Written by Dr. Gabriel Pollen, Economist | Lecturer | Researcher | Consultant
While gliding the winds of hope the Hichilema administration promises in its fledgling days of leadership, I wish to add voice to the ongoing conversations around priorities for economic management under the new regime.
Drawing parallels between former President Lungu’s presidential inauguration speech delivered on 13 September 2016 and the more recent presidential inauguration speech of President Hichilema broadcasted on 24 August 2021, it is clear that without authentic political will, competence and subsequent wide-ranging structural transformation, presidential speeches are mere rhetoric.
In 2016, President Lungu said, “My dear friends, You have placed on my shoulders a huge burden of responsibility… and indeed a heavy debt to ensure that at no time should you ever feel you had misplaced your trust and confidence in me. I won’t let you down! … I have sworn to be a servant to every Zambian and no individual or group of individuals or class of individuals shall hold me hostage to serve their personalised interests. I will not disappoint you!”
Yet, at the end of the Presidential Stewardship of Edgar Lungu, Zambia has been shackled to debt almost equivalent to the size of its economy, in additional to a deteriorated macroeconomic environment and eroded living standards. In 2016, GDP per capita stood at US$1,331, dropping to US$1,084 in 2020. The Financial Intelligence Centre has also reported wide-ranging large-scale corruption, fraud and money laundering as attributes neatly woven in the Lungu administration. Judging by the 12 August 2021 presidential electoral votes, Edgar Lungu did indeed let the people down!
On 24 August 2021, incumbent President Hichilema intimated that “Fellow Citizens, You have entrusted the UPND alliance with the responsibility of serving you and running the affairs of the nation with your interests at heart. We do not take this responsibility lightly. We will truly be your servants and you the people, our masters. as your president, I will ensure that we deliver on our promises.”
Whatever the failures of the Lungu administration, a complete departure in economic management and polity in practice should be proffered by the Hichilema administration and this will require moving beyond rhetoric, critically reflecting upon, and addressing, the major issues plaguing the Zambian economy.
Governance and policy
It is now well known that corruption is endemic in the Zambian public institutions and polity. To restore confidence in the public institutions, a fight against corruption has been declared but this must move beyond political window-dressing. To facilitate and deliver this agenda, a Commission of Inquiry into public resource management must be set up to investigate the true extent of corruption. Firstly, this will send a strong message that nobody is above the law, and an unshaken reminder, even to the new administration itself, that the rule of law embedded in the constitution frames the governance and polity of the Zambian society. Secondly, this will help to establish the accurate spread, extent and channels of economic mismanagement experienced in the previous administration.
In addition, public institutions must be insulated from political interference, to permit them to carry out their mandate more objectively. This approach will strongly contribute to institutional strengthening as well as efficient and effective delivery of public services more broadly. Moreover, this will send a signal to the international development community of Zambia’s lack of tolerance of economic mismanagement.
Crucial as this is, it will also undoubtedly restore confidence in Zambia’s economy and leadership.
To deliver economic prosperity to the doorsteps of the Zambian people, a Taskforce on Economic matters will be essential; it should work closely with the existing public agencies and institutions. Having established and quantified the true extent of corruption and economic mismanagement, a realistic development strategy to bring recovery to the Zambian economy and improve the lives of Zambians should be shared.
Firstly, macroeconomic management, placing a premium on stabilisation of key macroeconomic variables, should drive and underpin the framework of economic prosperity. In particular, exchange rate and price stability as well as improvement in the balance of payments should create a conducive and fertile environment upon which economic opportunities will be germinate and be nurtured. As fortune would have it, the US$1.3 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bolster Zambia’s international reserves provides a lifeline to the new administration to navigate the challenges of the time.
Secondly, at the industrial level, strategic agricultural and industrial development in linkage maximizing economic initiatives and activities should be promoted, to improve opportunities for prosperity for hardworking Zambians and also to directly address the scourge of unemployment and deteriorated living standards.
All in all, sound economic management works hand-in-hand with good governance.