Analysis: OLIVER NZALA
IF A single car can have up to six kilometres of copper wiring, then the question that begs to be answered is: for how long will Zambia continue exporting raw copper?This question comes in light of the call by commissioner for trade and industry at the African Union (AU), Albert Muchanga, for Zambia to strategically place itself for economic gains once electric cars are eventually introduced onto the African continent.
This is not the first time such a call has been made for Zambia to strategically find its place in the global economic system.
Dr Muchanga is simply saying promote the manufacturing sector, but his call is in a subtle way because of his position, which has to be seen to be impartial. The commissioner is speaking from the point of the AU’s forecast of how African countries such as Zambia can benefit from the business of electric cars and other innovations in existence.
Something can be done on this cause and the starting point is the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit scheduled for September 2018 in Beijing, China.
Zambia is a beneficiary of the US$60 billion pledged by China at the 2015 FOCAC summit in Johannesburg, but considering the urgency of things, the country should prioritise getting a bigger share of the funds after the 2018 summit.
It is highly expected that China will triple the US$60 billion and announce new incentives for African countries in this co-operation.
One thing that needs to be stressed is that Zambia needs to go well prepared for this summit. Government has to assemble a team of good experts or think tanks from key sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, engineering, among others.
These should be think tanks skilled in negotiations to not only woo investors but negotiate for better business ventures, and one of these ventures should be investing in the processing of Zambia’s copper into semi or finished goods such as copper wires.
African countries have witnessed what China can offer over the last decade and this time, competition to have the large share of China’s funds is stiff. China preaches win-win development, and true to that, this summit will be about the highest bidder and best negotiator. China has strategically positioned itself to get better deals from Africa after this summit because African countries are in dire need of development assistance from China, and secondly, African countries have found themselves indebted to China.
Zambia needs to catch up in the manufacturing, technology and infrastructure sectors for both domestic and export markets.
There is need to increase Zambia’s share of returns from exports. For example, in 2016 alone, China imported US$2.1 billion, and exported US$490 billion to Zambia. Much of these exports are copper and ores, slag and other non-traditional exports.
It would be prudent to think that preparations are underway for this meeting, and in line with the intricacies of the Zambian foreign policy’s economic focus, the details of what needs to be extracted out of the 2018 FOCAC summit are being tabled.
The experts or think tanks should work with the Chinese embassy to look at the priority areas for investments and which Chinese companies should be targeted. The Chinese embassy should help the Zambian counterparts on the best ways of convincing its government to consider giving Zambia a fair amount of its funds based on the good political and economic environment and the comparative advantage it has against other countries. Economies of scale should be at play here.
From a focus perspective, the think tanks drawn from different fields should be able to present a very good paper to the President upon which Zambia’s presence at the summit will be based. There is no harm in carrying a large contingency of experts with specific tasks knowing that national interest is priority.
The revised foreign policy has emphasis on economic diplomacy and in this case, Zambia has to use all available instruments other than those stipulated in the policy to achieve this goal. Many times, China has come to Zambia with an agenda for Zambia. It is time to go to China with an agenda for China in the manufacturing, infrastructure and technology sectors in Zambia, nothing less.
The Zambian think tanks and experts should meet potential investors on the sidelines of the summit, giving them live examples of what is in the offing for them if they set up industries in Zambia. This will create jobs, transfer of skills to local labour and also help in creating a stable balance of payments to the more export economy that will be created. There is need to align any development to current trends and needs.
It is evident that African countries have realised that China is taking its relationship with Africa very seriously. Therefore, Africa’s interest in China’s resources has become paramount resulting in a two-way scramble for resources. For the first time ever, Chinese resources are up for grabs by Africa at the 2018 FOCAC summit. To get a good share, Zambia must go to the summit well prepared more than ever.
The author is a Master of International Relations and Development student at Mulungushi University.
Analysis: OLIVER NZALA