Even though I read articles as a job, I also like doing it as a hobby. One good feature story I came across recently is a bluntly-titled piece about the southern African country of Zambia and its dire economic state. Why is Zambia so poor?, asks the writer, and while he doesn’t answer this question, he provides some thoughtful observations on aspects of the country such as its mining industry, land sales, the lack of adequate human talent, and politics and corruption. Zambia isn’t your usual African tragedy story, because while it’s poor and lags in important social categories such as female literacy or health, it is stable, has no dictators or authoritarian regime, and is rather harmonious. The writer, working for a NGO, wrote this after a brief visit, and to his credit, avoids promoting or preaching Western-led development and offering heavy-handed or naive suggestions. He also doesn’t shy away from pointing out problems with local culture or behavior, which is always a factor in any country’s success or lack of, as politically incorrect as it might seem sometimes. Not surprisingly, the reasons for Zambia’s poor economy range from corrupt politicians and officials to exploitative multinational miners who buy land at very cheap rates and pay very small royalties on their yields. The situation is not as bleak as it sounds, but it gives a very good roundup of why development can be a messy, frustrating and nebulous process. I did visit Zambia, but for a very short time as I went to see Victoria Falls at the end of an overland safari tour that started in South Africa. I did find it quite nice, from the Falls themselves to the staff to the small airport with a cat wandering around the check-in counters.
Why is this country still so poor?