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‘Domestic’ economic diplomacy

ON MAY 15, 2018, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) and Copperbelt University (CBU) signed a memorandum of understanding in order for the two institutions to co-operate in the area of developing innovative home-grown solutions that will be specially customised to meet the local challenges in tax administration.Two years ago, again ZRA announced that Zambian registered companies will be given business to supply goods, works and service to ZRA as long as they were registered for all taxes and paying all taxes.
These examples have been used to illustrate the direction that Zambia needs to continuously take in order to build an economy that is centred on home-grown innovations. As the country joins the continent in commemorating Africa Freedom Day on May 25, 2018, it is important to note that one way of having a firm economic foundation is to encourage local institutions and industries to have a case of good corporate governance as demonstrated by ZRA, where solutions are sourced from within and not outside.
In the adversity of stringent global economic competition, Zambia and Africa at large should focus on how to use its natural resource comparative advantage to fight for a place in global politics which are largely shaped by the strength of national economies. Commemorating times of slavery is only important if the commemorations signify the strides that have been made to liberate the continent in the areas that still continue to be dominated by the former colonial masters.
Countries that have developed did so by supporting their local industries in order to sustain the country in case of external shocks. This is the best economic emancipation if one has to think of how Africa can truly be called free. Issues of intra-Africa trade still remain of concern because Africa can’t produce. The import inclination of Zambia has put the country in situations where it can’t fully negotiate for trade deals that utilise its comparative advantage. To be specific, if the country industrialises commercially, the economy will become export-oriented
Today, China has agreed to import more goods and services from the US. It is not surprising that Donald Trump is slowly fulfilling his promise of making America great again. Trade protectionist measures are meant to help Americans maximise their full potential in producing what they are able to do. America simply wants to be more export-oriented in order to accumulate more capital. In the same manner, Zambians can do the same but this starts with firm policy that cannot be shaken by the developed countries that are the major funders and want developing nations to be on the receiving end through imports.
For example, as a policy experiment, bring together 100 students and graduates for a one-year programme from the Copperbelt University and the University of Zambia; put them through a fully-sponsored innovation and research programme to discover ways in which the Zambian copper can be processed into many other products. Imagine Zambia exporting finished copper products and at the same time export raw copper with profits arising from high international market prices. This same programme can be replicated in other fields such as medicine, technology, agriculture, engineering and architecture (United Arab Emirates has benefited from architecture and engineering), etc. This is a model that most developed countries have used, including China.
There are a lot of young people with brilliant minds such as Jasper Hatilima, Evaristo Musonda, Jerry Muwamba and friends from the Department of Electrical and Electronics at the University of Zambia that can do research and innovations that Zambia can produce as international products with a new market and environment. The Copperbelt University also has some of the best brains the country can tap from.
At some point, the brain drain from Zambia had reached alarming levels but fortunately interventions were made. The best thing to do now is to make use of this talent and not allow other countries who have found a new way of stealing this talent by offering scholarships while using the students for further research and innovations.
While political or territorial freedom was granted, economic freedom is a dream that has been left to be gained by coming up with policies that put the interests of citizens as priority number one. Such priorities are best achieved by ensuring that domestically, all citizens have a way of political and economic participation. Anything that Zambia aspires to become is achievable. All that is needed is a well-grounded national doctrine or consensus that everyone else will take both at individual and national level. Such a doctrine can be compared to that of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.
After years of gaining political freedom, Zambia like many other African countries should now use ‘institutional’ corporate governance to build their economy around the capacities of its local industries. Only, then, can the battle be well fought on a global scale.
The author is a Master of International Relations and Development student at Mulungushi University.