Administrator Samantha Power Participates in a Media Roundtable Lusaka, Zambia

Speeches Shim

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Remarks to Press

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great. Thank you all so much for being here today and also for the work that you're doing every day, which is such critical work in any democracy. Since I've come here, I've been asked a number of times, why Zambia? Why now? And I would just start by saying that what is happening in Zambia, what is being attempted in Zambia is very, very rare in the world. In so many countries right now, you see democratic backsliding where human rights are being less, not more respected, where checks and balances on governing authorities are being eroded or taken away rather than strengthened. And ever since young people turned out in mass last year in order to bring about a change in Zambia, President Biden has really been watching from afar what is happening here, really struck by how different it is, how many attempts are afoot to actually strengthen the rule of law, to root out corruption, rather than to strengthen impunity, again, which is happening in so many other places. And so I really wanted to come to Zambia to see up close these efforts to strengthen democracy. But I also, of course, as USAID Administrator, have the privilege of being able to work with our team on the ground, led by Cheryl, to look at what we can do to support Zambian efforts in a whole range of areas.  

And so I've had the chance during my visit to talk to young people, to hear how they think the reform efforts are going. And there are some issues on which they'd like to see more speed, of course. But much of the emphasis of young people is, of course, on jobs and the economy, which is being challenged right now by global food, fuel, and fertilizer prices.  

I had the chance to spend some time yesterday with women farmers who are really struggling to deal with the growing fertilizer prices and making really tough decisions about whether to plant less or to change crops and to use crops like legumes and soybeans that use less fertilizer.  

I had the chance to see the Constituency Development Fund allocation process, you might say, namely the decentralization of spending that the Hichilema Administration is trying to advance where instead of being told at the local level or the zone level or the ward level what the money is going to go to, you actually have a vote, have a voice. And so I witnessed yesterday a stocktaking exercise where it was community representatives who decided and voted on which renovation or building project should be undertaken in their zones. And that kind of local ownership is something very rare. I mean, it's actually the kind of thing I'd love to see more of in the United States, this kind of bottom up, you might say, crowdsourcing of priorities. It was really, really quite compelling. And that's something USAID is supporting more of that, more of that decentralization, more of that local ownership, because we know the outcomes will be better. We also know that corruption is much less likely if citizens are watching. And so enlisting citizens on the front end helps guard against what has harmed Zambian economic development for too long, which is rampant corruption.  

I also have had the chance, of course, to have a number of government meetings to hear directly how the government is prioritizing. Speaking, for example, to the agricultural minister, the finance minister, the Minister of Health, talking about what more we can do to get your vaccination numbers up. They're really impressive how quickly you've gone from 5 to 41 percent of individuals vaccinated, but as Zambia also moves now to vaccinate younger people, looking at what more USAID can help with that effort.  

I've made a number of announcements while here. Building on the Development Finance Corporation's announcement of a $20 million fund for loans for small-and medium-sized enterprises. I've announced an additional $30 million in trade boost funds, where we will work with your producers, with your businesspeople to try to strengthen their ability to export their goods regionally and globally. And I think that's a very exciting initiative. In addition, we are looking at strengthening the enabling environment. It's a little bit of a kind of technical term, but basically working to support efforts to make it easier to set up a business in Zambia, to make it easier to invest in Zambia. What are the rules and the laws and the regulations that need to change? How much red tape can be taken away so that businesspeople outside of Zambia find it more attractive to come and invest here? So that's something USAID is very active in.  

And I've also announced $9 million in additional food security resources. And President Biden announced that Zambia is a new target country in USAID's flagship food security program, which is called Feed The Future. So those are just a few examples of the kinds of programs that I hope we'll be able to expand. We want to be here for you as partners. We know that any journey, any reform journey is a rocky one. It's a rocky road. It's challenging. Finding the right combination of patience and impatience is challenging for government officials and for citizens and journalists for that matter, alike. But we are really inspired by what the Zambian people are trying to achieve here. And again, I can't stress how few examples there are of this nature globally, where hard though it is, public officials and citizens seem this determined to get their democracy on a better path and to clean up the corruption that has stood in the way of development for too long.  

With that, I'm happy to take a question from each of you.  

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Administrator Power. And with that, I call on volunteers to ask a question. Remember, just one question at a time. Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. I will ask you a question, in your capacity as a former journalist,   [inaudible] here is my question. In Zambia, journalists  are currently divided on whether they should have the self media regulation backed by an act of parliament, which is law or they should have a volunteer self regulation model which is not backed by [inaudible]. As a former journalist who is passionate about media reforms and a free press, what would you like to advise the Zambian media as we are waiting on this position, whether we should have an act of parliament or we should [inaudible] up to now we don't know what is the best option. From your side, what would you like to advise us?   

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I do not have enough knowledge of the two options that you've described to weigh in on the specifics, and nor really should I. This is fundamentally for you all to come together to decide in the back and forth of a democratic scrum which happens on such issues. So let me just speak instead, if I could, a little more generally.  

As you think about taking advantage of a period where you have, as the Zambian people elected someone who has stated his commitment to media freedom, I would encourage you to think to yourselves, what do we want the rules to be? What do we want our operating framework to be? Or what would we wish it to be if we didn't know who the president was? Or if we didn't know who the ministers were. If we didn't know how friendly or hostile any particular official was going to be. You want protections that are going to withstand changes among personalities and among leaders and political parties.  

So, again, among your options that you're considering. That is just what I would urge you to bear in mind, because it is tempting – and this is tempting on the government side as well to say, well, we want the media to speak their minds. We're not going to arrest or harass anybody who's critical, who expresses their opinion using the media or who does investigative journalism that makes us look bad. We understand that that's an important check and balance in a democracy. The operating environment that will serve the Zambian people best over time is one where you can imagine really, really different approaches to the media in office. And yet where you would still be free to publish what you find, to publish the results of investigative journalism.  

And so, I don't know on the spectrum between full self-regulation and legal reforms backed by parliament. That's for you all to sort through. But institutionalization of media freedom is essential because then you don't have to rely on any particular individual and the goodness of their heart or their particular approach to media freedom. You rely on institutions and enshrined lasting commitments.  

MODERATOR: Okay. Next question.  

QUESTION: [Off-mic] 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Oh, I heard the question. What we are here to do is to support the stated aspirations of the people that our team on the ground meets with, interacts with every day, namely the aspiration for more jobs, more economic opportunities, greater ease in setting up a business, help in or support in meeting food and fertilizer needs that have grown worse because of higher prices, help tracking down stolen assets and preventing corruption from continuing to steal the people's wealth, which has happened for too long.  

So our work here is really born of decades of partnership with the Zambian people. And, you know, my motivation in being here, this is a trip that was planned well before Putin invaded Ukraine. Because I've wanted to get here for some time, given that I think the Zambian people find themselves on the frontlines of a global struggle. Zambians are focused on Zambia, of course, but there is a global struggle between more democratic tendencies and more autocratic and authoritarian tendencies. And this struggle is incredibly important here. And if we at USAID – and I should say we across the Biden Administration, we across the U.S. government, can find resources to help accelerate the journey that Zambian young people have put this country on, the path that Zambia finds itself on, then that is going to be beneficial for the Zambian people first and foremost. But it will also be an important signal globally that corruption doesn't pay. Corruption gets you voted out of office, in fact.  

Even though expanding media freedom and space for civil society can leave you as a government official facing more criticism, that criticism is for the good because it's feedback. It's the people's feedback. So that is really why we are here. I will say, independent of Zambia's struggle, when there is such a flagrant violation of international law where one country goes and tries to take part of another country with such brutal means, we do believe every country in the United Nations has an interest in standing up against that kind of blatant aggression. But our focus on the welfare of the Zambian people dates back decades. And our sense that this is a really inspiring opening for democracy and for the rule of law well predates anything happening in any other part of the world.  

MODERATOR: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Mine is a two-part question. First, I want to find out how important is Zambia to President Biden in the regional context and why? And also, right after that is how U.S.-Zambia relations changed since you were last Ambassador back in 2019?  

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well let me just talk first about President Biden. I hope that everybody here, at least in this room, heard President Biden speak to how impressed he is about what's happening in Zambia in the only global address that he has given since becoming president. The only time he has spoken before all the world's heads of state, he chose to talk about Zambia and to talk about young people who came out into the streets to create this moment of democratic opportunity. And so he is very closely tracking what is happening here. I also think the food security challenges that predated the war, the Russian war in Ukraine, but now have been deepened, made worse, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. He's tracking that as well. And that, of course, the effects of that extend well beyond Zambia.  

But I think it is a sad situation today that your people who already were in a difficult economic time, in part because so much wealth from this country has been stolen and there's been so much corruption and so much debt incurred. But, the people came out and made clear that they want that corruption cleaned up. That they want more economic opportunity. And it's a bad, you know, convergence of timing that Putin decided to invade Ukraine and make things even harder economically at just the time that you are beginning your process of reform and democratic liberalization. And so President Biden is very aware of these effects from this war on top of the preexisting challenges associated with climate change, COVID, the supply chains, et cetera.  

So one of the things you'll hear President Biden say a lot about American democracy is that it's just really important that it delivers for the people. That the people – when he's talking about the United States, the American people get to see that people that they send to Washington can actually get things done in Congress, to make their lives better, day to day, to put more food on the table, to give them more job opportunities. And so I think your president and my president speak about the democracy dividend also in very, very similar ways, that there needs to be an economic dividend on democratization, on the strengthening of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy.  

And the last thing I'd say just about President Biden is I think he sees the economic potential also of Zambia. So against the backdrop of a food security crisis, we know that there is significant stunting in Zambia, significant poverty and significant food security challenges within the country itself. But we also know that there are acute food needs stemming from Putin's blockade of grains and other food exports from Ukraine. And we believe over time that Zambia can be part of the regional solution, because you have the land, you have the climate, you have the soil to be able to produce much more than you are currently producing on your arable land. And if you are able to do so, that has ramifications not only for food security among Zambians, but also for food sovereignty for this part of Africa and for Africa as a whole.  

And so that's why the programs that I've looked at while I'm here in the agricultural space, I think can be so important, is how do we get your small scale farmers moving into thinking about making more for themselves and their families how do we get emerging farmers to be able to tailor their goods for different export markets? How do we get your commercial farmers plugged in with buyers in other countries, including in the United States? I think the sky's the limit on these possibilities. And I think President Biden sees Zambia not only as a place that is facing challenges internally, but is a place that can actually produce over time in a manner that helps other countries meet their challenges, the challenges that they are facing around food insecurity.  

And your second question or the second part of your – oh, about the last administration? You know, I was out of government during the previous administration, having served in the Obama Administration for eight years before. And what I will say is that the relationship that I see since we came into office, is one in which our team on the ground which was, of course, without a permanent ambassador for some time, drawing on the incredible expertise of our Zambian staff. Because, for example, our USAID Mission is constituted, the majority of the staff are Zambian, that that notwithstanding anything happening between the Ambassador who was here before and the previous administration here, and notwithstanding any political developments here, this team on the ground that works at the Embassy just gets on with its business. It gets on with the business of strengthening the health system here and helping Zambians fight diseases that had taken too many lives in the past.

One of the things that thrills me about this visit is learning that Zambia's life expectancy is up 20 years since 2000. That's incredible. And we've done an awful lot of work as the United States in the public health space. And just we're really, really happy that that progress has been made and want to see more of it. The investments in independent media training in groups that are fighting corruption in the business enabling environment, in decentralization, which has really picked up steam under the new administration here, but of course, has been on the books for some time.  

So we've been operating, again, in the political reform areas and the economic reform areas over time. And we're just excited now that there is more broad based enthusiasm, or at least more articulated broad based enthusiasm, for the kinds of institutional reforms and economic modernization that our programs have long sought to support. Thank you.  

MODERATOR: Sure, over to ZNBC.

QUESTION: [Off-mic]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: So on the first question in terms of the enabling environment, I'd have to refer you to the Embassy about the details of the kinds of reforms that our programing is supporting. But I will say that I think finding ways to enhance dialogue, detailed dialog between SMEs and parliamentarians, and ministers and, officials in ministries, I think more of that kind of two way communication as these laws and reforms are developed is going to be really, really important. I think we have in the United States, for example, something called a notice and comment period on every regulation that is passed and that allows the people who would be affected by the regulation to weigh in on whether the regulation is going to create more paperwork and bureaucracy or actually streamline processes.  

And I think different countries do it in different ways, but just making sure, again, that the business community, that the private sector is helping come up with, the ideas, the detailed ideas for how best to enhance the enabling environment.  

With regard to food security, I'm not sure what you're referring to in terms of the $9 million and fuel prices, but I think we are right now scouring the country to understand how best to dedicate  what is a modest – it's a lot of money; $9 million is a lot of money, but next to the growing food and fuel prices, obviously, it's not enough to get people through this this terrible crisis. So I think where we are looking is places like the African Development Bank, the World Bank, those larger institutions that can provide low interest loans that can help support the government as it seeks to expand social safety nets during this period. Our food security programing is going to be concentrated in the agricultural space with the farmers who are struggling to continue to produce. Because we believe those catalytic investments will then lead to more food production than otherwise would have happened. But we also want to leverage whatever support we are providing. To catalyze much more substantial investments from other actors and so we hope to do that.  

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. From Komboni Radio.

QUESTION: [Off-mic]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Could you say that again?  I'm sorry.  

REPORTER: [Off-mic]  


QUESTION: [Off-mic] 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I don't have specifics to share on onion driers, per se. And far be it from me to try to suggest that I know much about drying onions myself. I've learned an awful lot about legumes and soybeans and other local produce, but have not learned that much on the trip yet, except from you about onions. But I think that, again, where we are operating is in the space of recognizing that what often stands in the way of a small scale farmer growing just enough for their family and maybe their neighbors and then being able to make a profit. To be able to send their kids to a higher level of education than they would otherwise be able to access is capital. And so part of what the Development Finance Corporation announced a couple of weeks ago is an additional $20 million, pairing with one of Zambia's largest banks in loans for people who want to access capital to be able to buy those kinds of tools, perhaps like onion driers, that will enable them to move from self-sufficiency to a profit mindset in a more commercial mindset.  

Just the fact that 90 percent of the farmers in Zambia are small scale farmers is something that we would like to work with those farmers to change. We think they can go from growing just for themselves to bringing their goods to market and being able then to access capital because they will have made profit that they can then reinvest in order to gradually grow their businesses. So I think that's the emphasis that I would place is that it would be less about USAID coming and bringing in plane fulls of equipment ourselves, but it's more trying to work with other institutions to make sure that those small businesses or small business persons who have an idea for how they would like to grow their business can access the capital to do so.  

MODERATOR: Got just about five more minutes. We're going to try to get through a couple more questions. Let me give Reuters the opportunity.  

QUESTION: What major concerns – what major impressions did you get during your interaction with the various interest groups? And what concerns did they raise?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, you know, I would say that among people in the agricultural sector, the biggest concerns center on the price of fertilizer. And because the small scale farmers who are female that we met with yesterday are not making huge profits, and also the price of food. So the irony is you could be a farmer and have fields that you've planted and harvested and yet it can still, these days, be very challenging to keep up with the increased food prices in the country. So I heard a lot about that. And that's why it is so important for the United States, other donor nations, but also the international financial institutions to be working with government and working out in the communities to help Zambians weather this storm, this food storm, because it is very, very challenging.

In terms of other stakeholders, I met with the media. I mentioned with young people, various civil society actors. I think there is a desire to see some of the commitments that were made in the election campaign of the current administration bear fruit, a desire to see an acceleration of the political reforms that have been promised. And, that's something I spent a lot of time talking to the president and his ministers about. And there certainly doesn't seem any lessening of a commitment to implementing those reforms, but there is a recognition that things haven't happened overnight.  

And then among government stakeholders, I think one of the biggest challenges that the government faces is the amount of debt that it has inherited from the previous administration. And so I think those debt restructuring talks that are occurring, that the Zambians are very, very invested in and have brought. I think some very important ideas too. There is a desire to see those talks move as quickly as possible to resolution because the conclusion of those talks then can unlock access to additional resources. And so it's incumbent, I think, on all nations who are participating in those talks to recognize the urgency of the economic situation here and for us all to work together with a constructive mindset to help bring those talks to conclusion.  

MODERATOR: All right, just three minutes left before we need to depart. 

REPORTER: [Off-mic]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: What was the last question?  

QUESTION: [Off-mic] Are we going to see more investments coming to Zambia?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, great. No, it's a very reasonable question. I think because there are a lot of different announcements: there's a $20 million DFC announcement that predated me where we learned yesterday that some of those loans are already being finalized with the Absa Bank for small business owners or small enterprise owners. The Trade Boost initiative is going to take time; it's about tailoring the production of goods here in a manner that meets the needs of markets elsewhere. 

MODERATOR: [Off-mic]


MODERATOR: The funding has started.  

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Funding has already started flowing. I think on the food security additional resources which were just announced by President Biden in the G7. I think we are now looking to see how to channel those resources. So we certainly appreciate the urgency of disbursing those funds. But it's also about making sure, since it's $9 million and the needs are very substantial, how to do so in a catalytic way. But none of you have any sense of the timing of that, right?  

MODERATOR: That's correct. We do expect that to be expedited, given the priority. And it will be. I think should be the end of fiscal year [inaudible].  

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Okay, so to end the fiscal year. And then on things like – we've already invested $60 million in vaccine delivery to fight against COVID. Because the last thing we want to do is get through this food crisis and have COVID again shut down the country. So we are also looking to find additional resources when I go back to Washington to support future campaigns to get those to continue to get those vaccine numbers up, given all the progress that Zambia has made. I will say that just as Zambia's one of not too many countries chosen as new Feed the Future target countries. So, too, Zambia was only one of 11 countries that we chose globally to receive additional COVID delivery, financial assistance. So the $60 million that we've invested in supporting your Minister of Health and her COVID vaccination campaigns, those are resources that only 11 countries around the world got access to.  

And again, this is where the political, the economic, the health all go together, because this government is attempting to fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law. USAID and other similar development agencies just can have more confidence that our money is not going to be stolen. And again, it's going to take time for those systems to be built to guarantee the resources, the effective use of resources. We don't pretend that all of that can be fixed overnight, but when we make choices about where to invest limited pools of money, it really matters that a government is trying to strengthen the rule of law and that's very reassuring for our taxpayers that want to know that the money is not going to end up in somebody's pocket. That is actually going to help a country weather these difficult economic times or a health crisis, for that matter.  

MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you so much, colleagues in the media. I'm really sorry. I know there's more questions. We greatly appreciate the great questions. Thank you so much, Administrator Power. And everyone have a great day. Thank you. Thank you for coming.  


Last updated: July 02, 2022

Share This Page