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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Memo to President Lungu

Congratulations, Mr President!

You ran a remarkable campaign that within a month earned the Presidential seal and the admiration of the Zambian people. As you no doubt know, your journey, and that of our nation, has just begun, even as the campaign road has just ended. Over the next 18 months, together we shall face many challenges.

The world is facing slower growth. Growth in the BRICs and the Eurozone has slowed down. Copper and oil prices have fallen. There are also wider geopolitical threats of global terrorism and nation state crises. Though Zambia may be far geographically from the epicentre of many of these challenges, in an increasingly globalised world we are certainly not immune to them.

China and EU are among our important trading partners. The fall in commodity prices is already having an impact on our bottom line as the Kwacha faces negative headwind and mining companies operating with high cost face the need to downsize. Increasing international instability and rise of West and North African terrorism is increasing the costs of doing business and cost of providing security around the continent.

Zambia is a nation of paradoxes. We have grown consistently over the last decade and yet we continue to perform below our vast potential. We have 10% of Africa's inland water and yet access to water in many areas remain unreliable and poor. We have huge copper and manganese and yet gain very little from it. We are a peaceful democracy and yet this peace has not translated into genuine freedom from poverty. An independent country that remains an economic colony of other nations.

Poverty has left our people physically and psychologically broken. More than 65% of our people live on less than $2 a day. Our children are being born literally in economic chains, with their future shackled by never-ending corruption and greed at the hands of a political elite that has held Zambia in its grip since independence. The elite may change parties but they never change their agenda to see the poor suffer!

No country can rise above the level of its leadership! This is especially the case in our system of government where power is mostly vested in your hands. Therefore you carry a heavier burden to make Zambia better. Yes, you cannot do this alone. As Christian author John Maxwell reminds us, “success is held in the hands of those who provide solutions”. All of us must be active in sharing our solutions, and you, as a servant of the poorest Zambian, must be eager to hear, analyse and where necessary, implement.

In this vein, here are a few pieces of advice as you seek to deliver on the PF agenda of “more money in your pockets” and work towards an evolution of your own vision for a better Zambia.

Idea 1# - Listen to your insticts. The nation is most fortunate that it has a President with a genuine heart for the poor. You are a man comfortable with the lowest strata of society. This is evident from the public resonance with your campaign. We now look to you to apply your people centred philosophy to the many challenges facing our nation.

As you do so, it is important to recognise that no man knows everything. Zambia is blessed with many individuals at home and abroad. You must now do what you can to put together a brilliant group of experts that will provide you the very best advice in the core areas - finance, mining, transport, education, ICT, engineering and health. Wisdom does not just reside at the World or IMF. Real and effective solutions are homegrown.

Idea 2# - Appoint a policy tsar. The PF has a reasonable vision for change predicated on reducing poverty through delivery of social infrastructure, increasing entrepreneurship and leveraging the comparative advantage of government in certain strategic sectors. Unfortunately, PF’s politics over the last three years has been outdated leading to chaotic governance. There has been a lack of consistency and coherence with many parts of government not singing together. It does not serve God or our poorest to hide from this naked truth.

Therefore, it is imperative you immediately appoint a grand strategist. Someone capable of thinking across various areas and ideas and turning them into a cohesive plan that is sensitive to politics, economics and international relations factors. You role is not to coordinate but to lead. It is vital that you immediately find such a competent strategist who can ensure all of your policies sing together. A Choir Master. A Grand Master Chef. A Policy Tsar. Whatever name you might use. Without this nothing will be achieve even though you mean well for Zambia.

Idea 3# - Consult openly. Previous governments have run Zambia like a closed shop with no clear consultation with the public. Government policy is “personal to holder”. No Green and White Papers are issued. Instead we have “Cabinet Policy Papers" that ordinary Zambians never see or comment on. Only in rare instances would one outside the ministry be lucky enough to hear the odd "Ministerial Statement". These are often poorly debated in the National Assembly.

Consultation is the hallmark of effective government. Whether the constitutional roadmap, or increasing mining taxes or borrowing more externally. Ordinary Zambians long to have a say in these things. The use of modern technology to engage the public has not been fully utilised. Though in the past Government has made some effort to create websites, these remain largely unintegrated. There is no well updated central portal for accessing and commenting on important policy decisions. Of course consultation must never be an excuse for policy inaction, therefore balance must be struck between open consultation and work of the government.

Idea 4# - Be patient with your critics.  Divergence of opinion in government and outside is critical for creative and innovative solutions. Rather than seeing people with divergent opinions as "enemies", men and women in Government should now see such individuals as critical partners in ensuring that its policies are perfected.

Indeed, there’s room, where appropriate, for those in opposition to advice government. You have already taken an important step in this direction by bringing UPND members within the new ministerial team. What is now needed is for your new administration to transform how politics is done in our country by moving Zambians beyond entrenched partisan positions, towards more open and direct engagement with the leading opposition parties. This is good for your administration and it is good for our people.

Idea 5# - Plan for the long term. The problem with our extreme poverty levels is that it comes with political pressure for immediate solutions. In finding those solutions there’s always a lurking threat of turning back the clock and implementing dangerous policies that look like they are intended to save the day but imprison us in the long term.

Previous governments have failed to plan for the long term, which inevitably has led them to pursuing senseless policies such as borrowing endlessly; attracting the wrong investors; eliminate crucial taxes to please a certain group; and, handover of our resources (and sovereignty) to outsiders. You need to avoid falling into this trap by striving for a better today through being prepared to take the pain of today to secure a better future for our children. This can only be done by continuous updated long term planning that has the buy-in of all Zambians.

Idea 6# - Avoid profligate and wasteful spending. We all understand the need for Government to act swiftly and respond to queries from specific groups. However, it is important to first recognise that the national budget is not different from household budgets. If money is spent on something, adjustments would need to be made elsewhere. This calls for careful planning to underpin Government’s spending decisions, and most importantly explaining to the Zambian public how those trade-offs are being made.

As you noted in the inauguration, “we have to tighten our belts” because Zambia is broke. In the last few decades we have become a nation of beggars that continuously feed off debt and foreign aid. Zambia has a limited pot of funds, and therefore we need to learn again to use it wisely and timely. It is therefore important that early on in your presidency you are clear on what government can and cannot do, and where its priorities should be. This will allow debate and input from the general public on your general direction.

It is also important that inefficiencies are identified systematically. A vital part of this approach is “crowd sourcing" of areas where government can cut waste. The public should direct this process by offering ideas as part of a broader “savings challenge” to help create fiscal space. Our readers have repeatedly identified areas of waste and shared these publicly. Yet there has been no action to cut areas of waste, instead government has expanded beyond measure. We hope you quickly undertake a zero based review of all ministries and polices to identify what is necessary and where savings can be made.

Idea 7# - Prioritise the security of our national wealth. We recognise that you have assumed the presidency at a delicate time for the mining industry given the current debate on mining taxation and falling global prices. The most pressing economic question facing our country is how we as a people should harness the vast mineral wealth that is beneath our feet.

Our advice to you is that Government should work towards developing an optimal tax that is part of a part of publicly consulted strategy on mining. It’s not right that a certain constituency is able to sit down and negotiate their way to certain privileges, while ordinary Zambians quietly obey the laws and pay their taxes accordingly. More importantly, we won’t develop as a nation as long as we fail to secure our mineral wealth through an arrangement that is owned by the nation and not just PF. What happens when PF is out of power?

Idea 8# - Unleash the power of social agents. The power of NGOs has been broken by numerous legislation and the lure of political rewards. Many NGOs have become increasingly corrupt to the point of facing criminal charges.

Churches have been swallowed by new "prosperity teaching" with much of the Clergy now seeing faith as a way out of earthly poverty rather than standing for righteousness and defence of the vulnerable. This has made it difficult for the Church to oppose politicians on social justice issues. Traditional leaders are now a shadow of what they once were. The dawn of multiparty politics in the midst of poverty has meant that many chiefs see elections and politics as cash cow for self enrichment.

You need to find a way to rehabilitate these social agents and bringing them in as equal partners in development. True development is predicated on strong markets, strong democracy and strong cultural and religious institutions.

In our national service,


Copyright © Zambian Economist 2014


  1. A new President gives a new opportunity. His term is only two years so his time is potentially short. The temptation to think and execute short term plans to assist his re-election in two years time must be resisted. He must also resist any demands for paying off those who assisted him obtain his election victory or any thought by himself to do so. These pay-offs have harmed the country's long term development. Instead lay the foundation of long term development by addressing the issues known and pointed out in the above post.

    I would address the debt position and the inflation problem on one side. On the other side I would address the revenue position. These things being solved financial stability will be present and then development can proceed on a sounder footing.

    You mention a policy tsar. There is an organisation in the UK headed by Professor Collier of Oxford. They assist developing economies in financial planning and economic policy. In economic terms you could say that they can assist in macroeconomics. Professor Collier wrote a book called the Bottom Billion which is sympathetic to developing nations but does see the internal problems as well as the external problems. I think the new President should take notice of their approach and call them in for assistance.

  2. I wholeheartedly commend Prof Sir Paul Collier. He is one of the few academics who really understand Africa. The way out of poverty is for GRZ to harness its natural resources. Its current policies will not see those resources harnessed, rather they will scare away those that wish to invest in them.


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