Activist Muyatwa Sitali highlights Zambia’s efforts to challenge vulture funds, cancel debt and push for transparency
What compelled you to become an activist?
In a society where social and economic justice is a preserve of only a few, it is necessary that the call for this kind of justice is enhanced and sustained. I felt compelled to join the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection under the Jubilee-Zambia campaign so that I can add my voice to the need for an equitable progression of human development.
How has the debt issue affected you personally?
I once wrote that “the consequences of debt in Zambia can be likened to the HIV/AIDs pandemic because if you are not directly affected by the social malaise of high unsustainable debt, you definitely are affected by its consequences.” This was because Zambia's debt had been estimated to be over $700 per person in 2004.
From this understanding, I knew that as an individual, even without a job, I owed the rich governments as well as the rich institutions they fund like the IMF and World Bank more than $700 and this would rise if debt was not cancelled and the borrowing not controlled.
I realized that the difficulties my relatives and many others were facing in scouting for my university fees, while struggling to provide for their families, were partly because of the high taxes they faced in the government’s quest for resources to service the debt.
As a citizen I felt betrayed that Zambia, a country so rich in natural and human resources and making tremendous efforts to secure good health and education for its people, had to lose most of its gains through huge debt service. This power differential was to me an injustice to the progression of human development and a threat to the future of many, including myself.
What is your take on the “vulture fund” issue, particularly in the wake of the recent court decision that required Zambia to send more than $15 million to Donegal International?
The notion that courts “interpret laws not morality” indeed prevailed at the cost of Zambia’s tax payers. The G8 failed to curtail the activities of vulture funds and there is still a lot of room to control vultures given the weak regulations that currently exist. For Zambia, the loss of over $15 million in unplanned circumstance is a huge blow to the ailing social sectors.
We are aware that about 75 percent of this money has already been paid back from the revenue that comes from the taxpayers. With the proportion of the employed labor force declining from 87 percent to 84 percent from 1986 to 2005, the pressure to generate revenue through taxes is high, but only 400,000 Zambians currently have jobs.
Vulture funds are therefore an injury to human development and they will remain a scar for as long as laws in rich countries tolerate their "immoral activities."