Zambia ranks 153 out of 172, attaining a Human Development Index of 0.395 and is one of Africa’s Least Developed Countries. It has a population of 12.5 million, out of which 64% live below the poverty line. However the country seemingly enjoys a GDP growth rate of 6.7%. The political stability and democratic space have been some of the major corner stones of Zambia development endeavour, as confirmed by consecutive peacefully transition of power among political parties. With the national literacy rates standing at 68.1%, education remains one of Zambia’s development priorities. The HIV prevalence of 14.3% poses also a challenge to the country’s human development efforts. While poverty reduction was most apparent in the North-Western and Luapula provinces, the incidence of extreme poverty continues to be highest in the Western Province, which is most susceptible to floods and displacement, and where the infrastructure is poor. Chronic poverty and food insecurity have also forced some segments of the population into desperation, their assets having been depleted and their traditional coping mechanisms exhausted. Very often these families are forced to rely on child labour for their survival and members of their families are among those at significant risk of human trafficking. Agriculture, which provides employment to more than 70% of the work force in which women are the majority, suffers from low productivity. This sector is characterized by low knowledge, the adverse impact of climate variation and climate change, and low-technology inputs among the mainly rural, small-to-medium scale farmers.
UNDAF development processes have identified multiple challenges, largely caused by the nexus of: (i) high HIV prevalence, (ii) deep-rooted poverty and food insecurity and, (iii) weakened governance systems, which adversely affect public service delivery capacity. This trio of challenges, long referred to as Southern Africa‟s “Triple Threat”, has undermined past gains in socio-economic and human development. There are also manifestations of a long period of slow, sustained but non-inclusive growth, including stifled employment growth, widening income disparities, gender inequalities, weakened safety net and traditional coping mechanisms, malnutrition and stunting, and weakened family support systems (leading to increasing numbers of orphans and other vulnerable children).
ICTs in the country
ICTs are generally well developed in the major urban centres of Zambia, where there are several cyber-cafés and wide-spread mobile Internet. Internet connectivity is still a challenge in rural areas because of poor signals for mobile networks and the high communication tariffs. However, mobile telephony is widely available in competitive prices in Zambia. A number of financial services are offered through mobile phones, such as, mobile banking and money transfer. Although there are concerted efforts by different stakeholders to promote information and communication technologies for development in rural areas, in Zambia this is still big challenge. Some overall progress may be achieved in the coming years: the new government may re-table the Freedom of Information Bill in parliament and enact it into law; the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) will be launched; and media policy will also be refined and resubmitted to cabinet.
Local radios in the country
Local media is well developed in Zambia across all provinces of the country, although there are still some under-served areas. There are 16 community-owned local radios, 24 community commercial and religious radios, three educational campus radios as well as five community newspapers. None of them operates through local correspondents’ networks nourishing the news desks with material from all over the coverage area. The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Act is to be operationalized. This will mean that most local radio stations that had applied for licenses will seemingly be attended to expeditiously.
Importance of support to local radios
Local radios are spread across the various provinces of Zambia and reach poor populations such as vulnerable groups (including women, children, the disabled and unemployed youth). They operate in remote areas with limited resources and some of them have been on-air for more than five years. Because of their being in touch with local needs and news, these radios can certainly help otherwise neglected populations advance towards sustainable livelihoods, food security, good governance and increased human development in general.