Voices from the field: Zambia

By Charles Mulila on May 14, 2022

A yellow sunset over a river with trees in the background
Photo by Joachim Huber available under a Creative Commons license

Charles Mulila is the Chairperson of PWYP in the Copperbelt region and works for the Development Education Community Project,a member of PWYP Zambia. He lives in Copperbelt, a region that runs through Zambia and the DRC and is known for copper mining. Here, he tells us why he campaigns for PWYP and what his ambitions for his country are.

Our PWYP Copperbelt members are seeing that we hold the government responsible for the prudent management of natural resources and how the government uses the revenues paid to them.

I live in the Copperbelt and have seen the trend from the old days when we had the Zambia Consolidated copper mines, where we used to have good CSR projects. But after the privatisation of the mines, a lot is not being done. This has brought about a lot of disappointment in the communities, as people want to get better services, as we did in the past. This is what gives me the passion to be a civil society activist, so that we can see that we get something from the production of copper and the profits that are being made.

As PWYP in the Copperbelt, we have members in eight districts, and we are focusing on following the money from the local authority angle, as companies are paying property rates and business fees to the local authorities. We are advocating that some of this money goes into the community to provide services to the people, especially to women, youth and children.

In Mufulira district, we engage with local authorities, who have been open to show us how much they are getting from mining companies. The next step is to advocate for the local council to receive proposals from the communities, so that we see a certain percentage of money paid going to the local communities for social payments and recreation activities instead of all of the money going to the local council’s administrative budget.

The challenge is that the bigger chunk of payments made by the companies goes to the central government, and it takes time for the central government to disburse money to the mining communities. So we decided to focus on payments made directly to the local authorities. We however need to be stronger as a local PWYP chapter, so that we engage effectively. We need to prioritise our areas of engagement, so that we are not all over the place, but targeted in our approach to ensure success in some areas.

I have been a civil society activist since 1992, and this has given me the spirit to want to champion for rights of communities. I can choose to work elsewhere and get a bigger salary, but being a CSO activist has given me the opportunity to be part of a process that looks at ensuring that the rights and needs of people that live around me are taken care of. There is a gap in this, and if I do not engage, I will always feel guilty, as I will keep feeling that I have done nothing to advocate for the rights of my community members. I believe that I have to leave the earth better than I found it.

Africa is losing out as investors are taking advantage of our loose policies, so it is up to us to stand up and speak out, so that we contribute something to our country, region and to the world.