Columnists Features

When one door shuts, another one opens

RETRENCHED miners from Mopani Copper Mines waiting to be paid their K18,000 ex-gracia and Christmas bonuses. PICTURE NKOMBO KACHEMBA.

ALEXANDER Graham Bell, the Scottish inventor, coined the phrase “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us”.
This dates back to the early 20th century and it exhibits relevance in what is happening in our country Zambia today.  Another phrase “Necessity is the mother of inventions” as the Bembas would say “Uupamfiwe, eulwa ne cibi” is an idiom that means that if you really need something, you will think of a way of getting it.  This is equally the basis of my article.
The unprecedented job losses we have witnessed in the recent past and continue to witness in the country, especially on the Copperbelt, are due in part to the drop in worldwide prices of commodities such as copper and the economic slowdown of China and other big buyers.  Was it predictable and was it inevitable? These are questions one might want to ask oneself.
Earlier in 2015, I wrote an article on ‘Youth Unemployment’ in which I analyzed various ways in which youth unemployment can be tackled.  I feel the same principles can be applied in tackling the retrenchment dilemma on our mines.
For instance, with the help of Government, the retrenched miners could form co-operatives and pool their knowledge and resources together.
The retrenched miners should not be afraid to venture into areas which may be alien to their current careers. Not doing so might just be to their detriment. There are a lot of opportunities out there.
Definitely, the retrenched miners are a mix of skills. There is a treasure trove of skills on the streets right now.  A database outlining skills of the retrenched miners must be created in which companies, especially in the private sector, can tap into and seek to employ some of these retrenched miners.
Suffice to say this is also a lesson for the future in that we need to teach our youth entrepreneurial skills at an early age.  As I stated in my earlier article, let us also re-look at our educational curriculum.  We do away with subjects that are “irrelevant” and instead create room for extra-curricular activities.
What about nurturing of talent?  Sports can be one such area where we identify talent and encourage our youth to pursue careers in various sports disciplines.  Generating income from a hobby is the best employment one can get, for example football, golf and other such professional sports.  Such could also bring glory to Zambia as a nation.
Engineers and other professionals who have been in active service for 10 or more years should contemplate opening up their own business practices so as to create employment, and that also frees up space for young professionals to progress.
The Copperbelt Province, which has taken the brunt of this calamity, has been talked about for so long.  The Copperbelt diversification programme has been on the cards since the early 2000, forums were formed, ideas thrown around but to no avail.
Economic diversification is key in the sustainability of our country’s economy. Over-dependency on copper has shown us time and time again that once metal prices plunge on the global market, we are vulnerable to huge shocks to our economy, reduced foreign earnings and the inevitable job losses.
Therefore, economic diversification is the catch word for the purpose of advancing the Zambian economy and there is need for an aggressive approach from all sectors.
The government has to play its role in providing the necessary platform for such economic diversification to manifest access to “cheap and affordable” finance for Small and Medium-scale Enterprises, infrastructure development such as roads and communication (ICT’s) and so on.
If we are to attract local and Foreign Direct Investment, the government has to put these things in place. We need not wait any longer.
Time and again, we are reminded that our country Zambia is endowed with natural resources and a fair share of rainfall (especially the northern and north-western parts of the country), but have we taken advantage of this?  Should it take foreigners to come and show us that our mukula tree is valuable?
The author is Technical Director, JKL-Associates.

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