‘Diversification’: The Much Abused Word in Zambia

Published on 9th May 2016

If it was permissible to issue an injunction against the political usage of particular words in Zambia, it would be on the Phrase ‘Diversification’ when used in conjunction with ‘of the economy’ with attendant or collateral words of either ‘agriculture’ or ‘tourism.’ This article is about the use and abuse of the word ‘diversification’ and proposes the right usage after August 11th, 2016.

With modern technology, it is possible to track down how many times Presidents Kaunda, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, Banda, Sata and Lungu and their Ministers of Finance, Tourism and Agriculture have used it. Many times, Zambian scholars have written and used that word. Many times, various Western Ambassadors have used that word in relation to Zambia.

In the last month alone, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda, Tourism Minister Jean Kapata, The American and Germany Ambassadors and last, President Lungu, used this term numerous times. It is all in the newspapers if you care to check.

In 2013, I attended the UNWTO Congress in Livingstone, Zambia/Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and as I thought the overuse of that phrase would cause a rebellion and the Verb would visibly fall out of the sky. Then Tourism Minister Sylvia Masebo and her Zimbabwean counterpart used it several times daily, followed by Presidents Sata and Mugabe and UN delegates. Should I have filed an injunction against the abuse of this word in the Livingstone High Court? I questioned.

The only redeeming quality about the use and abuse of the verb is that everybody knows what needs to be done about the Zambian economy. This has been known for the past 50 years. President Kaunda tried but never went full- blown ahead regarding agriculture. President Sata tried by laying the foundations by which diversification could be accomplished. You can't diversify an economy by relying on the colonial infrastructure. The airports were antiquated until recently.

If you want to grow tourism or agriculture, learn from small countries like Jamaica and Cuba. They have better maintained airports and facilities. The smallest outlying airport in Cuba has better capacity in everything than the Kenneth Kaunda international airport in the capital city of Zambia. The second largest airport in Jamaica at Montego Bay is better than all the airports in Zambia because Jamaica knows it relies on tourism to survive.

You don't even have to go to the Caribbean to detect the seriousness of diversification into tourism that is needed. Just go to Kenya and Tanzania and see what they have done to their roads and airports. You cannot believe that Kenya and Tanzania are age mates more or less of Zambia, yet in infrastructural developments to cater to tourism and agriculture, they are miles ahead.

I lived in Tanzania in the seventies and I have visited it recently and the difference is amazing. I have visited Kenya many times and I have seen the gradual transformations over the years. I have visited Jamaica, Cuba, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, USA and many other tourist destinations. Zambia remains a tourist Pygmy in comparison. One lane way each way from Zambia' s tourist capital Livingstone to close to Lusaka for over 50 years. What is that? When there is an accident on the way, delays are caused, let alone due to unnecessary police checkpoints which fail to uncover any terrorists or organized criminals. A tourist could miss a plane in Livingstone or Lusaka because of poor road networks.

The supporting infrastructure of the poor road networks are pathetic. There are no imposing and modern bus terminals such as found in Toronto, New York, Washington DC, Paris, Nairobi, Mombasa, Capetown, Joburg etc. In over 50 years! Nothing! There are no tourist buses. There are no washrooms at the Livingstone Intercity bus terminal ( a terminal is being built after over 50 years), and where there are so-called toilets, they are unusable as they are full of dirty water on the floor and have no toilet papers.

Which tourists would want to come here after their friends have told them about the conditions? The regular private buses have no toilets in them or air conditioning and some of them are accident-prone because drivers send text-messages and talk on cell-phones or with the conductors while they are driving.

Zambia has no national airline, an embarrassment for a country that talks about diversification into the tourist sector. Other airlines reap the benefits. It goes the same in the hotel industry. Tourist money flows out to South Africa, the heaven of tourism on the African continent. They have offices all over the world promoting tourism to that country. When you are in Capetown or Joburg or Durban, you don't want to leave until all your money has run out. Look at the daily planes bringing in tourists from China, Germany, Italy, England, Australia, France and other places.

This is not the first time I have talked about tourism. I have studied tourism. That is also what took me to the UNWTO Congress in 2013 all the way from Toronto. In 2005 I had written a detailed proposal to President Mwanawasa about how to promote Zambian tourism abroad. According to Mr. Lombe Chikangala, a friend of Mwanawasa who was also on the Constitutional Review Commission, Mwanawasa was interested in the proposal. Lombe and I had been friends in Canada until Mwanawasa called him back to be on CRC.  Nothing came of my proposal other than  Mwanawasa appointing resident Zambian  tourist ambassadors abroad, people who had no clue about tourism.

I broached the subject to the Marketing Manager at the then Sun International Hotel in Livingstone. I never heard from him again. In the meantime, just go to Namibia or Botswana and see how many tourists got here bypassing Zambia. Imagine how well Zimbabwe would be doing on the tourism front if  it had not been quarantined by vengeful western countries!   

Zambia has one of the best agricultural lands in the region. Indeed it can be the breadbasket of the region, along with Zimbabwe because that country also has good soils and weather patterns when nature co-operates. Now, if you want to see what diversification into agriculture really entails, just go to little Cuba that has endured an USA embargo for over 50 years. They have mango, orange, sugar and banana plantations everywhere, among other plantations. They exchange these agricultural products with other necessary goods from other countries.

They guarded their tourist dollars like a caged animal. Cubans never went hungry. Fidel Castro explained to the Cubans truthfully whatever was happening to their economy. In 1974, Castro stated with tongue-in-cheek that the USA would change its policy towards Cuba when there was a Blackman in the White House and when there would be a Pope from South America. Lo and Behold, that happened and the rest is history. It was the USA and not Cuba that was in the wrong. Hopefully Cuba will maintain its diversification policy of the simultaneous investment into tourism and agriculture. Cuba also has the best educated and literate people on earth. It exports doctors. Can you imagine that? For a developing country that was under a heavy economic embargo! For over 50 years!

Zambia has agricultural land and to hear talk about giving this land to the Chinese or Indians to develop our agriculture and to feed us is an affront to our dignity and historical self-sufficiency. This is not the time to depend on foreigners to feed us, unless we feel that we are no good. If that is the case, then let's declare this surrender openly. I have not given up on Zambians.

Given the number of times the word ‘diversification’ has been used in 52 years, everybody knows what needs to be done. It is just that it has not been done. Tourism and agriculture can sustain this country forever, without reference to mining which is also an abundant resource. Stop talking and just do it. For all the weaknesses that accompanied Sata that are well known, when he wanted to do something, he just did it. For that he is solely missed. Any government that forms after August 11th, 2016  is enjoined from using the word DIVERSIFICATION. It is ORDERED to JUST DO IT.

By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa

The author is compiling a book on tourism. He teaches Law. His latest book is called, The Case Against Tribalism in Zambia. The book is at Planet Books and Bookworld.

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