The year 2021 has been an eventful one full of both challenges and opportunities.
The challenges started in November, 2020, when Zambia became the first African country to default on its debt obligations largely due to the coronavirus.
That was subsequently followed by the country’s failure to secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package, which could have played a crucial role in Zambia’s negotiations with its creditors.
2021, being an election year, saw the Patriotic Front (PF) fight for its political survival.
But with a debt profile spiraling in recent years owing to issues predating the pandemic, local economic activities suffered further disruption courtesy of a deadly third wave of the coronvirus that wiped out the tourism industry, crippled the education calendar, caused job losses and led to businesses closing down owing to a slowdown in the global economy.
By this time, the country was in the campaign period, which, unfortunately, was punctuated with skirmishes among political rivals, arbitrary arrests by the police and failure by the ruling party to provide a level playing field for the opposition.
This dented Zambia’s human rights image in the eyes of the international community.
The general election campaigns were disrupted by the death of Zambia’s first President Kenneth Kaunda on June 17, 2021.
In the ensuing general elections on August 12, the PF suffered a shock defeat at the hands of the United Party for National Development (UPND) whose leader, Hakainde Hichilema, swept into office with a landslide victory.
The historic election, followed by a smooth power transition, earned Zambia global respect.
President Hichilema set about restoring the country’s bruised human rights record by engaging with regional and global leaders.
He also initiated talks with the IMF which has since reached a staff-level agreement with the Government on a new arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) for 2022-2025.
The agreement will help to restore macroeconomic stability and provide a firm foundation for an inclusive economic recovery.
Not only that, through establishment of new ministries, such as Green Economy and Environment; Small and Medium Enterprises Development; as well as Technology and Science; the Government hopes to achieve inspire economic growth by boosting trade, growing production and creating jobs through innovation.
In the 2022 National Budget, the Government has increased the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) from K1.6 million to 25.7 million to promote an equitable distribution of resources across the country.
Although the Government recently removed fuel subsidies to save US$67.4 million every month, the savings are being channeled to social sectors, such as provision of free education to learners, employment of teachers and health workers, as well as implementation of empowerment programmes for vulnerable groups like women and the youth.
Already, Government has started dismantling arrears for retirees, and has paid the Equalisation Fund to all councils countrywide to boost service delivery.
It is yet to be seen how these measures will impact the country’s economy going into 2022 when the UPND budget is fully operational.