Malanji’s opportunity to re-align Zambia’s Embassies in line with Trade and Economic significance

President Edgar Lungu and Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Malanji

NEWLY appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, Joe Malanji has an opportunity to re-look Zambia’s spend on operations of foreign missions and turn around the ministry from being a mere cost center to one that will directly drive up Zambia’s trade volumes and economic growth.

The ministry of foreign affairs current set up and operations of embassies and high commission offices outside Zambia needs to be rationalized and directly tied to trade & economic data. Zambia needs to rationalize its limited resources and only operate embassies with countries that the country has significant trade or tangible economic relationships with. A critical review of the trade data over the past five years shows that the country has notable trade and tangible people movement (including Zambians in the diaspora) with a few specific countries.

A review of the 2015 to 2017 annual trade data shows that in Africa, Zambia has notable trade in order of significance with South Africa, DR Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. In the Middle East, we have mostly Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates – UAE for mostly oil imports. In Asia, it is the worlds biggest copper buyer China, while others include Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and India.

For Europe and the Americas (both North and South America) Zambia has negligible trade relations and foreign direct investment inflows. It’s also surprising to note that even Zambia’s former colonial power Britain, has insignificant trade or economic relations with relatively nothing to right home about. So why should the nation have expensive foreign offices in countries with insignificant trade or economic relations?

It’s also important to note that there are other considerations countries make when setting up an embassy and diplomatic relations but these should be underlined by sound and quantifiable economic value derived or to be derived. Operating one embassy with a small staff compliment of say 5 staff would cost over at a minimum about $75,000 a month and $900,000 (almost $1million) annually.

These are minimum estimates to take care of perks, accommodation, flights, holiday pay and children/dependents support, let alone embassy office operating and rental/mortgage costs. Now this amount of funds has tangible economic opportunity costs and can be better used to drive import substitution, local diversification efforts and even ploughed back to support local causes.

Zambia’s parliamentarians and technocrats should ensure that the country puts in place benchmarks such as quantifiable trade volumes and value requirements, foreign direct investment or forex inflow benchmarks, minimum Zambian in diaspora requirements etc to ensure economic value is derived from these very expensive foreign offices.

The country needs to ensure economic benefits are derived from its spend and there should be no sacred cows when reviewing the need or otherwise for these foreign offices. There is urgent need for reform in this part of government as there is lack of performance measurement with most positions occupied as a form of political reward.

There is need to derive economic contribution and setting of performance targets for the mission staff, to professionalize the ministry and fill up the offices with qualified and respectable Zambians who are seen as the country’s representatives.

With the exception of a few Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Zambia’s benefit from the huge dollar investments in these foreign offices remains questionable and new foreign minister Malanji should take appropriate action to derive economic and measurable benefits from Zambia’s foreign offices.

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