I want to speak of ''Zambians'' in the plural! Zambia is a big country comprising of about 13.5million people living in over 73 Districts with 68% population being the youth. As can be observed from our education programmes, we speak of Zambia as a country of great potentials and at the same time great problems. But I seriously believe that the potentials outweigh the problems. The task then, is to get those potentials applied to those problems. We call that equitable, integral and sustainable development.
Understandably, I look at Zambia through the lens of that part of the Continent that I know best, where I was born and have lived for over 20 years. Some of you may know Zambia very well or just learning to know it. And you may know that it is one of the richest countries in Africa in terms of resources: land, water, agriculture, minerals, tourist sites and peace. Zambia has experienced Peace for the last 46 years of Independence with 73 tribes living together without ethnic conflict. We are the envy of our neighbours. Southern African neighbours like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over four million have died in the past decade in conflicts that are local but largely are international and Zimbabwe where a previously rich economy has suffered a melt-down. Zambia is such a rich country, but with some of the poorest people in the world.
For Zambia, I want to suggest that justice is important if we are to attain that equitable, integral and sustainable development. From my Zambian experience as a young person, Justice requires that people are put first in any definition of development. It Calls for new models of the economy, for new roles of government in the economy and for new priorities in the economy. Justice in Zambia requires much greater attention paid to Eco-Justice (Environmental, Ecological, Social, Economic, Water, and Climate) and the protection of the integrity of creation. This is a topic that really needs little elaboration since we all have become more accustomed to the demand for a respect for our common home and earth. But this respect has different implications in different contexts.
I want to highlight here the justice implication of managing a trade-off between attracting investments and safeguarding the environment. Zambia’s turn-around in the economy is much dependent on the expansion of our copper mines. As in many other parts of Africa, major new investment partners come from China. And Chinese investors have not always been keenly sensitive to environmental impact studies and demands. The question is; should the Zambian government enforce strict requirements regarding opening of new pits, disposal of wastes, pollution of air and water? Or should the need for employment generation activities, with subsequent rising standards of living, take precedence over environmental concerns, concerns often viewed by investors as abstract, ideological or irrelevant? Looking at these questions, you will discover that, humanity’s destruction of the earth with impunity through production, distribution and over consumption and secondly the process by which those who are richer and stronger destroy the earth, results in impoverishing the poor, making them even more vulnerable and resulting in social injustice.
Many communities in Zambia, lack access to regular piped, purified water and often depend on rivers and other natural water sources for their household and agricultural needs. However, the mining production process pose a threat to these water sources, as the process of separating out copper ore leaves behind an acidic liquid which contains small particles of unused rock (silt or sediment). This can cause problems for local communities, if allowed to build up over time. In regards to this, Human rights are not negotiable and as such their protection and promotion should not be optional. The Zambian government clearly has an important role to play. It has a duty to safeguard the human rights of its population through the effective use of public funds generated from mining companies and other sources by ensuring effective corporate regulation. However, in the past media reports(print, electronic etc) cites a variety of evidence which suggests that the Zambian government does not always have the ability to ensure effective regulation, as it can face challenges in designing and implementing national legislation.
It is not only water pollution that can cause problems for local communities, but also air pollution specifically sulphur dioxide, a side effect of the copper-smelting process. High sulphur dioxide levels can cause breathing difficulties and chronic respiratory illness. They can also reduce lung functions and worsen cardiovascular disease. When mixed with water, sulphur dioxide can produce acid rain, changing the soil chemistry and reducing the photosynthesis process in plants. This in turn causes problems for the local farming communities both in terms of growing food and securing a livelihood.
The Zambia case is of course replicated in so many other parts of Africa today, where the extractive industries are increasingly influential. Our neighbours to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo, face even greater challenges along this line. My own sense is that justice in Zambia demands a commitment to a long-term sustainability that is impossible with short term environmental damage. Justice in Zambia demands a radical approach to the challenge of Eco-Justice. Eco-Injustice is truly an issue of integral development and justice, which requires a radical approach and response by every individual. This requires full 'ATTENSION' to issues of Economy, Ecology, Environment, Social, Water and Climate. Let me emphasise that Eco-Justice is not a Zambian Challenge, not primarily an African concern. ‘But it is a serious challenge to the future development of the Continent’.