CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
PRESIDENT Lungu has proved that he is not only a smart politician but also an astute international salesman.
His recent trip to Europe may be the beginning of an unprecedented influx of French investments into Zambia. He is determined to market the country as the best and safest investment destination in Africa.
The ripple benefits of healthy foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into the country are anyoneâ€™s guess – economic growth, reduction in poverty levels and general improvement of the quality of life.
President Lungu is fully aware of this reality. His latest â€˜huntâ€™ for foreign investment took him to Rome, Italy, the Vatican City and Paris, France, about a week ago.
His strategy is â€œeconomic diplomacyâ€ as a means of attracting the precious foreign investment. And it is working.
The President was recently in the French capital, Paris, at the invitation of his counterpart, President Francois Hollande. He seized the three-day official visit to market Zambia as fertile ground for FDI.
President Lungu urged the investors in that country to ignore the cheap lies being purveyed by some anti-government media outlets about the domestic monetary and fiscal regulatory framework and get the truth from him.
â€œSo, forget some misguided distortions in some media outlets because you are listening to me as head of State. I oversee the entire economy and so I stand here as the countryâ€™s number one salesman,â€ President Lungu said.
He was addressing the influential French Council of Investors in Africa (CIAN) in the company of his Minister of Energy and Water Development Dora Siliya and Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe.
Zambiaâ€™s Ambassador to France Humphrey Chibanda and French envoy to Zambia Emmanuel Cohet were also in attendance.
The CIAN delegation was led by the organisationâ€™s president, Alexandre Vilgrain, and executive chairman Etiene Giros.
President Lunguâ€™s mantra throughout his fruitful investment mobilisation sojourn was Zambiaâ€™s political stability and private sector-friendly economic policies.
â€œOur greatest selling point in the last 50 years has been peace and stability. You will never worry about your investment in Zambia as our recently enacted constitution and other legislation continue to protect property rights and prohibit unilateral expropriation of private property,â€ President Lungu said as the agog investors nodded their heads in appreciation.
To further drive home his point he laid on the table some of Zambiaâ€™s comparative advantages over other African countries.
The President informed the investors that the country is ranked eighth in Africa, fifth in southern Africa and fourth in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in the ease of doing business.
â€œFurthermore, Zambia is ranked the eighth most competitive country in Africa on the global competitiveness index. Recently, Forbes ranked Zambia as Africaâ€™s seventh best country for doing business,â€ he said.
President Lungu listed some of the opportunities begging for investment in agriculture, tourism, mining, construction, manufacturing and other sectors.
So effective was his salesmanship that a good number of the French business community, who included powerful industrialists and financiers, immediately declared that they will soon be travelling to Zambia to demonstrate their seriousness.
Mr Vilgrain, the CIAN chief, described what he and fellow French investors had heard from the President and his delegation about Zambiaâ€™s investment landscape and opportunities as â€œgood newsâ€.
He announced that representatives of some of the companies represented at the meeting would be travelling to Zambia in two to three monthsâ€™ time.
â€œThe presentation by the President was good news to us. Some of my colleagues and I will soon be travelling to Zambia to actualise what has been discussed here,â€ he said.
The President also attended the high-profile Movement of French Enterprises (MEDEF)-Zambia Business Forum attended by executives from 60 powerful French companies with vast investments across Europe, Africa and other parts of the world.
MEDEF International is the umbrella body of the French private sector, that countryâ€™s chamber of commerce and industry.
The forum was a follow-up to the high-profile visit to Zambia in June last year by representatives from 25 French companies.
Again, President Lungu explained to the investors why investing in Zambia would be a wise decision.
He promised that Zambia will continue to uphold constitutionalism and assured them that the country will hold peaceful, free and fair elections on August 11.
â€œCome and witness democracy in Zambia,â€ he cajoled the investors in his usual charismatic fashion as his close lieutenant, Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba, urged him on.
MEDEF International Africa committee vice chairman Gerard Wolf was quick to respond on behalf of the bloc. He thanked Mr Lungu for providing the investors with the correct picture of the investment and political situation in Zambia.
Mr Wolf also announced that a team of representatives of MEDEF member companies will travel to Zambia in two monthsâ€™ time to take up President Lunguâ€™s challenge.
The Association of International Exchanges in Agricultural and Agrifood Products and Techniques (ADEPTA) was not willing to miss the party.
It hosted a luncheon for the President to hear their share of the â€˜good newsâ€™ about investment opportunities in Zambia.
The President also held private talks with former French minister and energy mogul Jean Louis Borloo, chairman and founder of the multi-billion dollar Energies for Africa Project at Le Meurice Hotel.
Mr Borlooâ€™s organisation is targeting to spend US$5 billion to provide 600 million Africans with access to affordable electricity by 2018.
President Lunguâ€™s special assistant for press and public relations Amos Chanda said during the meeting Mr Borloo assured Mr Lungu that he is headed for Zambia in the next two to three months.
The President also had serious discussions with the Union of Renewable Energy, a consortium of companies engaged in the research, development, management and promotion of alternative sources of energy.
It is clear that the head of State is alive to the futility of waiting for foreign investors to come to Zambia on their own. He has to follow them and persuade them to bring their dollars to Zambia.
His widely covered bilateral meeting with Mr Hollande at the fortress-like Elysee Palace in the heart of Paris produced six agreements covering different sectors and a plethora of investment pledges.
By the time he was boarding his return flight to Lusaka President Lungu could afford a smile.
Now Zambians eagerly await the arrival of French investors come April and May thanks to President Lungu, the skillful international salesman.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka