Washington, DC — Debt relief for Africa is a top issue under discussion in capitals around the world and is a lead item on the agenda for the G-8 summit in early July of the leading industrial nations. One country that has received some good news on debt recently is Zambia, where successive presidents have campaigned to have funds redirected to health care, education and infrastructure, with backing from civil society organizations.
This week, the so-called Paris Club of nation creditors agreed to cancel $1.4 billion that was owed to its members, and Britain announced forgiveness of an additional $550 million. Last month, Zambia signed an agreement under the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative that will reduce outstanding obligations by about $3.9 billion - out of a total $7.1 billion owed.
The agreement was the conclusion of a long process of reform and consultation, said Ronnie Shikapwasha, Zambia's Foreign Minister, who visited Washington, D.C. last week to discuss U.S.-Zambia bilateral relations with U.S. officials and promote trade and investment opportunities in Zambia. Shikapwasha, who is a Member of Parliament, served previously as Minister of Home Affairs and is retired from the Air Force, talked about the significance of the HIPC agreement and other key issues in an AllAfrica interview . Excerpts:
How did the HIPC agreement come about?
It's been a huge struggle for Zambia to reach that milestone. President Kaunda [Zambia's first president] tried for a considerable period of time. For almost 27 years we struggled with the IMF and World Bank and we couldn't get our numbers correct. The second president, President Chiluba, also struggled for 10 years and we couldn't get our act correct.
It's necessary to understand that we had to carry out some surgical operations within ourselves. The economy in Zambia during the one-party state was a 'commandist' economy, and we had to move out of that. We had to privatize many of the mines and companies that the government was holding on to. At the same time, we had to introduce a very, very young democracy in the country. Therefore it was very difficult for President Chiluba in 10 years to try and get things in order.
President Mwanawasa has come on the scene and, out of huge fiscal discipline and sacrifice, we have reached the HIPC completion point. It is a big achievement for Zambia, and we believe we are on the threshold of moving forward.
What does it mean to reach the HIPC completion point?
There are a number of things that happen. Half of the debt that Zambia owes the world [has been cancelled], and we are working to get the rest cancelled. The money that was meant for us to service these debts can now go toward the resurrection of infrastructure, the improvement of the health sector, the fight against HIV/Aids, and improvement in schools.
Also agriculture. Zambia used to be one of those countries that was always on the list for food relief. Now we have put our agricultural policies in order. This year, there's been a quite severe drought in southern Africa and many countries have been affected, so we need assistance in order for us to give the same ratio of food to our people as we have had in times past. But, in the last two and a half years, we had surpluses and were able to export to a number of African countries. We believe that we can do even better.
How did Zambia incur so much debt?
It is important that people understand where Zambia's coming from, where Zambia is, and where Zambia is going. Zambia is surrounded by eight countries: [the Democractic Republic of] Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. The liberation [struggle for] independence took a great toll on Zambians and on Zambia's economy, and the world needs to understand this. Zambia hosted the African National Congress to liberate South Africa. Zambia hosted Swapo to liberate Namibia. Zambia hosted Frelimo to liberate Mozambique. Zambia hosted Zanu-PF and allied parties to liberate Zimbabwe. Zambia hosted MPLA and Unita to liberate Angola, and Zambia continues to host and to stabilize the Congo area.
Resources that were meant for the local people went out - not only to support the liberation struggle, but also to support the hosting of many, many refugees in the country. This took a toll on the Zambian economy. In 1964, the Zambian kwacha would buy four dollars. Now, we are talking about the dollar buying 5,000 kwachas. This is the kind of depreciation that has gone on for a number of factors, and one of them is the support to the liberation of the other countries.
We felt as Zambians that the independence of Zambia, the freedom and justice of Zambia, would be incomplete unless our neighbors also were free and had democratic governments and independence. Therefore we put ourselves in the frontline states, and many others joined in from east Africa, from west Africa, and all of us pushed [toward] a common goal until we had the independence of Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and the liberation of South Africa. Now we have a stable southern Africa..
What has to happen for the rest of Zambia's debt to be cancelled?
We need fiscal discipline. We need to stay on track on our programs that we have laid out with a number of cooperating partners. Our cooperating partners must see that our fiscal discipline and our vision is meeting the expectations of the rest of the world, that we are pursuing good governance, the fight against corruption, the fight against Aids, etc.
What impact does this fiscal discipline and economic reform have on opportunities for private sector investment in Zambia?
Zambia graduated through many steps to [get to] the HIPC completion point, and we have priorities that we have put across as the Zambian government. The kwacha has stabilized considerably for the past three years and has given confidence to those that would like to invest. We think the atmosphere is good.
What areas of the economy is the government promoting for greater investment in Zambia's economy?
Zambia is opened up now in many areas for investment. We have a stock exchange where you can invest. You can invest in agriculture, you can invest in the health sector, you can invest in water, you can invest in mining, Zambia has huge natural resources. You want to come into tourism? We have 19 parks [and] more than 30 game management areas. We've divided some of those parks for sale to those who would like to be investors. You can have your own tourism business, and this is available to everybody.
We have wonderful parks and wildlife. We have wonderful scenery. We have the seventh wonder in the world - Victoria Falls - and we believe that it is important for us to sell it. Our Minister of Tourism [has] declared this year the year of "Visit Zambia," and there's an aggressive policy that's being pursued to bring as many tourists to Zambia as possible. It's working well so far.
We've also given incentives in the commercial sector to attract investors into the country, that are not available in many other countries. Zambia now is the only country that I know of in southern Africa that doesn't have foreign exchange restrictions. You come into the country, you invest your money, you take out your 100 percent profit to wherever you want to take it. This is a great incentive for anybody who wants to come.
There's [been] a wonderful reaction in the mining sector, where we are now having lots of people coming to invest in mines, and we're opening new mines in areas where we have huge deposits of copper. We have a one-stop shop for investors that provides for them to do good business and carry out their investment portfolio without much delay.
We have loosened immigration laws to allow investors to come to Zambia, and we are seeing many people visiting and many people coming to invest. We must attract huge investors and small investors, [and] the local investment portfolio must be lifted up for our own people so that they too can invest in areas they want.
What does Zambia need to do to become eligible from the Millennium Challenge Corporation that has been set up to provide U.S. assistance to developing countries?
We've had an assessment, and we've passed through our first paper. Now we're being considered. We think it's an important initiative that's going to help. First, [it] provides for checks and balances in governance and also it provides for checks and balances to move the economies of those countries that are able to access the Millennium Challenge Account.
The MCC has said that Zambia needs to improve in the economic freedom section, including credit rating, inflation and fiscal policy, and to boost primary education expenditures and girls' primary education completion, as well as tackle corruption and government effectiveness. What is the government doing in those areas?
We're doing a lot. Let's talk about corruption. Many countries have tried to grapple with it and they've dropped it because of the pressures that are involved. But President Mwanawasa has taken the bull by the horns. The Anti-Corruption Commission is in place and we have the task force that deals with corrupt activities. The fight against corruption is yielding results. [It] is becoming a deterrent to the would-be plunderers, because they know someone is watching. We are proud of it, and we are totally behind the president and the president is focused on it.
What has been the reaction in the country to the charges that have been brought against former President Frederick Chiluba over money he is said to have stolen?
[Under] the constitution, a president enjoys immunity even after retirement, and President Mwanawasa had to go to Parliament to seek the removal of President Chiluba's immunity. That is a very, very heavy thing to do. It has never been done before in Zambia, and this president got a unanimous vote out of Parliament to remove the immunity.
This arose from the outcry of the people of Zambia themselves. They had heard so much money was abused during Mr. Chiluba's time, and therefore it was necessary that a proper investigation be made, and those found to have not accounted for resources be brought before the courts of law. The people's demands have been fulfilled by this administration. We believe that the people are totally behind [it] to ensure that corruption does not enrich itself and root itself in Zambia.
Many African leaders and civil society organizations are becoming concerned that Africa's priorities as expressed in NEPAD or the African Union or in African civil society are - at least potentially - subsumed under the priorities of trying to meet the requirements of the MCC or the Blair Commission. Is there a conflict between African priorities and the priorities articulated by donor countries, and if so, what do you see as Zambia's priorities?
If you want to go fishing and you don't know how to fish, you must ask the fisherman to teach you how to fish, and he will show you the way to do it. It's in the same vein that whoever is coming to Africa and offering assistance to Africa [must] involve Africans. It is no use bringing to Africa an already-tailored program that's been done by somebody else without input from Africans. This is cardinal. We know the turf, we know the ground, and we have seen the difficulties through our lives.
I represent a rural community as a Member of Parliament, and before coming over here I was with them, and therefore I know the scenario that is in my country. If you come and say to me, 'Look, I am going to give you money, and why don't you buy buses for your people, and that's all that I can give you,' I'll tell you, 'I don't need the buses. I need water for my people.'
It's very important for us to be focused and for us to be able to work together. It's very important to have the priorities on transparency [and] good governance. But I believe that the Blair commission, as well as the MCC, are genuine programs that we have no contradiction about, that we can discuss and be able to agree on a common ground.
Can you say a little bit about the impact of HIV/Aids on Zambia and what your government's doing about it? You've announced a very ambitious program for extending ARV treatments and I know you're involved a lot in prevention. Is this working and what else needs to happen?
I think we're doing a great job in Zambia to fight HIV/Aids. There are programs that involve non-governmental organizations that government has established in order to help fight HIV/Aids. We have a commission that is headed by a well-qualified doctor that is dealing with this. She is doing a good job to reach out to rural communities in order for them to understand the dangers of Aids and we have a number of local organizations within the rural communities that are taking part. The churches are fighting, together with the government. The local traditional leaders, which used to be a taboo - you wouldn't talk about matters of sex - now the chiefs and the headmen are all taking up the fight against Aids. We have considerably reduced the infection level. Not to be so much engrossed in numbers, but at the time of this administration coming into power, we had an infection rate of 26 percent. We are now talking about 14-16 percent infection rate. And we think we can go much lower.
The programs are working, but we need support to be able to run these programs and to reach out to many people. What we require is for cooperating partners to financially support the programs that are being put in place. The issue you referred to about the provisioning of the anti-retrovirals to our people: yes indeed, we have put in an ambitious program. The program has been so successful that we've surpassed that number [we set as a goal] so greatly that we got excited, and as long as our cooperating partners help us, we will increase the numbers of this ambitious program.
The impact of HIV/Aids is being felt very heavily in the teaching and health professions. The numbers of people dying from Aids is very high already, and it's going to continue even if you're successful, as you've said, with your anti-Aids campaign. How are you going to manage?
For any country to move forward, the greatest resource that you have is the human resource. You must therefore have plans to develop your human resource, to protect your human resource from this scourge, and to provide for them to teach others. We've seen there's a decimation of teachers and some of the health workers, but we believe that this is going to stabilize, once the sensitization is greater. We can sustain the livelihood of our people by providing for them with food security, because it's worthless just giving people anti-retrovirals without food and water, because then you're killing them. So we have to set programs to protect and teach the population in order to fill the gaps where the teachers are missing.
Do you have hopes of advancing towards the UN Millennium Development Goals or of meeting them?
We believe that it's a challenge for Zambia to meet the Millennium Goals. We cannot stay outside what is globally accepted. One of the things that many African countries have failed to do in the past is to understand that you are not an island. To understand that you cannot run the ship the way you want it to be run, without the influence of others. Similarly, it's the same also for even big economies, that they too must understand that we are in a situation where you must agree and support each other to move the world forward.
On the issue of governance - you have an election coming up next year - how is that process proceeding? Are you writing a new constitution before that election or after it? Explain a little bit about how that's going.
In the year 2001, there was an election, and President Mwanawasa became the president. There were 11 other candidates that were standing to become president, and they disputed the elections. They went to the courts of law, and they went to the Supreme Court, and then we had a ruling. The ruling was that Mr. Mwanawasa was legitimately voted into office and therefore he can fulfill his term, which was very good. First, it showed that Zambia is mature in its judicial system. Number two, [it showed] that the Zambians would not want to and did not interfere in the judicial process. It was an open process, everybody went to see and hear how the process was going in the courts, how the process was going in the Supreme Court, and then the judgment is available for everyone to see. So that's very good for democracy and indeed for transparency - not only in Zambia, but also in Africa.
Arising out of that, it is necessary to pay attention to a number of concerns that arose out of the 2001 election. A number of electoral laws were seen to be lax, and a number of them were seen to be thwarted. Also there were concerns about the constitution. One of the issues that was raised even before the 11 presidential candidates went into the elections, was that whoever comes into power would immediately put in place the process to have a new constitution, because there are some issues that needed to be dealt with in the constitution. When President Mwanawasa became president, he appointed a Constitutional Review Commission and an Electoral Review Commission. Both of them sat separately.
[The Electoral Review Commission was created] to deal with the issues of the electoral process and the other to deal with the constitution. The commission that's been sitting to deal with the electoral law has completed its work, and now people have to criticize and have a look at what they've submitted, what must be removed, and then we move forward. This is going to become law before next year's election so that we can remove all the negative aspects of running an election by the electoral commission.
In the same vein, we now have the Constitutional Review Commission. Again you have eminent Zambians that are on that commission. They've collected submissions from the countryside [and] urban areas. They've compared with what other countries have done. They're in the process now of putting the document together, and then go through processes of a roadmap to reach a point where we can have a new constitution.
Will that happen before the election?
No, the new constitution won't be ready before the elections. It will have to be after. The road map requires a number of things to be done. There are issues where people are demanding to amend the Bill of Rights, which is within the constitution, and to amend that section, you need a number of processes to be put in place. Those processes do take time. You need to carry out a census of the eligible voters, before you can go to a referendum. Fifty percent of those that are eligible voters must [approve the referendum] to amend the Bill of Rights, and at that stage now you can start the process. Carrying out the census, as well as carrying out the referendum, [are as complicated as an] election, and next year is the election. So yes, they take quite a considerable amount of time.
Turning to foreign policy, your portfolio, you have had meetings with a number of U.S. officials this week. How would you characterize bilateral ties between Zambia and the United States?
Bilateral ties with the United States are very good. They've never been better. I and my delegation and my ambassador have been received very well by U.S. government officials. Indeed wherever we've gone, we've discussed issues very frankly, and they have also expended their energy to show me a number of areas, a number of weaknesses that we need to deal with, and we've also shown them a number of strengths and weaknesses that we are asking them to get involved in. I am very happy with this visit and the results that we've achieved so far.
In Africa, there's a lot of discussion about one or more African seats on the UN Security Council. What is Zambia's position on that issue?
There is a select committee that is dealing with this issue, in southern Africa, and also in Africa. Zambia belongs to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Zambia's position is SADC's position. Zambia's position has been brought forward, and brought in along with the African position, that we believe that the UN reforms must provide for a number of issues. Number one is that the African representatives on the Security Council, their numbers should increase so that people can know and can understand that the UN is working for the interests of the Africans.
What about Zambia's relationship with one of its closest neighbors, Zimbabwe?
The Zimbabwe equation is, in my view, being misunderstood by those that are outside SADC. Let me take the issue of the land problem. The land issue has been hot. We have received many of the Zimbabwean farmers whose land was taken away from them. Now, Zimbabwe's independence, when they were fighting for the liberation and freedom of Zimbabwe, it wasn't just the capital city. It was the land that was needed. The people wanted the land in their hands, and at the time of independence, there was an agreement with the British government that this is the way they were going to process the issue of land. When the British government withdrew out of that agreement, Zimbabwe was left on their own to make decisions that were not only difficult to themselves but difficult also to the people that owned the land.
We see a situation where the government of Zimbabwe made decisions that are affecting everybody and we have to talk about it. So my view, and the view of many people, we should have dealt with the issue of the agreements that were made on the land issue. People should have come out and said let's fulfill what we promised, and then we can move on from then onwards. That's number one.
Number two it's not good to have the land issue and then bring it into governance issues. Deal with the land issue, complete the land issue, and after you've settled, have a look at the issues of governance. Our understanding in SADC - Zimbabwe is a member of SADC - [is that] we have a peer review that's been put in place, and Zimbabwe is a signatory to that. As SADC, we can have a look at it and see whether Zimbabwe is within that and we are able to discuss.
Zambia and many of the African countries have felt that it is necessary for us to carry out quiet and silent diplomacy in order to deal with the issues pertaining to Zimbabwe. It's no use going out to condemn and harden the ground, when, after all, diplomacy is the essence. This is why we must be able to open doors and deal with the issues that we think are not going well with Zimbabwe.
Now there's the issue of the elections. The SADC team, led by an eminent minister from South Africa, went into Zimbabwe and they monitored the elections. They submitted a report. While the report is disappointing, that SADC team had information on the ground, and what they were submitting [was] what they saw, what they heard, and what they believed in. Whilst there were issues before the elections, the SADC team and the SADC members worked to bring those issues to the attention of Zimbabwe in order for the elections to take place. My president, President Mwanawasa, for example, has a dialogue with the parties that are involved, Mr. Tsvangirai [leader of the opposition in Zimbabwe] and President Mugabe. My appeal to our friends and partners that are impatient to find results in Zimbabwe, is give dialogue, give constructive engagement, a position in our plans and our calendar in order to move the issue of Zimbabwe forward, because we have wonderful people there that have come through a difficult time. Everybody can have a piece of land in Zimbabwe.
So it's your view that the diplomacy that SADC and others are engaged in is having a positive impact?
I think so. I think SADC is a vehicle, an organ that should be used. There may be weaknesses within SADC, but we must strengthen those weaknesses in order for SADC to be able to move forward.
While we are discussing Zimbabwe, we have a situation in the Great Lakes region, and it's the same - we have the consultative council for the Great Lakes. For the peace in the Great Lakes, Zambia is going to host the next meeting of the council of ministers at the end of next month or early July, to find ways and means for the Great Lakes. But all of the countries that are surrounding the Great Lakes are involved, and we have confidence in each one of those countries that we can be able to agree on a common ground.
The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed a lot of lives, and not very much world attention. You're trying to do something about it, as an African organization. Is that what you're saying?
I think it's wrong to say that there's been no world attention to what is happening in the Congo. I think the world attention has been there. It is a complicated case, in the Great Lakes region. As the African Union, we are working on it, and we have the friends of Africa that are dealing with it and they are helping us greatly to find ways and means to have a lasting peace in the Great Lakes region.
With your military background, could you comment on the role of African-led peacekeeping in helping to end conflicts on the continent?
First and foremost is that it's necessary to commend the African Union and the Africans on the continent, African governments. We are maturing very fast in peacekeeping. A lot of the peacekeeping missions that Africans have been involved in have been very successful. We had a peacekeeping mission in Angola. We see a situation in Angola where there's peace and people can do business and commerce is moving. The economy is moving and democracy is moving. We have a situation in west Africa, again, where peace missions have been put in place. We are now looking at the area of Darfur, again, where peace missions are going to be put in place, so it's a ball that's been played well by the Africans and indeed by the cooperating partners. We are happy that a number of organs like NATO are getting involved in the planning in Darfur. This is good, this is the way it should be, that we should move peace forward.
We've been very successful as Zambia in contributing to the peace missions in Kosovo, in west Africa, in Angola, Zambia has been there, and we will continue to contribute.
Whilst we're talking about peace and the peacekeeping missions that every country is involved in, it's important that we support the African initiatives because they're important. The regional initiative, for example, in west Africa is important to support. The regional initiative in Darfur is important to support. Africa doesn't have all the resources needed to carry out these peacekeeping missions, but as a world, we can put our resources together and provide for peace in these areas.