Africa is open for business. While most developed nations around the globe have engaged Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, and other continental powerhouses, other countries such as Zambia are seeking attention in positive ways. The land-locked country borders eight countries in Southern and East Africa and has been well noted for its friendliness, national stability, peaceful elections, political transitions, and good relationships with its neighbors. Because of its location, stability, and strong intra-regional relationships, Zambia is positioning itself as the desired destination for scaling economic development and growth in Southern and East Africa. It is also looking to be known as a viable destination for trade, foreign investment, and partnerships.
One way that representatives are spreading the word that Zambia is open for business in America is through a six-city trade mission tour by the Zambian Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry (MCTI), which visits Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Cincinnati, Boston, Houston, and Atlanta from June 11-30. The Honorable Minister Robert Sichinga of the Zambian MCTI led the 25-person delegation. Minister Sichinga, a certified accountant and graduate of Harvard Business School, has served as a facilitator in several Zambian and international matters, including budgeting, aid effectiveness, the impact of foreign investment on Zambia, private sector development, and citizen economic empowerment.
I had the chance to join the trade mission in Washington D.C. and Boston. In Washington, MWH, a global engineering firm, along with Africare, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) of the Department of Commerce, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) hosted the MCTI. The Zambia delegation also attended a conference by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) titled the “U.S.-Africa Infrastructure Conference (Energy Transportation, Water, ICT – Foundations for Economic Growth),” in which Minister Sichinga spoke as a panelist. EMC, a global leading provider of data storage hardware solutions, and the MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship hosted the trade mission in Boston.
It is important for American companies to understand the local dynamic and to identify partners that have both experience and the desire to do business the right way. In order to accomplish these goals, the American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia has played a primary role in facilitating the trade mission. Gregory Marchand, an African-American now living in Zambia, is the founder and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia, an organization dedicated to increasing business and trade between the United States and Zambia.
The timing of the trade mission is important, as Marchand notes.
Against the landscape of sagging economic activity in so many global markets, sub-Saharan Africa is an investment opportunity that can no longer be ignored by the United States. The challenge is to operationalize the opportunities that Africa affords, to develop specific strategies and instruments to promote U.S. business engagement throughout Africa or risk being left behind.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia found the niche opportunity to build relationships and broker deals between the U.S.A. and Zambia that are far more expansive than foreign direct investment. Said Marchand,
Aggressive financing of US business and investment in Africa will be a game changer, with far reaching benefits to all levels of both economies. It will create jobs, industry and infrastructure to support the rapid growth Africa is experiencing. We do not seek episodic and short term investment, but instead a shared vision and working in long term partnership to build the economy of Zambia.
Honorable Minister Sichinga echoed these sentiments at every stop along the trade mission, saying, “[we]—all of these African delegations—have not come here with cup in hand asking for aid. What we are looking for is key partnerships at different levels.”
Zambia wants more government contracts and compacts to be awarded to Zambian companies. The country is diversifying its exports to include manufactured goods, as it is no longer interested in exporting raw materials. For example, while copper is a major export, Zambia desires the human capital development and technology to add value to the raw material by manufactured goods like copper wire. There is much private sector development support, such as online business registration, and protection of property rights through the Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (IPPA) which alleviates the concern of the nationalization of international businesses.
Zambia believes in diplomacy based on business. Minister Sichinga made it very clear to the U.S. government and businesses that Zambia is open for business, not just to one country but to many.
These opportunities will not last forever. There is a window. If you do not come to the table to have the dinner you will be left behind. We are not waiting. We are asking for investment from the North, from the South, from the West and from the East. And we are not allowing one group of people to dominate, because we do not want another colonialism. We want to make sure that our country can be as free as the United States and beyond.
As the United States redefines its relationship with countries such as Zambia, the American government on its end must reduce bureaucracy, fragmentation, and duplication of efforts. The United States must engage not only the African Union, but also regional economic communities (RECs) such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Minister Sichinga said, “I think that what has been lacking is that the U.S. does not know enough about Africa. It is only in the last few years when China has come to Africa, that we are seeing increased interest from the United States.”
China has been successful in Africa because of the lesser amount of red tape that it requires as opposed to the U.S., China’s ability to expedite projects, and its willingness to bring its own banks, people, and technology into Africa to finance economic development.
Africa has wealth in its risk-related returns, consumer demand, and population numbers. “We may not have the dollars, but we have the wealth. We need now to look at ways by which we can exploit that wealth to make it into dollars,” Minister Sichinga stated.
“The question is: where will you sell your products to?,” he continued. “Where will the output that you want to increase from the United States, where will you be selling it to? Are you going to be selling to China? Chances are that you are going to being look for markets where the market will grow. And Africa is where the markets will grow. That’s where we need the telecommunications, internet, road infrastructure, and power stations.”
The trade mission cracked the door open to a growing relationship between the U.S. and Zambia. Time will tell how wide that door opens, but in the meantime Minister Sichinga said, “[what] I am taking away from this conference is that there is a need for continuous dialogue and for increased information dissemination.”