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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

7. Some practical implications


This section explores some of the implications of the foregoing analysis for development strategies in Zambia.

The incentives that affect the behaviour of public officials, whether in the political classes or the civil service, need to be understood, and development agencies may have to develop the skills to undertake such analysis. In particular there is a need to understand the ways in which patrimonialism operates, and the impact this has on wider economic performance, on the accountability and effectiveness of public institutions, and on the effectiveness of aid. Those designing and managing aid programmes need to ensure that they are aware of the ways in which aid forms part of patrimonialism within the country.

While there are many ways in which the Zambian political process has negatively affected development, it is important to recognise that there are also positive aspects. Some frustrations in the government/donor relationship are inevitable given that both parties rightly have different lines of accountability; in particular the Zambian government is now subject to a noisy and factional political system. Longer-term prospects for poverty reduction will be enhanced by the extent to which tensions in these relationships can be contained rather than result in a potentially destructive fracture.

Two dilemmas need to be managed: how to manage the risk that aid continues to support, rather than helps to reform, patrimonial politics, thus perpetuating both the negative aspects of patrimonialism and the positive (notably that the patrimonial political system has constituted part of the glue that has held Zambia together); and, second, how to ensure real local accountability and ownership of policies when funding is substantially external.

The performance of government is central to poverty reduction, yet it is important to maintain a sense of perspective, in two respects: first, that many of the critical actions that determine the prospects for recovery will be taken by non-state players (individuals and the private sector) and the role of the state in relation to them needs careful definition; and second, there are critical determinants of poverty in Zambia, in particular the HIV/AIDS catastrophe, that go well beyond Zambia’s ability to resolve alone, even were domestic governance to improve sharply.

Development strategies in Zambia should be partly based on strengthening the restraints on those with power, and on broadening accountability. In the long term the critical factors appear to centre on an informed and empowered citizenry that avoids co-option into patron:client relationships with the powerful.

The remainder of this section sets out some of the approaches that might be taken by development agencies. These are, however, not all easily adopted for several reasons: it is difficult to demonstrate clear causality between some of the approaches and poverty outcomes, and quantitative links may not always be provable; progress may not be readily measurable; the approaches are staff-intensive and are unlikely to involve substantial disbursement of funds; some of the measures may be considered to be close to political intervention; and the time-scale of the expected results of some of the interventions could be very long, perhaps around 20 years.

7.1 Strengthening the context for pro-poor change

Markets. Pro-poor development could be enhanced by identifying and addressing the constraints that hinder the operation of markets that are of importance to poor people, including finance, labour and capital markets, and in rural as well as urban areas. These include elements at the level of the wider enabling environment, as well as specifically factors that exclude poor people from markets.

The fact that many people are forced to rely on informal markets and processes highlights the importance of building informal sector perspectives into development programmes. Informal markets may be strengthened through active interventions, but in other cases it may be more important to remove regulatory constraints and licensing requirements. Encouraging informal/formal market linkages offers promise.

The weakness of rural markets and institutional linkages is particularly striking in Zambia. There is a case for understanding, and building on, the signs of recovery in some rural trading networks, notably of cattle.

Living standards. The adverse effect on politics of a quarter-century of falling living standards has been noted. To the extent that measures to enhance education and public information can be insulated from economic decline, citizens’ empowerment is likely to be enhanced in the longer term.

Race, ethnicity and class. The lobbying power of large-scale business, including farming, is likely to be greater the broader the ethnic base. Programmes for private sector development would have a more beneficial long-term impact to the extent that they are sensitive to the need for the economic empowerment of black Zambians. This consideration provides a further reason for strengthening the linkages between formal and informal business in which many black Zambians are active.

Ethnicity has fortunately been a relatively restrained element of Zambian politics. The robust response of parts of civil society and the press to signs of a recent growth in ethnicity in politics deserves support.

Some degree of ideologically-based politics is likely to be the main alternative to politics based on the personal pursuit of power, and should not necessarily be feared. Much of the strength of the case for support to constitutional reform is to make a constructive and lasting contribution to ensuring that opposition parties do not fall into the bad old ways themselves once they take office.

Education. The importance to political accountability of having the bulk of the population literate can barely be overstated. Some of the practical implications are: to the extent possible to sustain levels of spending while effectively addressing the institutional and management problems that also affect the public education system; and to recognise the reality of private schooling and to develop a sound relationship between the state and private schools. A civic education curriculum may also have a role to play in creating a more politically informed citizenry.

Health. The decline in life expectancy, and the social and individual insecurity associated with HIV/AIDS, are likely to strengthen short-term perspectives, not only among citizens, but also among parliamentarians and other politicians. From every point of view, the humanitarian and economic, as well as the political, the fight against HIV/AIDS demands the highest priority. There may be scope for using some of the substantial resources currently available to Zambia for use against HIV/AIDS for purposes of supportive wider public education, for stimulating local groups for wider social mobilisation, and for changing some social norms, especially around gender relations.

The rural/urban dynamic. There may be positive aspects, including political, to the relatively large size of the urban population, that could be recognised and built into development planning. As compared with the poorer and dispersed rural populations, for instance, the urban population is more literate and may be better able to apply pressure for improved governance.

Land, both for urban and rural populations, appears to be both critical, and currently badly regulated and administered. Acting on the findings a recent review of the 1995 Act would be a starting point.

7.2 Supporting champions of pro-pro change

There are various ways of strengthening the role of the private sector and entrepreneurs, large and small scale, both as a source of economic recovery and as sources of pressure for improved governance and the provision of public goods. The entry of more large-scale foreign investors that are subject to internationally acceptable anti-corruption standards might serve as a source of pressure for improved governance. Strengthening government/non-government fora for policy development and discussion has also been suggested, and discussions to this end are under way between the private sector and government. Continued support for small-scale business associations appears warranted, enabling them to press more effectively for reducing the constraints to which they are subject.

While the interests of large and small-scale business are not always identical, there is considerable scope for seeking to develop synergies between them, encouraging joint lobbying to improve the provision of public goods.

In relation to agriculture, the emphasis on promoting links between the large and small scale subsectors appears to hold out promise, through outgrower schemes, and using the formal sector to strengthen backward and forward linkages that may then be of value to nearby small farmers. There is scope to encourage co-operation between farmers’ associations with different strengths and capabilities. Both agriculture and tourism offer the means by which international companies, with their access to resources of capital and management, may become channels to Zambia of international norms and standards demanded by global customers.

The media have shown their essential role in strengthening accountability in the country and raising the risks faced by political leaders who abuse office. Continued and perhaps accelerated, but carefully judged (in the light of political affiliations), support appears warranted, in particular to address the present sources of fragility, especially financial, of the independent press. Radio offers further potential for public education and information, including in vernacular languages. The case for establishing a licensing authority that is independent of government deserves attention.

A key to bringing about the necessary improvement in policy research appears to be for various players (the civil service and political leaders, the large-scale formal private sector, international NGOs, and donor agencies) to sustain effective demand for quality research. The PRSP has already gone some way to improving the situation and can be further built on. Measures may also be taken on the supply side, addressing funding and management problems in the universities and research centres, supporting international links, promoting the use of local researchers and consultants, and encouraging teams to be composed internationally.

Professional groupings, notably of lawyers, accountants and perhaps economists, may be strengthened both in their roles in maintaining professional standards, and as advocates of wider change, through promoting international linkages, and through carefully-judged financial support for advocacy campaigns in which they are involved.

There may be scope for development agencies to establish working relationships with churches and associated faith-based organisations around matters of common interest, taking into account the fact that most churches are in touch with poor people, and have the ability to communicate with, and to mobilize them. There is also a strong common interest insofar as churches also play an important role in the provision of health and education services and safety nets for the most vulnerable people.

There is clearly a case for long-term support to the best civil society organisations involved in advocacy, as one means of strengthening scrutiny over, and accountability of, government. In terms of NGOs as service providers, it is probably more helpful to see them in a complementary role with government rather than as alternatives. Donors can most usefully continue to identify and to promote responsible NGOs, and to encourage links between them and community-based organisations, promoting local ownership to the extent possible. Obtaining good knowledge of NGOs, and providing the necessary attention to their governance, is very staff-intensive emphasising the need to find trusted intermediaries.

The trade unions are an active voice in calling for improved governance, and may warrant support in this role.

There may be some means by which, with a low profile and careful attention to sensitivities, development agencies can usefully strengthen the functioning of Parliament, and support reform-minded elements of the political parties. Measures may include sensitisation and information sessions for MPs, and supporting the research functions and standing committees. Encouraging international linkages between political parties and democratic foundations may also be a worthwhile means of exposing members of political parties to international practices.

The case for a transparent and fair method of funding political parties, thus removing one strong incentive for abuse of public resources by the governing party, needs to be considered.

Assisting in the currently intensifying national debate on the reform of the Constitution may have long-term value.

There is a case for sustaining technical and financial support for the Electoral Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Office of the Auditor General as key agencies of restraint.

The principal obstacles to reform of the civil service are political. Building coalitions of those who would benefit from improved civil service performance may be necessary if change is to come about. One approach may be to assist groups that would benefit from improvements to create a national campaign to bring to bear sufficient pressure for change in civil service performance. There is also an argument for continuing to support technical changes, which unfortunately do not directly address the central political problem, for instance in the way the budget is managed, and for transparency of public information on the functioning of government.

Chiefs and traditional leaders offer some potential for carefully judged support as drivers of change, building on the fact that some have more legitimacy in local, especially rural areas, than do other more modern institutions. The difficulties arise in part from the fact that chiefs vary greatly in their skills, personal characteristics and interest in change.

The unevenness of traditional leadership underlines the importance of bringing clarity and consistency to land policy and administration.

The development agencies. This paper has identified several types of international and regional agents of change. Most influential are the official aid donors themselves. Numerous suggestions have been made in section VI of the main paper, summarised above, for ways in which they could seek to make their own roles within Zambia more effective, in part through seeking to strengthen key drivers of change.

Operating internationally and regionally, they may also influence other players, in at least two ways: to continue to work to ensure that international investors in Zambia and follow practices and standards that are beneficial to the host country; and second, to support regional institutions (such as SADC and COMESA) to improve the prospects of southern Africa providing an political and economic environment conducive to the development of Zambia and its neighbours.

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