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Saturday, 6 December 2008

Infrastructure challenges, revist'd..

When I was taking part in a Blog Talk Radio show today focusing on Zamtel and other ills , someone quoted the CIA World Factbook assessment on telephone infrastructure : "91,80o main lines in use....[the general assessment is that] facilities are aging but still among the best in Sub-Saharan Africa". At the time, I simply pointed out the 91,800 was of course even more depressing than it sounded, because it is heavily skewed towards the urban areas. I had the graph below in mind showing the rural-urban public telephone access divide.

Number of Zambian households with access to
facilities within 5km

However, it was the second part of the CIA World Factbook statement, that "facilities are aging but still among the best in Sub-Saharan Africa" which sunk in. Though I got away without responding to it (the person who raised the issue was in any case was emphasising a different point), I couldn't get the CIA conclusion out of my head! In particular, I wanted to know just how Zambia compared to other countries in terms of infrastructure access. The first piece of data I came across is the chart below (click to enlarge), which combines World Bank and Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic data. Zambia remains below the low income sub-Saharan average in terms of telephone, mobile and electricity access, but with slightly better performance on access to improved water sources.

Infrastructure Indicators :
Zambia Vs Selected African Countries

We have often mentioned that Zambia suffers from a "landlocked trap". By its nature, Zambia is heavily dependent on its neighbour for road and rail access to sea (and also susceptible to the political and economic situation prevailing in those countries). However, we can see from the chart above, that even in terms of internal road network, Zambia has not invested significantly enough compared to other aspirational African countries. In other words, its okay that we have neighbours with poor road or rail network or insufficient port capacity, but there's no reason why cannot do our bit, to get road network in order! Its no surprise therefore that evidence appears to suggest that Zambia's lack of adequate infrastructure is acting as a constraint on the expansion of trade and economic activity. The World Bank's Logistics Performance Index below, ranks Zambia's transport infrastructure below the average of other sub-Saharan African countries and low-income countries.

Logistic Performance Index (2007)

Poor infrastructure spend of course explains these differences, so I was not surprised to find the depressing chart below. At around $50 per person, infrastructure spending per capita in Zambia remains significantly below the African average ($75), and certainly no where near the more aspirational countries like RSA and Namibia.

Infrastructure Spending : Zambia Vs Selected African Countries

But I still wanted to know more, on how we have spent money on communication and transport in the past below. Thankfully, I had the chart below somewhere on this blog which shows that Zambia's spending on these two sectors has actually been declining since the 1970s. But what is even more revealing is that the Mwanawasa years appeared to have reversed the second part of the Chiluba years (i.e. the post SAP years). We know that transport and communication infrastructure are critical for growth, but for Zambia its even more important given its landlocked position.

Government spending on transport and communications in Zambia

So now for the big question : just how do we scale up investment in these sectors, when we have no money ? At this point, I invoke the blogger's defence: the post is too long already and those issues are being addressed elsewhere on this blog, so I can end here!


  1. The Depressing thing is lack of Zambia's capacity to respond to economic and social challenges. Our greatest weakness is for the elite in power unable to provide direction and advice. We seem to have more resoures and unable to channel them to the country's priorities.

    To repond to your charts, one notes that infrastructure spending and share of expenditiure indcates to large gaps or too wide of leaps and bounds in each year and this scores my point that is whether planning and implementation of budgets are actually profetionally managed. Why do we find such wide margins each year? The margins really do affect the maintanance and development of infrastructure in Zambia.

    The problem is not lack of reasources but inability to manage the resources.

  2. Dean,


    It certainly suggests a lack of clarity on development priorities. We had the same thing with the agriculture budget this year, when it was cut and people had to shout loud to have it increased again.


  3. Interesting article on telecommunication access in rural areas:

  4. It is really a sad situation. I have never understood why no govt in the last 44 years has never prioritised interprovincial roads. Todate Western and Northwestern are not connected to each other despite being neighbours. How about a road liniking Eastern, Northern and Luapula provinces? Even travelling from Mongu to Sesheke is a nightmare. Why, Why, Why?

  5. Cho,

    So now for the big question : just how do we scale up investment in these sectors, when we have no money ?There is only one real option - use the mining sector to capitalize other economic sectors, including infrastructure.

    I think the government should collect taxes from the mines in raw materials - which is easier to do than taxing profits.

  6. MrK,

    I meant beyond the MINING PROFITS.

    Is there any other way we can scale up investment without relying on mining revenue?


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