May 28, 2010

This Week

Zambia’s former Finance Minister, Katele Kalumba, was found guilty of corruption and handed a 5 year sentence with hard labour. He and six other co-defendants allegedly siphoned money from the treasury through a secret intelligence account managed by the Xavier Chungu, chief of security at the time.

U.S. ally in the horn of Africa, Meles Zenawi has been re-elected. Prime Minister Zenawi’s party is reported to have scooped 87 percent of the parliament seats. Opposition leaders were crying foul before polls closed to no avail. Here’s to you, democracy!

And in other despot news, Sudan’s Al-Bashir has been sworn in for another term in office. To help celebrate, Daniel Arap Moi (ex-despot) of Kenya made an appearance.

Researchers at World Fish Centre in Malawi announced the supply of fish in Lake Malawi plunged by more than 90 percent over two decades. This is attributed to a drop in the lake’s water level, population growth and overfishing.

And finally….today is the 14 day mark until the start of World Cup 2010…FOOTBALL LOVERS UNITE!!!

Flu and HIV - Vaccine Strategy

Seth Berkley explains how smart advances in vaccine design, production and distribution are bringing us closer than ever to eliminating a host of global threats -- from AIDS to malaria to flu pandemics. He provides a powerful visualisation on cells, antibodies, and vaccines.

Berkley is the president and founder of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). He specialises in infectious disease epidemiology and international health. IAVI is a global organisation working to speed the search for vaccines to prevent AIDS, with its main focus in the developing world.

May 27, 2010


Thanks to my attentive friend Lombe, I have fixed the Twitter link on this page. You may have noticed it on the top right corner next to the RSS feed link. It had been directing to someone else’s Twitter account since mine was non-existent.

So, you can now follow me on Twitter (if you so choose). I am registered as MissBwalya ( or just follow the link above.

Happy Reading! J

African Middle Classes

Conventional wisdom would tell us that an African middle class does not exist. We’re either desperately poor or rolling in money pillaged from national coffers.

The African Middle Classes project seeks to “present a new but realistic vision of Africa to the public of developed countries”. The project combines academic research with photographic work to draw attention to an Africa that is changing. 

the website for more examples of the work. 

photo credit: Joan Bardeletti 

May 26, 2010

Enhancing Poverty

South African photographer, Zwelethu Mthethwa has a very interesting slideshow which includes his narration in which he talks about photographing black people, and in particular poor black people. 

He mentions how in the 80s at the height of documentary photography a lot of photos were taken in black and white, and how that technique tends to enhance the poverty of the subjects being photographed. However with a colour photo, you aren't not just looking at poverty but noticing details about the person or the environment. 

Check it out on the Guardian's website

photo credit: Zwelethu Mthethwa 

This Legacy Thing

As much I appreciate the concept of Africa Freedom Day as a young Zambian, I can’t help but be a little nauseated with all the pandering and self-aggrandizing speeches.

Yes, thank you Nkrumah, Kaunda, Nyerere, Kapwepwe, Lumumba, etc for your role in the liberation movement across the continent. You’ve been vindicated – Europeans thought Africans were incapable of self-rule, but look at us now 52 years later!

I don’t begrudge any of them their due honour but I am always taken aback by the almost cult-ish accolades showered upon them.

Nkrumah was one of the early architects of Ghana’s independence and played a role in supporting other liberation movements across the continent. He can also be credited with expanded basic educational facilities, and building other infrastructure. But let us not forget that he revealed himself to be an authoritarian who drove the economy to ruin, banned opposition, and declared himself president for life – before he was toppled in a bloodless coup.

Kaunda followed the same principles, escaped a coup and held on to power for 27 years.

I am not by any means suggesting that we only remember the bad and vilify these leaders, I think we should strike a balance. Life after independence certainly was not utopia and many of the founding fathers were found to be inept at running a government and made long lasting blunders. They are human, and like all of us made mistakes. We can’t go back and undo that, but please let us not forget it happened!

It is disingenuous to sit back and say how great things were under one-party, and that perhaps we should return to that and have Kaunda or his offspring be our leader again.

So, I’ll honour the legacy of independence from colonial rule but I will not, and cannot be spoon fed a sanitised version of history where these men come out looking like squeaky clean demigods. Let us just be honest about the full picture they painted for us. 

May 25, 2010

Backtracking on HIV Treatment

The International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) published a report that illustrates the effects of spending cuts in HIV Treatment, it can be found on their website. The crux of the issue here is that if funding continues to stagnate and decline we run the risk of reversing the positive strides taken over the last seven years in HIV treatment. 

It's heart wrenching to think of sick people being turned away from clinics or having to stand in line for hours waiting for medicine. 

27/5 Update

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has also released a study that looked into AIDS programmes in eight African countries, and found the effects of funding cuts widespread.

“Uncertainty and unreliability of donor funding has stalled the enrollment of new patients in treatment sites and put the supply of anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) at risk in the medium to long term”. 

Gareth Bentley Photography

If you’re interested in seeing stunning images of Zambia and her beautiful people, please check out Gareth Bentley’s blog and website. Gareth a friend from high school has always taken amazing photographs.

He’s a professional and commercial photographer based in Zambia. His passion lies in social documentary photography. He travels regionally and abroad to do his work, and has an array of portfolios available on his website that exhibit the depth of his work.

I can only hope that other Zambian photographers set up websites to showcase their work and gain exposure as Gareth is doing. And maybe we can start to see more images of ourselves through our own lenses. 

Tailor made solutions

FIFA has downgraded its original estimate on how many Africans from outside South Africa will be buying tickets to next month’s World Cup tournament by 77 percent, to 11,300. Someone finally woke up and smelled the stink of reality – having an internet based ticket sales system was not the right fit for South Africa and Africa!

This shouldn’t be news to anyone least of all the organisers of the tournament. Were they completely clueless about the fact that credit card use and internet access aren’t as widespread in Africa as they are in the Europe and the U.S.? Or perhaps they did and that segment of football fans wasn’t the intended audience for the tournament.

In a course correcting measure, SA ticket prices were dropped – the cheapest would be $18 and the highest $71, and over the counter sales were introduced in May. Thousands stood in line and 230,000 tickets have been sold since then. But why did it take FIFA and the SA organizing committee until 2 months before kickoff to come to this solution?

There are obviously other reasons that account for the poor tickets sales in other countries such as the cost of travel and accommodations but I believe the over-arching one is the availability of tickets. If they had employed over the counter sales in other African countries when tickets were first made available the story would likely read differently. More would have been sold, and resourceful fans and organisations would be pooling together to get motorcoaches hired to ferry ticket holders to the tournament.

But instead they looked stood behind their original plan, and failed to tailor make one for the unique environment in which they were working.

So, the underlying lesson for FIFA is this: understand the environment in which you’re working, and come up with the best solutions based on the real need and challenges; the solutions should not based solely on what is the most convenient for FIFA.

Gosh, where have I heard similar advice being given? 

May 24, 2010

Are we really free?

April 15, 1958 was declared to be Africa Freedom Day at the First Conference of Independent States convened in Accra, Ghana. This was “to mark each year the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolize the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation”.

The date was later changed to coincide with the birth of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) - May 25.

I get goose bumps when I remember the reverent tones of my grade 4 teacher, Mrs. Mwape, telling us about the significance of this day. The conscious struggle against oppression and the emergence of a liberated Africa (with the exception of Namibia and South Africa at the time) – this was powerful stuff!

So, here we are 52 years later focusing on this year’s theme “Peace and Security in Africa”. What does this all mean aside from a day off work or the chance to eat and drink at your local embassy?

On this day we traditionally celebrate freedom from colonial oppression and racial discrimination but what about other freedoms? Can we claim true freedom without enforceable economic and social freedoms?


Zambia is generally a peaceful country and has not been marred by war, political or insurrections unlike some of our neighbours, but in last month’s by-elections in Mufumbwe, there was violence and intimidation of voters perpetrated by thugs shielded by both the ruling party and the opposition. This is a slippery slope, and flies in the face of what we stand for as Zambians. What happened to the freedom to choose the representative of your choosing in an election?


Many Zambians are deprived basic rights: access to basic healthcare, safe water, decent housing, basic education, and employment.

A woman and her children still face a high probability of losing their home and livelihood with the death of a husband and father.

In the face of such realities, security for many is an illusion. It’s an endless struggle, and one that claimed the lives of many.

So, as we honour the works of the great freedom fighters let us not forget that the job is only half done. We still have oppression, and exploitation. The enemy is not an invader this time; it is us – us with our poor institutions, our negligent leaders, and our lack of safety nets for the most vulnerable in the community.

We will not taste true freedom until we liberate ourselves from the quagmire of poverty and social injustice. 

Beyond Religion

I want to highlight a news story that has fallen off the news radar in recent days but is still worthy of attention in my opinion.

A few weeks ago a disturbing news story broke in Nigeria. A 49-year-old Nigerian senator, Sani Yerima, had allegedly married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl. According to sources, he traveled to Egypt, paid $100K to her family, and brought her to Nigeria where a wedding ceremony was performed. This man apparently has a penchant for marrying children because he allegedly did the same in 2006 with a 15-year-old.

Under Nigeria’s Child Right Act of 2003 the marriage or betrothal of a person under the age of 18 is forbidden, and carries a N500,000 fine or a five year jail term. Egypt also has a minimum age of marriage at 18. Furthermore, he faces trafficking human charges for the manner in which he brought this child into his country.

When questioned on this matter, the distinguished Senator declared “I have not done anything that violates Sharia, so I am not bothered about anything if anybody accuses me and I don’t think I have committed any offence”. Yerima is, as others have, using religion to justify his actions when he is in fact committing a crime.

If one can get past his self-serving religious argument, a larger picture emerges – the use of power and position to satisfy base appetites and desires. He quite obviously exploited his position as a rich man to procure a child wife for a handsome amount of money. This is symptomatic of unequal power and the disparities that exist between the haves and the have-nots in our societies.

Unfortunately it is not uncommon to hear of poor families marrying off young daughters in exchange for money, land or other items of monetary value to older, wealthier men. This is where much work is still needed in the fight against poverty, the entrenching of stronger rights for women and children, and education about health hazards faced by children given into marriage such as obstetric fistula.

Yerima should not be allowed to turn this into an argument about his choice to practice religion freely. He is an unapologetic paedophile, and should face consequences for his actions. Child abuse is hard enough to eradicate when it so often happens behind a veil of secrecy and shame but when someone flagrantly flaunts it in public like this, action is needed!

I unequivocally support the female Nigerian senators and their allies who are pursuing this matter. 

May 20, 2010

Real Change

I have generally steered clear of the Obama bandwagon. No, I am not a naysayer who can’t recognise or acknowledge the significance of what he accomplished with his election in 2008. I have reserved judgement because it’s been my thinking from the beginning that Congress would be the biggest stumbling block in his endeavour to deliver CHANGE. 

I think the inherent weakness of the Obama doctrine is that it was not fully matched with the infusion of new blood in the U.S. senate and congress. He can talk about bringing change in Washington until he’s purple in the face, but as long as the players that hold the power remain the same, they will continue to throw hurdles in his path, and that’s exactly what has happened.

So, as African pundits rant on and on about the need for an Obama-like leader in Zambia or Kenya to bring transformational change, I respond with this:

How about we start thinking about becoming Members of Parliament (MPs) instead of just shooting for plot one (the presidency) and thinking everything else will fall in place after that?

The responsibilities of Zambia’s Parliament include “making laws (Acts of Parliament), approving proposals for taxation and public expenditure, and keeping the work of the Government under scrutiny and review”.

Being an MP isn’t as glamorous as being the President or a cabinet minister but there is so much that can be accomplished in that role. An MP is elected every 5 years and represents a specific constituency and in theory represents the interests of his/her constituents, and doesn’t just act as a rubber stamp for the President’s agenda. 

An effective Parliament works on the people’s mandate and doesn’t abdicate its role to the president and his inner circle. Here’s an illustration of what I am talking about. Earlier this week, former Finance Minister, Ng’andu Magande joined the re-instate the windfall tax for mining revenues bandwagon. Which is all well and good, it’s a good argument and sound minds are needed in the debate (see here & here for more reading). However, what I would like to know if why he, as an MP, doesn’t introduce a bill and gather support to reinstate the measure? Isn’t that part of his responsibilities as an MP? Or maybe I am too far removed from my civics lessons to remember this correctly. J

If we start to shift our thought processes of how to enact effective change through decision making bodies such as Parliament I believe we have a better chance of achieving our goals. Yes, the presidency holds a lot of power and clout, but it should not be the be-all and end-all to decision making and bringing change into the lives of people.

In order to have a truly effective grassroots movement (for lack of a better term) we need to not only engage people in the political process but actually get representatives who will speak and work on their behalf in Parliament.

A charismatic leader can only go so far in meeting the needs of the followers. There has a supporting cast of people working in collaboration (not in secret) to not only deliver change we can believe in but change we can see

May 18, 2010

Not < blank > enough

I recently finished Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond’s debut novel, Powder Necklace. It’s a fictionalised account of the author’s life of a young girl shuttled between her native Ghana, England and the U.S. The girl, Lila, is sent to Ghana from England by her mother who “needs a break”, and finds herself in a country she has only heard about from her parents and other family members. It makes for a humorous read, seeing how Lila responds and tries to adapt to her new environment – collecting water to take a bath, watching the young maid kill a chicken to prepare for supper, etc.

The most compelling part of the story for me is how Lila struggles with issues of identity and her sense of home. She is referred to as Broni - a black, white girl, and she admittedly feels a sense of superiority because she’s English. As the reality of her situation in Ghana sets in (this is not a short term holiday after all), you start to see a shift in her outlook and attitude.

It makes for a quick read, and definitely triggers some interesting talking points. Lila is made fun of for not “being Ghanaian enough” – she speaks with an English accent, she knows little to nothing of life in Ghana, and she feigns little understanding of her native Twi. I can’t help but think about some of my own nieces and nephews that are being raised outside of Zambia, and what going back ‘home’ would be like for them. Would they even consider it home like I and their parents do?

Would they be horrified at the idea of sitting almost nose to butt cheeks with virtual strangers in a minibus? And would sitting by candlelight because of rolling black outs be enough to send them into a tizzy?  That’s the stuff you have to experience first hand to truly understand and appreciate. Will ‘my’ Zambia be ‘their’ Zambia or will they just be tourists enjoying the sights and counting down the days until they return home.

With that said, it’s not only children living in the Diaspora that have to deal with being not “Zambian-enough” or “African-enough”.  I have a Nigerian friend who gains an almost irrational amount of satisfaction in pointing out what he terms as “un-African” characteristics in others from his country and the rest of the continent, yours truly included. These vary from having not having a deep enough ‘African’ accent to having ‘too many’ non-African friends. Yes, it’s complicated!  I really take his notions with the tiniest grain of salt, and pay more attention to the wider perspective.

I remember a few months ago, the chairperson of the constitution review committee caused a dust up when in defending the 10 year residency as one of the qualifications to stand for president she stated that those living outside the country weren’t Zambian-enough. O.K.A.Y. I appreciate the value of being locally based to understand the needs of our country and being quote unquote in touch. But looking at the track record of our leadership, we may want to engage those in the Diaspora more actively despite the denigrating labels we’re quick to slap on them, and we just might be surprised.

Granted I know of Zambians who are very upfront with the fact that Zambia is behind them; and that there is nothing for them there. That’s a personal decision, while not one I subscribe to, I respect an individual’s right to make decisions and just let it go. This is not for them.  

If you bleed red, black, green and copper, and have a vested interest in our country’s success – then you’re Zambian-enough.

And yes, that also applies to mwenye-Zambians, muzungu-Zambians, and anyone else privileged to carry either a Green or Pink NRC. 

May 16, 2010

Our Legacy

My grandparents’ generation fought against colonial rule and led Zambia to Independence. The native became the ruling class.

My parents’ generation basked in the wealth of a newly independent Zambia. Copper prices were high as was the standard of living. Free education, free health care, food subsidies were the order of the day.

My generation came up during the time of food shortages, constant states of emergency, and an ailing Zambia.

I remember watching the emergence of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) led by the charismatic Frederick Chiluba. He declared “the hour has come for change” – no more dictatorial one party rule by the old guard. And change did come. The ruling party was swept out of office in our first multi-party elections and the people cheered.

Trade barriers were lifted and commodities from South Africa flooded the country. Food stuffs re-appeared on shelves, fresh bread was readily available, fancy water fountains were built in Lusaka – Zambians could finally spend money without traveling to Malawi, Zimbabwe or Botswana!

After years of inefficiency many parastatals were liquidated or privatised. The government wasn’t going to throw good money after bad into these money pits. Private ownership would sort out efficiencies and competition would make them more lean and robust. Alas, this was not to be.

Privatisation of the copper mines, our life blood, was pushed with the expectation that investment and profitability would return. However, this was fraught with controversy and was poorly executed. Thousands lost their livelihoods, and were pushed into poverty. SAP (Structural Adjustment Program) and privatisation became dirty words even when I had little understanding of what they truly meant.

Allegations of corruption, drug trafficking, gun running for UNITA, dogged our new political elite, and the lustre of democracy dimmed. There were widespread retrenchments, food costs were high and wages remained low – the promises we were oversold did not come to fruition for many.
As my generation comes to full maturation in our mid to late twenties and early thirties, we are becoming decision makers. With the Zambia we are slowly inheriting for our parents what will be our legacy?

Will we be the generation that takes our democratic processes into maturation with intelligent and meaningful discourse? Will we be the ones to help slow the tide of HIV/AIDS by not only having a healthy fear of it but also by adopting responsible lifestyle changes and passing those on to our children? Will we learn the lessons from our grandparents’ generation and start taking care of our own – the street children, the orphaned, and the oppressed? Will we harness the knowledge and experience gained through our education to make Zambia competitive and productive once again?

Or will we be just a lost generation, floating aimlessly, licking our pitiful wounds and bemoaning how those that came before us robbed us of our inheritance and respectability as Zambians?

May 14, 2010

Unsung Heroes

Swaziland just hosted the first ever African Grandmothers’ Gathering. The purpose of this event was to bring attention to an oft-neglected victim of the HIV/AIDS scourge – grandmothers. Grandparents have always played an important role in the African family – providing knowledge and bridging generations. And now as this disease claims the lives of their adult children, their role is changing; they often become the head of a household caring for their orphaned grandchildren. 

They have no safety nets such as social security to help with neither living expenses nor do they have support to help themselves and their grandchildren deal with the grief associated losing the parent and child. It’s a formidable challenge, and it’s time we started paying attention.

Take a minute to read the Manzini Statement from this event.  

May 11, 2010

Aid shame

As I was preparing my post yesterday about pan-Africanism and unifying Africa, I couldn’t get past the parallels drawn with the European Union. The EU has been held up as an example of what the African Union should strive to become – modern democratic societies working in partnership to promote “peace, prosperity and freedom for its…citizens - in a fairer, safer world”.

However, the past few months have revealed turbulence in the once calm seas of European harmony. With the increasing likelihood of Greece defaulting on its debt, and possibly dragging down other countries with it this has sent a panic in international markets and protesters to the streets.

Greece has invoked IMF help, and the response has been very telling. According to Greek nationals recently surveyed, requesting foreign aid is “humiliating” and “shameful”, and as one publication has put it – “they have given the keys of the country to the IMF.” The IMF’s reputation for harsh reforms and interference is well known, and this is being railed against. However, I can’t keep a smirk off my face as I think of the irony in all this. Requesting aid is obviously something only “third world” countries do, we seemingly have no pride or what little pride we had was cast off decades ago as we first held up our begging bowl.

I really hope policy makers and leaders in Africa are paying attention and heeding the lesson.

The lessons here for Africa are the weaknesses and limitations of the EU model, lasting consequences of unchecked borrowing and spending, the reality of external influences exerted by when we accept “handouts", and the perception of being seen as beggars when receiving foreign assistance. 

We do not need more time and money wasted at AU conferences talking about a unified African government with a single currency, a single constitution, and Gaddafi as our supreme leader! African countries need to leverage and develop their own market systems for the benefit of their people; with enterprises that transform natural resources to wealth, and provide long-lasting solutions. 

May 10, 2010

Pan-Africanism today?

Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president is often held up as the beacon for visionary leadership in Africa. His lasting legacies are 1) financing and support of liberation struggles and nationalist movements across Africa and, 2) forging the idea for a common union of African states – Pan-Africanism. The idea of a unified Africa wasn’t a new one at the time but it gained much traction as African countries gained independence.

Nkrumah envisioned a United States of Africa, writing that under a central government Africa would become “one of the greatest forces for good in the world.” Needless to say, it didn’t work! The leaders of the newly independent counties weren’t about to relinquish their power. With that said, the idea still resonates today in some circles; Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, is championing the same idea and was quite vocal about it during his term as African Union chair.

Is the idea of a unified Africa realistic or just a naive longing of aging freedom fighters?

I honestly do not believe that we have functional and stable institutions that work in harmony for the best interests of the continent and the people of Africa. Also, there are too many egos involved and conflicting regional interests to prevent this. 

The African Union (AU) is seemingly just as toothless as its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). At a practical level it lacks the political credibility to an effective source of power. Its less than rigorous membership criterion means that all African states except Morocco are represented, and this includes all manner of repressive dictators and tyrants. It’s irrational to believe that such leaders would be amenable to sound policies that alleviate poverty and hunger, and stem corruption and the flight of capital to offshore bank accounts. 

To put it simply - member states do not work side by side to negotiate and work on major issues affecting Africans, and this is likely to remain the same even with all the talk of unification. 

More time should be spent on more targeted and tangible "unification." These would include the following:
  • reducing barriers to trade such as cumbersome customs procedures and improving road networks across member states as is currently done through the work of SADC and ECOWAS 
  • eliminating cumbersome visa restrictions to ease the flow of visitors across borders to boost tourism and cultural exchanges
  • introducing exchange programs that allow students and skilled workers to move from one country to another learning from others in their fields, and taking that knowledge home.
 As I think of this further, I have to ask – do we as Africans see ourselves as unified and standing under a common umbrella? Would we want a “Union Government of the African People and not merely of Union of States and Governments?”  And is unification truly a prerequisite for eliminating poverty, disease and conflicts? 

May 9, 2010

New Zimbabwe Policy

There appears to be a shift happening in U.S. policy toward Zimbabwe. On May 4, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate calling for “a more flexible and forward thinking” policy. According to the sponsors of the bill (Russ Feingold (D-WI), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and John Kerry (D-MA) this legislation “gives the Obama administration the guidance and flexibility to press for badly needed reforms in Zimbabwe.”  

Some of the main highlights:
  • Provide for additional flexibility for International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to engage with Zimbabwe.
  • Amend the restrictions on assistance to make exceptions in the areas of health and education.
This will definitely be worth tracking given the devastating effect the current sanctions have had on the people of Zimbabwe.  

May 7, 2010

This Week

The 20th World Economic Forum on Africa in Dar es Salaam just concluded today. The theme was “Re-thinking Africa’s growth strategy”. There are some webcasts available on the website, though not all from the sessions that were held.

Kenya published its Draft Constitution. Some of the main highlights of the new constitution are measures to curtail the sweeping powers of Kenya’s imperial-like presidency, enhance individual rights and give more power to local governments.

Joseph Kabila, DRC’s president, is intervening in the current power struggle in Zimbabwe’s ‘inclusive’ government. Apparently he is unhappy with the slow pace of negotiations and sent an envoy to help move things along. I have to ask how the negotiations in Eastern Congo are going to bring an end to the violence that continues to claim the lives of innocent civilians on Kabila’s watch.

The World Cup trophy has started it’s month long tour of South Africa before the start of the tournament. Thousands have been queuing up to have their pictures taken with it. History is slowly unfolding...

May 5, 2010

Women and Land

Poverty often manifests itself through the lack of access and control of resources, especially land. In communities that are largely agrarian this felt most acutely by the landless. A subset of this group, women, shoulder a larger burden due in part to the inequality that persists with regards to land ownership and property rights. Women are only 1% of landowners worldwide.

Many women are excluded from owning, inheriting and controlling property, and find themselves evicted from their home when they divorce, are widowed or abandoned. This can be attributed to various prevailing traditions and customs and is patently seen in Zambia, and other areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

This exclusion from property ownership is more prevalent in rural areas (though not restricted there) where customary law is most influential. Customary laws are largely unwritten but are very influential. They are based on patriarchal traditions in which men inherited and largely controlled land and other property. Women have very few rights and are placed in subordinate positions.  

This is most evident in the question of inheritance. “Inheritance is a fundamental issue with regard to how wealth is transferred within a society, and it directly relates to the protection of a woman’s housing and land.” In most ethnic groups in Zambia the deceased man’s family retains all inheritance rights – often leaving widows and their children disinherited of their property.

The practice of “property grabbing” is widespread and is a manipulation of customary law. It assumes a husband’s sole ownership of matrimonial property, and upon his death the ownership passing to his family – not the surviving spouse and/or children. Past practice was the family of the deceased would “inherit” and assume responsibility of property, the widow and children often through a male relative. This was done to protect and care for the widow and her children. However, today the responsibility of caring for the widow and her children has been abandoned but not the claim to property – hence the distasteful practice of property grabbing.

Women who lose their property lose their economic base often descend into poverty. They struggle to support their children and often cannot meet their subsistence needs. This affects children too – the loss of status, the ability to attend school regularly, and the security of having a home. 

The 1989 Intestate Succession Act was passed to deal with the issue of inheritance for those who die without a will. It is designed to provide for the surviving spouse, children (born inside and outside of wedlock) and other dependents. More specifically, a surviving spouse is entitled to receive 20% of the deceased's estate, parents 20%, other dependents 10%, and children an equal share of 50%. 

However, it is important to note that the Intestate Act holds for land held under statutory law. “Family property” and land held under customary tenure are excluded and rights to inherit rest with the deceased man’s family. In a country where almost 80 percent of land is customary land (land held by communities identified on the basis of tribe, residence or community of interest), this exclusion in effect denies women the access to the one resource they need the most to make it in agrarian communities.

The inherent weaknesses of the above mentioned Act, the inadequate training of judges, magistrates, police and a general lack of understanding of their rights among women make it difficult to make a significant change in the application of equitable inheritance rights. Furthermore, among the women that do know their rights, there is often fear of retribution from the husband’s family for asserting their property rights, and the time and money it costs to pursue such a case can be prohibitive.

Moving Forward

It is recommended that through the ongoing constitutional reform process the following language from the Mung’omba draft constitution remain:
“Women and men have an equal right to inherit, have access to, own, use, administer and control land and other property,” and
“Any law, culture, custom or tradition that undermines the dignity, welfare, interest or status of women or men is prohibited”. 
If a constitution is not adopted in the near future:
  • Amend Article 23 of the current constitution that forbids laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, but at the same time excludes from this provision, personal law (matters such as inheriting property) and the application of customary law.
  • Amend or repeal the provisions in the Intestate Act that exclude the inheritance of customary and family land/property.
Legal reform is obviously one way of addressing the issue of inheritance and access to land and property but can only be effective if people are aware of it and attitudes and beliefs are changed - this is probably the biggest obstacle.

NGOs such as Eastern Province Women Development Association (EPWDA) and Law and Development Association (LADA) are already at the forefront of providing legal education in rural communities. They are working to spread legal awareness and train community-based paralegals to give legal advice and provide sensitisation training to community members, leaders and chiefs.