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Summary of Career History

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1965 - 1971

Richard (Tim) Dening in Lusaka in 1964.

Agricultural Economics in Zambia

As we moved towards independence in 1964, it was clear that I should move into a more clearly defined profession, and I transferred as an Agricultural Economist into the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Agricultural Marketing Committee.

Initially, the Secretaryship of this committee was my main task, since law and order could not be maintained in large mining communities if the basic food supply (white dent maize) could not be guaranteed. On occasions when stocks ran out, and American yellow maize was supplied in the rations, there were riots. In any case, locally produced maize from commercial farmers undercut imported maize due to the latter's transport costs. Nor could we at that stage rely on private marketing to guarantee supplies, so marketing was placed under the control of a statutory board; a practice which in recent years has enabled Zimbabwe not only to supply its own needs, but also to feed much of Southern Africa, until the present government wrecked the system.

Self-sufficiency was therefore the prime object, and this was achieved by the guaranteed market and a guaranteed price, adjusted from year to year on a formula devised by a very experienced agricultural economist, who had emigrated to Rhodesia from Britain. Assessing the optimal price was the key factor, and this involved me in field micro-economics, to establish the technology and costs of producing maize and the other major crops, groundnuts, sorghum, cotton and wheat. Staff were nor permitted to sit in the office and write letters to farmers!

The committee, which was chaired by the Australian Professor of Psychology and composed of local business members, had the confidence of the government, and its recommendations had the desired result, until the government itself arbitrarily interfered with the farming system and destroyed confidence.

Policy Planning Committee

The purpose of this committee was to bring together the heads of department and other interested parties, to create a team atmosphere, and iron out differences of opinion. Since at that time, most of those concerned were still expatriates, sometimes with strong views, the committee was effective at preparing policy documents.

Tobacco Industry Board

I was the first Secretary of this Board, which we had to establish when Rhodesia became independent, and we could no longer use their Board's services. For the same reason, I arranged the finance and organised the building of the Lusaka Tobacco Auction Floor.

In 1968, the Ministry of Agriculture became the Ministry of Rural Development, and I found myself in charge of the new Agricultural Planning Unit, policy papers and cabinet memoranda on agricultural economic matters, and foreign aid in the agricultural sector. I served on the Cold Storage Board and the Dairy Produce Board.

In 1970, I was seconded to the new Rural Development Corporation as Chief Projects Officer. I immediately found myself arranging the funding and organising the establishment of Rural Air Services Ltd., which required three specialised aircraft to spray systematically much of the forest area of Southern Province, against an otherwise uncontrollable population explosion of tsetse fly, threatening the entire cattle population. The job done, the company became very useful for other aerial requirements for the Ministry.

The Corporation was also establishing beef cattle enterprises. I accompanied the Zambian Chairman on an official visit to East Africa and Israel.

Political and Social Collapse

Since our Faculty is concerned with Politics as well as Economics, I will need henceforth to comment on this aspect.

Until the late 1960's, there had been little identifiable corruption in Zambia, and activities proceeded with a fair degree of western competence. But collapse then occurred fairly rapidly. A substantial proportion of the population could be drunk before breakfast. When on tour, I found that visiting politicians whose rest house I might be sharing, normally expected the local headmaster to provide schoolgirls for their bed.

Law and order was breaking down rapidly. Police morale was low, and they were short of working vehicles. An expatriate lecturer was shot dead on his front verandah, allegedly by a roving South African freedom fighter. The reduction of interest in the law worked in both directions. two neighbours who kept a pair of Rottweilers for protection, came back late one evening to find a dead burglar in the kitchen. When the police arrived, they laughed, congratulated our neighbours, threw the body in the Landrover and drove away.

A neighbour and I had a splendid incident, when our wives were away, and a very large burglar broke into his house, stealing a bagful of whiskey and gin bottles. My neighbour woke, phoned me, and pursued him. We caught him in the garden and had a pitched battle. He broke my neighbour's nose and tried to stab him. He escaped and was brought down in a rugby tackle. We managed then to tie him up in electric flex and call the police. This was followed by the scene of my neighbour, who was a red-headed Scotsman who slept in the nude, standing naked, covered in his own blood, with his foot on our prisoner, like some Middle Ages Viking. In court, many months later, the burglar explained that he had been walking peacefully down the road, and had been attacked by two ferocious bwanas. Why, asked the prosecutor, had he been carrying a three foot crowbar? No-one in our road was ever burgled again.

Corruption by now was creeping right through the system. A Party Secretary in Northern Province took over the administration of the Cooperative and reassigned the funds to himself. Our Zambian Minister had to take action, but he could not send Zambian civil servants to deal with it. I was sent with three of them as the hatchet man. There was no problem with the case, and he was dismissed from the Cooperative post; the organisation then being bankrupt, and unable thereafter to pay many of the farmers for the crops which it purchased.

In 1971, my agreed seven years extension in the Administrative Service ended. I was offered a new contract by the Zambian government and accepted with doubts. Shortly after, the Minister called me in, thanked me for what I had done, and told me that the Party had cancelled my contract.

 

 

1972 - 1979

Malawi and Sri Lanka
 

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All of Richard (Tim) Dening's papers relating to his career, first in the colonial administration in Northern Rhodesia and then as an agricultural economist, have been donated to the Bodleian Library  of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, in Oxford, England.

Tim kept very comprehensive records of all aspects of his working life. Anybody wishing to consult the archived papers should contact the library first for advice:

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Website: Copyright B.Corker 2008     Images: Copyright EGL Dening 2008