole maintenance, presented to ZESCO and ZAFFICO, exemplifies this. Despite presenting viable solutions since 2021, I have yet to receive a response. Such disregard for innovative ideas is widespread, leading to wasted talent and missed opportunities.

Meritocracy vs. Connections

Zambian society tends to prioritize connections over meritocracy, a practice that significantly hampers our economic and service delivery. Employment decisions are frequently based on personal connections rather than qualifications, resulting in a bloated public service and inefficiencies. For Zambia to progress, meritocracy must be prioritized, ensuring that the most capable individuals are in positions where they can drive development.

Public vs. Private Sector Balance

Our economy is overly reliant on the public sector, which stifles private sector growth. While initiatives like the Zambia National Service have public support, they risk suppressing private sector dynamics. Government interventions, from controlling the mukula trade to managing mealie meal production, should not suffocate private enterprise. The balance between public oversight and private sector freedom is crucial for sustainable economic growth.

Glorification of Wrongdoing

There is a troubling trend in Zambian society to glorify wrongdoing by the political and financial elite. Wealthy individuals often face a different standard of justice compared to ordinary citizens. This disparity erodes trust in our legal system and perpetuates a culture of impunity. High-profile cases of political figures escaping accountability are visible to all and reinforce the perception that justice is selective.

Imbalance in Public Service Employment

The disproportionate employment of teachers, police officers, and health workers over judicial officers highlights a strategic oversight. An efficient justice system is essential for maintaining law and order, yet it is often neglected. This imbalance suggests that those in power may fear an effective judiciary that could hold them accountable.

To foster a culture of innovation, Zambia must embrace outside ideas and prioritize meritocracy. This requires a fundamental shift in how we view and utilize our human resources. Nepotism, corruption, and the suppression of innovation must be addressed head-on. By valuing merit over connections and ensuring that our civil service, media, and public institutions operate with integrity and efficiency, we can unlock the full potential of our nation. Only then can Zambia truly innovate and progress, harnessing the talents and ideas of all its citizens for a brighter future.

By Eng Chaliafya Katungula
Forestry Advocate, Secretary General
Forestry Institute of Zambia


  1. Zambia lost direction soon after Dr Kenneth Kaunda left office. I would debate all the mentioned points but they adequately covered especially where the civil service is just an extension of the political party in power….. no independent and professional decision making.

    • To be honest I am surprised to read this from you. I agree with you completely, that we lost direction after KK. I am sure I remember you criticising KK for something, but I will not hold you to it, as I cannot cite the circumstance. I am a Kaundaphile. He left these buffoons with all the industries and natural resources in the hands of Zambians. The people who followed him looted everything. What they could not loot, they sold to foreigners and pocketted the money

  2. Zambia is like a golf swing. A small degree sends the ball wide … when KK started appointing — albeit covertly — those that were adherent to his one party state, the nation fell into a bizarre utopia manipulated by one man. Enter multi-party politics and all hell broke loose! Because now we know we will not be there for long, we capitalise on this legacy of political intervention in everything by blatantly, wantonly, and indiscriminately appointing even those positions that really require professional scrutiny.

    • The reason why Kaunda resorted to a one party state is because Simon Kapwepwe tried to divide the country on tribal grounds. This is why Kaunda instituted tribal balancing which worked well. Unfortunately, the tranquility resulting from this policy induced an amnesia, in which people naively believed that Chiluba would abide by the same policy. However, Chiluba immediately introduced the tribalism that Kaunda had quelled. Chiluba hated Tonga people, and implemented measures to destroy the economic of Southern Province. Under him, 2 million cows in the province died of preventable disease, while he gleefully refused to raise a finger. He appointed a government in which 45% of the ministers were Bemba.

  3. ………….

    All these can be kinda fixed for the next generations………

    By education,……….

    there are things a most households or workplaces can not teach……..

    The glaring solution is making our people go through a compulsory subject, with introduction at primary school……..

    Going on to secondary school, where all those ills are debunked and taught against…….

    At primary school where 90% of the population goes through is where basics of decency should be taught……….

    Things like hard work, good morals, patriotism, anti corruption, garbage management are drilled into our kids.

    I won’t stop saying this until our educators take note…….

  4. This liberal democracy called multi party politics is failing Africa, Zambia included. A dictatorships like Rwanda is succeeding. Main reasons are discipline and continuity with the country’s long term plan. What we have in Zambia are ever-changing 5year plans premised on election/re-election into govt. As long as we continue on this path we, our children & our children’s children are doomed. We need to revert to a one party system that ensures rotation/change of leadership. Not the wamuyaya syndrome of KK’s UNIP

  5. I agree that wrongdoing is glorified in Zambia. It doesnt matter how you got rich but we will bow down before you because you are wealthy. Its whats happening even in the US with support for criminal Trump. I dont think the economy relies on government. It still relies 90 percent on the private sector because it is a one industry, one mineral economy. If government was pro-active, tourism would have had a foot in the economy roundtable. So would have been agriculture, and especially in Katungula’s industry because we have so much forests we only need to manage them professionally.

    • The solution? “To foster a culture of innovation, Zambia must embrace outside ideas”. Zambia has had carbon copied outside (Western) ideas for over 60 years; 100 since the arrival of Cecil Rhodes and nothing has come out of this. The Zambian has forgotten that he can sort out his own problems. He needs a self-focussed curriculum in school to remind him of that all the time.

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