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Category Archives: Economic

Rethinking Livingstone after UNWTO

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The period 20th to 24th August is a window of opportunity difficult to ignore. Zambia and Zimbabwe took centre stage, attracting all the local and international publicity that accompanies high profile events, in this case the 20th General Assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The two neighbours stepped up their preparations and visibility in the run-up to the Assembly. All resources and support possible were likely provided for the hosting of the event.

Zambian Tourism and Arts Minister Sylvia Masebo, together with her Zimbabwean counterpart Walter Mzembi became constant fixtures and images of the conference. Their commitment certainly cannot be faulted.

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With the successful hosting and close however comes the bigger and most important part. The postmortem. A global event such as this must call for a comprehensive analysis of successes, opportunities and misses. This must be a springboard for future ambitions, milestones and successes.

The zeal, resource allocation, clean up and work ethic exhibited and witnessed in Livingstone must not end with the General Assembly. The planning starts and continues from here with even more vigour. What with the clear intent signaled by both host nations’ heads of state. Presidents Sata and Mugabe both agree tourism is a strategic and cardinal sector that can contribute to economic development.

But it must not end at the intent. The hosting privilege has shown just what we are capable of with a bit more will and focus.

So what next?

The spotlight was unmistakably on Livingstone, showcasing the Victoria falls, our cultural dimension and various activities one can embark on. So many prominent people lunged in for a taste of the tourist capital. We saw coverage of the Vice President, first and second ladies, ministers and their spouses among others.

Indeed as far as coverage is concerned, the steering committee and planning teams can only be commended.

Beyond that however lies my source of concern. Silence and the status quo may well be the next phase. That is not what Livingstone needs. The prominence and visibility must continue. Especially now with the media and international attention that the General Assembly provided.

That calls for a well thought out, integrated and trackable blueprint. Without such focus, we will once again have to cope with the shoddiness that the tourist capital does not need.

We do not have to go back to littered streets, vendor chocked corridors or disorganisation that leaves us shy of international standards.

If we allow Livingstone to recline into such escapable mediocrity, Zambia will not benefit from our God endowed wealth. Other countries instead will.

Zimbabwe has for a long time enjoyed the benefits of the Falls more than Zambia has. Perhaps the political woes of the last few years have mellowed the Zimbabwean advantage. Whether Zambia has exploited that opportunity is a subject for wide debate.

South Africa is another such country that in most instances has packaged Victoria falls more effectively than Zambia. There have been known hotels that offer chopper rides to Livingstone as though the falls were in South Africa.

Such instances inevitably point to the need for Zambia not to relent but instead sustain the momentum gained this year. That calls for coordinated and aggressive plans to derive economic benefits from a sector as strategic as tourism.

Where do we start?

The fact that we need a plan cannot be disputed. And a part of this plan must undoubtedly incorporate infrastructure and something that may not be quantifiable but is critical-ambition.

Over a year ago, I visited Livingstone while two professional bodies were in town for their Annual General Meetings. The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and Zambia Institute of Chartered Accountants (ZICA) flooded the tourist capital. The marked but not unexpected result was that accommodation was a nightmare. Rooms were simply in short supply.

If we are to enhance Livingstone’s standing as a tourist attraction, bed space and quality accommodation must be prioritised. The town must be able to host multiple events without a strain. It must also be able to embrace a flood of tourists, both local and foreign without labouring to accommodate them.

This too would form part of the national employment plan. Locals must have a piece of this cake as lodge or hotel owners. Also have the opportunity as entrepreneurs providing exciting activities that draw visitors and of course much needed revenue.

If well executed and supported, even souvenir sellers would not end up in the dilemma cited after the UNWTO assembly. A situation that saw some of them borrow from various sources in anticipation of huge sales. That was not to be and how many have been left financially crippled can only be speculated.

Ambition and political will

These twin factors are often overlooked. But their importance cannot be ignored without significant cost.

In this fast paced and competitive era, it does matter what we strive for and how hungry we must be to achieve.

I always think of Dubai and some of the projects it has embarked on over the years. Through ambition and wealth of course, the city has attracted world attention through many innovative large construction projects and is symbolic for its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, such as the world’s tallest Burj Khalifa. Other ambitious development projects include man-made islands, hotels, and some of the largest shopping malls in the world.

To a large extent, this is tourism created out of rich resources. Zambia, on the other hand boasts natural resources she can exploit with shrewd and innovative thinking.

I have often heard comments that Dubai has achieved all this because it is oil rich. My immediate thought and reaction always takes me to the “Formula 1” roads that were constructed in the run up to Zambia’s 2011 presidential by-election.

Roads surfaced where they previously did not exist or had slipped into dilapidation. All this in a country where resources have seemingly been in short supply for priority areas and projects.

It can be done. What remains imperative is the drive to set off on such a path. That is the part where political will has a huge part to play.

More action beyond words

Zambia must now position itself for tourism success. This is a sector that must contribute more substantially than it currently does.

A sustained global and local marketing campaign is a must. We have had visits from top entertainment and global personalities in Livingstone. That in itself is an endorsing statement and an opportunity to showcase what is on offer.

The supporting infrastructure built such as the Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport is only the first step. More is now required.

Livingstone must become a sought after conference hub regionally and internationally. The Victoria Falls must be only one of the attractions to enrich the package and woo tourists.

Even the Mosi-o-tunya national park can be restocked to accommodate more animals that can thrive in that habitat. That would make the safari drives more rewarding than they may presently be.

Livingstone specifically and Zambia broadly is not limited to what exists. There remains a lot that can be done to turn our tourism into a money spinner.

It is likely to be a long demanding journey. But it must start somewhere.

The time for that start is now. Hosting the UNWTO general assembly has shown us that.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2013 in Economic, Opinion, Tourism

 

Are subsidies the real issue?

The recent scrapping of subsidies on maize and fuel has been met with forceful commentary and sentiment.

That is not a surprise at all. The prices of our widely used mealie-meal and fuel pump prices have spiralled upwards.

In the heat of this topical development, it is easy to lose sight of the holistic picture and dwell on the subsidy removal only.

The question from my perspective is not whether or not the subsidies should have been removed. Rather it is the manner it was done on one hand and what will become of the savings on the other.

Even more critical is the learning derived from our experience with subsidies.

Should the subsidies go?

Based on the full impact of subsidies on the treasury, the decision here is a non-contest. For government to spend billions annually to cushion a consumption bill is not sustainable.

It follows then that the removal of fuel and maize subsidies was inevitable. The cost has been astronomical and arguably can be applied elsewhere in value adding sectors. But that resource redirection is only possible with political will and foresight.

Are subsidies unnecessary?

Surely not. Almost all nations one way or the other will subsidise some activity or sector. This is a form of support that government will render to achieve a progressive end in earmarked areas.

In Zambia’s case, agriculture and the energy sector have benefited through maize and fuel subsidies. This has mainly been with a view to stabilise prices and make these commodities affordable for the people.

This therefore has been a scenario that cushions consumption rather than support production. Government may as well be handing out cash.

It even gets worse if one understands that the subsidy allowed the middleman to purchase at relatively lower cost than the market demanded. However, this benefit though stabilising prices did not seem to trickle to the end user, the consumer.

In that regard, the subsidy has not achieved its intended purpose. As long as it is consumption that is subsidised, the incentive is an exercise in futility.

In our case, Zambia must be thinking of incentivising industrialisation, to revive our manufacturing. We must diversify our agriculture and steer away from monocropping evidenced in our obsessive reliance on maize.

We must invest in educating and skilling our people so they become the driver and bedrock of our development.

That is the subsidy that will have meaningful impact on the country’s overall development.

Subsidies must be channelled to areas where they will stimulate industrial activity, income generation and employment to empower the people. Any resources in our current circumstances as a nation must be appropriately applied for us to derive much needed benefits.

It is on that premise that we must learn from this subsidy episode to avoid a recurrence of the lapses noted.

The real and hard questions

One striking and key lesson about the whole subsidy saga has been the least mentioned or debated in my view.

The information made available for instance shows that in 2012, the budget allocation for the Fertiliser Input Support Programme (FISP) was K500bn but actual expenditure was K1.181tn. This represents a budget overrun of K681.2bn, even more than the initial budgeted amount.

The trend is the same when one notes that the 2011 subsidy allocation was K485bn and the actual spend was K1,354.70tn, an overrun of K869.7bn. This appears to be a consistent pattern even when analysing expenditure as far back as 2010 with shocking excesses recorded.

Based on these trends, it is evident that there is a financial discipline problem. The concern raised by government that so much has been spent on subsidies is welcome. But it must be accompanied by reasons and an explanation of why such budget overruns are allowed and tolerated.

Are our controls sufficiently designed to curb such abuse? Do they even exist or are they simply not adhered to?

The Auditor General’s reports have consistently highlighted such glaring indiscipline and misapplication of financial resources but alas, what is produced may well just be another collection of papers filed away in some office.

The results of turning a deaf ear to these concerns continue to show their head in situations such as the above. Where resources that can be utilised to full value end up down the drain or financing only a few beneficiaries over a bigger population.

If this aspect is not aptly dealt with, we have a serious challenge ahead of us. The waste we have witnessed in the recent past will undoubtedly repeat itself. Tangible action must be taken now to keep this cancer in check.

Subsidies are good, subsidies are bad! What’s the fuss?

The noise has been loud. There have been complaints and protests. Praises and endorsements. That is all healthy. Opposing views allow for an exchange of ideas and when properly harnessed, the best course of action is the end result.

However, what has ensued since the removal of subsidies also points to a point we must pay attention to especially our government and leaders in general.

There is immense value in explaining government policies to the people, even more when it involves harsh decisions. The abruptness with which the government scrapped the subsidies has contributed a great deal to the people’s discontent.

Very few had seen this one coming. An almost instant spike in fuel, mealie meal and general prices contrary to campaign promises and traditional political rhetoric. If any had anticipated this measure, they must be the privileged few with flies on the right walls to listen in on intimate intentions.

Stakeholder consultation and citizen engagement does not in anyway suggest incompetence or devolution of power. It instead communicates maturity, empathy and a genuine concern for the masses.

Therefore Government should have taken measures to breakdown its intention to the people and outlined a clear plan post-subsidy. Not in one instant but through active community engagement or interactive public fora.

I still recall how the late Dr Chiluba and his government sold the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to the nation. As a result we anticipated hard times and “tightening of the belts” regardless of how much of a bitter pill it was bound to be. The end is another topic on its own but the courtesy of informing citizens is the main point.

I personally have heard more independent individuals explain the subsidies more eloquently than government officials. That in itself is worrisome. We must see a departure from an arms length uninterested approach to a more sensitive and embracing one.

As one caller on a popular radio show put it a few days ago, “Government must come down to the grassroot and also explain to us. We don’t all know what this ‘subwidi’ is or what it means. We just know prices have now gone up.”

‘Subwidi’ in this case was a reference to subsidy and it underscored how much information needs to be disseminated and awareness enhanced.

A lack of information or transparency will always dilute trust and sow the seed of resistance. In the end, even the noblest of intentions can slip off the rail.

What about those savings?

It has been in the news that the treasury stands to save K2.3bn annually after this removal measure. That is a significant amount of money that cannot be ignored. It can have a staggering impact on any beneficiary sector.

However, yet again what we have witnessed are a chain of generic statements that these saved resources will be channelled to more needy sectors etc. That as an intention is not disputable.

At this stage though, what is desired is the clarity of thought and evidence of an actual plan to achieve such an aspiration.

It is said that what is measured gets done. Therefore, from the onset we must be explicit about what we are chasing, how it will be done and the precise resource allocation required to realise this.

If the statements have been that we will now divert resources from subsidies to education or health or manufacturing, how will this be done and to what extent? This is information that can only come from the planners, government in this case. It is this level of transparency that we need and must strive for.

It not only enables ordinary citizens to be a part of governance and development. It keeps all stakeholders abreast and eliminates opportunity for speculation or misleading interpretations.

It further also allows government itself and the public in general to track progress made in pursuing these goals.

An opportunity to build credibility

It is a fact that the government and public leaders face a crisis of credibility. Many a time decisions made or actions taken have leaned more toward self interests than selflessness.

That should explain the genuine discomfort people have generally exhibited when informed that the savings will be channelled elsewhere.

It therefore is extremely cardinal for government to transparently share these plans. Otherwise it is easier for the public to conclude that the benefits of the subsidy removal will accrue on the part of politicians largely.

There is strong sentiment in the country presently following a string of seemingly unnecessary by-elections. Any hint that subsidies have been removed to finance such activities or reward politicians with better individual perks will be unfortunate.

It is for that very reason that one may not be faulted for requesting more detail from our leaders on what the post-subsidy plan is.

The contention generally is not whether subsidies must be removed. It instead is where these resources will be redirected and the value to be derived in the long term. Similarly, it is the learning we pick to guarantee fiscal discipline and curb these overruns we have become accustomed to.

Anything less will be a sure recipe for failure.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Economic, Opinion, Politics

 

A national airline, do we need it?

The rebirth of a national airline has yet again ignited discussion in Zambia. The most recent comes in the wake of President Sata’s appeal on his visit to China.

Setting up of a national flag carrier seems to be an unmistakeable motivation. The domestic and international airspace has not seen the Zambian eagle soar since the demise of Zambia Airways in 1995.

All fillers that have attempted to seal this gap have either flown their way into oblivion or headed to the hangars for other operational reasons.

With the current stated need for an airline, it leads us to a point where we assess this appeal. Do we need an airline? What are the cost implications or perhaps the overriding benefits?

To appreciate part of this need, we perhaps must be certain what running an airline involves. This should provide an insight into whether Zambia is on track to venture into this business in the first place.

Lessons from yesterday

Zambia Airways was the nation’s pride. It covered major routes including long haul flights to New York, London, Frankfurt, Rome and Amsterdam among other international destinations.

The acquisition of a DC-10 called Nkwazi represented the height of its identity in 1984. This was the birth of the widebody era in Zambia’s aviation industry.

However, 1992 dawned with its challenges culminating in the airline’s liquidation three years later. The new government then stipulated that the airline be responsible for its debt and sustain its operating expenses through its generated revenue.

With the harsh economic environment then, this measure only worked to speed up the airline’s flight into liquidation.

The suggested business model entailed that Government financed Zambia Airways to a very large extent. With the action for the flag carrier to fend for itself, it’s future could not be guaranteed without Treasury support.

An action too drastic?

The economic climate in the early 90’s was daunting and the new Government seemingly had little leeway to avert the rough tides.

This meant beneficiaries such as Zambia Airways were also dealt a stinging blow. The history from this point on is well documented.

However, what is of interest is what other options the Government then could have explored.

It is pointless to mourn what could have been but extremely useful for us to pick lessons from what was. Especially now when there is increased impetus for a national airline.

A successful business model

Kenya Airways offers a classic case study of an alternative option and operational model.

The airline was wholly owned by the Kenyan government until April 1995. The difference though when decision time beckoned was the route taken by the Government.

In 1996, Kenya Airways was privatised becoming the first African flag carrier to do so successfully. The airline is currently run under a Public Private Partnership.

The Kenyan government owns 29.8% while KLM has a 26.73% stake in the airline. The rest represents private owners’ shareholding.

In terms of success, this partnership undoubtedly salvaged the kenyan airline. The milestones scored attest to this fact.

As of January 2013, Kenya Airways was reported to be one of the leading continental airlines, ranking as the 4th in Africa based on seat capacity. The first three are South African Airways (SAA), Ethiopian Airlines and EgyptAir.

In addition, the airline’s shares are traded on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, the Dar-es-Salaam Stock Exchange and the Uganda Securities Exchange.

With a workforce in excess of 4,000, a fleet size of about 40 and flying to over 50 destinations across the world, the commercial success of the airline is hard to ignore. Needless to say, it has not been as easy to achieve as the milestones may suggest.

Considerations for Zambia’s case

There must be plausible reasons for Kenya to have settled for the business model above.

Regardless of the operational and financial challenges that may have been encountered over the years, this seems the best option for a national airline. More so in the context of the developing world.

The airline business is not inexpensive. The associated costs make it necessary to consider the full implications before embarking on any colossal investments of public resources.

One only needs to appreciate the costs that are incurred in running an airline. The cost of an aircraft alone runs into millions of dollars and to build a competitive fleet, inevitably billions need to be invested.

Coupled with this, fuel and maintenance costs, airport and regulatory fees all add to the cost line of the business. Of course not forgetting the recruitment and remuneration of qualified personnel such as pilots and a competent management team to steer the business to success.

To get the flag carrier airborne and sustain its operations, a Government financed airline should not at any point be an option for Zambia.

The drain on public resources and the resultant hit on the national treasury cannot be overstated.

Zambia ought to tread carefully on this path before delving into it based on the old model that may have been deemed appropriate in the 90s.

What about competition?

The aviation landscape has evolved substantially since the last Zambia Airways aircraft hit the skies.

One key area of this transformation is in terms of competition. Zambia today has a host of airlines that fly into and out of Zambia. Major airlines such as British Airways, Emirates, SAA, Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways all cover the major routes out of Zambia.

The key question then becomes whether or how Zambia is positioned to face this competition and endure the long haul.

To attain viability and sustained profitability, huge investments and other fundamental adjustments ought to be made. This is in order to support a venture that has been largely comatose for decades.

The danger of plunging into this pool without thorough consideration of such factors lies in the actions Government may end up exploring.

It is a potent possibility that Government could introduce measures to protect the airline against such stiff competition. Or provide further incentives that would ultimately be subsidies and impact the country’s financial performance.

This too may be testing on the confidence of wooing investment if there is any hint of state intervention. Every country enjoys sovereignty and its paramount obligation is the welfare of its people’s interests.

However, it is cardinal as well that perception is well managed to ensure the right investment filters through into the local economy. It is this delicate balance that Zambia must pay attention to in order to avert any extremist actions in pursuit of a flag carrier.

What then should we be pursuing?

Undoubtedly, Zambia currently needs pragmatism over pride as far as this issue goes.

We are a developing nation. We still have hordes of our population living in poverty. We still have people that are dying without access to basic health facilities. Not to mention, armies of our people that need an education.

This being the case, our immediate areas of concern will be whether this investment is a priority especially if Government is to bankroll the revival of the airline. If this be the case, should we not be looking at delivery of social services, equipping our citizens with requisite skills and infrastructure development?

Coupled with this, as far as the airline goes, perhaps other avenues ought to be assessed. For instance, we have a beautiful country well endowed with resources. Should we not be engaging in strategic alliances that will transform our tourism sector?

We have major airlines coming into Zambia, how do we leverage these to promote our tourism? How do we invest in easy access to our tourist sites? How can we work to upgrade infrastructure and facilities such as airports to support such aspirations?

It remains a fact too that being landlocked can work for us. Can we aspire to be a logistical hub in the region, a rich and smooth transitory route? Can we turn our eye to agriculture to become the undisputed supplier of food within and outside the region?

There is a lot of work to be done and most of it appears more of a priority to me than pouring billions of dollars into setting up an airline.

The final piece

Zambia has a lot working for her currently. The help she needs from all of us is the will to drive change and progress. Political will is critical as is citizen awareness of any endeavours taken with long term implications.

Therefore, one of the first things we ought to be seeing is an integrated development roadmap. We have recently been informed of grand plans to transform the railway system in the country. This is progressive but expensive too.

It follows then that the full scale of setting up a national airline be analysed with the railway investment in totality among other things. This would offer a snapshot of how much public resources are to be invested in these colossal projects.

Furthermore, the fact that we are a relatively poor nation rising out of the poverty abyss entails that every penny that will affect the next generation be accounted for.

We need to know how much this airline plan will cost the nation. Is it to be financed out of debt and if so, how much, at what cost?

From this perspective, it is clear to me that if the airline is to be financed through state coffers, it is not a worthy pursuit at this stage of our development. The best option to explore may well be a venture riding on best practice from Kenya. Are we able to solicit adequate interest and investment through a Public Private Partnership?

Our energies and intentions must be directed toward such avenues if the nation is to derive value.

To achieve this, we must agree to objectively review what we are striving for.

And certainly, pragmatism must prevail over sentimental considerations disguised as national pride.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Business, Economic, Opinion

 

Professor Chirwa and the ZRL revival

Truth be told it is always a huge motivation when someone outlines refreshing aspirations. We need to dream more as a nation and it starts somewhere.

This is what I note in Professor Clive Chirwa’s vision for Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL). Having read the document that espouses this vision, one cannot help hoping for better things for our country.

A dream is born

The revival of ZRL is set out for a four year period (2013-2017) with an estimated cost of $1.5bn. The ambitious aspiration and vision is for the railway network across the country to be rehabilitated and upgraded. The current network spans 1,062km of mainline and branch lines.

Professor Chirwa spells out that the existing network will be revamped while a new one will also be constructed alongside the current. Links are planned into Botswana, Zimbabwe etc among others.

To achieve this, the project will be undertaken over three clearly laid out phases. The initial phase is likely to gobble $120mn to set it off.

There undoubtedly will be a lot of resources to construct an underground rail network, upgrade and electrify the entire chain cross the country. It can be noted that inspiration for the project is drawn from the structure of the United Kingdom (UK) network to some recognisable extent. Nothing ill about that. This is what is termed as best practice.

Financing the dream

When we dream, our aspirations spur us onto achieving what we desire. Zambia needs this adrenaline in barrels.

However, ZRL is a public asset as it stands. It therefore inevitably raises the resourcing question. $1.5bn has been cited as the investment required to actualise this plan.

How will this colossal amount be generated? I have not seen much on this detail in the presentation. I have however gathered that part of this will be through floating of a 48% stake to private institutions. It would be helpful to have an insight on the valuation of the business and what this 48% is worth in terms of meeting the $1.5bn cost.

This is a cardinal question as we ascertain whether the project is likely to increase the nation’s debt stock which currently stands at just over $2.5bn. How much are we adding, if at all, to the country’s external debt over the four year window?

This must be explicit from the onset and the business model should justify it so we know how this money will be repaid. Will the taxpayer foot the entire bill or is it a viable business that can pay for itself? How is rail transport business faring in other countries to support our investment?

This is a three to four year plan with a $1.5bn price tag. When one contrasts this with Kenya’s Konza tech city for instance, questions may arise. The Kenyan project is worth $8.5bn in 4 phases over 20yrs.

Is our roadmap too ambitious or is all well laid out to be attained over the stated timeframe? The two may be different but the scale and mode of financing can be analysed together for perspective.

Is Professor Chirwa all alone?

The intention to put together a competent team has been alluded to. This is a critical piece that Professor Chirwa and ZRL need for them to embark on the ambitious project.

A board has been announced. Whether it inspires or not is a discussion for another time. The imperative things now are the strategic and operational teams that will oversee the daily happenings at ZRL.

It is important that Professor Chirwa is not a lone visionary, dreaming alone or finding himself surrounded by a team that believes more in the salary than the bigger picture.

Furthermore, ZRL requires the full participation of political stakeholders. Without this political will, it may be a futile undertaking. With the amounts involved, it will call for this drive across the board so that its commencement and completion is guaranteed.

Government’s alignment

The team is one arm of the project. There is another component that highlights the issue of capacity. An Institute is to be set up at the Copperbelt University (CBU). Additionally, 75-80% of materials are to be sourced locally.

This is a good thing. But it calls for the government to be fully on board. How will the curriculum be developed, by who and over what time frame? Are there any lecturers available initially or all need to be trained over a three to four year period? Is the government financing this initiative or it is part of the $1.5bn?

The sourcing of materials locally is a desirable undertaking. What remains to be known is what these materials are, whether the locals have the capacity to supply these or this is a medium to long term aspiration. Is there an existing knowledge pool? Are the skills available to deliver on this to required standard and quality?

Again, the framework must be designed with government participation to create an environment that stimulates such progressive activity.

All these elements call for immediate engagement and articulation as the bedrock to hold the plan together. That is the only way to ensure the venture is sustainable.

Some potential distractions

The scale of investment is enormous. One of the immediate dangers pre and post construction is that of vandalism.

The reality in Zambia is that many people remain wallowing in poverty and uncultured elements exist. Therefore, security will be a necessity where this infrastructure will be put up.

This is a gloomy picture we have witnessed after the construction of the Levy Mwanawasa stadium as a recent example. Facilities will need to be safeguarded so that the network does not swiftly deteriorate and culminate in a state of disrepair. Local communities can also be courted as active custodians in achieving this.

Secondly and as cited earlier, government plans ought to be cohesive enough to support the sustainability of the project.
Specifically, employment and incomes will be factors in the utilisation of these facilities.

There are plans for cafes, restaurants, malls and pubs at the rail stations. People will need to invest to run these on one hand. On the other, people will need money to spend at such places so we avert investments in a white elephant.

Furthermore, the private sector commitment is equally cardinal. This is predominantly on the cargo side of the business.

It is good to note that Professor Chirwa seems to have engaged one of the mining entities with intentions of ferrying up to 3 million tonnes of cargo annually. This includes ore, anodes, concentrates and other products for production.

The key thing here also will be planning for slumps in mining activity when prices tumble especially for copper. What will drive the railway traffic during these spells?

The proposed plan allays this concern with a vision to explore new cargo from non-traditional routes such as uranium ore, manganese ore, nickel, gold, rare metals and agro products.

It will be imperative for this to take root urgently and diversify the cargo and routes. This too requires across the board endorsement for its explicit spin off benefit when heavy traffic is transferred off the road network.

Finally, corruption has become such a cliche in Zambia. Most of us are fatigued hearing it propounded by anyone that finds an appropriate platform or audience.

Much as the case may be so, corruption remains an active cancer we need to fight. The ZRL revival may be exposed to this rot and Professor Chirwa with the entire team must guard against this.

Closely scrutinising the phases of the project, one notes potential pitfalls. There is the supply of over 300,000 electricity poles for instance. We know of the famous and recent hot story regarding the supply of poles involving two prominent cabinet ministers.
This is only one item cited. There will be more given what the entire project requires.

The challenge this throws to Professor Chirwa and the ZRL team is for them to strive for transparency. This must be end to end with clear guidelines and mechanisms to support professionalism while eliminating corruption loopholes. Procurement is a major area of exposure and measures must be in place to mitigate such risks.

The fact that ZRL intends to source 75-80% of materials locally entails that this indeed will be a critical area of focus. It provides an excellent opportunity to do the right thing and offer an exemplary case study on credible corporate governance.

Final analysis

All in all, the project is a welcome aspiration. Zambia needs such grand plans to invest in infrastructure development. What matters more at this stage is laying that first rail. Setting the plan in motion and taking the first step towards execution will make the difference.

One can only hope to see this ambitious vision come to pass.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Economic, Opinion

 

RSZ revocation: What are the next steps?

The Zambian Government has recently announced the revocation of the Railway Systems of Zambia (RSZ) Concession Agreement. The Agreement came into effect in February 2003 when RSZ took over assets from Zambia Railways Limited.

Under the Agreement, the effective tenure was 20 years for the freight business and 7 years for the passenger arm.

Who is RSZ?

RSZ is a company registered in Zambia that won the tender for the concessioning of Zambia Railways Limited.

The company is a subsidiary of NLPI Ltd which is an investment holding company registered in Mauritius with a focus on infrastructure development projects in Africa.

What is the Concession Agreement all about?

The stated intentions of the government when entering the agreement could be pointed to developing the railway network in the country. The network is one of the largest in the region with 900km mainline railways and 300km of branch line railway.

Key objectives of the agreement included:

– Reducing heavy cargo movement from the mines.
– Relieving the road network of cargo pressure and thus reducing deterioration.
– Reducing the cost of rail transportation.

What then becomes critical is to ascertain how the investor RSZ fared against these expectations. Information to determine this would be based on superficial observation and the government’s decision to revoke the agreement.

The Revocation: has RSZ failed?

According to the Minister of Finance, Mr Alexander Chikwanda, RSZ has mismanaged the infrastructure and destroyed railway assets during this period.

Evidence of this is given with reference to railway transportation becoming more expensive over time and high levels of derailment leading to loss of lives.

It is explicit that the government does not deem RSZ as a suitable partner to develop the railway network in the country

Therefore following the revocation, all assets were immediately passed on to Zambia Railways Limited, who took over the operations for the first time since 2003.

The government has committed to make resources available for continued daily operations and upgrading of infrastructure.

The unasked or unanswered questions

Following the announcement, several questions are inevitably raised. The fact that government resources will also be injected in operations makes it even more cardinal that clarity is provided.

What are the numbers saying?

First and foremost, from what we have read and heard, RSZ has lamentably failed to run the railway network it was responsible for. This is the easiest deduction to make with available information and indeed from a bystander perspective.

However, it also is important that it is determined what the financials say. Was RSZ making money? If so, how much and was it enough to meet all operational costs and invest in infrastructure? If not, was this raised as a concern and why did they still continue operating?

This may seem unimportant at this stage. It should not be. The insight it provides forms a premise for appreciating what resources will be required to run the railway network effectively in the long term.

Therefore the resource and cost question cannot be ignored or trivialised.

Cost to the taxpayer and treasury

Zambia Railways Limited was and is a parastatal company. It is for this reason that government will support operations after the compulsory acquisition. This simply means taxpayers will finance the operations for as long as the arrangement remains in place.

For purposes of transparency, the government will be obligated to divulge to the nation what the cost will be and likewise what the time frame will be for supporting the operations.

It is good practice for this to be done to ensure resources are appropriately budgeted for and utilised to avert any misapplication or unbudgeted spend that spirals out of control.

There are several dimensions that will come into play now. The scale of infrastructure investment required, maintenance of the network and daily operational costs.

Policy clarity and direction

If something is not working, it needs to be fixed. From the sentiments on RSZ thus far, it can be deduced that the arrangement has not added the anticipated value.

As a result, the compulsory acquisition was set in motion. This though is only one part of the piece.

What this calls for is a comprehensive and clear policy of what will be pursued not only for railway but the transport sector as a whole. Will the railway network be state run? Will the government privatise?

It cannot be disputed that the railway network specifically and transport sector overall are of significant strategic importance for an economy like Zambia’s. This is in light of the increased mining activities, ever growing road traffic and the pressure it puts on the road network. So there is an evident benefit and a savings opportunity in maintenance terms for instance, if rail is developed, offering relief on the roads.

One transport expert and former Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) MD, Mr Henry Chipewo, gives this some perspective. He notes that to rehabilitate 1km of a tarred road requires about K2bn (approx $400,000) while it would cost about K100m (approx $20,000) to rehabilitate 1km of a rail line.

The expectation then is for the government to outline what it intends to do in the short term leading on to long term aspirations.

This has the potential to set the tone for related benefits such as job creation and resource mobilisation through identification of the best suitors to invest in our railway.

Zambia can thus take a leaf from the British government which recently announced plans to invest up to £9bn in their railway network. This injection is earmarked for the period 2014-2019 but is already under discussion on which areas will be targeted, benefits to accrue and precise steps to generate the resources required.

The investor confidence dimension

One of the prominent cries when such action is taken is investor reaction. There is a school of thought that holds that investor confidence is shaken when steps such as this are embarked on.

In Zambia’s case, this dimension takes on even more importance coming on the back of the Lap Green/Zamtel, Finance Bank and Zanaco cases.

There could be a grain of truth that investors will be taking a keen interest in unfolding developments in Zambia to assess the suitability of the country as an investment destination. The challenge for government then becomes reassuring the investment world that these will not be the pattern or the advent of arbitrary takeovers of previously privatised entities. Additionally, statements from government must be coordinated and premised on policy rather than political rhetoric or populism.

On the other hand, actions like this may work to Zambia’s advantage. There is a likelihood that bogus investments will be curbed as close scrutiny will be paid to who will qualify as an investor. The ultimate objective of any investment is to safeguard the interests of citizens and derive developmental benefits for the nation.

It must be stated and agreed though that the approach in dealing with these matters must be well thought out without degenerating to alarmist proportions. Confidence and capacity must be built in our institutions to manage these decisions. For instance, one would curiously ask if RSZ have been accorded an opportunity to be heard? Again this may seem unimportant but it is fundamental.

The future is now

Undoubtedly, with all the activity in the mines and the heavy road traffic, investment in the rail network would be welcome.

This will not only provide relief on the roads or reduce road carnage, it will also stimulate job creation both in the short and long term. With infrastructure development, people will be needed. As the development takes root, people will be needed across the network in service roles, maintenance jobs and related areas that will interface with the railway system .

It is consideration of such areas that exposes the urgent yawning need for a comprehensive and integrated plan to revive this critical sphere.

Of course, the cost-benefit analysis must be religiously done and Zambia does not lack experts to steer this to completion.

The numbers must speak and it should not be far fetched to cut a trip from the Copperbelt to Lusaka to one hour on a bullet train! An exciting prospect.

Is government up for the challenge? We watch and wait.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Economic, Opinion

 

Africa’s nightmare of underdevelopment

Zambia is the continent’s top Copper producer and the world’s 7th largest. It also is the world’s second largest producer of Cobalt. It has a substantial amount of Southern Africa’s water

Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers on the continent and globally. It also has huge reserves of natural gas.

Tanzania is the only country in the world that produces the precious stone Tanzanite in the world.

The list is longer and we can go country by country to see what the beautiful continent is endowed with.

What is the common thread?

These countries represent the disturbing picture of a rich continent. Africa has the resources from water to minerals, the weather and population necessary for growth. Further, these resources are not only needed by Africa itself. Even other nations and continents have an appetite for what Africa has to offer.

However, when we assess the countries above and even more others, these are nations grappling with poverty, under-development or no development at all. Corruption, abuse of resources, governance failures and service delivery breakdown are a norm in Africa’s development story.

How can a continent so rich and well endowed with resources be the least developed, drowning in poverty and miserable failure?

None of the nations on our continent is classified as developed. In fact 34 of the African nations are least developed countries. None of the global economic powerhouses is from Africa. Even huge economies such as South Africa are developing nations.

How did we get here or did we move at all?

I have always struggled with the thought of whether other nations started at the same level as Africa and we lagged. Or perhaps, we were never in the race.

For purposes of this article though, that is not the history I want to dwell on. Instead, I would like to analyse some areas I am convinced have contributed to the state we find ourselves in. From there, we can explore what Africa may need to do for a turnaround in order to be the force she potentially is.

I will break my thoughts down to expand on this.

1. Lack of self belief- In the days of old, we had a system of existence that defined our societies. People provided for their homes and communities, none lacked. Every village and community ensured there was enough for everyone and this was pursued with collective energy. This is a model that had the potential to ensure Africa developed itself with its resources, linkages and people. Even with what each community had, they could trade with another that lacked. However, a complete departure from who we were served to derail us.

2. Westernisation, capitalism and bondage- On account of the failure to keep our identity and systems, we exposed ourselves to the influence of the west. The west needed what we had, the same way our communities needed what another had.

What the west took, they added value to and even resold to Africa. While they developed, we lagged and looked on as they used our resources. In the end, as they sold us what we did not have, they must have become richer while we remained in no better state. It became a relationship based on money, wealth accumulation and we realised we did not have what they did. To have it, we wanted to be where they were and borrowing set in for we did not have the money needed. The end result? Debt.

This does not mean all we have from the West is bad. It does however show that we embraced everything and could not integrate these ideas into our own homegrown models. Models that characterised our societies and communities before Africa was taken over.

3. Political will vs “hungry leaders”- we have had a fair share of exemplary leaders that have yearned and worked for a prosperous continent. However, the seed planted has not borne fruit in most left behind after their departure. In most cases we have seen, when these leaders have tasted power, those ideals and aspirations expire.

How many leaders do we all know that start their terms so well only to be hounded out of office? Leaving their economies in tatters, state coffers stripped and their legacies steeped in failure to prosper their people?

How do we explain the cases we have where so many leaders end tenures in corruption, theft and millions of dollars in foreign countries outside Africa? We have had highly educated leaders that have failed the continent. We have had hints of well intentioned leaders that have failed their peoples because of the trappings of power. Just take a look at our history and we will see how littered it is with such examples.

4. A complacent people- Africa is in a mess and I hold that it is a mess we deserve. People get what they deserve in a case like this. We tolerate non-performance from our leaders. We accept mediocrity whether it is from those that lead, service providers or any areas of our lives. As a result, even when we have ushered leaders in office or we have in our individual lives been given responsibility, quality and integrity are not a part of what we do. Posterity bears witness to what we have come to accept as the norm.

How many times do we accept shoddy performance, poor service and let it slide? It is that mindset and attitude that is replicated at national and continental level.

5. Planning to fail- Have we as a continent and people progressed by mistake? Is the development we can point to a result of comprehensively planned frameworks? Or can we attribute this to inherited development?

Africa seems to be stuck in poor planning or a lack of follow-through on what is set. As a result, we have entangled ourselves even more in debt as we keep borrowing or depending on donor support from the West. Without this, it appears we fail to draft any progress or survival plan that works to wean us from this dependence on the West.

An assessment of almost all African countries reveals how adverse our condition is. Where we have resources, we see poverty. Where we had the opportunity for a solid take off, we have lagged so far behind.

Look at Nigeria for instance. With all the oil resources, there is a huge disparity between minimum wages of the population and fuel price per litre. Fuel or oil prices are higher than wages and the recent protests are a reflection of this.

In contrast, when we look at Kuwait, Qatar, Venezuela or Saudi Arabia. This is on a straight line analysis without the debate of population size, other factors etc. This is a reflective condition of how planning (or the lack of it) has spiralled out of control resulting in a failure to let resources provide benefits to the local economy and its people.

Further, Nigeria is a perfect example of where Africa’s ball is dropped. 50% of its 2012 budget is to be spent on the Presidency, pensions and parastatals. The expenditure on power, health and education is lower than debt service. The National Assembly election commission will get a higher allocation than health.

With all this natural wealth, we see that Nigeria has limited refinery capacity thus petroleum products are expensive when refined and exported back into the country from abroad.

How many more African countries do we know that have resources and export to other continents only to import the finished products at high cost?

What is the writing on the wall?

Africa has resources the world needs. The Eurozone is in crisis. America is struggling after the crunch. China has risen to economic prominence and made several inroads in trading with Africa.

All these factors combine to provide opportunities for Africa to rise out of its doldrums. There is a realisation that our future can be so much brighter than the past as developing nations and south to south trade takes root. The challenge now is exploiting what is unfolding for the benefit of the continent.

What needs to happen?

Thought revolution- Africa must start thinking differently. Africa must smell the coffee. The west and our favourite partner China, all are focussed on their development. The natural rule is that they will take care of their own first before any other.

There is no debate about that. Let us look at Bretton Woods institutions and the recent appointment of the World Bank president. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a seasoned and renowned economist, was clearly the better suited and qualified candidate in the race. Alas, what the US of A proposed passed as gospel and Dr. Jim Yong Kim,a physician, is the World Bank head. This is no surprise since the Americans are the largest shareholders in the institution.

Africa can only be as influential as its wealth. For as long as we are in debt or depend on donor funding, we will have no place at such a table. No bargaining power.

This makes a case for Africa to review and refine its development agenda and strategy. It is time for Africa to define her own path, set her own agenda and use her natural wealth for the good of her people. It is time for Africa to think differently.

Anything other than that is a perpetuation of the status quo.

The numbers game- Africa has 54 nations and a total population of over a billion. Even though the pangs of poverty have ravaged the continent, the numbers must now work for Africa. This is a population from which Africa can draw for its labour and skills requirements.

To attain this, education is paramount and health a necessary pursuit. An educated and healthy population with a significant proportion being youth represents a rich pool to drive this aspiration and also defeat the perverse poverty that Africa grapples with.

This will then make the empowerment of our people a reality, thus creating the able mass that the continent needs to stimulate growth and development.

Made in Africa by Africans- We must restore our pride. We must be the drivers of our progress and destiny. To achieve this, we must believe in ourselves, then act on this belief and faith in who we are.

All we have and need can be found in Africa. Ghana imports 70% of its rice at a cost of $500m*. Is there not a country in Africa that can supply this rice?

Madagascar is currently working on an $80m Wind power project to generate 50MW of electricity*. Do we not have countries that can facilitate hydro and alternative energy supply?
We have large oil or mineral producers on the continent. Can we not aim to develop the infrastructure necessary to refine or produce finished petroleum goods and other products for supply within the continent?

We can continue on this trajectory to see the possibilities for Africa within the continent. Opportunities that can fuel growth from within and even produce excess for intercontinental export.

This is surely not as easy as it may sound or seem on paper. Then again, it is not as impossible as it appears today.

It must and has to start somewhere. That somewhere is now.

Value addition- This calls for a comprehensively different approach. We must jealously manage our resources as we offload raw materials. It must not come back to Africa as expensive finished goods when we can add value in Africa.

This calls for deliberate and strict planning coupled with resource allocation for infrastructure development to support this.

Ethiopia is an example of a country undertaking to boost its export capabilities. It now offers incentives such as tax holidays, duty free privileges and a 70/30 financing scheme. The scheme has government financing 70% of start-up costs for companies investing in the export sector. This has led to about 25% growth in exports since 2002*.

Calling the Diaspora- The African Diaspora reportedly has $50bn of savings in western bank accounts gaining negative returns*. Only recently, we heard that Africa’s infrastructure budget is $100bn annually and governments only raise $57bn of this**.

With the knowledge, expertise and labour that Africa has exported outside the continent, can we not mobilise and develop our beloved motherland through these resources seemingly developing foreign lands?

A far fetched aspiration?

In 2011, about half of 78 mobile money ventures launched worldwide came from Africa, spanning more than 20 countries*. This is just one example of the potential Africa represents.

Whichever sectors we analyse from Telecoms, Technology, financial services to trade, the continent stands in a place where development is extremely possible.

Africa must take stock of her untapped resources, wealth and its able population. It then must take steps to address the inherent weaknesses of our ineffective planning, deficient structural frameworks and governance failures. Accountability and capable leadership must be paramount catalyst factors to steer the continent in totally different direction.

That will be the journey that will present the opportunity for Africa to perhaps pay off her debt to the West. Or use the debt or donor aid to invest in sectors that will pay the debt off.

Who knows, one of the notable and proud results could be an African Financial Institution strong enough to finance the continent’s infrastructure development leading to the elusive economic prosperity.

Africa can do it. Africa must do it.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Economic

 

The corruption of tertiary education

The big day

The weather was right, warm as the sun smiled down on the crowd gathered in celebratory joy. This was a climax of years of long nights and seeming toil had finally come to its end.

Chola was among those with an irrepressible smile. All the sacrifices of his folks had paid off. They no longer needed to worry about parting with every penny they could get to ensure he got all the money he needed. Each time he received any money from home, despite the excitement of having cash in his pocket, he knew the family had forgone something.

This was graduation day. He was proudly clad in the much sought after gown. He could now be called a graduate. He had his Bachelor’s qualification along with several of his mates. The future they had been chasing was upon them and all those dreams and aspirations were now more likely than not to be realised! You needed an education to succeed. Not any other education, a degree was the best. Chola and his peers now had this. The sky was the limit.

Reality dawns in dreamland

That was over a year ago. To be specific 18 months. Chola had pursued a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) qualification at the Copperbelt University (CBU), the second public university situated north of Zambia. He had not found a job as yet. He languished at home, devouring the daily newspapers, each day hoping for an opportunity. This he did with a mindset of “one more try”.

He had littered so many offices with what was his CV and accompanying academic papers. Alas, he was still unemployed embarrassingly even asking for a few kwachas for a haircut. Times were hard.

Chola is among the thousands of nameless ones dotted around Zambia. Graduates that have left the tertiary institutions that housed them only to roam the streets with khaki envelopes carrying their CVs and certificates.

The institutions churn out graduates religiously but they are not being sucked into society, industry or the economy as expected.

What has gone wrong?

Zambia has been an independent state since October 24 1964. The University of Zambia (UNZA), the first public university, was opened in 1966. The CBU is the second largest university that has seen much growth and transformation since 1989.

Combined, these two institutions are producing thousands of graduates each year. The CBU alone at their 20th graduation ceremony in 2011 released 1,037 an increase from 835 the previous year. UNZA on the other hand with a larger student populace produces more on an annual basis.

Needless to state, Zambia has a chain of public and private colleges, universities too. These add to the army of diploma and degree graduates released each year.

The structural anatomy of the Zambian education system is such that there are a lot of primary, basic and secondary schools that have come to life over the last two decades. This increase has not been replicated at tertiary level as the main universities for instance remain UNZA and CBU. Despite this imbalance, pupils are passing exams at grade 12/form 5 level and queueing up for a decent university education.

This has created an unfortunate scenario where the two higher institutions have been strained and over enrolment is more of a norm than an exception.

Coupled with this, the economy has stabilised over the last 5 to 10 years. However, beyond these statistically impressive parameters, the stability and growth has not yielded much in terms of opportunities.

Industrial activity is minimal with manufacturing for instance not a major contributor. Agriculture with all its potential has not offered much for the Zambian with most commercial activity driven by large foreign farmers. Mining therefore remains the major driver of Zambia’s economic growth, stability or success, whichever one wishes to call it.

This then entails that these thousands in the Graduates’ Army must therefore venture into the informal sector and apply their entrepreneurial skills and knowledge.

The hard honest questions

Is that the case? If so, why do we have a legion pounding the city streets searching for employment? If not, what has kept the graduates jobless? How does the cream end up where they are?

Should every graduate leave university or college aiming for formal employment?

This is what we see. There is an inherent inclination towards being employed and strides to undertake a journey into self-employment remain low. Most of the individuals that give it a go either get frustrated with the job search thus survival necessitates the plunge or it is the rare few that boldly opt for this path.

Victims of the system?

My mind wrestles with the “why” of this scenario. I am one of those that have left University and pushed to get into formal employment. When I look around at my peers and classmates, I am at pains to count any that are employers and not employees.

The speculative reasons abound. In some cases, the formal sector does need the contribution and value of the fresh blood. In other instances, there is a lack of support for one to venture into self-employment. Perhaps there is no capital or experience to be business owners. Then lastly, there is the sobering truth that the environment has not embraced the graduate and therefore, this fresh blood has no clue whatsoever where to start. Hence the fear.

What preparation then happens at these institutions? Are students trained to be employed? Can value only come through formal employment?

The system currently drills a student thoroughly with the theory of what the world is like. Mostly though, support in terms of attachments to experience this reality may not be at the level it should. From the lecture rooms, students must appreciate the foundational principles and at the same time have the opportunity to test this theory in practice. This holds true for disciplines such as business and other arts.

Over the years, this has not been the case on two fronts. Firstly, this has not been well structured for these disciplines to ensure that experience is mandatory before one graduates. It could be a result of the numbers in each class in every academic year. Secondly, few companies seem to open their doors to such offers. Whether it is because they are not approached or policy dictates is worth investigating.

Without this valuable platform, there is no way one will appreciate what happens out there and form the initial perspective of what it takes to be an active player in industry post-University or college.

The result?

We see so many graduates that can cram an entire text book and pass remarkably in exams. The theory is sucked in and discharged in the three hour exams. But these “high exam fliers” crumble in terms of delivery when they join the “system”.

Additionally, there is a fear of the unknown built in the graduate’s mind that makes it difficult to venture onto the unchartered paths of entrepreneurship and self-employment. It is even worse when they taste formal employment, a fixed guaranteed monthly salary and all the perks of formal employment such as vehicles, allowances, airtime, loans and mortgages. That is the glue that ensures they are stuck to the formal world. It is unimaginable to have to leave these for the risk of failure in setting oneself up.

With all due respect to those self-employed, we then note that the courageous ones in the informal sector got in as the last resort. Perhaps education proved to be a mountain too high and after dropping out or not making the cut, self employment was the only way out.

But even where education worked fine, the battle for employment proves to be a strong frustration and thus one is forced to consider alternatives to survive.

This brings to the fore a cardinal observation as to why this fear haunts many a graduate. Does the lecture room not prepare one for such a time? Don’t those tests, assignments and exams equip one for the real world? Should graduation not be the first step on the journey to the land of milk and honey, overflowing with success?

The cry for relevance and quality

Seemingly, this challenge is prominent when we look at the sea of jobless graduates and the employed graduates that see nothing more beyond the monthly cheque. That perhaps is the reason we have so few that venture into innovation, entrepreneurship or even thought leadership.

When we quickly assess the quality of students or graduates now, what do we see? What contribution do we get in terms of thought, value addition or opinion on topical issues affecting our immediate environment?

It cannot be disputed that the quality we observe is uninspiring. We see a set of students or graduates that are unable to articulate, analyse or appreciate what is happening in their environment. Whether political, economic or innovation. The consistent coverage we get of students is when they protest over meal allowances or are paraded for political pronouncements.

It remains such a rarity to hear an informed student or the self proclaimed “intelligentia” address pertinent societal issues with conviction, knowledge and refreshing eloquence.

Furthermore, it may appear that the education system is not equipping most students to impact industry with innovation, new ways of doing things or game changing efficiency that an economy like ours yearns for.

This is where the call for relevance and quality must be loud. Most of those that graduate and join the industry shine on account of their inherent abilities and perhaps inborn skills meeting opportunity. This appears the case more than the education system ingraining it.

It can therefore be argued that our curriculum and educational makeup needs urgent review. A curriculum must be relevant to the present times and needs of a nation and society. It must be dynamic enough to incorporate the overall demands of society, the economy and the globe at large. A developing nation such as Zambia must see an emphasis on entrepreneurship, innovation and related skills for instance. There must be attachments and case studies that amplify this with additional lessons drawn from nations that have walked a similar path before us. This allows best practice to be shared and adopted as we strive for growth.

The immediate plea then would be the composition of an independent body of scholars and technocrats that will periodically review curricula. This is to be done solely with the intention of ensuring our educational system offers relevant and dynamic content. The curriculum and institutions thus would become an active part of the nation’s development and transformation agenda.

Taking stock and starting where we are

With the review done as and when necessary, we also need on the parallel to establish a database. This would in essence capture the skills the country has or is adding on an annual basis. This exercise would in turn entail assessing how many are in employment both formal and informal.

The upside to this kind of database and information is the contribution it would make to national planning. The government would know which skill sets the nation needs at a particular time or which ones to invest in and upgrade to align training to the development blueprint. It can further also form a basis for remuneration as there would be information on whether the skills we have are appropriately paid, engaged or lowly compensated.

Idealistic it may sound but Zambia’s planning needs to be enhanced to scientific level and be a reliable input as the nation strives for development. This would undoubtedly elevate educational institutions to the urgent status as development partners. We would then be on our way to seeing the products of the educational system being impactful and relevant graduates with skills that transform society whether at formal, informal, social or political level.

In the absence of such a thrust, we will continue grappling with our dilemma. The challenge of graduates that shy away from entrepreneurship, self employment, innovation or social leadership. The reality of every graduate leaving university or college with their mind on formal employment as the ultimate fruit of the education pursued.

It is a challenge the educational institutions must address urgently to make them relevant in our present dispensation. Similarly, government must take an active interest in this area to support the quest for excellence. The government must also facilitate to allow businesses (private sector) and even the public sector to be active players in building an entrepreneurial pool or providing a platform for graduates to use their skills for the progress of the nation.

One more day of the same

Chola stared at the sun lazily as another day drew to its close. The sunset offered no hope for him as he had nothing to look forward to with the dawn of the following day.

He set the daily newspaper on the stool and strolled to the bedroom. There were no employment opportunities yet again in today’s publication.

One more jobless day and another dose of hopelessness.

It was the story of a graduate’s life.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Economic

 
 
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