Margaret D. Mwanakatwe

Former Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry

Margaret D. Mwanakatwe is a pioneer and leading economic mind in her country. After being the first female chief executive at Barclays Bank Zambia, she went on to shatter more glass ceilings as minister of commerce, trade and industry before becoming minister of finance in 2018. Drawing from her illustrious career, her strategy is to enhance efficiency and embrace change to give confidence to investors and improve the wellbeing of Zambians throughout the country. Here, she discusses what is fueling Zambia’s economic growth, the potential impacts of Brexit on Zambia and what gives the country a competitive advantage in the region as a prime investment destination

While Zambia has been one of the fastest growing countries in the region, the economy did come under strain in 2015 and 2016. But today, the economy is showing signs of turning around. What lies beneath these positive signs and which specific government policies have been most effective to pave the way for sustained growth and financial stability?

Zambia’s current positive macroeconomic signs are rooted in reforms implemented in the early and mid-1990s, which mainly resulted in the liberalisation of the economy and the deregulation of the local currency. The current positive economic signs are driven by the bumper harvest and continued large-scale mining supported by higher global copper prices, which is encouraging a buoyant stance among mining companies. Since the aforementioned economic reforms, the government of Zambia has continued to implement positive and forward-looking investment and economic policies aimed at fostering economic development and improving the social welfare of the Zambian people. The government has established the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA), which is responsible for promoting both local and foreign investments. We provide attractive fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to attract both local and foreign investments, and we have also created our network of Multi-Facility Economic Zones and industrial parks with land already available and other necessary investment support infrastructure.

Going forward, we are reviewing the ZDA Act to align it to the happenings in the economy and provide incentives to boost competitiveness. We are expected to launch the National Industrial Policy this year, which will give a clear direction on industrialisation. Further, the Draft Investment Strategy, which will provide guidance on investment promotion is almost complete.  Additionally, the government has continued to pursue the implementation of the private sector development initiatives that promote and facilitate the development of a competitive private sector. The establishment of the Triple A (AAA) rated European Investment Bank office in Lusaka is a clear demonstration that the investment climate is conducive to foreign and local investment. It also demonstrates faith in the Zambian economic outlook.


In 2016 Zambia registered a total of $3.4 billion in foreign investment pledges. What are your expectations for 2017 and beyond in terms of FDI?

Zambia, like any other developing country had a tough 2016. Copper prices hit their lowest ever rate of $4,450 per metric ton, and this caused leading mining firms to lean cost structures. However, the pronouncement by President Donald Trump about the $1 trillion 10-year-plan to revamp US domestic infrastructure, and the expected economic growth in China will automatically prop up demand for copper. These world events, combined with the invention of the electric car, which also needs copper cables for power transmission, have caused the price of copper to jump to about $6,000 per metric ton. Recently, Glencore and Vedanta Plc subsidiaries, namely Mopani and Konkola copper mines, have started to re-hire laid off workers. First Quantum Mining (FQM) has pledged to inject $1 billion into its two Zambian operations.

The power deficits experienced in the years 2015 and 2016 created opportunities for solar generation. Zambia had its first ever World Bank solar auction for 100MW (2x 50MW) – offering the lowest ($0.06/kWh) and most competitive rates in sub-Saharan Africa. We have already started implementing the cost reflective power tariffs and this has attracted investment in energy. Furthermore, we have embarked on infrastructure development as a key strategy for opening up the economy and positioning ourselves as a preferred investment destination in Southern Africa. The main thrust under infrastructure development has been road construction and rehabilitation, expansion and construction of hydropower stations, rehabilitation of railway lines and the construction and modernisation of airports. Having considered the ever-growing air transportation of cargo and passengers, the government has also embarked on the expansion of existing airports and construction of new ones. All these programmes are aimed at transforming Zambia into a truly land-linked country and opening up new markets in the country, lowering the cost of doing business and ultimately positioning the country as a preferred investment destination in Southern Africa.

“The establishment of the European Investment Bank office in Lusaka is a clear demonstration that the investment climate is conducive to foreign and local investment”

Economic diversification is a cornerstone in this government’s economic strategy. How have you been working to achieve this?

Diversification in the Zambian context is moving away from copper to other manufactured commodities. For the first time, Zambia has a steel plant, which is the backbone of industrialisation. Not only that, we have seen companies such as Global Industries which has set up a processing plant for edible oils. The government has embarked on the diversification programmes through the establishment of the Multi-Facility Economic Zones (MFEZs), industrial parks, and also the promotion of value chain programmes countrywide. Engaging in value addition and processing will enable us as a country to reduce dependency on exporting copper ore and primary agriculture products, which leaves us vulnerable to external shocks. Therefore, the government has also developed the Seventh National Development Plan and the National Industrial Policy that aim at enhancing value addition to local products.


Looking at the country’s relationship with the UK specifically, what economic challenges and opportunities do you see for both countries in a post-Brexit landscape?  

Following the United Kingdom’s vote on June 23, 2016 to leave the European Union, there are foreseen economic challenges and opportunities for both countries. The impact and implication of this new development for Zambia is that based on the facts that: the UK contributes significantly to the European Development Fund; the UK is among the top markets for Zambia’s non-traditional exports under the EU; and this trade is admitted to the EU under preferential terms – the Everything But Arms Initiative. This raises a question on how trade will continue on preferential terms with UK, and under what framework, since Zambia does not have a bilateral trade agreement with the UK. In addition, the UK does not have a preferential market access scheme for Least Developed Countries (i.e. the Generalised System of Preferences). Therefore, companies that are exporting to the EU under the EBA whose market is the UK may suffer losses in the event that no alternative preferential trade arrangement is put in place. Britain also has stand-alone activities funded under the Department for International Development (DfiD) that may be impacted by these new developments in the event that the UK decides to reform its support under DfiD. The EU contributes to a number of regional organisations, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Zambia has been a beneficiary of this funding. Britain’s departure from the EU may bring about adjustments in regional programmes as the EU is negotiating with several countries to conclude Economic Partnership Agreements. Brexit may, therefore, result in negotiating a separate trade arrangement with the UK. A number of UK firms have invested in Zambia. Some of these have obtained financing from the European Investment Bank (EIB). If adjustments were to be made, there will certainly be impacts in the concerned sectors and the economy as a whole.

However, in the midst of these uncertainties in the relationship between the two countries, it is mostly likely that the UK will wish to cement its relations with its traditional allies, particularly those in the Commonwealth. Therefore, it is imperative for Zambia to strategically position itself as a member of the Commonwealth for the mutual benefit of both countries.


As of today, where do you see the main intersections of economic interest between Zambia and the UK? And which sectors of the economy would you identify as areas of growth for British investors?

As a former British colony, Zambiahas a lot in common with the United Kingdom in everything from politics to society and the economy. Arising from this relationship, it is gratifying to note that British investments have continued to grow in Zambia’s key sectors. Some notable British investments in Zambia include, among others: The Global Plantations Limited, engaged in processing Seed Oil; Zam Chick Limited, engaged in agro-processing; Nkana Alloy Smelting Company Limited, engaged in mineral processing; and Greenbelt Fertilizers Limited, engaged in modernisation and the establishment of a new fertilizer manufacturing plant.

The mining sector still offers numerous investment opportunities arising from a wide spectrum of metalliferous and non-metalliferous resources that have been discovered. Apart from copper and cobalt, Zambia is also endowed with gold, diamonds, zinc, coal, industrial minerals and gemstones such as emeralds, amethyst, aquamarine, tourmaline, garnets and citrine. There are other numerous investment opportunities in manufacturing, agriculture and agro-processing, energy, construction, tourism, ICT and infrastructure development.

The main reason I would like to call upon the British investors to invest in Zambia is that in the region, we are one of the few countries that is committed to providing an enabling environment for foreign and local investments to flourish. I, therefore, wish to extend an invitation to British investors to explore investment opportunities in the above areas and also to enter into partnerships with their Zambian counterparts for mutual benefits.

“Zambia is one of the few countries in the region that is committed to providing an enabling environment for foreign and local investments to flourish”

And speaking to British investors, businesses or individuals, what would you say are the country’s competitive advantages? Why invest or do business in Zambia, and why now?

Zambia is a multi-party democracy and provides a free market liberalised economic environment in a stable, strife-free and multicultural society. The Zambian government welcomes investors across sectors, and the laws relating to investment provide incentives and protection to increase investment and international trade, as well as increased domestic economic growth.

The country’s land-linked and central location in the region, as well as a combination of the following key strengths makes it an ideal investment location: abundance of natural resources and manpower, which are highly under-utilised; political stability since attaining independence in 1964; no controls on: prices, interest rates, foreign exchange rates, free repatriation of debt repayments and 100 per cent repatriation of net profits; guarantees and security to investors with legislated rights to full and market value compensation; duty free access to regional, wider African and the USA markets under SADC, COMESA/FTA and AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) respectively; we have banking, financial, legal and insurance services up to international standard, as well as having a national stock exchange; there are double-taxation agreements with a number of European, North American, African and Asian countries; and we have a thriving private sector – the government has successfully privatised most of the previously state-owned enterprises, thus encouraging an entrepreneurial culture.


Zambia has always been admired by the international community for its political stability and commitment to democracy. However, the country made headlines in the West by approving «enhanced security measures» last July due to looting and perceived instability. How would you portray the country’s security situation today?

Allow me to begin by putting on record that we never experienced any looting in July as a result of the perceived political instability. And as you can see as a visitor, the general security situation is calm. Following a spate of unexplained fires and vandalism of vital installations, in July the government invoked Article 31 of the Constitution to give law enforcement agencies «enhanced measures» to curb acts of alleged arson and sabotage for a period of 90 days.  Henceforth, the invocation of Article 31 has not in any way encroached on investments in Zambia. What was done was merely to deploy measures that not only protect life, but also preserve investments in the country. From an economic perceptive, the earlier concerns that investor confidence would be lost as result of the invocation of Article 31 was merely a perception.  This can be seen in the fact that investors have continued committing their resources to various sectors of the economy.



«Zambia is a multi-party democracy and provides a free market liberalised economic environment in a stable, strife-free and multicultural society»

Zambia is a beautiful country and has delighted thousands of British visitors, including Prince Harry who was just here with Meghan Markle to celebrate her birthday. What role would you like the industry to play as a foreign currency earner and a vehicle to increase exchanges, cultural ties and mutual understanding with nations such as Great Britain?

Zambia’s tourism sector has faced various challenges over the years that have inhibited the industry from achieving sustainable social and economic benefits. To that effect, in 1996 the government recognised that the sector has the potential to generate and contribute significant revenue to the country’s GDP. This culminated into the reclassification of the sector from a social to an economic one.  It was further recognised that the tourism sector could support rural development and create employment.

In order to unlock the massive potential in the sector and subsequently increase exchanges, cultural ties and mutual understanding with nations such as Great Britain, the government will continue to improve airport infrastructure, electricity connectivity and access roads to tourist areas, particularly those along the Northern Circuit, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Park. To drive the sector forward, we are making strides to have the tourism sector linked to other sectors such as communication and transport, information development and immigration. We are also enhancing marketing and diversification from traditional focuses to new frontiers, thus giving tourists a variety.


As a woman, you have been a pioneer in both in the private sector as the first female chief executive at Barclays Bank Zambia and now as a minister. Like most countries in the world, Zambia still has a long way to go in terms of gender parity, but how would you evaluate today’s climate for women in Zambia in business and politics?

In Zambia, leadership is a male-dominated arena in terms of the numbers of people holding decision-making positions at various levels of society. The gender disparity in leadership creates difficulty for women to thrive as they compete with men, who are already dominating. Women also have to deal with the deep-rooted beliefs and attitudes that leadership is for men.

Although Zambia has not yet reached 50:50 gender parity in the public service and private sector, deliberate efforts have been put in place to reach this target.  For example, at the recent Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and Government Summit, held in South Africa, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu signed the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development on behalf of the Zambian Government. From the political front, Zambia can boast of having the first female vice president in the region in Inonge Wina, and a number of female cabinet ministers.  Similarly, in business circles, the number of women taking up leadership positions has increased over the years.

This interview was conducted before a ministerial reshuffle took place in early 2018.

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