Unpacking M&E with Dr Kanyamuna: Lungu wrong to only celebrate “development outputs”

The pronouncements and his usual as well as exaggerated happiness of President Edgar Lungu when commissioning the Munali Flyover recently in Lusaka can never be justified and impressive to any well-meaning Zambian. Mark you! In the pursuit of development goals and visions, there are various levels of ‘results’ that are readily available particularly when considered using monitoring and evaluation (M&E) lens. In M&E, we do not just impulsively jump or dance to conclusion that we have done it! Development results are at simply five (5) phases of inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and finally impacts. President Lungu was best appropriate to be seen dancing and celebrating at both ‘outcome’ and ‘impact’ levels of development achievement. To see a rush in celebrating inputs, activities and outputs by the President was completely unwarranted and a typical sign of desperation and possibly a clear sign of misunderstanding how development results revolve.

Let me explain something here. Development results are explicitly expressed in what we call the ‘RESULTS-CHAIN’ or clearer the ‘CHAIN-OF-RESULTS’. The chain has five components – inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts. Definitionally, inputs are the various resources we need to undertake project or programme activities. Such resources as funds (budget), time, materials, human skills, personnel, land, equipment, etc constitute essential inputs for any development intervention. Activities are the actions or tasks we undertake using the available inputs. When we use the funds, materials, equipment, time, skills, etc to run with project deliverables, we are simply implementing the project activities. Further, what we achieve after undertaking various project activities is what lead us to outputs. Outputs are the immediate results we get after implementing a series of related activities. For instance, the flyover bridge President Lungu commissioned is an output after using some gift (input) from India and the activities conducted by the contractor. But check how the chain now leads us to high-level results. Once the targeted beneficiaries start using the ‘output’ in a sustainable manner, we get the ‘outcome’. Thus, outcomes are changes in behaviour of the project targeted group through their access and utilisation of the (quality) output. Finally, when people sustain the outcome(s), we get the last desired result, the project ‘impact’. It is at that moment when we talk of improved human conditions. Usually, outcome and impact level indicators are only measured using survey data because they are long-term in nature and manifestation.

Thus, it is noteworthy to appreciate that development results are celebrated at different levels. But the point I am making today is that President Lungu is the Republican leader and the last man in the line of defense regarding the development path for Zambia. And my contention is that while it is undeniably important to celebrate inputs, activities and outputs whenever we can, the Republican President should know that his portion of dance and celebration is at the highest level of outcome and impact. Long-term effects of the road and other infrastructure his government has done (at great cost of unsustainable debt) should have been the preoccupation of President Lungu. But look at the man – he seemed as though having a flyover was an end in itself. The President had no outcome and impact level indicator information whatsoever to demonstrate the changes caused by his government’s expensive infrastructure development programmes on the people of Zambia, particularly the poor masses. Each time he attempted to talk of an outcome or impact level result, it was mere wishes but devoid of clear changes his government had scored so far. Most likely it is because outcome and impact level development information in Zambia was evidently showing negative performance. Just read the President’s choice of words during his Munali bridge commissioning speech: “We have made huge strides in infrastructural development, yet this is only the beginning. As we transform the face of Lusaka, our country’s capital city and major economic hub, I wish to assure you that we will not leave the rest of our towns, whether urban or rural, behind.” He continued, “My government, through the Lusaka decongestion project, has provided entrepreneurial opportunities for various Zambian companies which have been sub-contracted by the main contractor, Afcons, to provide various services. This opportunity allows for the growth and development of small and medium sized companies which will now acquire the required skills to undertake major projects. This is indeed one way of diversifying our economy while ensuring job creation,” Lungu noted.

From the above statement, you can tell that President Lungu is far from being a visionary leader. His choice of words was expected to come from directors and permanent secretaries in the Ministry of Local Government as well as the Ministry in charge of Infrastructure and Development. In addition, the Mayor of Lusaka would also be justified to deal with input, activity and output level project information. My view is that even President Lungu’s Cabinet ministers did not need to be cadres and champions of low-level project/development results of outputs. I now can understand why President Lungu and his PF government have constructed hospitals without doctors, nurses and medicines. They are constructing roads and bridges without growing the economy for productivity. Equally, airports have been expanded even when they know they were of low priority going by the level of development the country was positioned currently. Simply put, President Lungu and his PF regime are a regime that came to dance and celebrate development ‘outputs’. The regime cannot even support the conduct of surveys and studies to help the country measure the extent of performance. In any case, even the quality of outputs they have pursued in their tenure are all of poor quality yet over expensive measured by prevailing market standards.

To resolve this kind of mediocre approach to development, I propose like I have been consistent on this column for almost two years now that politicians must force themselves to know Results Based Management (RBM) approach and M&E. Results language must first be taught and nurtured within intra-party politics through articulation of manifestos and constitutions. For instance, lip services are not needed during the 2021 General election campaigns. We need messages of hope anchored on results-based frameworks and realistic indicators. In that regard, President Lungu might even be a sober man, however, his PF could be the one that is wrong for the Zambian development agenda. Nevertheless, since he is the head of the PF, I have decided to conclude that President Lungu is wrong himself to only celebrate “development outputs”.

President Lungu should always endeavor to tell us where the country has reached in terms of outcomes and impact arising from the efforts his government is putting in place. Mr. President, always ask: if we have money (input) so what? When we use this money for bridges (activity) so what? When we have these bridges (outputs) so what? When people start using these bridges (outcomes) so what? And when people’s behaviours change sustainably arising from the use of these outputs, so what in the long run? (impact). When you follow this thinking, you will conclude that your celebration was in vain to a large extent. Today, we are told that the country will only grow negatively in 2021 (negative GDP), inflation stands at 22.2 per cent, Dollar-Kwacha exchange rate is K23 (rounded), essential home commodities are each over 300 per cent expensive compared to when PF took office in 2011. So, what more nonsense are Zambians expected to stomach/bear if our own President finds peace in exhibiting his low level of development ambition? Aluta continua for a better Zambia. Iron sharpens iron. We shall persist to mention these things in case those in politics decide to hear us one day.

Dr. Vincent Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies. For comments and views, email: vkanyamuna@unza.zm/SM

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