Zambia is dealing with the consequences of years of economic mismanagement, with an especially inefficient public investment drive. The country is still facing significant challenges, as evidenced by high poverty and low growth. Tabita Lilunge, the project officer at the People’s Action for Accountability and Good Governance in Zambia (PAAGZ) speaks to Vanessa Chisakula on Zambia’s debt crisis and how it affects ordinary citizens including creatives. Chisakula is the co-founder and national coordinator of Word Smash Poetry, a movement that encourages creative free expression among Southern African youth “artivists” and promotes social Pan Africanism.
Zambia is in a debt crisis; the government urgently needs debt relief to attract fresh investment needed for growth and job creation.
Following the commencement of COVID-19, Zambia became the first African government to default on its foreign debt repayment in 2020, although the restructuring of its external obligations of nearly $15 billion with creditors including China and Eurobond holders has been considerably delayed.
This debt has had a detrimental effect on the country’s economy and, as a result, the well-being of ordinary Zambians. According to Chisakula, the country is in this mess because debt that was originally contracted for investment was used for private gain by those in positions of power to ensure effective resource allocation.
“When we speak about public debt and its impact on public resource management, we’re referring to an increase in the standard of life, which actually has a negative impact on marginalized populations,” she explained.
Adding that the misuse of public funds intended for investment provides a very fertile breeding ground for inequality. “These funds, which could have gone to much-needed development but instead ended up in people’s pockets, are simply perpetuating a terrible cycle of poverty.”
She noted that, in addition to being an artist, she is a Zambian citizen who is affected by a debt-ridden economy that fosters poverty and injustice. She underlined the importance of a thriving economy free of debt to the growth of art and artists.
Vanessa challenged Zambia’s government to be transparent in the debt contraction process, stating that when the government defaults on their debt contractual responsibilities, every citizen suffers. She also underlined the importance of ‘smart investment,’ stating that there will be no chances for artists to pursue in a dead economy. “Because when we go hungry, we get angry,” she said.