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Country analysis > Zambia Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Zambia Drivers of pro-poor change: an overview - Summary version

4. Drivers of pro-poor change: overview

The prospects for pressure for pro-poor change being applied and sustained are problematic. On the positive side, civil society (although still limited, and uneven) has grown in reach and effectiveness over the past 15 years, the multi-party Parliament is showing signs of vigour, there is more open public debate, the anti-corruption campaign has a degree of popular support, some of the state-owned enterprises that served as instruments of patronage have been privatised, there is a larger (if fragile) independent press and radio, and the Supreme Court has backed Parliament’s removal of the former President’s immunity from prosecution. It remains to be seen whether it will act with equal independence in its forthcoming verdict on the petition contesting the outcome of the 2001 election.

Negatively, some potential drivers of change are notably weak, and in important respects are getting weaker. Patrimonial politics continues to dominate, and many citizens, civil servants, and private companies have little choice other than to become part of the system; the formal private sector has contracted, manufacturing has been almost wiped out as a consequence of liberalisation, and privatisation of the mines was delayed and mismanaged with disastrous consequences. There have been privatisation success stories, but the weakness of the private sector as a whole undermines the role it might play as a source of pressure on government for improved provision of public goods. The middle class has shrunk; HIV/AIDS and poverty are contributing to the despair of many individuals and arguably reducing their ability to engage in wider issues; and much of the rural population away from the line of rail is disempowered by weak urban and industrial links, and by an institutional vacuum that has resulted from the virtual disappearance of trading networks, the limitations of local government, and the closure of the cooperatives.

Despite the evident problems and the uncertainty about outcomes, entry points do exist for strengthening the forces that can support pro-poor change in Zambia. They fall into two broad groups:

  • first, there are measures, if necessary sustained long-term, to strengthen the social, political and economic context, for instance through education and literacy, improving the functioning of markets so that they are more inclusive and less constrained, enhancing the health status of the population, and reversing the decline in living standards.

  • second, there are measures to support particular agents of change, including the media, civil society, reform-minded elements of the political system and of the civil service, associations of professionals and of large and small businesses, the churches and traditional leaders. Not all members of such groups are of course favourable to pro-poor change, and careful judgements are needed about how to work with them.
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