As a peaceful, landlocked country in Southern Africa, Zambia is far from a household name in the United States. With no wars or despotic regimes to thrust it onto American front-page news, our nation has long kept a low profile — a blessing and a curse. But while most in the United States may be hard pressed to find Zambia on a map, there is a surprisingly long and storied history between the two countries. One that may be of interest to American firms looking to expand their investment portfolios.
Washington has for generations enjoyed a mutual friendship with Zambia with few parallels on the African continent. After Zambia’s independence in 1964, our founding leader, Kenneth Kaunda, immediately found in the United States a genuine, willing ally. This set the stage for a decades-long partnership that, while it may not be common knowledge in the United States, has been taught to generation after generation of Zambian schoolchildren.
A peaceful, cooperative country, Zambia quickly became America’s gateway to much of Africa. American figures as disparate as President Ronald Reagan and President Lyndon B. Johnson, Henry Kissinger and President Jimmy Carter, all cultivated friendships with Kaunda that both put Zambia on the map diplomatically and helped guide U.S. foreign policy on the continent in the right direction. Friendship with Zambia has spanned numerous administrations and transcended ideological lines in the United States. And while Americans may perhaps not be, Zambians are keenly aware of this history.
The Zambia of today is no different. The country continues to value its relationship with the United States as perhaps its most important, in no small part because of its historical weight. And U.S. firms would do well to take note: taking the close U.S.-Zambian relationship beyond the diplomatic realm and into the commercial realm could bring massive dividends to all involved.
That is precisely the message President Edgar Lungu espoused at the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Mozambique last week. With an affinity for the United States built into the Zambian national DNA, U.S. firms need only come to the table to find an eager and capable business partner.
We have a business landscape ripe for investment in sectors ranging from energy and extractive industries, to tourism and e-commerce, to agriculture and infrastructure, all in a politically stable, solidly democratic country. In 2018, the United States exported $195 million worth of goods to Zambia, up significantly from the previous year. Exports included aircraft, machinery and vehicles. The United States imported $183 million in goods from Zambia in 2018, up significantly from 2017. Top imports included copper, precious metals, emeralds, iron and steel. And there is still room for tremendous growth.
Years of pro-business reforms and institutional strengthening have put us far ahead of the Sub-Saharan African average on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking. What’s more, on the “strength of legal rights” index, of a possible score from 0-12, Zambia scores an 11 due to clear, codified laws and protections for both borrowers and creditors.
Zambia, in other words, is open for business. And our decades-long history of close friendship with the United States means American companies are better positioned than any to come set up shop.
And to be sure, the vast opportunities have not gone wholly unnoticed by U.S. firms. General Electric, for example, recently was awarded the largest contract ever obtained by a U.S. firm in Zambia — a $4 billion commission along with Zimbabwe to build a massive 2400-megawatt hydropower project in the Batoka Gorge.
There are also other interesting energy projects taking off. American photovoltaic manufacturer First Solar recently finished construction on Zambia’s first utility-scale solar power plant, which will help the country move towards its energy independence goals and make Zambia a model country in the region in this respect.
Zambia has attracted significant investments in agriculture from firms like Cargill and Monsanto. Our strong services economy has led to investments by firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, and Microsoft. Our competitive financial sector has brought in VISA and Citi Bank, while numerous hospitality brands such as Radisson Blu, Best Western, and Intercontinental are also invested in the country.
This is all in line with Zambia’s recent steps to further facilitate private sector investment in its renewable energy sector. With the effects of global climate change hitting Africa particularly hard, Zambia is all-in on plans to shift to a greener energy matrix. And U.S. renewable energy firms are quickly making themselves partners in that shift, a dynamic that can be replicated in countless other sectors as well.
Still, though these and several other American firms have seen firsthand how ripe the investment landscape is in Zambia, the fact remains that the U.S.-Zambian investment relationship is still leagues away from its true potential. Especially so considering how deep and far back the partnership between these two countries goes.
Boasting political and regulatory stability, and sharing borders with eight countries, Zambia is positioning itself as a reliable, democratic access point to all of Southern and Central Africa. Indeed, this has for decades been precisely its role in the eyes of the U.S. diplomatic community. Now it’s time for the U.S. business community to see that that same potential exists in the commercial sphere.
• Ngosa Simbyakula is the ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to the United States.