Why Is Zambia So Poor?

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I have a piece in Pacific Standard Magazine (well, the website, not like the magazine-magazine) about my trip to Zambia:

Like Tolstoy’s unhappy family, every poor country is poor in its own way, and everyone I meet has a narrative, a creation myth, for how it got this way and why it remains so.

I will spend the next 10 days meeting NGO activists, government officials, and business representatives. They will tell me that Zambia is terrible, that Zambia is fine, and that Zambia is getting better, respectively.

I’m not here to determine which of those statements is true. I’m here for the numbers, the information I can’t get back home. Somewhere between the handshakes, the spreadsheets, the PowerPoints, the annual reports, a story will emerge about Zambia, a story of a country watching its mineral wealth disappear, a country making everyone rich but itself.

I can tell we’re getting close to Kitwe because the number of people crossing the highway increases. The highway has no streetlights, the only light is from the cars, and about halfway there we start to see silhouettes of people in twos and threes running across the road. Our driver never slows down, even as the groups increase to six, seven people, crossing our headlights, stopping in the road to let a car whiz by, running again. I could ask him to slow down, but instead I just look.

There are people there who know a lot more about Zambia’s poverty than I do. If you’re interested in making a donation to any of the organisations I profile in the essay, get in touch and I’ll give you their info.


Filed under Essays, Personal, Travel, Work

5 responses to “Why Is Zambia So Poor?

  1. Eve Ndegwa

    Hey. I really enjoyed your piece about zambia. I just think the solution is diversification to other trade areas. Feel sorry for its citizens.

  2. congrats on your piece being run, and thanks for shedding some light on the situation in zambia – beth

  3. AES

    Michael, really nice piece. I’m actually considering assigning it to my undergrads as a short journalistic piece to go along with the academic stuff we’re reading. A question: Does foreign aid play a role, positive or negative? If so, how?

  4. Isaac Zimba

    My names are Zimba Isaac,a Zambian citizen and living in Kitwe.
    After completing my high school in 2010,i wanted study journalism but i never had the chance to due to lack of funds.
    Im writting to commend you for the good and factual article you have written about Zambia’s problems.
    Well,you have written about my country not because you hate it(us) but because you want it to be transformed and changed into a better country for all.for both the Rich and the Poor those in the Urban and Rural areas.
    I just want to say thank you for taking time to tell the world and Zambians about the real issues that are making my country to lag behind.Truth be told, Im not ashamed to have had the chance to read this article.
    Its an inspiration to me and i hope my dream of becoming a Journalist like you will come true.
    Thank you once again and may God watch over you wherever you maybe.

  5. What’s the link to the article? This sounds amazing and I can see from the comment above me that you truly made a difference by exploring the problems of this country.