By Situmbeko Musokotwane
Chairman of the Economics and Finance Committee (UPND)
Lack of decent employment opportunities is one of the serious socio-economic problems facing Zambia today. More than four hundred thousand young people roll out of schools, colleges and universities each year to enter the job market. Tragically only a tiny fraction of them are able to secure employment, leaving behind a large army of angry and disappointed youths.
Contrast the situation above with the one that obtained at the time I was graduating from high school (form 5) in 1974. On the closing day, prospective employers arrived at the school gate ready to pick up young recruits to employ them after undergoing the necessary training. Even junior secondary school graduates (form two) easily obtained employment as teachers, policemen, clerks, craftsmen, technicians, etc. Indeed, that was a wonderful time to be a youth. If you made it in education, you had every reason to have hope for a prosperous future. Of course, the set back then was the limited educational spaces which left many people behind.
Is it possible to return to the glorious days on the labor market as it was early after independence? Can we get to even higher levels of employment than that of the early independence days?
The answer is a clear yes. Many countries have achieved that feat within a generation. With all her natural resources and a low population, it should not be an impossible feat for Zambia to create jobs for the five million or so people who are seeking for jobs.
Achieving full employment does not come about on its own or by accident. It must be planned for and the plans competently executed. It is not enough to possess natural resources and expect a country to be wealthy. Mere presence of natural resources is like having all the ingredients required to make a meal such as meat, vegetables, rice, etc. But the separate ingredients on their own do not deliver a meal on the table. They require to be prepared before they can be turned into food for eating. Similarly, natural together with human resources must be prepared before they can produce wealth together with the positive things that go with it such as jobs. Our inability to create full decent employment since independence reflects our failure as a country to prepare and blend together the natural and human resources to create wealth and jobs.
As an illustration to this point, let’s take a look at tourism and its role in employment creation.
About three weeks ago I visited the small border town of Kasane in Botswana. Although it is a small town it is full of tourist activity. It has several large, medium and small tourist hotels which, as I was informed, get very busy each year from April until early into the following year.
Tourist activities are evident everywhere. And, of course, there is plenty of wild life including the four of the big five that one can see with little effort using either water or land transport or both. There are some seemingly non-tourist business activities such as trading, banking and other services. But they all feed off from tourism. Take away tourism the town will find it hard to survive.
Across the Zambezi river opposite Kasane is Kazungula town in Zambia. The natural resource endowment on both sides of the river is very similar if not the same. On the Zambian side however, the roaring tourism observed in Kasane is totally absent. Why is this so?
The answer is that Botswana has done a better job in planning for the utilization of her natural and human resources to establish a thriving tourist industry that has created employment opportunities for her people. Zambia, with the same natural resource endowment like Botswana in the same region has failed to take advantage of her resource base that is similar to that found in Botswana. The contrasting details leading to success or failure are as follows:
Botswana has organized for the well being of her wildlife in the area, including protection from poachers.
Botswana undertook a superior and comprehensive land use plan of the Kasane area that provided for, among others, catering for wildlife livelihood, tourist lodges, tourist activities, commercial activities and public administration, etc. The place is well planned.
Botswana has invested in appropriate infrastructure in Kasane like internationally linked roads to South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. There is an international airport and electric power is available for investors in lodges and indeed even residents to tap into.
In short, Botswana has ensured that there is plentiful wildlife for tourists to see within close vicinity of Kasane itself; she has provided for the private sector to invest in lodges and hotels and has created the transport platforms for guests to be able to travel to Kasane in comfort.
Finally, the government is pro active and encouraging investors to come to Kasane to invest in hotels and lodges and other commercial activities. In our systems, it can take more than five years before a tourist operating license is issued. This of course results in delays in lodges being opened which also delays the creation of jobs.
The end results are so evident. Kasane is thriving economically with tourism as the anchor industry and this has created employment opportunities. Kazungula has not achieved the same.
With so many tourist raw products found all over Zambia, there is no reason why hundreds of tourist towns cannot emerge in our country.
Here is a final example of lost opportunities to create many jobs in tourism. This industry in Zambia is in need of diversifying tourist products to complement Victoria Falls, Kafue National Park, Luangwa National Park, Lower Zambezi and other traditional tourist areas. One of the contenting areas for this is the so called “Northern Circuit”. The Northern Circuit includes the Kasaba Bay area.
Kasaba Bay on Lake Tanganyika in northern Zambia was famous because it was one of President Kaunda’s favorite official hide outs where he retreated and came back with serious national pronouncements like cabinet reshuffles. But it is a beautiful place in its own right. It has all that it takes to be transformed into an active tourist resorts with many international class hotels and lodges employing thousands of youths. Kasaba Bay can be busier than Kasane.
The area has wildlife, water and sandy beaches. Moreover, it sits right in the middle of Africa. As such, it has great potential to be transformed into a Pan African conference center where participants from the east, west, north and south of Africa can all congregate. The place can offer both serious official business as well as leisure simultaneously. At present the tourist activity there is tiny and it needs to be enhanced so that more jobs are created.
This potential to upgrade the Kasaba Bay area was recognized in the last few years of the MMD government. The following were identified as the necessary interventions that could prepare the place to be attractive to investors.
The Ministries of Land and Tourism to undertake land use plan of the area including environmental assessments. Plots for hotels and lodges were to be identified as well as those for other activities and they were all to be marked on the ground. This task was undertaken though I am not sure if it was concluded.
The airport at Kasaba Bay was to be extended and upgraded so that it could handle higher volumes of local and international traffic. The existing aerodrome from the Kaunda days is too small. This work commenced and I believe at the time the PF came into government it was at the stage where the runway was about to be stabilized prior to tarring. The works were abandoned by the PF with 2,000 bags of cement going to waste.
Electricity was to be brought to Kasaba Bay from Luzua Power Station outside Mpulungu. This was because there was no electricity in the area which would have been a problem for big hotels wishing to establish. The work to construct high tension power towers from Luzua to Kasaba Bay was completed before PF took over.
The power station at Kasaba Bay was to be upgraded from its capacity of less than one mega watt to about 14 megawatts. This was because the existing power output was already inadequate for the existing domestic consumption at Mpulungu, Mbala and Sumbawanga (in Tanzania) even before the envisaged establishment of big hotels at Kasaba Bay. The works to upgrade the power station was commenced during the MMD rule and I believe it has now been completed under PF.
A road was to be constructed from Mpulungu to Kasaba Bay. The purpose was to establish market linkages between the towns of Mbala and Mpulungu so that farmers in those areas would be able to deliver produce like beef, chickens, eggs, vegetables etc. to the emerging tourist town of Kasaba Bay. I am not sure about the status of that road but works did commence during the MMD administration.
Finally, the Ministries of Lands, Tourism and for Local Government were to take administrative measures within themselves to expedite the processes of quickly approving various application. It is pointless to undertake all the other preparations but then fail to quickly give licenses to the very investors who are responsible for creating jobs.
The upshot is that the PF government has abandoned the Kasaba Bay tourist initiative. Meantime, they have been building airports in places where there is no tourist potential leaving the Kasaba Bay area in limbo. Roads have been constructed everywhere else but the Mpulungu to Kasaba bay road which was meant to be an important linkage has been ignored. This is a clear example of a situation where a national development plan says one thing but the funding of activities by the national Treasury does something totally different.
Eight years into the PF government, the dream of turning Kasaba Bay into a regional recreational and conference tourist center has died. This is how a replica of Kasane in Botswana at Kasaba Bay has failed. This is how we have lost opportunities to create thousands of jobs for young people at Kasaba Bay. When UPND gets into office, it is initiatives such as this that it will vigorously implement throughout the country so that the objective of creating full employment for the youth, as it was just after independence can be realized.