Man in Zambia
Man in Zambia : Part Two
Man in Zambia : Part Three
Man in Zambia : Part Four
Man in Zambia : Part Five
Man in Zambia : Part Six
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Population: 10.8 million (UN, 2003)
Major language: English (official), Bemba, Lozi, Nyanja,
Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs,
Life expectancy: 33 years (men), 32 years (women) (UN)
Leader: Levy Mwanawasa
Monetary unit: 1 Kwacha = 100 ngwee
Main exports: Copper, minerals, tobacco Average annual
income: US $320 (World Bank, 2001) Internet domain: .zm
International dialling code: +260
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Zambia's president, Mr Levy Mwanawasa, is a big
man. Like a heavyweight boxer, he's a guy who likes to throw a few
punches and ruffle a few feathers. The Roy
Clarke saga has just been the appetiser for a difficult
start to the year for the big man.
Politics is a big thing for your average Zambian.
Everyone has an opinion on the war on terrorism, debt relief, corrupt
systems, tax rises and even our very own Mr Blair. Oh yes, tax rises,
are always the one thing that is bound to cause national unrest.
Governments have lost elections for merely mentioning the dreaded
So when our man Levy, announced in the recent budget
tax increases up to 40% in conjunction with
a wage freeze for civil servants, the proverbial excrement hit the
Last week we witnessed strikes from irate workers
as well as calls for resignation from the opposition. The effect
of such tax increases are put in perspective when one realises that
one Zambian wage supports, on average, 14 people.
A tax rise here does not simply mean one less
pint in the pub or trip to the cinema; it has far worse repercussions
and can be a matter of life and death.
What is perhaps more interesting is that the Government's
hand is being forced somewhat by the elusive search for that holiest
of grails for developing countries - the prospect of debt relief.
Zambia is heavily laden in debt to the tune of some $7 billion.
Despite being on the brink of receiving debt relief of $3.6 billion,
through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, for
the last three years Zambia has never quite reached the completion
Whether this is by design or default is questionable, but Levy is
pinning his hopes on it and by the end of this year we should know
whether this has been achieved.
You see that's the problem with 'debt relief',
it comes with more strings attached than a Punch and Judy show,
with our puppet president taking a lead role. It's why street sellers
trying to scrape a living are rounded up for tax evasion, while
foreign companies are embraced with 5-year tax breaks as they come
to plunder the country's resources and make a fast buck.
It's why Levy has a personal travel pot of 30 billion
kwacha (about £3.75 million) while the national education
and health budgets have been cut. It's not just happening in Zambia
either, last week, over the border in Congo, the World Bank instigated
the opening up of an area of virgin rainforest the size of France
to international companies.
It all seems a long way from the seeds of hope
and idealism sown during Independence from the British in 1964.
Zambia's first president, a chap called Kenneth Kaunda, is widely
acknowledged as the man who brought Zambia together with his doctrine
of 'One people, one nation' and 'humanism'.
He is the main reason why Zambia has remained a
peaceful nation while its neighbours such as Angola and Congo have
been ripped apart by civil war and tribal fighting. But, as his
critics point out, he is also partly responsible for letting Zambia
get into the economic pickle it now finds itself in.
As one striking worker said to me last week: "KK
put the people before profits, while Levy is putting profits before
his people." To many it seems as though Levy could do with
a bit of 'humanism' from a fellow heavyweight, for the good of his
presidency and his people.