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Do African lives matter?

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Zambia has limited options to consider in its struggle for a better deal within the global capitalist system, observes Jeyakumar Devaraj.

This morning I was blunt to the point of rudeness to a new Zambian acquaintance.

I said to him, “The global economy doesn’t give a damn for the poor in Zambia. You do not constitute a market for their goods. And they do not need your labour either.

“You are irrelevant to their wealth accumulation. They do not have ill intentions towards you. But it doesn’t matter to them whether you live or die. All they want from you are your mineral resources!”

Zambia has enjoyed 3-4% growth in its GDP for the past five years. This is reflected in the shiny cars on the roads and the busy shopping complexes in Lusaka, the capital.

But the presence at every traffic intersection of fruit, newspapers, drinks etc vendors, who move from car to car when the lights turn red, trying to sell their goods, informs us that there is a serious lack of employment opportunities in the country.

According to Wikipedia, the vital statistics for Zambia are as follows (figures in brackets are the Malaysian figures):

  • Population: 16m (31m)
  • Per capita (PPP) US$4,113 USD ($25,883)
  • Life expectation for women: 58 years (77 years)
  • Under-five mortality per 1000 life births: 89 (7.7)
  • Gini coefficient: 57.5 (46.2)

The statistics point to a desperately poor country with a high degree of income inequality.

Zambia desperately needs to create more jobs. But who is going to do this?

Western aid has never been enough, and is unlikely to increase massively given the high level of indebtedness of Western nations.

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The Zambian goverment is cash-strapped. The price of copper (which supplies a big portion of the national budget) has tumbled to a third of of its price two years ago. China’s slowdown has worldwide implications.

An abrupt break with the global capitalist economy isn’t the way out. There are no domestic sources of funds to power economic growth. Neither is there a bloc of countries that are also similarly disengaged from the global capitalist economy that could provide funds and markets.

Zambia is constrained to struggle for a better deal within the global capitalist system. There are three crucial aspects that Zambian patriots need to look into:

  1. Can Chinese manufacturers be induced to set up factories in Zambia? Wages in Zambia are lower than in China now. This could be used as inducement. The wage income of Zambian workers will expand the market for small producers and distributers in Zambia. There will a beneficial multiplier effect.
    (China – because they have the capital, the technology and the all important access to world markets.)
  2. Zambia and the other countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the Carribean and South Asia have to get together to pressure Europe and the United States to stop dumping their excess agricultural products (created by over-generous subsidies to their farmers) on the global world. This depresses the prices of products that many poor countries rely upon for their foreign exchange.
  3. This is equally difficult – the Zambian patriot has to create the mechanisms that will channel the increase in income from 1 and 2 above, to the poorer sectors and to rural areas. This will require:
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A. Robust government intervention in the provision of public goods, ie the creation of social wages. Neoliberal tendencies must be be defeated.

B. Serious efforts to prevent the political and economical elite from claiming the largest portion of this increase.

Not easy. But it is the only route available for countries like Zambia now.

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