Light at end of tunnel for Zambia
Zambia’s current administration is renewing the country’s political operating culture and trying to solve the economic problems inherited from the previous administration. The focus of the cooperation between Finland and Zambia has shifted towards stronger trade relations, according to Finland’s Ambassador to Zambia Saana Halinen.
How would you describe the current situation and the biggest challenges in Zambia?
In a nutshell, Zambia is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The opposition won the elections in August 2021 mainly because young adults voted for change. The previous administration was highly corrupt and left the state bankrupt. As a result, the primary objective of the current administration is to balance the national economy. The Government managed to get a support package from the International Monetary Fund IMF, and it is currently negotiating the restructuring of its debts. The macroeconomic situation has improved, inflation has fallen below 10 per cent and the economy has re-entered the path to growth. The new administration is also striving to clarify and simplify the business environment to make it easier for foreign companies to invest in the country.
Another positive development is the repealing of a colonial-era law that in practice banned any criticism of the President. It was a significant step forward, as the previous ruling parties used the law for controlling the opposition and for strengthening their power. The death penalty was abolished, too. Zambia is now considered a ray of democratic hope in Africa.
Last year, Zambia removed school fees for basic education up to grade 12 and hired 30,000 new schoolteachers. This was financed by repealing all subsidies for fossil fuels. Now almost all children start comprehensive school, but learning outcomes are still poor.
Zambia is not without problems. More than 60 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, and corruption is still rife. Attitudes towards sexual minorities are very strict.
How is Finland supporting Zambia?
Finland’s long-term bilateral development cooperation with Zambia is coming to an end and the focus has shifted to strengthening trade relations. One cooperation project is still under way. It develops the competence of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Zambia to help them grow, evolve and employ people.
Finnish and Zambian civil society organisations and higher education institutions, too, are cooperating in different ways. For example, the Family Federation of Finland is working with a local LGBTIQ organisation, and Demo Finland is facilitating the political participation of persons with disabilities. Finnfund has investments in the country, and Zambia is a top country for business partnership support granted by Finnpartnership.
The relations are diverse because Finland’s previous cooperation has made Finland known to Zambians and Zambia known to Finns. For example, Zambians remember well how Finland supported them in the forestry sector, and they are hoping for more forestry investments in the country.
How do you see the future of Zambia?
Much depends on how the current administration succeeds in its endeavours to reform the country and its political operating culture. Over the years, power has changed hands many times in Zambia, but until now, new administrations have always given tit for tat for their predecessors. I think the current administration is the first to try to make the country a normal democracy, to quote the President. I hope they will succeed.
Zambia is the second largest producer of copper in Africa, and the Government wants to increase the copper production even further. Africa’s largest nickel mine was opened recently in Zambia. As the demand for critical minerals grows, the big question is whether the Zambian Government manages to reign in the mining sector so that the revenue from extractives benefit the Zambian people, too.
The Government must also resolve the country’s energy questions. Zambia relies heavily on hydropower for electricity. However, climate change has made the generation of hydropower more unreliable. For example, the massive Kariba Dam on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe is not generating enough electricity because of low water levels. As a result, Zambia has been rationing electricity supply with daily 12-hour power cuts. It is a major blow to the Government, and it has increased discontent with the administration.
What has uplifted you personally in Zambia and what can we learn from the locals?
I have worked before in our diplomatic missions in Tanzania and Mozambique, and it was a delight to return to the African continent. Zambians are super friendly, they have a wonderful sense of community, and they are very welcoming. Zambians are a bit like Finns, too: they are quiet, modest and shy, and perhaps that is the reason why it has been so easy for me to settle here.
Every day I am uplifted by Zambian sounds and smells – I wake up to dozens of birds singing and see monkeys running in my garden. You can find nature in the capital, too.
In this series of articles, Finland’s ambassadors tell news from countries that are key partners of Finland’s development cooperation.
Text: Milma Kettunen