Zambia Wild

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  I was born 1963 in central Zambia where my late father Barry Shenton served as warden of the Kafue National Park and Marianne, my Swedish-born mother as a nurse and I spent my youth close to nature and animals in the bush and on farms, learning a little about a lot, always curious about how the world worked. I'm forever digging and searching for root causes and trying to connect the dots. I normally earn my income from practical hands-on work in tourism, farming and engineering but spend more time listening and learning these days.

I realize that in the new world of specialisation and manic rush to make a living, few people have been as lucky to live in as many lives as I have in as many social strata and I feel obliged to risk sharing my rather unique perspective. Having little formal education and no specialisation, I set up Zambia Wild to assemble and promote good ideas and sensible advice that I have gleaned from some of the world's top experts in their respective fields with the hope that it will help influence a more holistic solution for the future of my own communities and our interconnected planet.


Mwelwa Maundu and I chasing out KK's one party state, Mkushi, 1991,




My life took a massive step from self to public responsibility and service with the movement for multi-party democracy in 1990/1 when I was nominated by the rural community of Mkushi North to represent them as member of parliament on the MMD ticket. The citizenry joined forces with the common purpose of removing Kenneth Kaunda and the United National Independence Party, UNIP, after their 27 year dominance, the last 17 of which were under a one party state constitution.

 The MMD plan was clear and sound, the mandate overwhelming and I felt confident we would turn the failing economy around in a couple of years by opening up the country with our program of liberarlisation, privatisation and  democracy and get government back to being a regulator of common services. Zambia quickly became the darling of the donor community so money was no constraint- in fact during the early 90's Zambians received more help per capita than any other human society in history and could have had a lot more had one the time and capacity to ask for it.

To my astonishment things soon started going wrong- changes and decisions that seemed obvious to the innovators within the party were not taken, legislators bullied and resistance to change once again became the challenge, this time within our own leadership. Large factions of iconoclasts began breaking away in frustration from the movement including myself in 1995 leaving the party leadership free to dig in and adopt the old Machiavellian antics of the former regime to cling on to power at all costs. Confidence and development began to stagnate and Zambia was once again caught in midstream, rudderless and without clear direction. One might have expected the citizenry to object but, with information controlled by the state, the majority remained in the dark about the internal coup that was took place. Besides, the money kept rolling in from the international community desperate to see the democracy experiment established negating the need for government to answer to the electorate.

Elections since 1991 have been increasingly dubious by any standard but, sadly, international observers cynically pass them off as free and fair probably because Zambia remains relatively peaceful and stable compared with most of her neighbours, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi and particularly DRC to the north where a continental resource war has caused over 5 million deaths. Despite their cheerful, somewhat fatalistic dispositions however, most of my countrymen are suffering quietly with a growing miser, wondering why a country so well endowed with natural capital can't provide a decent living for it's citizens. I, perhaps unwisely, resigned on principle from the MMD in late '95 loosing my seat in parliament hoping to highlight the corruption and theft our President Fredrick Chiluba was steering and to date, I still haven't been fully vindicated as the wily man continues to evade prosecution.

Zambia's government and body politic could be said to be in perpetual crisis management, overwhelmed by exploding young population, an imposed, alien administration, diverse ethnic and cultural pressures, an economy dominated by copper, (clearly a resource curse in our case), and a constant stream of often conflicting advice, interference and conditionality given by a plethora of international donors, multilateral organisations and NGO's from the whole spectrum of global cultures and interests. Frankly it's a nightmare for government to deal with and I admit to having lobbied for reform in the aid industry whom I suspect are more caught up in self-interest than motivated by humanitarianism these days.  Governance has been largely reactive due to this overbearing influence and I am painfully aware that Zambians have never had an opportunity to sit down quietly amongst each other and build consensus on how they would like Zambia to look in the future. This should have been the focus of the three major constitutional review processes since independence but neither of these exercises nor the 1964 one can be said to have been fully inclusive.

Making a honest living in Zambia is an increasingly challenging, often unpleasant business as rent-seeking by state actors becomes endemic leaving one with less and less time to spend on public service. I threw the dice for another bid at re-election to the National Assembly in 2006 ( I lost in 1996) in a gesture of support for my friends in the Patriotic Front, PF but I lost badly. More worrying was that opposition failed to remove the tired MMD regime despite winning the combined majority and the Patriotic Front's dominance of the urban seats. They soldier on gallantly and are billed to win in 2011.

In 2007 my wife and I, at once feeling guilty about leaving our huge extended family and relief at being free of a public mandate, took the chance to move our family to my motherland, Sweden, in search of a more secure future for our four children. Out of the boiling pot of Zambian business and politics, I have had time and tools to study and get some perspective as to why our development goals are so elusive. It can't be simply bad governance, corruption and lack of vision and education, there's plenty of that in rich countries, there's something deeper undermining the massive global efforts to fix poverty.

I am now convinced that the primary cause of  is a collapsing natural environment, our life-support system failing under our feet. We're losing natural capital faster than we can stimulate sustainable economic growth, the means for wealth creation is pouring down the rivers and into the atmosphere leaving the land dry, barren and desertifying, the climate changing and together with our species, the spectrum of biodiversity increasingly under threat. Finally what Allan Savory has been telling us all these years, sank home, we can't have a green revolution before we have a brown revolution. Fix the soil and the plants will take care of the rest, soaking up the carbon and re-balancing the weather and biodiversity. A growing army of land managers are proving it in many different countries under the banner of holistic management.


Rolf Shenton


R.S. et al at the Patriotic Front Presidential nomination, High court 2006




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