By Ambassador Eric Schultz
Zambia, thanks for the great memories! As I reflect on my three years as U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, I consider what my goals were for U.S.-Zambia relations when I arrived in 2014. I wanted to increase U.S.-Zambia trade and investment. I sought to provide U.S. support for inclusive economic growth. I aspired to see further positive developments in the health and education sectors through U.S. support. And I wanted to increase U.S. support for Zambia to maintain and expand its role as a regional model of peace and democracy. The United States and Zambia – our governments and our people – have worked together to realize many successes towards these goals.
When I arrived, I had high hopes for increased trade and investment between the United States and Zambia. Zambia has: the potential to be a regional tourism hub, abundant land and water resources for agricultural growth, a highly skilled but underemployed workforce, extraordinary wildlife, great potential as a producer of electricity, and of course mineral resources. My goal was to see American businesses do well by doing good: to be profitable while helping accelerate Zambia’s economic development. Our commercial team worked closely with the American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia to promote trade opportunities under the U.S. African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) and to connect with U.S. and Zambian businesses in search of successful partnerships in Zambia. Countless U.S. business representatives have visited Zambia and many Zambian trade delegations have had productive visits to the United States during my time here. And, as I’ve traveled around Zambia, I have been gratified to see operations of U.S. companies large and small. These are well known entities such as Cargill, the Radisson and Protea hotel chains, and First Quantum Minerals, as well as smaller-scale businesses such as a poultry company I had a chance to visit in Livingstone. U.S. companies bring with them not only financial investment, but also innovative mechanization, transferable managerial talent, and best practices as they develop their Zambian workforce.
While I depart Zambia still believing in this country’s economic future and still convinced that it can be an attractive investment destination for U.S. companies, I nonetheless acknowledge that we have not made as much progress as I would have hoped. U.S. and Zambian business people alike have told me that to accelerate economic growth and to attract needed foreign direct investment, there are several things that Zambia must do better. First, the government still plays too big of a role in the economy: constant changes in tax and other regulations have created an uncertain business environment; domestic debt and tight monetary policy have limited lending to the private sector; and agricultural subsidies and impositions of price ceilings and floors have distorted local markets and inhibited private sector growth. Second, non-transparent tender processes, slow bureaucracy, and a weak judiciary serve to significantly limit Zambia’s appeal as an investment destination. Third: Zambia’s debt situation is very worrisome to foreign investors. It is for this reason that I have long supported an IMF program for Zambia, one that would out the country’s debt on a sustainable path and in the process create greater international confidence in the country’s economic policies.
Another goal I had for my assignment to Zambia was to encourage continued U.S. support to accelerate achievements in the health and education sectors. Nothing gave me greater joy than when the U.S. PEPFAR program and the Zambian Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that HIV incident rates in Zambia have decreased by 50% since U.S. PEPFAR began in 2003. And I am thrilled to be able to say that thanks to our strong partnership and to well over $3 billion of U.S. government support to combat HIV in Zambia during that time frame, an AIDS-free generation is in sight in this country. In maternal and child health, our partnership through the Saving Mothers, Giving Life Program has also resulted in great progress with maternal deaths decreasing by 55% in facilities where the program operated. And our U.S. Centers for Disease Control Field Epidemiology Training Program has trained an MOH workforce of more than 45 “disease detectives” who help identify and stop health threats in a world where the next outbreak is only a plane ride away.
While we are seeing great progress in the health sector, I don’t believe the same can be said for education. Zambia’s greatest natural resource is its people and I once again urge the Zambian Government to invest more in your workforce, your brain trust, your current and future leaders. To create a modern economy, you need educated workers. Much more needs to be done by the Zambian Government to support children to finish both primary and secondary school. The lack of qualified teachers and crowded classrooms in many areas must also be addressed. Ultimately, the health and education of your people should be the government’s top priorities. The United States and other donors have and will – at least in our case – continue to play a supporting role but in the end it will require increased Zambian government budget support and political will to create a healthy, educated populace that can take this country to another level and realize its great potential.
As I prepared to come to Zambia more than three years ago, I was the envy of my colleagues back in Washington. I was traveling to a country that was widely viewed as one of the most democratic on the continent, a country with a tradition of peaceful multi-party politics that results in a stability that is deeper and more meaningful than the surface tranquility of more authoritarian states. Zambia’s leaders across the political spectrum have the capability to continue Zambia’s democratic journey and I encourage you to engage in conversations with all voices and perspectives. The United States stands with you as you continue on this path. Moreover, we see Zambia as an important voice in its region for peace and democracy. Your example is far more powerful to your neighbors, many of which lack your democratic stability, than anything the United States might say or do in this regard. It is important, therefore, that Zambia continue to deepen its democracy, to reaffirm its tolerance for tribal differences, to renew its commitment to unity and peace. Zambia and the United States are multi-ethnic societies that share a respect for democratic values – this is the foundation of our strong bilateral ties. It is also important that Zambia continue and even expand its efforts to play a leadership role in promoting peace in the region, not least thru the provision of Zambian peacekeepers to African conflict zones. This has been another accomplishment during my time here of which that both countries can be proud: the strengthening relationship between our two militaries that has contributed so much to African peace.
Finally, a last goal I had for my tour was to enjoy Zambia’s beautiful nature and get to know its people. I have traveled in my three years here to every corner of Zambia. Neither my family nor I will ever forget the spectacular wildlife viewing in Zambia and the privilege of seeing Victoria Falls from Livingstone. I will miss Zambia, most of all the wonderful Zambian people. Whether we are talking about His Excellency Edgar Chagwa Lungu and his staff, Zambia’s hardworking ministers, parliamentarians, and their staffs, Zambia’s entrepreneurs – young and old alike, members of civil society making Zambia a better place starting at the grassroots, or that friendly trader at the market, bus driver, or newspaper seller on the street, I have been inspired at every turn by the warmth and industry of Zambians. I can’t help but recognize how deeply Zambians are committed to a brighter future for Zambia; it is an objective the United States shares and one my successor will continue to support in his time in this lovely country.