Ambassador, as you well know, President Lungu visited Paris last month. During his three-day visit, he attended business forums and marketed Zambia as a fertile ground for French investment. What would you say are Zambia’s most significant comparative advantages compared to other countries in southern Africa?
As you know, we have been independent since 1964 and since this time, which is slightly over 50 years ago, we have enjoyed peace. We are one of the few African countries that have never gone through a civil war and in those years we have had peaceful change of governments and six presidents. In fact, we have elections in August this year. So we have enjoyed peace but also we are favored by nature in term of location, we are right in the hub of southern African, bordered by about eight countries and that in itself offers for would-be investors an excellent opportunity to locate themselves in southern Africa and enjoy the benefits of our eight neighbors.
In term of opportunities, let me just emphasize that apart from our central location in the hub of southern Africa, when you invest to Zambia you are also able to tap into a larger market because we are part of SADC and COMESA, and this is dealing with the population of at least 500 million people and a GDP is excess of 300 billion US dollars so when you invest in Zambia, this is really what you are investing into because we have those agreements so you are really investing in the region and we have very ambitious projects in these regional organizations in terms of infrastructure to connect the countries in the region. So Zambia is the best place to be.
President Lungu’s visit was at the invitation of French President Hollande and culminated in the signing of six multi-sectoral agreements. Why do you think Honourable Lungu was invited to, and did visit, France specifically at this time?
What has been happening is that France has traditionally been really close to the francophone countries. You may wish to know that when I presented credentials last year to the president here, there was mention of the fact that that they would like to broaden their relations from their traditional partners, which are the francophone countries, to countries such as ours: Anglophone countries. This is because they see a lot of potential elsewhere in Africa and, as you know, southern Africa has a lot of potential: it’s a very stable region, we have had a very good growth rate and in terms of natural resources we have almost everything that you can think about, for example, good soil, rainfall and minerals. So for France, I think they have seen this potential in southern Africa and it was from that perspective that they decided to invite Zambia’s president. As I said we are a very peaceful country, we have never had a war, we have very good economic growth and the prospects are quite good in terms of investment opportunities.
Your French counterpart – Emannuel Cohet - said that President Lungu’s visit is a “turning point in the bilateral relations” of Zambia and France. How would you describe bilateral relations between the two countries today, and how do you think the President’s short yet historic visit will improve them?
The relations between our two countries have been really warm and cordial since our independence. You may wish to know that we have residence missions in each other’s countries and we have been cooperating with France quite closely actually. Most of the cooperation is through the French development agency (AFD) and through that they have been supporting a number of projects in the areas of water, sanitation, energy and road infrastructure. We also of course get support for many of these projects through the European Union. So the relations are quite warm and we see a lot of potential in terms of moving forward. As I pointed out, Zambia offers a lot of opportunities for investment.
During his visit, President Lungu highlighted the wealth of opportunities for French investors in Zambia in sectors such as agriculture, mining, energy, tourism, construction and manufacturing. Where do you personally see the biggest opportunities for investment?
In Zambia, we have a lot of potential, for example, in agriculture, we have over 40 million hectares of land but we only use about 15% of that, and we have good rainfall. But the idea for us is to try and move away from just producing the crops to adding value to them. So the focus in agriculture is not just the raw materials but also agro-processing. We also have a lot of potential in energy. As you will appreciate we have had an energy problem because of the drought that we had and we are dependent on hydroelectricity. This has opened up other avenues in terms of investment in energy, particularly solar. There have been quite a lot of French companies wishing to invest in solar in Zambia, even from Spain.
Let me also mention that, as we speak, we have 30 French companies that have invested in Zambia and we have had some companies go to Zambia just after President Lungu’s visit in France. We actually went with them to go and explore investment opportunities so the appetite is really huge from France.
President Lungu was the first Zambian Head of State to visit France in 23 years. How are you, as Ambassador, going to build on his historic visit and take bilateral relations between the two countries to the next level?
This is very important for us. We haven’t had such a high level of visit in a long time and what we have been striving for in this market is visibility. The people in this part of the world don’t know much about Zambia and I am always joking when I speak to people in the tourism industry who tell me “Zambia neither has a good reputation or a bad reputation.” People just don’t know us and they don’t know the potential that is there. So the president’s visit was important for us because it increased our visibility here and we are hoping to tap onto that by making sure that a lot more people get to know what is in Zambia in term of investment opportunities and also to go and tour Zambia because as you know, we offer a lot of tourist products including one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls. You need to visit Zambia!
Ambassador, since studying in Zambia and the UK and a brief stint in the banking industry, your career in the foreign service has taken you from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Zambia to Botswana and more recently Malaysia. Given your wealth of experience in this field, what is the legacy that you’re hoping to leave?
By the time I leave here, I would like to have a situation where a lot more people from this part of the world visit Zambia in term of tourism inflows and where we have many more companies invest in Zambia. In Zambia, we have a good strategy in terms of foreign policy and we are into economic diplomacy. So I would like to have as many companies as possible investing in Zambia so that we try and move ahead economically and also create jobs for people.
The readers of L’Express include many of France’s most influential political and business leaders. What final message would you like to send them about doing business in Zambia?
We are open for business. Come and see the country, we have 20 national parks and a very pristine environment. Unlike other countries that have gone and invested quite a lot in term of infrastructure in the game parks, we have not done that because we would like our environment to be as pristine as possible. So if you want to see the beauty of Africa, in its state of nature, come to Zambia, you will enjoy it!