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Commonwealth Journalists' Association

President of Zambia Dr Kenneth Kaunda arrives at London's heathrow airport to attend the 1977 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), UK - Copyright: Commonwealth Secretariat

By Trevor Grundy, CJA-UK member

After more than 45 years of development co-operation, The Netherlands Embassy will close its operation in Zambia next year, writes academic Marja Hinfelaar in the current edition of the Lusaka–based Bulletin and Record magazine.

“Dutch interests and tasks, such as trade, consular and Administrative will still be represented both by an honorary consulate in Lusaka that will employ local staff members for consular and trade and economic affairs,” she says in an article headlined “Tot ziens Zambia –The end of an era?”

The announcement came when the last Zambian government was run by the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy and that led to widespread speculation that attributed the move to corruption, bad governance and other blights that damaged the reputation of that central African, copper-rich country that over the years has played such a major role in Commonwealth affairs.

But it was also linked to the fact that in recent years Zambia has attained the status of a low middle-income country.

Marja Hinfelaar, a historian working with the Southern African institute for Policy and Research (SAIPAR) which is financed by the Finnish Embassy in Lusaka, asks: ”Will the closure of the embassy actually change Zambia-Dutch relationships?” And answers: ”It will be less about development and more about investment and trade relations.”

The Netherland Embassy was established in Zambia soon after the country’s in Independence in October 1964.

Its task was defined by development co-operation because  trade relations between the two countries hardly existed at that point of time.

The author writes: ”While having no prior attachment to Zambia, it developed a technical co-operation relationship in response to come pressing needs, namely a shortage of technical personnel and rural poverty. This cooperation developed not only out of a sense of solidarity but also in recognition of Zambia’s unique position as a beacon of stability in the region.”

The Netherlands was a country that offered support to the African Frontline States during their protracted battle against first, all white rule in southern Rhodesia and, later on, the fight to end apartheid in South Africa.

Dutch doctors, agricultural scientists and engineers were employed in Zambia’s Western province. In fact, the Dutch continued their support for Western province until the late 1990s and, as a result, Western Province was jokingly called the 13th province of The Netherlands.

She adds:” A long –lasting relation predominately focused on development cooperation with Zambia is now coming to an end. The reason for its closure lies most of all in the Netherlands. In order to focus its development efforts, the newly elected government under the leadership of prime minister Rutte made the decision to reduce the number of so-called cooperating partner countries. This has led to the closure of Dutch embassies in Africa, namely in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. The embassy in Tanzania will be reduced to an economic post.”

One of the criteria of selection was the income status of the country concerned and the potential to raise its own revenue.

Says historian Hinfelaar:  ”Zambia’s attainment of low middle-income country status therefore had a direct influence on the decision to end development cooperation. But other factors were at play as well. According to the Dutch Ambassador Harry Molenaar, development cooperation with Zambia had already changed character from 2009 onward as a result of a period of unprecedented economic growth and macro-economic stability.

“Whereas donors used to contribute 40 percent of Zambia’s national budget, this has now reduced to seven percent to eight percent, a low figure, especially compared to surrounding countries like Mozambique and Tanzania.

“The Zambian government’s decreasing dependence on traditional aid has had a direct impact on its relationship with donors. Traditional development cooperation is gradually losing its importance while Zambia is marketing itself more and more as a place for business and investment.”