1 Zambia turns 50

Zambia turns 50Zambia celebrated its golden jubilee – 50 years of independence – since 24 October 1964. The Zambian flag was ceremonially hoisted at midnight on 23 October ahead of the official celebrations on 24 October. Luncheons, dinners, exhibitions, performances and special church services were held across the country, and the celebrations also included a Chipolopolo football match, a new K50 note with the portraits of Zambia’s five presidents and a jubilee surgical marathon at the University Teaching Hospital. The anniversary fell shortly before the death of the late President Sata, who was absent, leading to a distinct shortage of foreign heads of state at the celebrations.

2 Fewer children and women dying in Zambia

The preliminary findings of the newest Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) released in September 2014 showed that both child and maternal mortalities have dropped. Both indicators have been seen as embarrassing obstacles to development in Zambia, specifically with respect to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The release of the ZDHS was in itself a major highlight, as it is the main source of development-related indicators in Zambia, where the lack of timely data can turn decision-making into a fumble in the dark. The ZDHS was carried out in 1992, 1996, 2001-02, 2007 and, now, 2013-14. The big gap in time since the last survey has made it difficult to discuss development in Zambia in a meaningful context.

• Infant mortality has dropped from 70 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 45 in 2013-14 – against a 2015 MDG of 35.7.

• Under-five mortality has dropped from 119 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 75 in 2013-14 – against a MDG target of 63.6.

• Maternal mortality has dropped from 591.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007 to 398 in 2013-14 – although the MDG target of 162.3 deaths will not be achieved.

3 Landmark ruling on freedom of speech

In December, the High Court ruled that publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public (Section 67 (1) of the Penal Code) was unconstitutional, as it contravenes Article 20 (protection of freedom of expression) in the Constitution. It was a landmark ruling, as the charge has been widely used by government to silence its critics, ranging from opposition UPND President Hakainde Hichilema to ordinary people discussing Sata’s health in public. In this case, the High Court acquitted Foundation for Democratic Process Executive Director McDonald Chipenzi, Daily Nation Managing Editor Richard Sakala and Production Editor Simon Mwanza. They were arrested in December 2013 over an article which suggested that government was infusing foreign-trained militia into the police. Offences which infringe on freedom of speech have been declared unconstitutional in several countries in the region such as South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. These oppressive offences inherited from the colonial era were used to limit freedoms of speech and assembly. The latter is still being stifled in Zambia by the Public Order Act.

4 Draft constitution released

Government finally released the draft constitution, after initiating the process three years ago, when the late President Sata appointed a committee to draft a new people-driven constitution in November 2011. The committee released its first draft in April 2012, and one year later, after a public consultative period, it sat down to produce the final draft. This year, the process stalled, with government applying all sorts of delaying tactics, including Sata declaring that Zambia already had a people-driven constitution, because who had heard of an animal-driven constitution? In April 2014, then Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba admitted that he had in fact received the final draft, but it took another half year of public pressure before his successor, Edgar Lungu, released the draft in October 2014. It was generally well received, with commentators agreeing that it included most of the controversial clauses that rein in government’s power, including the 50% +1 requirement for election of president. Following Sata’s death and the struggle to appoint his successor, the constitution has slid into the background, although several opposition parties have declared that, if elected into power on 20 January 2015, they will enact the constitution before the 2016 general elections.

5 The economy stabilised

Zambia started 2014 with a sickly economy. The budget deficit was up, economic growth was down, inflation was up, foreign reserves were down, the exchange rate was up, sovereign credit ratings were down and external debt was up. Even government had to admit that 2013 had been a fiscally challenging year, and 2014 initially looked like it would be even worse. However, by mid-year, some of the economic indicators began to improve, in part driven by government tightening its monetary policy, but also by an improved trust in the economy, as stability returned to government policies and statements. Investors were especially happy to see government scrapping Statutory Instruments 33 (illegal to use US dollar in Zambia) and 55 (import and export control). The economic indicators are still not as good as when the PF took over from the MMD, but investor confidence has definitely improved as macroeconomic stability has returned.

6 More emphasis on vocational skills

Unemployment, especially amongst young people, remains one of Zambia’s biggest challenges. The country’s educational system, with its emphasis on academic rather than vocational skills, has for long been seen as hindering development in a country with few academic jobs. This year, government initiated a major overhaul of the curriculum, based on the Education Plan of 1996, Vision 2030, national implementation framework, the Education Act of 2011, national development plans, baseline surveys and reports, as well as consultations. Changes include the introduction of ICT, entrepreneurship education, business studies, design and technology studies among others, including a two-tier system in secondary school of academic or vocational studies. The improvements were temporarily overshadowed by the initial introduction of vernacular teaching, which caused quite a stir, as the jury is still out on whether or not it will improve learning in a longterm perspective without hindering Zambia in a global economy. However, the new focus on vocational skills was widely regarded as an important step to integrating more people into the economy, although many of the changes are still to be implemented.

7 The world’s fastest youth is Zambian

Sydney Siame became the world’s fastest young man in August, after he won the 100 metres final at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing in China. Zambia’s 16-year-old sprinter beat Japan’s Kenta Oshima by just one-hundredth of a second, clocking 10.56 seconds. His best time is 10.51 seconds. The world’s current 100 metre record stands at 9 58 seconds run by Usain Bolt of Jamaica in 2009. At the 2014 Africa Union Sports Commission Region-Five Games in Zimbabwe in December, Siame only finished second in the 100 metre final, despite clocking 10.51 seconds.

8 Civil society wins freedom

Government backed down on registering Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) under the controversial NGO Act of 2009. The Act allowed government to meddle in the affairs of NGOs, including having a say in the appointment of board members, which would have stifled civil society’s watchdog role by hindering its ability to provide meaningful checks and balances. Many NGOs have therefore refused to register, demanding that the PF government should instead honour its promise to review the Act, which was the brainchild of the former MMD government. However, for a long time the PF government insisted that it would only review the Act after it had become operational, which eventually led eight NGOs, amongst them some of Zambia’s most influential civil society organisations such as Transparency International, Forum for Democratic Process and the Non-Governmental Organisations’ Coordinating Council, to take government to court. In September, government backed down and a review is supposedly underway.

9 The first development plan in three years

Government released the revised Sixth National Development Plan (r-SNDP) 2013-2016 in October. On the face of it a rather insignificant event, but it is impossible to further development without some form of planning. The national development plan sets out a programme against which government can measure its performance – and the public can hold it accountable. When the current PF government came into power in 2011 it rejected the original SNDP 2011-2015 produced by the former MMD government. A plan would probably have assisted the PF government to avoid changing policy direction repeatedly in the beginning. The r-SNDP has been aligned with the PF’s party manifesto, but, importantly, it still seeks to achieve Vision 2030 (Zambia becoming a prosperous middle-income country by 2030) set out by MMD. National development should not be directed by party manifestos, as they are usually short-term in their outlook and often drown in politics, while a national development plan supposedly rises above politics and gives direction towards a grand, national vision. Hopefully the r-SNDP will not end up on a shelf.

10 Largest ever bumper harvest

maizeZambia produced its largest ever maize harvest of 3,350,671 tonnes in 2013/14. Yet, many people questioned the figure, as it implied that yields had improved significantly since 2012/13 (see table), despite inputs and rains both being late. Government explained that good rainfall from November 2013 to March 2014 had been favourable to large-scale farmers. The figure is however based on pre-harvest estimates. Irrespective, Zambia has certainly become very good at producing maize, albeit based on coffer-draining subsidies from government, which is struggling to find the money to pay small-scale farmers for their maize. Subsidised production has left farmers with few incentives to diversify into other crops. As a result the bumper harvests havemaize harvests ensured that Zambia has more than enough maize at a national level, but they have unfortunately failed to guarantee food security at household level and address malnutrition.