Speaking With Finance Minister Kwesi Tonkolume

Kwesi Tonkolume stepped into a global era of transparency when he became the first Finance Minister of the Republic of Zambia in 2015. The responsibility of managing the world’s 11th largest economy, in a…

Kwesi Tonkolume stepped into a global era of transparency when he became the first Finance Minister of the Republic of Zambia in 2015. The responsibility of managing the world’s 11th largest economy, in a time of global recession, meant being faithful to a country’s interests, while keeping an eye on the global markets.

“I was exposed to the negotiating power that is the combined market,” said Mr. Tonkolume, a university professor of economics who became Finance Minister under President Edgar Lungu. “I was educated to avoid new frontier areas of interest.”

Mr. Tonkolume, who has a B.A. from the University of Zambia and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, said he is ready to take on any finance minister who asks him to initiate new economic policies.

“A finance minister has to be flexible,” he said. “Sometimes you are forced to make decisions within a wide portfolio of interest and financial instruments.”

Being knowledgeable of markets is important if the finance minister’s goal is to maximize economic growth. Mr. Tonkolume said that success or failure rests with the policies being pursued.

“If an agenda is not well thought out, it will not do any good,” he said. “You may go ahead with something without proper planning.”

Mr. Tonkolume said he does not believe economics is about individual economic gain.

“The purpose of economics is to effectuate social change,” he said. “The reason why it works is the empowerment of people.”

He added: “They should not feel that what they are doing is selfish. I believe that with strong people power, the economy can be developed.”

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