FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
THE ever increasing levels of Chinese investment in Zambia’s different economic sectors now hovering around US$4 billion continue to ooze hope for many unemployed people, especially the youth.
Apart from investment in the economic front, the Chinese presence is also felt in social sectors such as education and health.
In the construction sector, most huge capital projects have been awarded to Chinese companies, much to the dismay of other competitors.
Nonetheless, some economic commentators have attributed the massive involvement of the Chinese companies in Zambia’s economy to their speedy and hard-working culture, quality of work and competitive bidding pricing.
Currently, Zambia and China are jointly implementing capital projects such as the expansion of the Levy Mwanawasa Teaching Hospital, the construction of three new milling plants, the Lower Kafue Gorge hydro-power plant, the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, and the new Ndola International Airport.
The Chinese government is also working on the 321-kilometre Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway at a cost of US$1.2 billion.
Once all these projects are completed, they would put Zambia a level higher in its infrastructure development and create more opportunities for national development.
Over the years, the favourable bilateral economic and trade cooperation between Zambia and China has facilitated the growth in the engagement of the two countries.
In reaffirming the bilateral ties, Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Yang Youming says his country’s investment will continue to expand because Zambia is one of the top 10 African countries China has partnered with.
The Chinese envoy said the total import and export volume between the two countries in 2016 alone stood at US$2.6 billion.
“China imported US$2.1billion, and exported US$490 billion to Zambia. The total Chinese investment in Zambia currently stands at around US$4 billion. China-Zambia trade volume reached US$1.7 billion, with a year-on-year increase of 19.8 percent in the last half of 2017,” he said.
Through Chinese construction, thousands of jobs have been created for the local people, and the local workforce in Chinese construction companies generally ranges from 85-90 percent.
In the agriculture sector, China’s contribution is in many facets, including the setting up of China-Zambia Agricultural Technical Demonstration Centre, which is one of the 14 centres the Asian country has set up in Africa.
The centre has since trained over 1,000 Zambian agricultural technicians from 2012 when it was established.
“So, if we want to talk about the Chinese influx in Zambia, let us also bring in our Western investors, South Africans and Indians, even the Lebanese, into the conversation,” said Gabriel Mphande, a Lusaka businessman who deals in assorted Chinese agro-products.
Chinese investment in the manufacturing sector has some good examples in Lusaka such as the Wonderful Group of Companies, which produces an assortment of building materials ranging from ceiling and roofing materials, chandeliers, and melamine kitchenware, among others.
For a long time, Zambia’s manufacturing companies have been mocked that they cannot even produce simple items on the market such as toothpicks.
However, Wonderful Group of Companies, through its subsidiary, Marcopolo Tiles, is trying to change this perception by investing US$35 million in 2016 in a state-of-the art machinery and plant in Lusaka West which produces 10,000 square metres of a wide range of tiles per day.
In its second phase, Wonderful Group of Companies, through Marcopolo Tiles, has invested US$30 million into a tile manufacturing project which is expected to be completed in May this year.
In the first phase of the tile manufacturing business, which was officially launched by President Edgar Lungu in October last year, over 1,000 job opportunities were created for the locals.
Wonderful Group of Companies chairman and chief executive officer Huang Yaochi indicated that the cost of construction would be reduced in many aspects with tiles being manufactured locally.
“We are overwhelmed that the Government embraced our initiative through the provision of a conducive environment for our investment,” said Mr Huang.
In the health sector, the Chinese government has on numerous occasions brought medical personnel mostly to render free medical services to the Zambian population.
In addition, a number of Chinese operated health private clinics have been set up around the country. They are offering a wide range of medical services.
In terms of education, the Chinese government provides hundreds of scholarships annually to Zambians to study in different academic and professional disciplines in China.
Apart from those scholarships, Chinese private investors are running schools around the country in supplementing Government’s effort to provide education to everyone.
However, there has also been an observation of poor working conditions in most Chinese-run companies across the sectors of the economy. This is being addressed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
Minister of Labour Joyce Simukoko has on a number of occasions talked about the need for mutual respect between foreign investors and the local labour force.
Ms Simukuko has been of the view that as much as Zambia needs foreign investment in all areas of the economy, employers should respect the existing labour laws in the country.
She has warned that investors flouting labour laws risk being chased.
Zambia’s investment portfolio continues to rise in almost all economic spheres with observers calling for serious scrutiny of foreign investors in order to safeguard the country’s interest and protect workers from abuse.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka