By Milimo Mwiba, Caritas Zambia
I have unexpectedly been thrusted into the spotlight. I am the closest my country, Zambia, came to sitting at the G20 table. Okay, I might not have been able to adorn myself with the necessary passes to enter the Fort Knox Excel Centre on Thursday, where the world’s leaders met. But I did represent Zambia, and indeed the voices of billions of other Africans, at last weekend’s ‘Put People First’ march, and at the St Paul’s Cathedral debate with Gordon Brown and the Australian PM, Kevin Rudd.
I’d like to think that my voice and those of billions of other African voices seeped into that secured room where the G20 leaders bunkered down to sort out the mess that their greed had created; ‘don’t forget us, don’t neglect us’.
The global recession has arrived in Zambia’s Copper Belt. The town of Luanshya, for example, has already experienced the loss of more than 3,000 miner’s jobs from the large copper mine on the landscape.
Zambia is a country in the midst of great uncertainty. We stand at the threshold of a looming crisis, and face the challenges of survival, as the economic recession hits us. Job losses and abject poverty have come knocking at our door. According to the latest statistics from the Zambian Central Statistics Office, 64 per cent of the population, that is 7.5 million people live below the national poverty line. The 60,000 residents of Luanshya, dependent on the mine, for their livelihoods – food, education and healthcare will join that line with no social welfare system to cushion them. Here in the UK, you’ve been able to decide your own economic policies and built up your economy. For us, our government was pressurised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to privatise our mines. Zambia experienced copper prices reaching historical levels of US$4,572 per ton and hitting US $8,000 per ton against the traditional value of US$3,000 per ton.
However,the blessings of high copper prices did not benefit ordinary Zambians. This is because Zambia’s foreign exchange laws allow for direct retention of profits by exporters rather than the retention of foreign exchange through the purchase of the Zambian Kwacha which could have had a direct impact on the exchange rate. During the copper boom the Kwacha was trading at K3,200 to US$1. Today it trades at K5,700 to US$1. Most commodities in the country are tied to the US dollar, which now means that people are having to pay high prices for basic goods such as maize and cooking oil.
Zambia, like many other African countries has continued to face the high cost of food items as a result of the food price crisis as well as increasing inflation arising from the global recession. Both crises have not been of our making. And the economic pain will spread more widely. We will fall behind our progress with the Millennium Development Goals. Our targets on hunger, universal primary education, gender equality, maternal health and HIV and AIDS were likely to be met by 2015. Life expectancy which stands at 40 years of age might decrease further as the financial sector begins to affect sectors such as health and agriculture. Currently, infant mortality stands at 70 per cent per 1,000 live births and child mortality is 52 per cent per 1,000 live children. With the projected increase in poverty and limited resources to improve healthcare, these numbers are likely to go up.
We now need an economic model that won’t fail us again in another ten years, that won’t leave alleviating the poverty of the poorest people to chance. And a model that says; there is room for everyone, even the poor at your G20 table.
So when I read the rhetoric of these world leaders and think about the situation in my country, will their plans ensure that the last – the billions living in poverty, will be the first, when they rebuild their economic and financial systems. We can no longer accept that we must all be global consumers or that poor people will benefit by the rich people getting richer. We know we should be benefiting from our copper and that the price we pay for our food shouldn’t be dictated by events happening thousands of miles away. There is still time to make a real difference. Don’t offer us more of the same offer us an alternative in which we share, believe and participate.
Care of http://www.cafod.org.uk