Zambia, long the staging ground the southern Africa's anticolonial wars, is feeling a bit like the stepchild of the liberation movement these days.

For years, the government told the people that the declining economic situation in the country was beyond control largely because of the Rhodesian guerrilla war, which increasingly spilled over the border into Zambia and finally right into the streets of the capital.

Now, one year after the end of the war leading to the independence of Zimbabwe, the economy has shown little improvement. Worse yet, Zambians are feeling slighted by their more prosperous southern neighbor.

The end of the war and the advent of black-majority rule in Zimbabwe at first brought a sense of euphoria to the neighbor north of the Zambezi River. Finally the bombings would be removed, Zambians believed.

The government, however, has been unable to satisfy the rising expectations of the people. Other factors beyond Zambia's control -- declining copper prices, higher oil costs, drought -- are now the culprits of the economy, although Zambians are increasingly grumbling about government inefficiency.

To many Zambians, their first trip south of the border after years of being forbidden to go there because of the fighting was a revelation. Despite its war-battered economy and international sanctions, Zimbabwe was in far better economic shape than Zambia.

Zambian residents who could get scarce foreign exchange soon stripped shops in the Zimbabwe border towns of Kariba and Victoria Falls of such basic items as butter, cooking oil, light bulbs and toilet paper that were unavailable or in short supply at home.

The triumphant visit to Zimbabwe recently of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere brought home another disturbing truth to observant Zambians: their sacrifices have not necessarily been appreciated by Zimbabweans.

Crowds greeting Nyerere in Salisbury chanted that he and Mozambique's President Samora Machel were the only two leaders who provided them with support during the war. This was a slap at Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda's wartime backing of guerrilla leader Joshua Nkomo, who is now increasingly at odds with the country's new prime minister, Robert Mugabe.

Kaunda made light of the slight at a subsequent press conference, but to many Zimbians the message was clear: the love affair with Zimbabwe is over.

Kaunda is expected to visit Zimbabwe next year, so some of the wounded feelings may fade in time.

Zambia's economic woes, however, are another matter. The sparse statistics available paint a difficult picture.

The gross domestic product fell by 9 percent last year, the third straight year of decline, although a modest reversal may occur this year. Per capita income, after allowing for inflation, is down about a third in the last three years. The cost of living for low-income families has doubled since 1975.

The government is expected to break its $1.4 billion budget by about 35 percent. The original budget was already based on a $200 million deficit.

It is estimated that the country's foreign exchange reserves are now only sufficient to cover about one month's import bills, approximately $80 million.

Kaunda's chief economic adviser, Dominic Malaishu, said in an interview, "Unless we get some sizable capital inflows from overseas the position will become very serious."

The government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for approximately $300 million in standby credits to replace a similar stabilization program that Zambia successfully completed earlier this year.

The country's economy lives or dies on the basis of the volatile copper market that provides 90 percent of its export earnings. Early this year the price briefly zoomed to a five-year high of $1.40 a pound, but it quickly slipped to the current depressed level of 93 cents as the recession in the West mounted.

A U.S. Embassy study lists a large number of economic problems facing the country, including "high unemployment and population growth rates, lack of skilled manpower, large government subsidies, falling and inappropriate investment, heavy foreign debt, inefficiency of government-owned enterprise, striking rural-urban income disparity and extreme vulenerability to changing global economic factors," such as copper and oil prices.

Rene Dumont, a French agronomist, said in a report to Kaunda last year that two-thirds of the people leaving school each year cannot find work.

A government study estimates that the wealthiest 2 percent in the country earns 20 percent of the total national income -- the same amount that the lowest 50 percent receive.

One key to the country's difficulties is the failure to feed itself, despite having potentially rich agricultural land.

Drought forced the government to import 300,000 tons of corn, the staple of the Zambian diet, last year, and it is estimated that a similar amount will have to be brought in from abroad this year.

The Zambian government has traditionally lagged behind in paying adequate producer prices. The price to the farmer has now been raised from $15.20 to $17.50 for a 200-pound bag of corn, an increase that Malaishu said should be sufficient to spur production.

After a number of previous failures, Kaunda has embarked on a new scheme to make the country agriculturally independent. The centerpiece of the overall $500 million plan is the creation of large state farms bringing into production 50,000 acres or more of new land.

The funds for the program are supposed to come from foreign donors, but many specialists think the scheme is ill-conceived and unworkable.

Agronomist Dumont says the food problems will persist until Zambia finds ways to build up individual peasant farms. Zambia is one of the most urbanized countries in Africa, and the government has found it difficult to get Zambians interested in farming.

Meanwhile, as a result, "The rich man's pigs eat better than the average Zambian," according to Dumont.