3 January 2013

Zambia: UNWTO U.S. Boost Welcome

ZAMBIA has already played host to various international conferences, but the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly it will co-host with neighbouring Zimbabwe is unique.

It is unique because a large number of international businesses and high-profile delegates will either be represented or in attendance.

An indaba of this magnitude certainly needs involvement of experts who are experienced in planning and handling global conferences of this nature.

For this reason, the move by the US Embassy in Lusaka, working with American partner institutions to host our Government and private sector representatives in a professional exchange programme is timely.

The programme, which is sponsored by the US Department of State, the equivalent of our own Foreign Affairs Ministry, is titled 'Managing a global conference'.

A title which is quite appropriate to the UNWTO General Assembly Zambia is co-hosting with Zimbabwe, and comes against a backdrop of the acknowledgement by the international community of Zambia's impressive strides on the economic front.

Economic pundits are, for instance, agreed that that over the years, Zambia's economic outlook has been favourable over the medium-term.

This is underpinned by sustained expansion in agriculture - which has so far seen the country produce maize bumper harvests, construction, manufacturing, transport and even communications, not forgetting a rebound in the mining sector.

Inflation is, meanwhile, projected to remain in single digits, and this is a clear reflection of the prudent monetary policy. With the rebasing of the Kwacha which is now in effect, economists further say the objective of exchange rate policy is to maintain external competitiveness.

Even with the recently reported loss of copper earnings through dubious dealings by some mining firms, increasing domestic revenue collection remains a priority by the Patriotic Front Government.

Equally on the Government's high priority list is large infrastructure development. Thus the Government last year launched the Link Zambia-8000 project, a road construction exercise that will see all provinces connected to a good roads network.

This and other infrastructure investments are expected to further boost the country's economic growth.

Some of the elements of the exchange programme will be creating multilateral partnerships to promote tourism and economic development, as well as thinking beyond the UNWTO General Assembly.

Thinking beyond the General Assembly implies long-term economic development, and this could be possible with the sustenance, if not acceleration, of the current positive economic development.

Already, independent surveys indicate that extreme poverty in the country has declined from nearly 60 per cent in the 1990s to below 50 per cent.

This is a positive trend indeed, although development planners advise that Zambians need to work extra hard to meet the 29 per cent Millennium Development Goal target.

Also of concern is the bridging of the rural-urban gap where extreme poverty is said to be higher in the rural areas at 67 per cent compared to 20 per cent in urban areas.

But over all, severity of poverty has seen a sharp decline, indicating that with the right policies and investments, the incidence of poverty could fairly fall quickly.

Investment is the key word here, in which case maintaining investor confidence becomes crucial. But with the Government already raising the US$750 million via a bond issue last year to cover a funding gap for infrastructure projects, this does not appear to be much of a problem.

This then means that one big problem Zambia and her development partners need to focus on is the plight of hundreds of thousands of young people entering the labour market each year.

The other, and equally important, is Zambia's vulnerability to external shocks, together with a sluggish global economic recovery, which could reduce demand for exports, especially copper exports.

We hope the exchange programme will have a slot for these two areas of major concern as well.

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