Zambia is said to be land-linked directly to eight countries. And indirectly to the entire central, eastern and southern African countries. For those that got educated in the old and colonial influenced Zambian formal Education syllabus from independence in 1964 to as late as the 1990’s, this strategic location was looked at as rather land locked, a disadvantage.
The reason for this rather negative view of the country’ location was simple, its because the economy focused more on the disadvantages and hustle of importing rather than focus on the advantages of having more borders and in essence more countries to export its goods and services. Having eight neighboring countries which are also developing countries with less sophisticated product and service requirements makes a better business case to shoot for expansion of the export base for locally endowed natural and Human Resources.
Due to rather historical reasons, Zambia has focussed both its economic and social diplomatic efforts at naturing relationships with its more southernly neighbors. More diplomatic efforts have gone to especially South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, with Botswana recently being the newest high level relations with the current construction of an over US$240million dollar Kazungula bridge.
We can not say that we need to neglect or indeed abandon these already well established relations, but a look at economic data is always key for strategic planning purposes. We should not allow our neighborly relations be defined on the imposed language barriers that were historically imposed on our peoples and countries by a meeting of imperial interests in Europe long centuries ago.
If you check the potential for exports of locally manufactured goods, locally grown Agro produce and other services, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – DRC rank very high on countries that would give local Zambian businesses an extended market. These two countries, take for instance Angola is endowed with Oil and Diamonds but annual trade data shows trade between the two countries is just about US$8million. For the DRC, lets not even mention the level natural mineral wealth endowment, but current trade statistics are just a drop in the ocean of the potential volumes that could be achieved between the two countries.
Because of their relatively richer mineral wealth, these two countries offer a ready market for Agro produce, be it crops or livestock. Since their economies have more higher value mining and related industries, they can afford the luxury of importing food and other manufactured products which Zambia can foster its economic and diplomatics efforts on.
These two countries can also benefit in this relations with zambia by cutting down the price of food retailed to their citizens as well as other cost savings from other industrial products to their citizens which they sometimes import from as far as Europe. Importing from Zambia will not only be cost effective, but will also lead to greater intra-Africa trade and overall spread development to the region. The conclusion of the Oil & Gas deal for establishment of a pipeline between Zambia and Angola would not only result in the cut of Zambia’s petroleum import bill, but also increase Angola exports to Zambia.
In comparison, Zambia runs a wide trade deficit with South Africa such that its diplomatic efforts to get some tangible deals for Zambian exports to that country have yielded limited to no results. Visits at presidential level with business councils established between Zambia and South Africa just lead to more and more forex flows in one constant net direction, to South Africa. This situation is similar with most of the southernly neighbors of Zambia, they are more import partners than anything else.
For Zambia and Zambians to accumulate wealth, at its most simplistic and basic level, Zambia has to import less than its exporting. The country has to focus more on local manufacturing and exporting of its surplus to outstrip its imports. This same phenomenon of the economy always being in a net trade deficit and concentrating its efforts on these same relations are what has mostly been the cause of the volatility of the local unit, the Kwacha, relative to major convertible currencies.
The recent counter visits at presidential and ministerial levels between Zambian Leader Edgar Lungu and newly elected Angola leader Joao Lorenco should be followed through with practical measures such as opening up and completion of interconnecting road transport boarders such as the Solwezi-Jimbe road, commissioning and completion of the North Western Railways with connectivity to the Benguela rail in Angola as well as Air transport agreements to facilitate the movement of both people and goods by air between both countries.
The signing of the five deals though no specific values were announced between Zambia and Angola included an agreement for the Visa exemption for ordinary passport holders to allow tourist and business people from the two countries to visit and trade freely, with a reciprocal visa exemption on diplomatic and official passports.
The third agreement is for establishing cooperation of security and public order to fight crimes, terrorism and money laundering, the turf deal involves an agreement to provide mutual assistance in customs administration in order to prevent, investigate and suppress customs offenses. The fourth agreement was establishment of a a protocol for cooperation aimed at establishing and strengthening bilateral relations in the agricultural sector between the two countries and finally the fifth agreement which seeks to enhance cooperation in agro production, agro research, and farm block development, research in livestock production, animal health and tran-boarder diseases control.
The fact that DRC and Angola use French and Portuguese respectively as their adopted official languages should not deter or blur Zambia’s economic diplomacy efforts. we have peoples who inhabit these border areas that speak the same local languages and in some instances share tradition leadership (Chiefs). In business and indeed in the groundings of the principles of Wealth of nations, its recognized that its important to have good supplier (import countries) relations, buts its even more important to enhance and deepen customers (export countries) relations to ensure growth. One does not need to hold a PHD in Trade to decipher that its better to import Oil and Gas from less distant and friendly neighboring countries than the current Middle East suppliers who quote based on market prices irregardless of our history as consistent customers.