Analysis: OLIVER NZALA
RECENTLY, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Zambia on a specific mission of reviewing and strengthening the bilateral relationship between Zambia and South Africa. This was his first official visit as President to the country.His predecessor Jacob Zuma made several visits and so have the other southern African Presidents, not to mention those that have been made by other highly notable ones from the rest of the world.
The visit by Mr Ramaphosa led to the signing of the Bi-National Commission (BNC) which will be chaired by the two Presidents.
The signing of the agreement covers, among other things, trade, investments, peace and security and information exchange. However, it is not surprising that many of southern Africa’s heads of state have and continue to enter into bilateral agreements with Zambia for many years.
Zambia’s strategic role in the liberation struggle can be one of the factors to be attributed to this but also its long-standing peace and security environment has provided the country with a reputation that attracts both political and socio-economic investments.
Historically, such a reputation has had an impact on how each southern African country and the rest of the world relate with Zambia either politically or economically. This to a larger extent, has been due to Zambia’s foreign policy which has been transformed since independence due to national and international changes.
The first republican President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, focused on the liberation struggle of Zambia and the rest of Africa, translating to peaceful coexistence with her neighbours.
This focus went on up to the declaration of South Africa as an independent country, hence he is so revered in that country.
After 1991, with then President Frederick Chiluba, economic liberalisation set in and Zambia started to talk more with her neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. President Levy Mwanawasa continued on this path but also fostered the democratisation of SADC member states.
This, at some point, earned him enemies because of his openness on how some leaders were governing their states in the region. After Mwanawasa, President Rupiah Banda continued on the path of regional integration and saw the economy perform better due to massive investments, with South Africa topping the list of the sources.
This set the tone for the late President Michael Sata to continue on the path of renewed relations between Zambia and SADC member states.
It is on the basis of such a background that President Edgar Lungu re-looked at Zambia’s foreign policy to take advantage of both political and economic gains the SADC region had attained with Zambia not benefitting much.
A closer look at most SADC member states will reveal that Zambia has in many ways lagged behind in terms of development compared to the other countries even when it was and has been instrumental in the development process of these countries from different angles.
The role and influence of Zambia in SADC and the rest of Africa should go beyond the traditional brother-to-brother relationship in order to ‘forcibly’ grab the economic gains that countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland (belonging to South African Customs Union – SACU) have made.
If Zambia cannot attract investors to set up industries in the country, then it is high time we turned to South Africa to do so.
For example, South Africa is a production-centred economy with many worldwide known companies based there.
South Africa is also a member of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa); representing a new economic group with the aim of helping each other address developmental challenges.
If not directly, member countries of this group will use South Africa to penetrate the region in areas of special interest.
Zambia’s status in SADC should enable the country to renegotiate and strengthen bilateral agreements with all its neighbouring countries in order to align common interests, both political and economic.
Its political environment is admirable. Zambia has already assumed the chairmanship of the African Union Peace and Security Council for the month of August and this same week, the country is assuming the chairmanship of the SADC Organ for Peace, Defence and Security (OPDS) for a year.
The country has performed well with peace and security in the region and many countries have benchmarked from this experience. It is the reason why to date, citizens of SADC member states feel at home whenever they are in Zambia.
This level of political command status should be elevated to economic status by ensuring that Zambia does not only remain a transit country for SADC goods but a country of origin for such goods.
Let Zambia increase its export-import and trade with SADC countries. This entails that Zambia should increase its production capacity in order to export more to the rest of Africa and the world.
The benefits of economic regional integration will be more tangible if Zambia quickly industrialises its economy to competitive levels. Otherwise, South Africa will continue to be a powerhouse of SADC’s economy with little or no say from the rest of the members, especially those not belonging to SACU.
Trade protectionism is real and those with comparative advantage but cannot produce suffer the consequences. Let Zambia use its influence in SADC as a starting point of increasing its voice in global affairs.
The author is a Master of International Relations and Development student at Mulungushi University.
Analysis: OLIVER NZALA