Editor's Comment

Relevance of expos must show

MANY firms utilised the expo to promote business growth.

MINISTER of Energy Matthew Nkhuwa has made a clarion call to the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) to organise more investment forums to attract international financiers of energy projects to transform Zambia into a regional electricity hub.
Mr Nkhuwa reckons that investment forums are effective platforms for attracting foreign investments into the energy sector.
This is because the energy sector has immense investment opportunities that foreign investors need to take advantage of to boost their profit margins and help increase the country’s power generation capacity.
Mr Nkhuwa is right. For a long time, Zambia relied mainly on the International Trade Fair held in Ndola and the Zambia Agricultural and Commercial Show in Lusaka as platforms for interaction with potential investors.
There are times when delegations travel abroad to showcase Zambia’s potential at other international trade shows. This is good, but the best approach is to have the potential investors on Zambian soil.
The more potential investors visit Zambia, the better for the country because the total focus is on Zambia. There is no divided attention, as happens at other trade shows.
The scenario of limited trade show is changing – thanks to the provincial expos which are directing investment traffic to regions outside the line of rail.
Luapula Province was the first to stage its expo last year, followed by Central and Northern provinces this year.
Obviously expos are a way to showcase the potential of an area in terms of investments in the many sectors.
They are supposed to be meeting grounds for like-minded people and look at building mostly commercial synergies and growing businesses either through vertical or horizontal linkages.
Often these are supposed to be industry specific.
To make them more meaningful, they would be much more beneficial if a lot more hype was put in profiling the provinces to highlight the respective competitive advantages.
There is need to rope in more expertise from sector-specific agencies and event managers and then invite investors in those particular sectors.
Some observe, and most likely rightly so, that the expos are increasingly turning into an extension of the perennial ubiquitous provincial agricultural and commercial shows where people just go to exhibit and hope that one of the shotgun bullets they fire hits the target.
Some expos have been characterised by unfruitful meetings, dinners, luncheons and speeches telling everyone about how Zambia is a land of opportunities without specific affirmative measures to concretise the opportunities or even calculating whether those opportunities are better exploited in that province or another.
It is a “me too” scenario: because Luapula, Central and Northern provinces did it, I too should do it. Yes indeed, everyone should do it, but it must be done with clear targets. Rather than use the shotgun, use the rifle for precision.
Initial lessons could be picked from the structure of the farmers’ expo that takes place at GART fields in Chisamba.
There it is serious farming business under discussion and even visitors are not mere holidaymakers. The farmers’ expo is for people who are looking for something related to farming at whatever stage of the value chain.
We should also prioritise sectors for respective provinces so that properly planned investment activities unlock subsequent potentials in those areas or other provinces.
Zambia is generally fully aware of the potential it has. The expos should actualise this potential. Results must be seen.
It is good that the efforts of the Luapula Expo, for instance, are bearing fruit, as evidenced by some investors following up on the pledges that they made.
Each year, each province should do a self-introspection on whether its efforts are drawing investors at desired levels.
Those that fail should account for their shortcomings.
Of course, some projects, in fact most projects, take years to bear fruit, but there must be progress. You cannot be doing the same things year in, year out and expect different results.
Zambia does not have the luxury of a snail’s pace progress.

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