Administrator Samantha Power with UNZA Radio’s Harry Mfula Lusaka, Zambia

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For Immediate Release

Thursday, June 30, 2022

MFULA: Just to start with, let's look at the relationship that you share with Zambia - the U.S. sharing that relationship with Zambia. The United States and Zambia and Zambia have a long standing relationship. And Zambia is currently considered a bright spot on the continental and global stage. Please share with our listeners that are ready to listen to you, what specifically stands out about Zambia?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great. Well, first of all, let me say that all the way back in the United States, people are really proud of the work that USAID has done in Zambia over many, many decades. And I personally can't claim credit for any of that work, because I just joined USAID as the Administrator under President Biden really just a couple of months before President Hichilema was elected here, so back in May of last year. But, you know, I'm kind of amazed really by the strength of the partnership that we've had over the decades, particularly in the health sector. You know, if you think back to when HIV/AIDS was just decimating communities and think about, you know, the dramatic increases in lifespan here for the Zambian people, I think it's a 20 year increase in lifespan from the year 2000 to the year 2020. You know, I feel just really fortunate that USAID, the world's largest development agency, has had the chance to partner with so many Zambians who've been on the frontlines of improving health.  And then, of course, also in the context of the recent COVID crisis, contributing – choosing Zambia as I did as Administrator with my team, because we saw that there was a lot more political will to push for improving the health of Zambians through vaccination, then there were vaccinations, if you know what I mean. 

And so one of the things that we did in December of last year of 2021 is choose Zambia as a surge country, because we saw that you had the vaccines finally, late, but nonetheless, you had the vaccines, but you didn't have all of the resources at the community level to launch the kind of campaigns that one needs to fight disinformation, to get shots into arms. And so, lo and behold, now, I understand from the president that you're now up to around a 40 percent vaccination rate from not long ago being at around 5 percent. And that's one of the fastest increases in vaccination rates in any part of the world. And it will help – it will definitely help your economic recovery as well, because private sector actors are more inclined to come to places when they see that, you know, the health of the population, you know, has been promoted and protected by not only by the government, but above all, by the frontline workers. 

Last thing I'd say, because you asked about bright spot - the biggest dimension on which Zambia is a bright spot right now, really distinguishing itself from other countries around the world which are experiencing what we call democratic backsliding. The biggest bright spot is the anti-corruption agenda and the seeming determination by both individuals in government and above all, because this is what is required for success, young people and the citizens of Zambia to hold their leaders accountable to the promises that have been made in the reform arena.  Everywhere in the world, we see countries going backwards in terms of rule of law. We see, you know, politicians hiding their assets, moving away from transparency. You know, we all know the expression sunlight is the best disinfectant. Well, if you are doing things that are not in the interests of your people, you don't like sunlight, so you want to pull the blinds down. You want to pull the curtains. And what we have seen here, starting with the election campaign, but also with the inaugural address and even the president's speech, you know, in the last days in Brussels is a doubling down on this commitment to leave the institutions of this country stronger, to create thicker checks and balances, and to be accountable above all, to the people. These things take time. And certainly I think reasonable people can be impatient right now and saying, well, where is it? You know, we want to see the pace of reform accelerated. And that's something that we as USAID are looking to see how can we help those people who have political will want to push this agenda forward, do so in a manner that creates visible results for the people? But I have to say that the agenda itself is really, really rare. There are only a handful of countries in the world right now, not just in the continent of Africa, but in the world where you see countries wanting to create more, not less, space for the media. More, not less space for civil society. More, not less, space for the rule of law and independent justice. 

MFULA: Okay. Thank you very much for that explanation. Now, this – a few moments ago, rather, you were having a discussion with some of the Zambian youth leaders. And, of course, it was a wonderful discussion. You are providing answers. I think I was there and I enjoyed the discussion. Now what type of thoughts after the youth town hall?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think – I guess I'd say a couple of things. I mean, first of all, those are really impressive young people. So, you know, I'm a professor when I'm not in the government, I'm a teacher at Harvard University, you know, a very famous university around the world where I get to teach some incredibly bright students. I can tell you the caliber of the discussion and the intellect and the drive of the people I've met here are, you know, every bit or maybe even exceeds that which I get to experience in the classroom, you know, when I'm back working as a professor. So I was just very impressed. 

Second, I would say that just what I told them, which is the political activation of young people at universities, but also even younger students and people who graduated from university or who don't go to university at all. You know, that is how political change happens. So the very activation that gave rise to a very significant shift in Zambia's political trajectory in the form of an opposition candidate who had been locked up 15 times, winning the election, that could not have happened without young people. The president, as you know, is the first to acknowledge that and to celebrate that fact. But that same activation, and we need to remember this also back in the United States, the same activation that can bring about what from the standpoint of young people is a positive political change through the ballot box, that kind of activation is also needed after elections. And so that and you could tell that many of those who have been involved in unseating those who they had thought to be corrupt, they had thought to be not looking out for the interests of young people, many of them are now trying to figure out how to plug in to an administration that’s, that has a reform agenda. But to institutions that are not really used to listening to young people, they're not really used to soliciting feedback. They're not really accustomed to day to day kind of inclusive, participatory lawmaking. 

And so I think that's something that I – that's a message I heard loud and clear. And we will think at USAID if there's more that we can do, you know, to try to encourage fora that allow, or encourage young people to bring their messages directly to the people who are making the laws. Again, one place to do that is in the ballot box. That's where one form of accountability occurs. But if you wait to do that, or if you're only able to do that at election time, you miss out on the opportunity to offer feedback that really strengthens the performance of governing institutions. So it feels like there's some gaps right now between, you know, the young people who helped spearhead this reform drive and this movement that gave rise to the political change and the implementation of the reforms that they want to see happen. And so thinking through how to – how that gap should be closed, I think is an important task for young people, but also for anybody in government. 

MFULA: Excellent. Now, let's look at – as we wind up, let's just look at food security. What are the USAID and the U.S. government doing to address the food crisis in Africa? And also, what are your thoughts regarding, you know, the role Zambia can play regarding food security on the continent?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: That's great. Well, I think first I'd say that the USAID's flagship food security program is called Feed the Future. And we actually just this week announced that Zambia is now going to be a target country in our Feed the Future program. So that means, you know, we will be working even more intensively than we have been with Zambian small scale farmers to try to encourage them and ensure that they have the latest know-how, the latest seeds in how, for example, to target fertilizer in a more efficient way. You know, part of the food crisis you mentioned is that fertilizer prices are in some cases double from what they were a year ago. Well, that can mean, you know, for somebody who's growing corn, half the yield, but it can also mean the same yield if the same fertilizer that – or half the fertilizer is used in a doubly efficient way. And so we want to extend our programing and extension services and inputs to more farmers and ensure that they have access to that kind of know-how. 

There's also a lot of information and learning that can be done around soil nutrition. I saw today here in Zambia something very impressive, which is that with fertilizer prices going up, you actually see small farmers in this country already adjusting and now growing legumes, for example, which don't require fertilizer. So they are finding new ways, both, of course, to meet the subsistence needs and the national needs of Zambia, but also to think through, like you said in your question, how does Zambia become the breadbasket of the region? You have the soil, you have the leadership commitment now. I met today with the Agriculture minister, who also wants to make, you know, the farmer support program more transparent. It has a reputation for not being, you know, for having, you know, some corruption and some waste in that program. 

But if those programs exist and can be scaled and expanded, we really believe that Zambia has the capacity to be meeting all of its food needs domestically, which it is not currently doing.  There's a high level of stunting here, but also to be creating profits for smallholder farmers and for commercial farms. And in so doing, to help countries that don't have the same bounty of natural resources that Zambia has to feed their own population. So USAID in the next year and over the next several planting seasons, we are going to be sitting down side by side with smallholder farmers, with commercial farmers, with agricultural ministry officials, with civil society partners, and with the private sector here thinking about how we scale local production, diversify local production, make Zambia more resilient to climate, but also to these shocks to the global economy, but also with an eye to making agricultural exports a great source of profit and income and jobs for people in this country. 

MFULA: You know, I do not intend to steal your time, but just quickly, you know, briefly, as we wrap up this program, COVID-19 has devastated the world in so many ways, and Zambia has not been spared. Now, how is USAID working with the government of Zambia to help get people vaccinated against COVID-19?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I appreciate you asking the question, because I'm sure here, like in so many parts of the world, people just want to forget COVID. Never will they forget their loved ones that they've lost to COVID or the lost income and the hardships over these last two and a half years of the pandemic. But, you know, I think there is a temptation in certain places to say, “well, you know, the new newer variant isn't quite as lethal as the previous variants. Yes, it's very contagious, but maybe the next variant will be even milder.” You know, I think the main message I would have for your listeners, those who haven't been vaccinated, is you never want to look back and say that you or your loved ones could have been saved because you got vaccinated. You never want to have that regret. So get vaccinated yourself. If it's been a while since you were vaccinated, get boosted, which is the WHO's recommendation. You know, I've been boosted twice. I know that sounds like a luxury, but I've had now four shots total because Pfizer is a two dose regimen. That's four shots. 

And, you know, Zambia now has the supply. We've donated 5 million vaccines to Zambia. We've invested huge money in these campaigns that the government has run at the local level. The most effective campaigns are those where USAID and our other partners just listen and hear what is standing in the way. More often than not, in a country – in this country, what we've heard is, yes, there's some disinformation, but mainly it's just a little bit of a hassle to get vaccinated. You have to take time off work or you have to drive a little bit further than you would like. And so the way USAID has worked with Zambia in these campaigns these last several months, starting in January – actually in December in the Copper Belt Campaign is we have heard what is it that stands in the way and then try to move vaccines closer to the people, you know, to do it at sports stadiums or to do it at musical gatherings or religious gatherings. If you're going for a routine, you know, check in at a health clinic or you have some other health ailment, to make sure that the vaccine is right there and available to you. And that requires money. And so investing that money alongside the vaccines themselves. Not enough emphasis was placed by donors initially on delivery. And we have tried to correct that the last six months. And I think in Zambia, where you see rates having gone from 5 percent to 40 percent in a really short period of time, you can see that people want to save themselves and their loved ones. We just have to make it easier for them, and that's, I think, what the Minister of Health and the COVID team around President Hichilema has done. 

MFULA: All right. Thank you very much, you know, for this wonderful opportunity that you've given us to share, all those things that you had for us. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. And, of course, we've come to an end of the program just like that. And I was having, you know, the USAID Administrator, that's Samantha Power. She's in Zambia. And of course, this is a real privilege and we appreciate it. Thank you very much, madam. 

Last updated: June 30, 2022

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