Getting Zambia Out of Poverty

Since Independence in 1964, successive Zambian governments have grappled with rampant poverty and unemployment in a country that is so rich with a vast array of natural resources.

Countless conferences on poverty reduction and employment creation have been held and solutions proposed, yet every year the situation worsens. Some of the conferences have now become perennial talk shows that never yield any meaningful solutions.
During election campaigns – be it general elections or by-elections – poverty reduction and employment creation are always among the top issues contained in the manifestos of different political contestants.
Thousands of graduates still pound every street and avenue searching for the elusive job opportunity. More than 40 percent of Zambians are said to be living below the poverty datum line.
For a population and government supported by a mere 10 percent of the labour force, the local revenue raised through income tax and taxes on economic activities is not enough to support our economy and its population.
The percentage of people not contributing to the state coffers, the free-riders, is high. Everyone should be able to pay tax to the government for it to have enough resources to provide good and services such as clean water, medicine in hospitals and good roads.
Who then can help our government find long-lasting solutions to solve the problems of poverty, job creation and wealth building since every successive government has failed in this area.
Is it the Church, NGOs or donor communities? Is it the ruling party, ministers and members of Parliament or is it the President?
The solutions cannot come from any of the above groups. The solutions are and can be found with the very people that are afflicted by the economic woes we are trying to solve.
The poor and marginalised, the unemployed and those that cannot contribute to the taxes of this country are the very people that hold the answers to the problems they are going through.
The reasons why they cannot solve these problems is because our national policies and laws have been enacted and designed without us consulting them.
In fact most of the policies aimed at solving the problems of the poor and marginalised are in fact the very stumbling blocks perpetuating their status.
The unemployed youths have the solutions to their employment. All that is needed is to have a structured way for listening to their concerns and getting their ideas on how they think they can participate in creating employment.
Most of these youngsters will most likely be shocked at how simple their solutions are and yet how effective they would be in solving their problems.
At Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) we believe that the poor and marginalised have all the requisite knowledge and experience to solve their problems. All they require is a platform where their ideas and input can be accommodated and recognised.
One such readily available platform is the space and time provided by the country's media, both mainstream and community-based.
Allowing the country's poor and marginalised to have media space and promoting their voices on public and community radio is a proven method of allowing long lasting solutions to emerge.
The wealth of knowledge and information contained by some of Zambia's poorest is so amazing.
The country has very rich indigenous knowledge systems that could play a key role in employment creation and poverty reduction, but this can only happen if the marginalised citizens, who are the custodians of this information, have access to platforms through which to share this information.
The poor and marginalised have lived through these problems and know what policies and existing environments are responsible for their bad performance. They also know what needs to be done to elevate them from their state of poverty into the path of economic growth and wealth building.
Through innovative communication methods like the radio listening clubs and use of data-enabled mobile phones, community members can package their views, news and stories into programmes and articles that the media can then produce as radio or TV content.
The pictures captured using simple devices like mobile phones can form a basis of news articles that newspapers can then use to produce in-depth features and columns.
PSAf promotes the use of these innovative communication methods and the presence of ICTs to also allow for instant feedback and forward and backward linkages between the media with the policy makers and poor and disadvantaged.
For example the PSAf Radio Platform for Community Development (RPCD) project seeks to use radio listening clubs in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique to bring to light the issues affecting the poor and marginalised and to interrogate what solutions are being proposed by the very people affected.
Working with five selected community radio stations in each country and funded by OSISA, the project will allow policy-makers in these countries a chance to sit on the same radio platform with the very people their policies target.
The project will also provide these radio stations with enough radio programme content on issues of local concern for them to serve their communities better.
It is the hope of PSAf that this interface among the media, policy-makers and vulnerable communities will result in long lasting solutions to issues of poverty reduction, disaster management and mitigation, unemployment and general community development.
The media platform, if properly structured and supported can help solve our problems once and for all.
No conference will eradicate poverty in Zambia. No amount of politicking will eradicate poverty. The solution lies in the effective use of information to fight poverty.
All Zambians, the rich and poor, need to engage in constructive dialogue that will come up with solutions.
One of the biggest forms of empowerment for any individual is being able to freely access and channel information. And one of the biggest setbacks any individual or community can face is restricted or limited access to information. It is not possible for a nation to develop without free flow of information. – Zambia Daily Mail
• Elias Banda is the regional manager for Media Development and ICTs at Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), a regional communication for development organisation working across Southern Africa.

January 2013
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