I have hesitated for a while to put pen to paper on the broad vision for this website, but recent developments has forced me to clearly address some of the questions, which are often posed via emails but now seem more evident in recent posts. As the website has grown so have the attacks not just on myself but the Zambian Economist and its contributors. I thought the basic way to do this is answer some specific questions. This hopefully will then provide an opportunity for open feedback from individuals on issues that concern them (this is now the second feedback this website has solicited). So where your concern is not discussed, please feel free to ask and I will respond, consistent with our broad etiquette:
1. When was the Zambian Economist started?
This website has been in existence since February 2007. Since then we have moved from “blogspot” URL to a self-standing domain. During that period, it has also given birth to another sister website House of Chiefs , with the sole purpose of discussing issues related to traditional authorities in Zambia (political, economic and social). Readers are encouraged to visit that website. Often many issues related to land, water, health and the environment tend to be discussed there given the critical role of chiefs in these areas. We have so much material for the Zambian Economist, that it is simply not possible to duplicate material across the two websites.
2. What is the purpose of the Zambian Economist?
The aim is to provide “a non-political platform for exchanging ideas on the many issues facing our nation”. This is not to say political issues are not discussed here, we do as politics and economics tend to be inseparable (see the tag cloud on politics). It essentially means three things:
- Learning: It is our hope that this website will enable everyone to learn more about Zambia (a sort of independent economic source about our country). Often as individuals and citizens, we build up "priors" or preconceived ideas. It is good to see those tested and refined so that our individual perspectives on life and issues facing Zambia continues to improve. It gives us an unparalleled opportunity to research areas we know nothing about, by being free to debate and ask questions, with the full certainty that an answer will pop up from another contributor.
- Influencing: We want to see Zambia become better than it is. There's no reason why after 44 years of independence many of our people live in abject poverty. It is deeply frustrating to see that often the politics get in the way of intelligent and effective dialogue on life and death issues. Many Zambians just want to see things get done, regardless of the chitenge you wear. More importantly, many Zambians have the solutions to make our nation better, but have no avenue for communicating their thoughts or debate them with other people. They simply wonder why is it that something so simple cannot be fixed? Or why has that never been tried? Or where can I know more about X? This website is a small step towards offering a platform to ask and debate such questions. It exists to try and encourage positive dialogue on the many pressing challenges facing the nation. Its strength is drawn from the many contributors who sacrifice their time to understand the pressing issues and offer meaningful exchanges on many areas, and have fun doing it!
- Sharing: We can all influence and learn as individuals from a closed room! But our culture emphasises the village community and the beauty of interactions. Blogging together allows us to interact with other Zambians (and friends of Zambia) thinking about the same issues and share experiences. We believe there's much to be gained not just in reading what people write, but also understanding why people write the way they write. It’s our goal therefore to ensure that at all times, Zambian Economist remains a friendly relaxed site.
3. What is the current readership of the Zambian Economist?
The readership of the website has grown substantially since its conception. The current readership is around 500 unique visits a day (according to google analytics). We regard this as very positive given the “analytical” nature of the website and given that we have only recently moved to a self-standing domain. In terms of geographical coverage, whilst most of the access is abroad, more than a third of our traffic is accessed by people within Zambia and this has been rising as use of internet expands.
In terms of access, we have just around 200 subcribers who receive regular emails via our Feedburner Subscriptions (again the trend here has been upward with many positive feedback and only 1 drop rate per every 3 months or so - people clearly love the facility). This is a great way to keep in touch and allows people either to get posts in a batch or daily. We recently launched two twitter services (for specific issues of interest and news/blogs update services both linked to the website). The combined subscription to these has now reached around 600. Undoubtedly these services will grow as Zambians take more to web.
4. What are you doing currently in Zambia beyond words?
Zambian Economist is investing in Brick World Zambia Ltd, an indigenous company based in Lusaka and Solwezi, as we try and build Zambia one brick at a time. The aim is to support our nation not just with words but also deeds. Those who want to know about this and other investment opportunities are welcome to get in touch via email.
5. What is the long-term vision of the website?
From the beginning there has always been a long-term vision. An essentially six - step approach. It was never the intention to fully publicise this but for full transparency and to encourage others to think along the same lines, here it is (so any other person who wants to copy this, feel free - we encourage as many of these initiatives as possible, but we obviously encourage you to partner with us) :
Stage 1: To create a website via blogger that was able to get some traction and test whether Zambians were thirsty for much deeper dialogue than is characterised by other news aggregators. [Measure of success: A new blog - this was achieved in February 2007 when Zambian Economist blogspot was created].
Stage 2: To have a self standing domain name, once it is concluded that there is sufficient traffic to warrant a more structured approach. [Measure of success: successful transition to a new domain name. This was done early this year we migrated to www.zambian-economist.com after concluding that there was sufficient traffic and the website had become very popular]
Stage 3: Create a new template that would more accessible beyond the current restrictions imposed by the google template. This might include combining hosting the House of Chiefs, Zambian Economist and News Feeds together in a single place, with dedicated columns from other leading Zambian Economist contributors. [Measure of success - this stage would require an estimated $5000 war chest funding to take forward. Funding currently being solicited]
Stage 4: Recruit Zambian experts around the world from all different areas of interest (politics, economics, history, culture, etc) who would write important articles, consistent with the vision and aims of the Zambian Economist. Such experts would write for free, but given small “thank you” payment in recognition of their efforts. The aim is to engender a culture of non-partisan writing from our many contributors [Measure of success - a team of leading Zambian experts from around the world, built around the Project Syndicate model].
Stage 5: Create an Editorial board to oversee the activities of the Zambian Economist, especially issues related to news aggregation and more political subjects.
Stage 6: To create an Institute built from this website that would support and engage emerging Zambian economists at our universities. The aim is for this institute to support scholarships, non-partisan public debates and lectures on issues and get the ordinary Zambian people at home and abroad excited about discussing issues at a level than we are used to. The hope is that such an Institute will be funded by partners of the Zambian Economist around the world, as well as other willing international organisations.
This is the vision we are working to and this is what we hope those of you are submitting your donations are expecting.
I thank those of you who continue to contribute time and effort, and of late financially, in support of this vision. I welcome feedback on the questions and answers raised above. Also in terms of what genuinely people think should be the broad approach. The Zambian Economist and the House of Chiefs websites although principally maintained by myself is kept going by our regular contributors and readers. It is intended as a gift to the Zambian people. We do not do this for money, political or financial reward (as suggested by some in recent exchanges). We do this to forge better dialogue among our people and hopefully to contribute in an intellectual and practical within a small space afforded to us by technology.
Your views, please!