As Zambians, we have become quite accustomed to our Presidents, commissioning and launching various projects, mostly at the behest of foreign investors. However, this week, there was one most notable difference at the Dangote Cement Plant commissioning in Ndola. The Nigerian pride, Dangote, was supported fully by his Government marked by the presence of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Now that is a first for most of us.
My view is that any Government has a duty to provide for it’s Citizens to be able to exploit their talents and national resources fully. If in doing so, they cross borders to create wealth for themselves and their country, well and good. It’s Government’s responsibility to provide good policies and laws and the basic infrastructure for wealth to be created. Speaking recently at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya, Zimbabwean Mogul, Strive Masiyiwa urged African Governments to do more to allow for entrepreneurship to provide the many demands of young people and to create the needed millions of jobs. Among others, he identified good policies and a new approach by banks, so that they accommodate the needs of young African entrepreneurs, as the areas for urgent change.
Poverty is not natural but Man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the ACTIONS of Human beings. Mandela’s words become crystal clear with the Aliko Dangotes and Cyril Ramaphosas of our time. It is a CONCIOUS political leadership, in both Nigeria and South Africa that has made it possible for the private sector, indigenous private sector, to flourish. In some quarters, Dangote and Ramaphosa are referred to as the Obasanjo and Mandela projects, respectively. Of course, one cannot take away the entrepreneurship skills, work ethic and patience these Men must posses to succeed at business in Africa. However, I still argue that the two outstanding success factors are Government support and a strong culture of ownership, indigenous ownership, in their respective countries.
Clearly, Nigeria and South Africa suffer from high levels of poverty like many other African countries. But just like in the Indian case, the leadership in Nigeria and SouthAfrica seem to believe in creating indigenous champions in business to partner with Government and spur development. The Indians refer to this as the locomotive engine theory, where Citizens who ‘fall on good ground’ with Government support, work closely with the political leadership in creating jobs. Good policies in Nigeria have resulted in so many indigenous owned banks which facilitate business for it’s citizens. The Chinese go further and setup a Chinese bank in a country of interest like Zambia to facilitate business for their growing export, Chinese entrepreneurs. In their empowerment program, the South Africans were not shy to use the term black nor indigenous in transferring wealth to Citizens. Our CEE Program falls short of that clear mandate to empower indigenous citizens as companies simply need to be Zambian registered to benefit.
Why is it that in Zambia, it’s almost a given that foreigners such as Chinese Indians, Lebanese, South Africans etc can all have money or the intelligence to raise money to start businesses, build apartments, shopping malls etc and not Zambians?
One has to admire how Nigeria, painted as very corrupt by the West, has transformed into a private sector driven economy and over-taking South Africa, as not only the most populous but also largest economy in Africa. Many African businesses and politicians have argued that what is referred to as corruption by many Westerners are purely transaction costs which in many business deals by Westerners, are done on the table with the help of lawyers. These include finders fees, commissions and agent and transaction advisor fees.
In our Zambian case, the Government must put it’s money where it’s mouth is. Citizens with innovative ideas with or without financing, and agreeable to our development needs, must not be stifled by so called tenders, which crowd out Zambian businesses, in favour of Chinese, South africans and others. That is the real tragedy. Citizens must be encouraged to participate in exploiting the wealth of their own country. IT IS TIME TO TAKE A CHANCE ON OUR PEOPLE. After all, what we have tried in the past has not accelerated the fight against poverty or corruption. Do not get me wrong. I believe there is room for both local and foreign investment in Zambia. But we must have a culture of doing everything possible, at all levels, to also make some Zambians, who show innovation and discipline and are in business, RICH.
Why is it that in Zambia, it’s almost a given that foreigners such as Chinese Indians, Lebanese, Southafricans etc can all have money or the intelligence to raise money to start businesses, build apartments, shopping malls etc and not Zambians? Why is it that it is very difficult for Zambians to obtain loans for business in their own country? Why is it that foreigners are mostly preferred in Government tenders than Zambians? Why is it that we believe Zambians deserve only small commissions and not ownership in business? Why do we believe that the only way to be rich as a Zambian is to be corrupt? Are we so devoid of any business innovation? Why do we believe our politicians and civil servants cannot be enterprising and are all thieves? Why are we obsessed with corruption talk and not creativity? Why do we not envy wealth and aim to do better? Would it be such a bad thing to allocate one percent of our budget each year to business loans especially to creative young and women entrepreneurs? Why are we so afraid of getting rich?
Dear friends, these are the questions I have today.