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Elephants in the room

Borrowing from our children

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Borrowing from our children

Subsidising consumption from mines and loans as is currently happening is a short-sighted and irresponsible. One day Zambia’s underground wealth will run dry and people will be entirely dependent on productive land-use once more. At the rate Zambia’s renewable resources, trees forest wildlife and soil that support them are being plundered, future generations will have nothing left to survive on. All profits from mining should be invested into restoring the land and its natural resources and preparing the population for that day through education, infrastructure and technology.

Why is Michael Sata’s recognition of the Barotse Agreement the most important issue of the 2011 elections?

Until independence the wealth of western province was dependent on a well managed ecosystem. Only dead wood was allowed to be used freely; live trees for building or canoes required authorisation by an induna of the Barotse Royal Establishment. The next available mature tree might be far from the river or village requiring greater effort but the culture of stewardship ran deep and rules were strict. Fish and wildlife were taxed and their off-take controlled to ensure sustainability. Life was good and a wealthy empire expanded beyond the Luangwa they say.

Today one can drive for weeks around the western province only seeing kalulu (hares). Of course Liuwa is exceptional but is this not the Litunga’s private hunting ground? The once thriving fishing export industry has shrunk to subsistence levels. Armed with permits from distant officials in Lusaka, loggers have plundered both sides of the Zambezi of hardwoods. The resulting breaks in the forest canopy have allowed long grass to invade and with no animals to graze it down, fires rage ever hotter and widespread, inviting the Kalahari Desert.  Barotseland, like most of rural Zambia has become a classic victim of poor resource management. Families have been devastated by the economic collapse; young people migrate elsewhere in search of livelihoods, leaving behind an aging, disenfranchised population and children whose future looks bleak. The “fya boma” (it belongs to government) attitude caused by over-centralisation of authority is surely the main culprit.

Restoring the spirit of the Barotse Agreement nationwide must begin with government restoring a genuine sense of ownership and responsibility to local communities. Community Based Natural Resource Management CBNRM has been piloted across the region over the past 25 years mainly in wildlife with the best success achieved in Namibia where it received full support from government.

Community Conservancies act as democratic corporate holdings for common assets and now cover much of Namibia’s north. The results have been dramatic improvements in wildlife populations and habitat which has in turn offered hope for thousands of destitute families who are now able to develop solid foundations for tourism, agriculture, timber and a host of other related economies. Hunting once again provides important “nyama” and recovering forests provide the rich resources for food and medicine.

Building strong local institutions to manage the commons is actually relatively easy if the rich tradition of stewardship in our indigenous cultures is harnessed positively. The rewards are exponential. The demand for eco-services from industrialised countries is increasing with climate change and by 2020 the Global Climate Fund should have $100 billion per year for mitigation projects. This is as high as current aid levels and likely to be more productive since eco- services are more performance based. With vision, hard work and faith in each other, a cooperative partnership between trusted tradition and scientific modernity will flourish and millions of Zambians can get back to earning a good living from nature and providing invaluable eco-services and organic products to the world.

Rolf Shenton


When one Man has too much power

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First Published in VIEWPOINT, Zambia-weekly

When one man has too much power

 During 50 years of increasingly powerful presidential patronage in Zambia, natural selection has played a devastating role in the public service, weeding out anybody of substance and independent thought. It is now downright impossible for the most decent people in government to perform their tasks with any loyalty to the country. Promotions have been consistently nepotistic and neither the Judiciary nor the Legislature has escaped the attrition process. MPs are bought off with such cynical cunning and skill that even the most radical reformists are intimidated.

 Sadly, Zambia’s virtues such as peace, freedom, equality, unity, justice and rights have been steadily choked by the “kamuyaya” (big man) culture - the patronage that became embedded during KK’s 27 year authoritarian rule. Chiluba, despite his pre-election promises to reduce the excessive presidential powers, quickly fell into the same trap. “I never knew power was so sweet,” he told us at the first MMD caucus in early 1992 at State House, dwarfed in KK’s oversized throne. He got a smaller chair made in time but it was too late; jobs and appointments were already awarded for loyalty and not merit and within months, we knew we had lost the battle against dictatorship again.

Those who refused to support the new patron left the MMD while us newbie’s stayed on to consolidate our own constituencies in the hope of surviving the purge. The Chiluba loyalists played the attrition game with the remaining independent thinkers; appointing, disappointing, buying off debts, isolating and intimidating where necessary and by 1996, internal resistance was minimal and once again it paid to belong to the party in power. Champions of national virtues were again fighting from outside government as they had done in colonial times. Some believe that Mwanawasa intended to break the patronage system but I think the overwhelming evidence is that he too got entangled in its magic spell. My old friend Rupiah Banda appears to have no complexes about milking patronage for all its worth – he was always the classic “big man “.

 Let us not underestimate how patronage undermines development, justice, law and ultimately the wellbeing of the land and her people. The president appoints all key jobs in the Judiciary, the Executive, the Electoral Commission and the vast Cabinet within the Legislature based on loyalty not merit. The fourth estate, the (state-owned) media cannot tell the objective truth. Business too tows the line, blackmailed by permits and licensing. Under a patronage system there can be no separation of powers essential to an effective, working democracy. Worst of all though, people stop thinking, taking responsibility and initiative – it’s safer to wait for orders. One might as well go back to the customary authority which at least has strong traditions and the fear of Gods to coax good virtues.

 How can we break the culture of patronage? Zambians have tried constitutional reform, improving public service salaries and fought corruption, but there has been little change. Why would any president risk losing control of Zambia’s current economic boom? The leverage for good governance from the international donor community has weakened and poverty debilitates efforts by civil society to mobilise public resistance. People are too busy scratching a living to object en masse.

 Break the brutal presidential patronage and public servants including judges and MPs will begin to behave normally – they are not ignorant; everybody knows exactly what needs to be done! Perhaps, this year a benevolent president will beat the patronage and then willingly dismantle it. Or maybe we’ll limp on like we are and allow a new elite class evolve to rule us for a thousand years.



The Global Climate Fund- the chance for a new start for rural Zambia?

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Chiefs should think twice about selling people’s common land to investors for short- term benefits. Once this land is alienated to state for title it is lost to the local community for good. This land could be the key to long awaited bottom-up local development.

Whilst the Cop 16 Climate summit in Cancun, Mexico should be seen as inadequate in that it did not conclude with a viable, holistic survival strategy for the future of humankind based on rationalised and equitable use of resources to ensure a safe working- temperature range required for our life-supporting eco-systems to thrive, there was some progress in key areas relevant to common lands which make up 94% of Zambia’s total area: the establishment of the Global Climate Fund.

This Global Climate Fund, mooted at COP15 in Copenhagen last year, still falls short of true eco-justice because it does not force polluting industrialized societies that have caused and knowingly continue to cause the most damage to earth’s bio-sphere to pay compensation to innocent victims in poor countries. Nevertheless the substantial commitments ($30 billion rising to $100 billion in 2020) to the Global Climate Fund should provide long-awaited rewards to land owners who play a vital role in managing the environment responsibly.


The cost of borrowing fuels poverty

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Ever since I started joining in public development debates, mostly under a tree or in a classroom in a remote part of Zambia, I have talked about the need to feed the chicken and share the eggs. Too often people end up eating into the chicken, living beyond their means and having to borrow money till their next income drips (seldom flows these days) in.


Poor people pay double for food

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Why poor people pay double for their food-

In the early seventies we moved to my uncle’s farm in Mazabuka and I would often help my father handing out wages and rations at the end of the month. Each employee would receive a 90kg bag of maize meal with which to feed his or her family. Towards the end of that decade inflation set in and 50kg bags began to appear and soon became the standard pack for the average family. During the 80’s, as the economy suffered increasing stagnation, families had to learn to survive on 25kg of meal. When 10 kg packages began to appear in shops we wondered who would buy them as their contents worked out to nearly double the price of a 50kg bag.


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