In the year 2010, Zambia embarked on an aggressive drive to woo foreign investment into the country in order to increase the country’s revenue base and contribute to poverty reduction.
It is in this current year that President Rupiah Banda took to the skies to visit about 15 foreign countries to try and entice investors to come and invest in mother Zambia.
Arising from the 15 trips, I can safely say that the President was out of the country on an average of once in a month this year.
These trips have been condemned by some opposition political parties, civil society organisations and some clergymen.
However, the Ministry of foreign Affairs which is the formulator of Zambia’s foreign Policy is at pains to explain the importance of President Banda’s frequent trips abroad to the local citizenry.
In the following article, I will try and analyse the trips one by one and give an analysis of whether specific trips brought investment into the country.
In March, President Banda flew to Namibia where he enticed Namibian farmers to come and form partnerships with their Zambian counterparts in order to improve productivity in the Zambian agricultural sector.
From this trip, we are yet to see if any Namibian farmers will come and farm in Zambia.
In the same month, the Head of State also travelled to China where Zambia and China signed a US$1.5 billion to help Zambia in the energy sector.
According to Chief Government spokesman Lt. Gen. Ronnie Shikapwasha, China wrote off a substantial amount of debt Zambia owed that country.
In July, President Banda flew to Turkey where the two countries signed an aviation agreement in which Turkey’s national flag carrier, Turkish Airlines was to start flying directly from Istanbul to Lusaka.
To date, the promises of those direct flights from that European country have not been fulfilled, meaning the agreement is still on paper.
In August, the Zambian President again left the country for Congo Brazzaville and Mozambique where agreements were signed.
However, not much investment should be expected from those two countries because they are at the same level of development like Zambia and on top of that they are also poverty stricken just like we are here.
In September, President Banda embarked on his most condemned trip which took him to the west African regional giant Nigeria.
The Head of State carried with him 50 Zambian businessmen to Abuja where they took part in a business forum.
Not much is heard of in form of investment from that trip though we have seen an influx of Nigerian commercial banks pitching up in Lusaka.
Again in September, President Banda flew to Libya to attend the Africa-Arab Summit but many believe that the sale of ZAMTEL to Libya’s Lapgreen Networks was finalized during that trip.
Later, the Zambian President flew to the South American regional power Brazil where he went on a reciprocal visit following out-going Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Sylva made the trip to Lusaka.
During that visit, the President enticed large scale Brazilian investors such as Vale and UME to invest in Zambia.
Vale has so far invested about US$350 million in Zambia. However, our local labour unions initially objected to Vale’s investment saying the company has a history of abusing workers in countries where it has invested.
At the time of writing this article (30th December, 2010), President Banda was in Egypt on his final foreign trip. We are told the President is also trying to woo Egyptian investors to come to Zambia.
With the above round up of President Banda’s trips in 2010, my mind still wonders why it must take the President to fly around the world to look for investors when the country runs a number of Embassies, High Commissions and other Diplomatic Missions.
To try and answer this question, I decided to have a chat with a former Zambian diplomat Love Mtesa who spent 15 years in Geneva where he was Zambia’s Ambassador to Switzerland, the World Trade Organisation and other United Nations agencies based in the Swiss capital.
Ambassador Mtesa explained to me that a diplomat can only identify a potential foreign investor and his or her job ends there as they cannot sign investment agreements.
He also told me that the President and his Government are the only ones who can sign investment agreements and that their trips to those countries with potential investors are important.
With this explanation, I wish to urge all of you to judge these trips on the actual investment if at all it has come or not.
Wishing you a Happy Elections packed 2011.
By Paul Shalala