Find us on Google+

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Learning from Others

By Chola Mukanga

Rwanda's current stunning development results suggests real value to Zambia of learning from it and other countries on the quickest way to ensure high economic growth is accompanied with poverty reduction. While Zambia shares Rwanda’s high growth success, it does not share its poverty reduction results. Over the last five year’s Kagame's government has lifted one million Rwandans out of poverty, with poverty rates declining from 56.7% in 2005/6 to 44.9 percent in 2010/11. Zambia’s poverty remains around 70%, in some provinces even as much as 80-90% with inequality continuing to increase.

Analysis and evidence is vital for improving decision making and developing robust economic and social policies. At the national level, some effort has been made by Government in providing further support to the Central Statistics Office to ensure sufficient data exists on tracking progress on key MDG indicators as well as undertaking the economic census. More needs to be done with existing data by embedding economic expertise in all ministries. There’s a bankruptcy of cost benefit analysis which has led to costly proposals such as the Mongu-Kalabo road. But equally more urgent is the need to look beyond our borders for evidence. Governments around the world focused on ensuring better returns from policy interventions are increasingly recognising the advantages of complementing national evidence with international evidence.

International evidence can enable GRZ to identify good practice. By comparing experience in tackling poverty reduction and increasing growth across countries, it would be able to observe what cost effective policies work best and under what conditions. By effectively comparing why another country (e.g. Namibia) is “better” in one area (e.g. rural tourism) it opens policy makers to develop new solutions by building on existing depository of knowledge from other countries. International experience and data therefore provides invaluable evidence of what works in practice, and help policy makers avoid either re-inventing policies which already exist elsewhere, or repeating others' mistakes. Analytically, it can also help identify potential areas of natural experiments. A key analytical challenge is to be sure whether formulated policies are able to deliver the intended results, and indeed whether the policy changes would be fundamentally responsible for those changes.

Ordinary Zambians also benefit from such wide ranging evidence because it boosts the democratic function by informing the public. It increases the level of information openly available, which in turn allows citizens to develop ideas that challenge government and also holds it to account. For example, a simple comparison of how countries in the SADC region perform on youth employment that is widely disseminated in new social media may facilitate debate on whether enough is being done domestically. This in turn may incentivise Government to search for solutions which can contribute towards a more efficient use of resources.

If all this sounds like piece in the sky, one only needs to take a look at Mauritius and Botswana to see that much can be learned even from a high level scan. Mauritius has long been heralded as a “success story”. There’s broad consensus that one of the reasons for its strong showing is down to strength of its "institutions". This challenges the narrative espoused by Zambian politicians that Mauritius largely developed due to export process zones! Such non-conventional policy interventions certainly contributed to the success but these operated within the context of a favourable trading environment externally and very strong economic and political institutions domestically.

Broadly understood, the Mauritian experience is not one that is can be duplicated by replicating its non-conventional policies under less favourable global conditions i.e. at present. That approach may well be hazardous. Crucially, the key elements of the Mauritian strategy—heavy intervention, extensive subsidization, and targeting, including through the creation of Multi Facility Economic Zones— may be fraught with difficulties because the preconditions for ensuring that an interventionist strategy succeeds, notably, the quality of domestic institutions and political processes, may not be in place.

What we see in Mauritius is that the impact of strong institutions has been much broader and deeper. If Mauritius has demonstrated one thing, it is the invaluable benefit conferred by a domestic political system that is inclusive and provides a basis for keeping social conflict manageable. In Zambia, we have benefited from remarkable social stability. What we lack is an inclusive and open political system that does not revolve round the “cult of leadership”. A system is needed which would attract the best talent to take part in the political process rather shun from it – as is the case at present. A system that exists to serve the electorate rather than the politicians.

No country illustrates better the value of strong and accountable state institutions than Botswana. From inception Botswana benefited from a long process of state and institution formation inherited from the Tswana states. This was crucial for developing checks and balances on politicians, resolving disputes and creating good governance. The integrative structure of Tswana states also limited regionalism and facilitated the emergence of a national identity. Decisions at the formation of the modern state in the 1960s built on this legacy. Then by historical chance, the eight Tswana states ended up controlling a single independent nation so that their institutions could help to determine national institutions without coming into conflict with other sets of institutions or interests. Moreover, the comparative neglect of the colony by the British administration allowed these institutions not only to persist, but to develop further in marked contrast to other experiences with indirect rule, including Zambia’s. But more importantly, Botswana ensured that elite interests were powerfully represented in early independence governments. Since elites were heavily invested in ranching, this led to a socially efficient development of the ranching industry and secure property rights which greatly facilitated the early growth of the economy.

Botwana’s institutional success suggests that even starting form terrible initial conditions, there’s hope for growth where sound economic policies are pursued within a sound institutional framework. More importantly, Botswana got richer slowly, step by step. It did not need a ‘big push’ just accumulation of little sensible things, within an orthodox policy framework. Botswana is a challenge to the “binding constraints” school that is inherently pre-occupied with identifying the next binding market failure in Zambia to spark growth. What we see in Botswana is that a conducive institutional and political environment allowed the country to make socially desirable choices. Without solving these problems, promoting industrial policy in Zambia will probably have the consequences we have already seen in the past, which is simply creating more opportunities for rent seeking and clientelism.

We should not ignore that when the post-independence state was constructed in Botswana in the 1960s, it was done in the shadow of Tswana institutions of dispute resolution and consultation. Chiefs were not able to make arbitrary decisions concerning their tribes without consultation and it is clear that the members of the Legislative Council behaved in the same way. As laws were passed and decisions made, Masire and Khama would travel the country appearing before kgotlas to explain, discuss and justify decisions. As the national capital was constructed, new kgotlas were built to cement the old in the new. A series of decisions were made which helped to build the national state. A simple one was making Setswana and English the only languages that were taught in school. Mineral rights were vested in the nation and not the tribe. Land laws were changed so that people could be allocated land outside their own tribal areas. These decisions, and many others like them, built the modern state and its institutions. This is why policy has been good and clientelism so scarce in Botswana.

There’s a broader interesting lesson that emerges from this high level scan of Botswana and Mauritius. It is that there’s no one size fits all. Each nation must find its own path as it negotiates the historic and political contours. Each country has its own unique challenges forged through history. There’s no contradiction here with the pursuit of international evidence, rather it is that in looking abroad we become clearer of the need for more experimentation not less, drawing on existing reservoirs of knowledge. The important point is that Zambian analysts must place greater emphasise to study the specific features of our nation and experiment to see what works and might not work in light of existing international experience.

It is here that the World Bank, IMF and other donors must concentrate. Not in providing the answers but helping Zambian policy makers routine incorporate international evidence in policy development. They need to encourage Zambian analysts who understand the culture and history to generate sustainable growth solutions. This is not easy. It requires donors to have a better appreciation for home grown solutions than they have exhibited in the past. But crucially it requires Zambians to have the necessary confidence in their ability to generate such solutions, and leave behind what some have called the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. A can do attitude is needed! Not merely a hollow one but one accompanied by real effort to fully grasp the necessary incremental changes. Its hard work, but it’s the only path to lasting solutions. Ultimately that is what Zambian Economist exists to encourage – it seeks to be a microcosm of what an alternative path to finding lasting solutions may look like. As ideas are exchanged and Zambians around the world challenge one another – we are actively searching for good solutions for Zambia. Information, ideas and influence in that order!

Chola Mukanga is an economist and founder of the Zambian Economist which provides independent economic perspectives on Zambia's progress towards meaningful development for her people

Copyright: Zambian Economist, 2013

Facebook Page:


  1. A lot of waffling here. You talk of a "can do attitude" but prior to that you lament the 'costly decision' of building the Mongu-Kalabo road! Honestly what is so costly about building a road that connects two halves of province; 50 years after independence? As someone who hails from Sikongo on the border with Angola no amount of money in building this road is costly. I want to see hospitals, schools built with modern materials. And these materials can only be transported on an all weather road. Development can only take place were there's transport infrastructure. This is no time for shortcuts and half measures. Kalabo, Sikongo, Sinjembela, Shangombo, liuwa, Zambezi west, chavuma are all part of Zambia and they deserve infrastructure.

  2. I heard from an engineer that the problem with the road is the design. If what he told me is correct, a Zambian engineering company did a design. The government rejected it because it was too expensive. They got a British consultant to do the design that is failing. The mistake is in the basic facts of water movement. The Zambian engineers knew that the flood water moves. The British engineer did a design that would have worked in standing water but gets washed away by moving water. It has ended up being far more expensive than the rejected Zambian design. We should learn to trust our own expertise.


All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.