In 1964, Zambia became independent after 75 years of British colonial rule. The economy was heavily reliant on copper, cobalt and zinc mining, which employed almost half the workforce and accounted for 80 percent of Zambia’s export earnings.
Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda then nationalized the mines, expanded the economy's manufacturing and agricultural sectors and imposed import tariffs to keep out foreign competition. The government provided free health care and education. As noted in T-SHIRT TRAVELS, within six years of Zambia's independence, 85 textile manufacturers employed 10,000 workers. Further development would be expensive, however, and the Zambian government was running out of money. As world oil prices climbed, copper prices plummeted, and Kaunda turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to borrow money in 1973. As a condition of borrowing the money, structural adjustment programs were imposed by these institutions. The government had to agree to impose very strict economic programs on their countries in order to reschedule their debts or borrow more money.
Disgruntled with inflation and chronic food and fuel shortages, Zambians voted Kaunda out of office in 1991 and elected Frederick Chiluba president. The new government eliminated subsidies to farmers, cut tariffs on imports and charged "user fees" for health care and public schools.
When government officials opened Zambia's economy to foreign trade in 1992 in exchange for loans from international donors, secondhand clothing poured into the country. Wholesalers could sell affordable clothing without paying production or labor costs or tariffs. Within eight years, Zambia's clothing industry was out of business.
Nearly 40 countries south of the Sahara have adopted "structural adjustment programs," or free market reforms, prescribed by lenders like the World Bank and the IMF, which reduce spending on public services and increase privatization to attract foreign investment and loans. Instead of generating income for the country, though, Zambia is more in debt than ever before. Since 1992, Zambians have lost more nearly 100,000 jobs. Less than ten percent of Zambians work full-time in the formal sector; many of the jobless sell secondhand clothes and other goods in markets, and eight out of ten Zambians live on less than a dollar a day. Prostitution has increased dramatically since 1992, especially in urban areas.
By 2000, Zambia had sold more than 300 state-owned businesses to
private investors, including almost all the mines, but this was still not enough to reduce its $6.6 billion debt. Today, the annual payment on the debt is three times what the government spends on education, and Zambia still spends more on debt servicing than on health care.
As a result, the population has become more impoverished, illiterate and malnourished in the 30 years since it gained independence from Britain. One quarter of the workforce is sick on any given day. There are more than one million orphans in the country and over 70,000 homeless children.
Copper mine workers on Zambia
Copperbelt in the 1950s
Photo: Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation
Cotton spinning mills, Gatooma,
Photo: Cambridge University Library
Donor / World Bank Consultation
Meetings in Lusaka, July 2000
Photo: Zambia National Public Broadcasting.
Photo courtesy Amy Vedder /
Wildlife Conservation Society