Administrator Samantha Power with Mirror Mshanga on SPICE Radio Lusaka, Zambia

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For Immediate Release

Thursday, June 30, 2022

MSHANGA: All right. So, it’s good to have you. I was reading your bio, and it’s amazing, and it’s a pleasure to speak with you. My name is Mirror Mshanga, we’re coming from SPICE FM. Now, I wanted to find out from you, Zambia and the United States have had an amazing, long-lasting relationship. Now, I want to find out, what do you think stands out about Zambia?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, right now, on Planet Earth, Zambia is one of very few places that is moving in a more democratic direction. And I just got to witness that at the local level with citizens gathering and prioritizing among all the needs in the community themselves, being able to put forward ideas about what should receive local government funding. There's more funding now available at the local level than has been true in the past.

And then, once they have the list of ideas about renovating the clinic, or building a police post, or expanding the number of desks in a school, then everybody going up and putting a stone on a piece of paper that has the name of the project that they most want to see funded—that kind of local ownership, that local decision-making, I think, is very, very rare, and it can guard against corruption. And above all, it can strengthen the legitimacy of the decisions that are made. So, right now, one of the reasons I came to Zambia on behalf of President Biden is that we see that Zambia is taking all of these really creative and bold new steps to try to strengthen democracy. Globally, things are moving in the opposite direction.

Many, many countries that have been very strongly democratic over the years are actually going backwards. They’re going back in time, cracking down on the media, you know, limiting the ability of civil society to come together—seeing governments harass people who criticize decisions that they have made. And so, this trend of global democratic backsliding means that Zambia now is at the forefront of a very inspiring kind of democratic growth.

MSHANGA: Now, you took part in this stocktaking just now. What are your main takeaways?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, my main takeaway is that when citizens are in on the take-off, that means they will be in on the landing, if you know what I mean. So, when they are part of deciding where scarce government resources go, that means that they are much more likely to watch the process throughout, you know, to check in. “Okay, we’ve chosen to renovate a clinic.” Now, the mothers who voted to renovate that clinic are much more likely to scrutinize the building and the renovation of the clinic as it happens. That means that those eyes on a project are likely to guard against the kind of theft of government resources that has been an issue not only in this country, but in my country and other countries as well. And then, at the end, when the renovation is complete, the pride that citizens feel is, you know, community pride. It’s not a pride in something that some other official decided for them; it is something that they can feel, “We brought this to our community. It was our leadership. It was bottom-up leadership.” 

And I think, whenever you get communities taking ownership of their own destinies—taking authority, in a way, away from government and bringing it down to the local level—you are much more likely to see projects and initiatives that benefit the local people. So, one of my takeaways is I want to think about how we can scale what we see here in this district to other parts of Zambia, but also whether this is the kind of model that could be applied in other parts of the world.

MSHANGA: Now, Africa right now is facing a global food crisis, right? What is the USAID doing to address that? And of course, how are you helping Zambia to make sure that we are, on the, you know, continental level—to be one of the distributors of food?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well first, let me just very much agree with the premise of your question, which is that every country is facing very severe fuel and food inflation right now, and Zambia is no exception. And given how many small-scale farmers there are here in Zambia, the fact that the price of fertilizer has almost doubled is—really has an effect on small-scale farmers and their ability to grow corn or other produce. So, what we are doing at USAID is working with international financial institutions like the World Bank to make sure that governments—including this government—has the ability to help people to weather this storm, kind of get through this very, very difficult period of much higher prices. Yesterday, when I was with the president, I announced an additional $9 million in food security funding that USAID is giving to Zambian farmers and others to try, again, to help target the fertilizer in a more efficient way, so maybe farmers can get by using less fertilizer to produce more crops by using the fertilizer in a different way. We are helping farmers transition to growing different crops in this period that don’t need fertilizer. So, yesterday, I saw farmers who had shifted to growing legumes, which don't require fertilizer, so they then don’t have to pay those higher prices.  

And there will be some amount of social service support, some safety net support, because, you know, some farmers–some citizens–won't be able to make the transition sufficiently. So, we, the World Bank, and other donors, of course, want to help the people of Zambia, again, get to the other side of this crisis. I do want to stress that, you know, I’ve heard from many, many people –whether farmers, or people in the private sector, or the president of the country–expressing this ambition to see Zambia become a kind of breadbasket for the region. You know, knowing you have the soil, you have the weather, you have this great potential. And really, you know, all that has stood in the way, I think, over the years is maybe too little ambition, and not the right governance.

And so, now that you have individuals who are committing to the rule of law, committing to fight corruption, committing to stronger governance, and you have countries like the United States, who are very excited about the democratic direction that Zambia is going in, my hope is that we can help Zambia increase its exports, diversify its funding base, help small-scale farmers begin to make more profits so they’re not just feeding their families and maybe some in their community, but actually beginning to think about how they grow in a fashion that will allow them to sell, you know, in the region–and themselves, in a sense, go from being small-scale farmers to being entrepreneurs and business people. So, I think there's great potential. I announced yesterday as well a $30 million new trade boost program, where we will try–we, USAID, and others–will try to help connect Zambian businesses with markets, so that more of this trade can occur, so that more money comes into the country from the sale of goods and crops outside.

But I think the sky is the limit on where Zambia can go. If it combines, again, this economic ambition and desire to increase prosperity, on the one hand, with a dedication to the political reforms that will allow citizens to hold accountable government leaders who aren't looking out for their people–because we know, in every country in the world, including mine, not every official in government really, you know, always shows that they have the best interests of their communities at heart, or even that they know how the communities are defining their interests. And so, it’s really important, just as there was a real bottom-up movement for change in this country that bottom-up, inclusive approach to governance be maintained, be carried forward, because that is how you will start to see Zambia reaching the kind of potential that there’s no question it has, both for Zambians in Zambia and in terms of Zambia's regional and even global leadership.

MSHANGA: All right. I'm coming from the media. I would love to find out your thoughts on the state of media right now in Zambia. And of course, why do you think it is important for a democratic country to have a free press?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I’ve met with a number of journalists in two respects since I got to the country. First, of course, to be interviewed. And so, I’ve enjoyed some of the hard questions that have been thrown at me. But I also, myself, kind of interviewed a group of journalists to try to understand what the media environment was like, how it had changed. And my sense–but you can correct me–is that there is a much greater sense of freedom among journalists, you know, less of a concern than there might have been, you know, even just a year or two ago–less of a fear of intimidation, let’s say, and harassment. So, that’s a positive development. But I’ve also heard a desire to see, you know, some of the political reforms that were envisaged actually implemented. So, for example, a number of journalists have talked to me about how important it would be to see the right to information, the freedom of information law, after decades of being stuck, actually going forward, and how that would enable journalists, then, to seek information from government, so as to be able to help citizens hold government officials accountable. So, that’s one example.  

I think there are questions about broadcasting authority, and whether there is a way to kind of move, you know, some of the media institutions that exist a little bit further away from state control and state influence. So, you know, it will be interesting to see, over time, whether that kind of media liberalization can be accelerated, because I do think it’s really important for all of us who have the privilege of serving in any government to remember that we are just passing through. And so, the most effective forms of liberalization and of reform are those that are institutionalized, are those that depend less on who happens to you know, be in charge in a district, or who is the mayor, or who is the president, or who is the journalist, and are more enduring and are less susceptible to changes in personalities. And so, I–you know, my sense is that that is–that that idea of the importance of institutionalization is one that President Hichilema has talked about himself. And so, we in the United States are hopeful that those reforms will go forward.

MSHANGA: And of course, Zambia is one of the countries that was hit by COVID-19. And one of the challenges that we’ve had is vaccination. A lot of myths are coming with that.  How is USAID helping the Zambian government to make sure that a lot of people are vaccinated?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, we of course, have been very fortunate in the United States to get vaccines in our possession early–you know, since a number of them were developed in the United States. And you know, we all have had that experience of longing for a vaccine, watching people get sick, or hospitalized, or even die, people that we care about, people who have enriched our lives–and then, you know, the gift of what a vaccine is, you know. Not that it means that nobody will get COVID ever again, but it really does very, very much reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, I mean, in such dramatic and wonderful ways.  

So, when we were in a position to begin donating vaccines, we immediately reached out to the government here. We–the United States and USAID–have donated 5 million vaccines, roughly, to this country. We have more mRNA vaccines that we would like to donate. But actually, Zambia now has an adequate supply of vaccines.

But in about December last year, we noticed kind of what you’re describing, which is that Zambia was one of those countries that had the supply, and had vaccinated, you know, a number of people, for example, you know, in urban areas–but where the reach of vaccines was quite limited and the numbers–the overall numbers and percentage of the population was very limited.  

So, we actually chose Zambia as one of fewer than a dozen countries globally that we invested a whole new wave of additional resources in, focused less on the vaccines–which you already had at that point–and much more on delivery, on funding the kinds of campaigns that allow Zambian health workers and community leaders to go door-to-door and encourage Zambians to go, let’s say, to the local football stadium, or the local supermarket, or the local health clinic, and receive their vaccines.

And when these campaigns have been run here in Zambia–and this is really thanks to the Ministry of Health and community leadership–the rates of vaccination just skyrocket. And what we find is that even though there starts off being some skepticism, maybe some disinformation has taken hold, and some concern, with just 30 to 60 seconds’ worth of conversation, of counseling or just basic education–where a person’s questions are answered–people say, “Okay.  Now I'm ready to have my vaccine.” So, a rate of–you know–of vaccination of around 5 percent has gone up now close to 40 percent. And it’s very much the case that wherever a campaign can be mobilized–and we at USAID are very, very eager to help support those campaigns–citizens really want to protect themselves and their loved ones.

And so, I'm actually very, very encouraged by the progress that Zambia has made particularly over the last four or five months. There are very few places in Africa or in the world where we've seen this kind of concentrated increase in vaccination. We’re still not at the 70 percent level, of course, that the president wants to get to and the WHO wants all countries to get to. But I think there is evidence that, with resources and greater access to vaccines–where people have to drive less of a distance, or they can just walk, or a clinic pops up right beside them–I was very encouraged today, being here at this community stocktaking, seeing that there was a handwritten sign that said, “Vaccination,” and a nurse who was able to administer vaccines. They had 26 people vaccinated here yesterday. This is how you do it.  

People are coming here for different reasons. They’re not coming here to get vaccinated. They’re coming here to talk about whether they want a new police post or whether they want to renovate their health clinic or their schools. But if they see a sign that says “Vaccination,” and they can get it done on the way–get the jab and go back home–many, many people are willing to get vaccinated, and in so doing, protect their communities.

MSHANGA: All right. And of course, thank you so much for joining us.


Last updated: June 30, 2022

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