by Monica Mutesa
Essential Services Coordinator, Zambia
In development circles there was much debate last week when it was announced that Zambia had moved up the World Bank rankings and become a “middle-income country”.
But the truth is that this “news” remains a mere academic pronouncement – for the majority of Zambians the news that Zambia has now graduated to being a middle-income country will not even register as a blip on their radar.
Zambia remains polarised along class lines and inequality is growing: the middle class is dwindling and the ranks of poor people are swelling rapidly.
The facts remain stark:
Despite economic growth, poverty seems to be sustained in Zambia. The country’s growth is largely driven by the copper mining industry, a sector where very few ordinary Zambians are employed – mostly in low paying and unstable jobs. About 85% of Zambians work in the agriculture sector, and 25% of Zambia’s national budget comes from donors. Zambia is one of the most unequal societies in sub-Saharan Africa, with a Gini co-efficient of 0.53.
The saying goes that “there are big lies, there are little lies and then there are statistics”. If the statistics say that each Zambian has a gross national income of $1,241 per person then we need to examine more closely how this “average” amount is distributed, as it is not truly reflective of Zambian reality. It is more likely that a small elite earns many times this amount each year, while the broad majority earns far less.
As a Zambian I am wary of claiming easy victories, or rushing to celebrate my country’s alleged graduation to the status of middle-income country.
I’d agree with analysts who question the wisdom of using the World Bank country classification as a basis for determining how much aid each country should receive.
If aid to Zambia was reduced, it would be the ordinary Zambian citizen who would suffer – the ones who don’t earn $1,241 a year.