Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
SO, REGIONAL investment expos are here to stay.
The recent conduct of the expos by the three provinces, namely Luapula, Central, and Northern, suggests so.
The expos, pioneered by the Luapula Province administration, present a turning point in the way the country has been doing business promotion in Zambia, especially investment and tourism promotion.
In the words of Alfred Zulu, president of the now defunct Zambia Independent Monitoring Team (ZIMT) and now serving as a human rights officer with the United Nations Missions in South Sudan, the three expos have been an eye-opener in that they have unravelled massive information in the potentially viable sectors of investment in Zambia.
“There are much resources in Zambia which were not noticed by the prospective investors and tour operators. The leadership of the three provinces headed by the provincial ministers and their respective permanent secretaries must be commended highly for providing leadership and guidance in the manner that these three expos were organised and publicised,” Mr Zulu says.
Economist Chibamba Kanyama says expos are a positive and timely trigger towards economic diversification, regionally driven economic growth and broader exposure of what Zambia offers across all sectors: mining, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.
After independence, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) government made attempts to drive industrialisation across provinces, and hence, the emergence of Mansa Batteries, Luangwa Bicycle Plant in Chipata, Pineapple Factory in Mwinilunga, and the Cashew Nut Plant in Mongu. Unfortunately, this venture did not yield positive results because it was not driven by the private sector that is able to identify opportunities and mobilise capital much more efficiently than Government. Since then, Lusaka has been the economic engine of Zambia following the demise of Ndola’s industrial hub in the 1990s.
Mr Kanyama says the concentration of investment projects in Lusaka and a few others on the Copperbelt, particularly in mining, have had several negative impacts, among them uncontrolled urbanisation of Lusaka as everyone flocked to the capital city in search of economic opportunities and employment.
He says the regional expos are possibly the best invention of government agents in recent times. If well planned and harnessed, they are likely to attract foreign direct investments across the country leading to the tapping of economic opportunities in these provinces.
Mr Kanyama says all Zambian provinces are endowed with resources that may even be richer in value than those found in one single country in Europe.
“Now that these investment initiatives are driven by provincial government offices, working hand in hand with the private sector, the motivation to sell these opportunities is extremely large. This is effective rationalisation of effort,” he says.
Mr Kanyama notes that Zambian domestic investors who have always complained that Government only provides incentives to foreign investors will now have an opportunity to invest in different provinces on negotiated terms.
“Remember, this is the first time in Zambian history [that] provinces are competing against one another in the market place to attract investments. The major competitive platform will be incentives offered to investors and access to land. I am aware some provinces have started re-evaluating and repackaging land, all to win investors. This is a first. I am a strong believer in a federal kind of government where regional offices are empowered to make decisions of economic value,” he said.
Mr Kanyama notes that Zambia is not a federal government but expos bring us closer to that.
“And my anticipation is that, if this legacy is maintained, regions will be the centre of economic growth in the next 10 years. Expos will decongest Lusaka and the Copperbelt as people relocate to provinces in search of economic opportunities,” he says.
Mr Kanyama anticipates creation of jobs, reduction in crime rate, a rise in taxation levels, higher economic growth, stable exchange rate, competitive country globally, expansion in industrialisation and value addition and, above all, a stable government.
“My only plea is that the expos should not be politicised, otherwise they will be hugely compromised. In addition, some provinces, such as Western Province, with strong land policies, will need to make internal traditional reforms and compromises for a win-win strategy towards resources exploitation,” he says.
Mr Zulu says it is these kinds of things that the provincial leadership need to be doing throughout their tour of duty in order to attract many investors (both local and foreign), including foreign countries which will participate in the exploration and exploitation of huge resources that Zambia possesses.
“It is through this process that poverty reduction and empowerment of the youth, smaller families can be achieved. Government must give more authority to the provincial governments to manage their own economic and investment programmes and planning.
The successful holding of the three expos is a vivid example that shows that ministers and their provincial teams can be more innovative and industrious in taking the lead towards full economic development and social change,” Mr Zulu says.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO