Zambia needs development and to develop, the country needs resources. The country can easily raise the money internally as well as borrow from other partners and friends where necessary. However, we know very well that borrowed money if not well spent can lead us to be slaves forever to those people we borrow from. For instance, it is estimated that Zambia owes China a whopping US$6 billion; we are the sixth most indebted country to China and much of this debt was contracted in the last five years. We owe China more than Nigeria. Considering how we have been spending this money, it is evident that we have been too reckless. For instance, borrowing money with the intention of paying the interests that are falling due from the Eurobond is the worst decision that can ever be made by people that mean well. Neither is borrowing money to buy a state-of-the-art jet for an individual a good idea. In Zambia, the largest industries that we depend on are the mines though we no longer own them. They are a major source of forex for the country and a major contributor to the GDP of US$25billion, which we want to rebase without increasing production. Of late, the country has depended mostly on trading and the service industry. From the look of things, the GDP of the country has been shrinking because most of the productive industries, especially those in the manufacturing sector have either closed up or scaled down drastically. A good example is the cotton subsector of agriculture; ten years ago, we had companies like Cargill and Dunavant which used to be big players in the cotton subsector, employing thousands of people. They were supporting the production and ultimately marketing of cotton to the outside world. As we speak today, Cargill has exited the cotton subsector and has sold its mills. On the other hand, Dunavant was bought off by NWK which has also been bought by another company that is not participating in the cotton subsector. Currently, the main players in the cotton subsector are a few Chinese companies that unfortunately, do less to support the production of the commodity. Production has gone down by more than half of what it used to be when Dunavant was involved.
One fact that we all have come to regret about is that Zambia lost an opportunity to build on what the mighty UNIP left in 1991. UNIP had developed at least one major manufacturing or processing industry in each and every district that existed then. You can start from Chililabombwe to Livingstone and Mongu to Chipata naming them; we were on an industrialisation economic pathway that just needed reorganisation than the blatant self-destruction mode through thoughtless privatisation we embarked on. Today, most of these industries have remained a campaign tool for all politicians, including those that don’t even know what they could be talking about; you will hear them shout, ‘I will reopen Mwinilunga factory’, when the factory is nonexistent. Today, we have become so lazy that the only way we think of raising resources, including money to buy drugs in our hospitals or food is either to go and ask China for a loan or increase taxes on workers who are not even paid on time. Cabinet meetings are held just to report on activities that are generating money so that additional taxes can be imposed. For instance, the introduction of borehole tax is something that I have failed to understand to date. On one hand, we are telling farmers to adopt modern technologies such as using irrigation for them to remain productive throughout the year, and for those that dare adopt such activity, we follow and surcharge them with borehole tax as if the borehole was sunk by the department of water affairs. I would have loved to see the government build giant canals drawing water from lake Bangweulu into Mkushi farm block and any farmer that was to tap into those canals could have been charged such taxes (who advises you kanshi? Muleishiba utuntu). We are in the era of internet and any country that will dare remain behind in ICT is as good as a tick on a dog’s dead body. We quite rightly introduced internet and when everyone was learning to appreciate the benefits of it, a double tax is lumped on those using internet calls. People that are managing the economic affairs of the country have become so lazy to think. Is it that they are eating too much? How on earth can we be a country of shopping malls without an industry that is producing goods that are sold in those malls? Our policies are not in sync, they are disjointed and parallel to development. I am not insinuating that all we have done is not right but 80 per cent of our decisions are questionably retrogressive. For instance, the decision made to invest in more power generation is a welcome move and a brilliant idea. The idea to open up rural areas is welcome but let us also look at activities that will create more wealth through sustainable jobs from manufacturing and processing of raw materials we are generating from agriculture, mining, forests as well as other service sectors. We have had enough malls in Lusaka, what we need now is a policy to ban importation of all agricultural produce except those that we can’t produce competitively such as apples. We are being fed on bananas from Costa Rica, potatoes South Africa meanwhile we want to export all the goats we have in the country. Let us all work together and provide good advice to the policy makers; let us not be too lazy to think. At this rate we are moving, our grandchildren will be insulting us in our graves. Onani tuyanu in Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and many other countries; they are bringing in good companies such as VW, Pegeout to create jobs not these that are selling green maize at Soweto that came all the way from Asia.
The author is the Agribusiness Development Consultant, email@example.com/SM