MWAPE MWENYA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA has a historical relationship with Russia, some of it steeped in international politics.
Actually, Russia, which was then called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was the first country to recognise Zambia as an independent state in 1964, consequently establishing diplomatic relations.
Since then, the two countries have cooperated in defence, health and science.
Today, in a much stable world, Zambia’s relationship with Russia is much focused on economic trade.
In 2015, the bilateral trade volume between Russia and Zambia reached US$18,000,000 compared to US$12,300,000 in 2014, with trade largely favouring Russia.
Zambian ambassador to Russia Shadreck Luwita said with political and economic stability of Russia, it is important for the two countries to enhance bilateral trade between them, especially for Zambia, which currently has a huge trade deficit against the European country.
Mr Luwita said to achieve a trade balance between the two countries, there is need for enhanced economic co-operation.
He said Zambia has signed an agreement with Uralkali/Uralchem Group Company Limited of Russia for the supply of fertilisers at affordable prices.
“It is important to note that the Russian government hosted the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in 2019, which re-enforced its commitment to strategic co-operation with the African continent,” Mr Luwita said.
The ambassador said in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI), Russia contributes significantly to Zambia compared to other countries such South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
He said Russia has continued recognising Zambia’s constructive role in strengthening peace and stability at both the African continent and the world at large.
Mr Luwitu said in 1967, Zambia and Russia signed an Economic, Scientific Co-operation Agreement (ESCA) which paved way for co-operation in several fields that include education, health, and defence.
And in December 1971, a trade agreement was signed between Zambia and the USSR in Lusaka.
Meanwhile, on the political front, the current ruling party, the United Russia Party (URP) has signed a memorandum of co-operation with the Patriotic Front (PF) to enhance political co-operation between the two countries.
“And in a bid to cement the political and economic ties, Zambia and Russia signed an agreement in October 2019 in Sochi City to waive visas for diplomatic passport holders of the two countries which will come into effect on July 1 this year (tomorrow),” he said.
The Zambian top envoy to Russia, however stated that the embassy is working to ensure that it provides information to Zambians based in that country on the trade investments and policies which Government has put in place with a view to encourage Zambians in the diaspora to invest back home.
He said the embassy places emphasis on the need for patriotism among Zambians living in Russia by encouraging them to invest back home.
Mr Luwitu said despite minor challenges in implementing economic and tourism diplomacy, the embassy has been showcasing Zambia’s tourism potential.
“We have been doing this through, among others, the SADC investment forum, which was held in Moscow in October 2018 and at the Russia-Africa Business Forum which was held in Sochi, Russia, prior to the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in October 2019,” he said.
He said the embassy has also facilitated communication between the Russia Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mr Luwita said it is through the embassy that various meetings of the private sector with Russian entrepreneurs were facilitated.
He said the embassy is also linking the Zambian private sector and the Russian private sector by calling for the formation of a business council to enable the private sector plays an active role in development process.
Other platforms at which the embassy is linking the private sectors includes joint business ventures, investment and trade agreements, technology transfers, capacity building for improved business climate,
The ambassador said the Russia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, through the embassy, has requested for an agreement to be entered into between with the Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“It is against this background that a call was made by the Russian speaker when she visited Zambia in February, 2020 to hasten the formation of this business council. The aim to form a business council is to enable Russia present opportunities for sustained growth and development in Zambia,” he said.
He said to enhance cooperation, the two countries should ensure to collaborate in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, mining, energy, technology transfer, health, education and, defence.
Some of the economic initiatives the embassy is creating to woo investors to Zambia include: participating in various trade and economic events, holding trade, economic and tourism investment promotions with other embassies and the private sector.
Others are branding Zambia through producing promotional materials, inviting economic participants to invest in Zambia, networking with business communities by having special trade exhibitions, expositions and business forums.
The embassy is also visiting industries, technological institutions to learn about their operations, consolidating Russia-Zambia inter-parliamentary contacts.
The ambassador said the Russian Federation has played a significant role in the training of many Zambians through the provision of scholarships in various fields over the years.
He said as a result, over 2,000 Zambians have graduated from Russian universities since the co-operation began and currently, there are 546 Zambian students on Government scholarships spread across the 42 cities in the country.
“The Russian Federation has been increasing the quota of scholarships offered to Zambia, with the current ones being at 138, the highest in Africa.
Amongst these students are 30 that are specifically devoted to study nuclear science in readiness for the envisaged construction of the centre for nuclear science and technology, as well as the nuclear power plant in Zambia,” he said.
He said the State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) and the Government signed a General Contract for the construction of a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) on May 15, 2018.
“This will be the first joint project between Russia and Zambia in the field of nuclear technology.
In this regard, extensive practical works would commence soon, including engineering surveys at the site of the centre, assessment of nuclear infrastructure and subsequent development plan in accordance with the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as global and Russian best practices,” he said.
Then current Zambian Ambassador to Russia served in various Government portfolios prior to his appointment in diplomatic service. From 1999 to 2004, he served as first secretary-trade at the Zambian Embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa.
He was then appointed as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation with extra accreditation to seven other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States in April 2017 by President Edgar Lungu.
MWAPE MWENYA, Lusaka