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Wednesday, 29 June 2005

ZamNews

The BBC has a series of interesting articles on both Zambia and Africa at the moment. Mark Doyle has written an article on trade, in which he cites Lusaka as one of the cleanest capitals in the world. Had I been drinking tea at the time of reading I would have choked on it. He has obviously never been to any of the places ordinary Zambians go, such as the bus station, the minibus station, the markets etc. They reek of piled-high rubbish.

The article talks of privatisation and what that has meant for the economy. I'm all for economic development, but it's worth remembering that privatisation was forced on many Zambian companies because of IMF stipulations. And that privatisation has brought about mass unemployment and the ensuing problems which surround that.

It's interesting also to read the replies from many Africans to the question 'Does Debt help you or hold you back?' There must surely be a distinction between good debt and bad debt. For example, there are very few people in the UK who would be able to buy their homes without a mortgage. As long as you can cover your repayments this can be classed as good debt.

The debt that Zambia has been holding all these years should be wiped out, because it came about through irresponsible lending as much as anything. It is ridiculous to expect a country to repay debt, plus interest, plus carry out measures which are damaging to that country's future prospects.

It is inhumane, if not criminal, to ask a government to pay what money they have to wealthy nations, when their own citizens are literally dying in droves due to lack of education, healthcare and opportunity. Ironically, however, our project is seriously thinking of setting up a bank. Or more specifically a Credit Union style revolving fund. For how can anyone in this rural environment advance without opportunity?

I recently interviewed a farmer we trained several years ago. He is doing really well for himself, and grows enough to feed all 6 of his kids, and sells a small amount of surplus crops to get income to clothe and school them. He knows that if he didn't have to plough his fields by hand, he could clear a larger area for farming, grow more crops and make more income.

He wants to buy an ox-drawn plough. But where will he get the money to do so? Who will give him the capital? Right now, no one. Even if he could get into town, the banks would laugh at him. And with ludicrously high interest rates it wouldn't even be viable. But as he looks like a good bet, if we ran a loan scheme we could help him improve. I think he would classify that as a good debt.

Many Africans get indignant at the constant cries from wealthier nations of 'Give them Aid!' and I can totally see why. But unless you level the playing fields and break down trade barriers as well how can they compete? Africa has a wealth of resources but is unlikely to profit from them if trade rules and lack of opportunities continue to stand as they are.

And although this article
is somewhat meandering and schizophrenic, Jack Straw is right – why the hell are the African leaders so quiet when it comes to Robert Mugabe? Why are his atrocities hardly mentioned in the press, and never with condemnation? And yet more proof that he is completely bonkers.

And on a slightly lighter note – as part of our infrastructure development we have been collecting unwanted mobile phones from the UK and distributing them to staff and community members here. I just wish they weren't subjecting me to the A-Team Theme Tune ringtone on a daily basis…