In recent times there has been a gradual reduction of donor aid to Zambia. The last budget had less than a fifth of donor aid contributions. A recent paper cautions against immediate donor exit from Zambia and suggests greater effort should be made on funding governance priorities in face of weak forces of restraint (opposition and civil society) :
The impact of aid in terms of democratic consolidation is linked to the development of the party system, the efficacy of key democratic institutions, and accountability in relation to tolerance of participation by the media and civil society in the political process. The study suggests that there are many good reasons for so-called traditional donors to phase out aid to Zambia. Zambia has recorded economic growth for the most part of this decade, but poverty levels still stand at near 70 per cent and both equity issues and poor human development indicators provide reasons for concern. The study cautions against an aid exit at a time when economic growth and new foreign partners may strengthen the executive office vis-à-vis civil society, opposition and agencies of restraint. The study argues for an enhanced emphasis on democracy assistance that may strengthen stakeholders and institutions with capacity to hold the executive to account for their policy actions in terms of development.
Whether donors heed the call for this reprioritisation is another question. The real question is how such “democratic assistance” is given. Any new support has to avoid the tainted and bloodstained approach as that undertaken by the Netherlands Institute for Multi Party Democracy (NIMD). Its funding for “democratic assistance” to MMD in 2009 only fuelled violence in bye-elections of 2009. Money given to MMD was being used to buy and ship cadres to electoral areas and breed violence and intimidate old people. Then there was the record of electoral fraud and general intimidation of voters in many parts by self-appointed cadres.
It is also vital that the aid avoids the larger problem - distortion of incentives. The mushrooming of parties and fake donor agencies we continue to see have their compass locked on foreign donations in the name of “democratic assistance”. These things continue to perpetuate the politics of poverty [link]. Many political parties are one man parties that are doing nothing for the advancement of our political system. I have always defended the conferred right of these parties to exist, but not when their existence is an outcome of external intervention through misguided donor support. It is highly questionable whether these small one band parties would make any noise without the €s in their pockets.
Organisations like NIMD have proved that they serve no useful role in our democratic process. The question is whether other donors would structure the aid in such a way as to avoid those pitfalls. Two observations can be made here.
The first aspect is that if donors want to really help Zambia’s expand its democratic space, it should focus its attention on lobbying for tight regulation on political funding. It appears to me that instead of adding more money to the governance system the best thing is to ensure that there’s a political level playing field. The lack of effective campaign finance regulation has distorted governance priorities in Zambia. No rules regulate campaign finance in Zambia. This lack of campaign finance regulation presents economically powerful actors with an opportunity to exert undue influence on Zambian politics – perpetuating further the politics of poverty.
The second aspect is that if money is given, it needs to go to the people directly or support platforms that provide information to people and helps them hold government to account. Ignorance is what people trapped in political systems that don’t work for them. The greater the level of information injected in the system the more information people have about their true condition, as well as choices available to remedy it. Indeed, there can be no serious civil activism without information.