Zambian President Edgar Lungu with former British Minister for Africa Rory Stewart. Photo: Selim Henry
Zambia’s ties with Britain go back to the age of European exploration, maintained by friendship, aid and trade
As a member of the Commonwealth family of nations, Zambia’s history is closely entwined with British activity in Africa. From the charting of the Zambezi by David Livingstone, through the world wars, and beyond independence, the two countries have had an undeniable influence upon each other.
Today English-speaking Zambia’s political and legal systems are closely based on the British models, and historical links are cemented by continued UK involvement in the country. For instance, the UK development finance group CDC invested $65 million in the agricultural company Zambeef in 2016, and Zambia Sugar, the country’s largest sugar company, is mostly owned by British Associated Foods’ subsidiary Illovo Sugar.
The UK and Zambia are boosting partnerships in both aid and trade. A 2017 visit by Britain’s then minister for Africa, Rory Stewart, saw the UK pledge to improve nutrition for over two million women and children, provide better access to sanitation to three million people, support 56,000 children in education and create 23,000 jobs by 2020. British Prime Minister Theresa May has also praised President Lungu’s human rights campaigns to eradicate human trafficking, forced labour and child marriages.
Overall trade between the UK and Zambia hit a high of more than $500 million in 2012 on sky-high commodity prices. Now broader investment connections are spreading across a range of sectors, aided by the establishment in Zambia of the British Chamber of Commerce in 2014 and recent contacts with the Lord Mayor of London and British trade delegations.
“All this means we are connecting a lot better. Britain is a major investor in this country and the UK’s appetite for looking at Zambia has been elevated,” notes Zambia’s former finance minister, Felix Mutati, who became the minister of Works and Supply in February 2018.
As the UK works through the complex process of exiting the European Union, potential partners in Zambia wonder how a Brexited Britain could become a bonus
The Commonwealth connection creates optimism that some of the inward investment Zambia needs to develop its economy to the next level could be on its way from a UK in search of new trade and investment associates.
“We have been good friends with the British for a long time and quite a number of British companies operate here. But I think we need to strengthen that linkage,” says Mary Ncube, board chairperson at Zambia Development Agency.
Ms Ncube envisions more Zambian-UK tie-ups in the rural sector, including agro-processing, irrigation, mechanisation of farming methods and the livestock trade, as well as solar energy and technology. She also assures would-be investors that their capital would be safe under Zambia’s business-friendly laws thanks to Zambia’s Investor Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA).
“British investments have continued to grow in Zambia’s key sectors,” noted Margaret Mwanakatwe while she was commerce, trade and industry minister, adding that Zambia also offers duty-free access to regional, wider African and US markets as a participant in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) respectively.