Zambia views corruption as poverty road block

Zambia is one of those countries sitting on undeclared results of an important household survey on poverty trends. Conducted in early 2010, the Living Conditions Monitoring Survey probably contains the politically sensitive news that recent years of strong economic growth have not delivered commensurate poverty reduction.

Now that September’s presidential election is out of the way, there seems little to gain from further delay. As Michael Sata, the new leader, was a loser in the three previous elections, he can hardly be blamed for polarised wealth creation in the economy.

The more important question is how Sata and his government intend to tackle whatever incidence of poverty eventually emerges from the survey. His first month in office suggests a remarkably clear priority – “it’s corruption, corruption and corruption” – to borrow the phraseology of a former UK prime minister.

In delivering Zambia’s Independence Day speech on Monday after just four weeks in office, Sata was able to claim legitimately that he is “in a hurry” to stamp out graft. His actions range from appointing Mrs Rosewin Wandi as the new Director-General of the Anti-Corruption Commission to ordering an inquiry into the bizarre sale of Zambia’s telecommunications company to the sovereign wealth fund of Libya, of all places.

Such steps mean little until their outcome becomes visible but they should be enough to mend fences with the international donor community. The behaviour of one or two rogue ministries in the outgoing government prompted suspension of direct budget support from Sweden and Netherlands, as well as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.

Despite tough economic times for the aid community, Sata knows that Zambia is well placed to capture generous support for food security, climate adaptation and REDD.

Furthermore, strong relations with conventional western donors make good sense for a president who is known to be less enthusiastic for Chinese largesse than his predecessor. To this end, he may benefit from a rebound from neighbouring Malawi, once the favourite haunt of the donors but now something of a pariah.