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 Global Perspective

April 16, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 3

global perspective
Jesuit Father Peter Henriot, a political scientist, directs the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Lusaka, Zambia.



"The decision to unilaterally wage a 'preventive' war with neither moral sanction nor legal rationale is having consequences far beyond the boundaries of Iraq, the United States and the United Kingdom."

How does war in Iraq affect people in Zambia?

By Peter Henriot, S.J.

LUSAKA, Zambia - Though many thousands of miles away from Iraq, Zambia is it still very close to the Iraq War.

A country situated in the midst of southern African, Zambia is rich in potential and promise of minerals, agriculture, water and, most especially, people. A struggling democracy, the country is without the conflicts that strike its neighbors on all sides. But the 10 million Zambians, while living in peace, also live in great poverty. The World Bank estimates that more than 80% of the population lives below the poverty line. HIV/AIDS infects 20% of the people, but affects 100% of the people in devastating ways. And a year of drought brought millions of Zambians into near-famine situations.

So how does the war in Iraq affect the people of Zambia? In many sad ways, I'm afraid. I've lived here for the past 14 years, serving in pastoral work in a poor rural parish and involved in the social justice apostolate of the local church. As much as I cry over the tragic consequences for the long-suffering people of Iraq caused by this unjust and immoral war, I cry also for what it will mean for the well being of the Zambian people.

The war may be "officially over" by the time you read this article. But we all know that its distressing consequences will be with us - wherever we are in this world - for all too much of the foreseeable future. For Zambia (and also, of course, for many other poor African countries), this is true in many ways.

Oil Up

First, the price of oil is bound to go up, dealing a harsh blow to the fragile Zambian economy. Zambia must import all of its oil, and the Middle East is the main source. When oil prices doubled and then doubled again in the 1970s, the newly independent Zambia suffered a decline in its economy from which it has never recovered. Now with prices due to go up, not only will oil imports be affected but many other essentials from outside Africa (e.g., spare parts) Transport within the country will become more expensive, directly affecting the cost of food.

Trade and Investment Down

Second, several key development factors will be negatively affected. Trade with Europe and North America, even now not a very large part of the economic picture, will be even less as countries there focus energies on war. Foreign direct investment will slow down, and we can for the moment forget about debt cancellation efforts. (Zambia is burdened with a huge external debt of close to US7 billion and spends more money each year servicing that debt than on its health and education budget.) Tourists who might be drawn to beautiful spots like our Victoria Falls and numerous game parks will think twice about international travel.

Global Ties Strained

Third, the global political scene will change. The nations of the Africa Union, including Zambia, have opposed the war. Their stance will not be looked upon favorably by the United States and Britain, two key actors in Zambia's development program. Geo-politics guided by narrow considerations (e.g., "war on terrorism," deionization of Saddam Hussein) ignore the deeper issues affecting Africa today. Moreover, the threat of terrorism, rather than being lessened, will be heightened. Zambia has a very small Muslim population (less than 5%), but as the suffering wreaked upon fellow-Muslims through this war in Iraq alienates Muslims worldwide, there is great danger that terrorist elements will take advantage of the situation to cause political instability.

Development Aid Diverted

Fourth, development aid and cooperation, key factors in Zambia's future, will likely be diverted to the massive commitments to be made to the "reconstruction" of a war-destroyed Iraq. There is the additional danger that a weakened and distracted United Nations will prove less effective in providing development assistance to poor countries like Zambia.

Furthermore, there is the fear that the so-called "coalition of the willing" may decide, under the influence of the Bush doctrine, to initiate "liberation" wars in other parts of the world. If this occurs, money will quickly dry up for program directed to such problems as AIDS relief and other health concerns, hunger prevention, education improvement, and poverty eradication efforts in general. United States development assistance has significantly contracted over recent years and it cannot be expected to rise during times of war. .

The picture I paint might appear overly pessimistic to some. Or it may not even appear very important to others. But for me it is realistic and indeed important. The decision to unilaterally wage a "preventive" war with neither moral sanction nor legal rationale is having consequences far beyond the boundaries of Iraq, the United States and the United Kingdom.

I pray that those who can make a difference in both the pursuit of war and in the management of post-war activities will pay heed to the situation of Zambia, a country far away geographically from the conflict but very close indeed to the consequences.

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