They must be held accountable
It is always nice to announce names of the luck and privileged few Zambians who finally make it as Ambassadors to represent this poor country that desperately needs foreign direct investment and international and regional trade to boost its economy, create jobs and reduce poverty. The problem for Zambia is that there appears to be a negative relationship between appointment of Ambassadors and return on such investment. The normal logic is that when they are appointed, Ambassadors would boost the country’s image to at least promote investment and trade. But for a long time, we have had Ambassadors sent to Embassies abroad, some even showing off that they will promote trade but there is always no indicator of achievement with which we can judge their performance. When they are being sworn-in, they all look very flamboyant with new suits and dresses and always wearing big smiles in front of the camera and perhaps that is the first and last that Zambians see or hear from them.
After they have left the country, it remains between they and the appointing authorities to see how they are performing and that is never open to the Zambians to know or see. I am talking about transparency and accountability. I am remining ourselves that public funds that are spent on so many Ambassadors and their officers, many of the them (the latter) whom we don’t know how they are selected and sent abroad must be accounted for. How nice it would be to see the appointing authorities parade these Ambassadors the same way they do when swearing them in to this time around ask them after two years how they are promoting investment and trade. I think the people of Zambia need to see these Ambassadors again, this time, to rigorously ask them to explain what actions they are undertaking in Embassies to ensure they take investment and trade to a different level.
Trade Performance of top Zambian Embassies shows disappointing figures
Yes, to a different level because look at the current trade performance of the key Embassies where Zambia is present. First, does it make sense to anyone that a country that is dependent on exports of minerals like copper must be obtaining from markets abroad only a total of $ 5.8 billion or even $9.3 billion in both 2016 and 2012 as Table 1 shows? I would expect much more. Secondly, we can understand how each Embassy performs in terms of trade promotion by examining what goes to the country where it is, at least in terms of statistics. And Table 1 below shows us that there is something wrong going on in Embassies where Zambia exports goods. The export figures are in million dollars. For example, Zambia’s exports to Belgium in 2012 were only $ 118 million, to Germany only $28million, to India only $185 million and South Africa only 651million? We need an explanation why Zambia is exporting only $37 million to the United State and UK only $192million in 2012. Look at exports in 2015. Some have since gone up and others down. But even the ones that have gone up, the figures are simply too low. The Embassies that are making sense are only Switzerland and China although we know again that since it is copper largely going to these two countries, there is almost no effort from the Embassies in terms of promoting trade. But can they not promote trade in other sectors or products?
Rigorousness must start with the swearing-in ceremony itself where performance benchmarks must be set while Zambians are listening and could even contribute. That means we ourselves as appointing authorities first understanding the trade dynamics of Zambia in those countries. We have the national statistics office that can provide figures which can be used to provide planning and setting targets to Ambassadors.
- What has been happening in the Embassy in Washington?
- Why is trade so low given Zambia being a beneficiary of the almost free market access to the US such as AGOA?
- Why does Zambia like other African countries ask the US to continue providing AGOA which it doesn’t utilize?
- What specific goals were given to Ambassador Simbyakula to promote trade and investment in the US to do better than his predecessors?
- Was he even the right qualified person or we needed to send a businessman who can hit the ground running?
- Germany, another big country has someone whose credentials we are not sure will enable him to hit the ground running. Why did Ambassador Chiti allow exports to remain so low in a country with potential?
- Is the Ambassador in South Africa bringing trade and investment?
Zambia’s exports to South Africa fell from $651 million to half in 2015. What happened and what steps are being taken by the Ambassador and business community in Zambia to go back to the 2012 level?
- The official website of the Zambian High Commission in London looks beautiful. But, what work program does Ambassador Chikonde in London must promote trade and investment from the former colonial power where we should be doing much better?
- Will he do better than his predecessors who have disappointed the Zambian people in trade promotion?
Table 1: Zambia’s Exports of Goods to these countries in $millions
Government is not a trader: Where is the business sector?
Clearly, to rebrand Zambia’s Embassies abroad will require not only the participation of Government. The more important player is the business sector whose exporters and importers are the key people to reposition trade promotion in Embassies. The public-private partnership is key here. It is not a question of simply holding meetings with the business sector and later proclaiming that there is strong collaboration between the two. Collaboration is more important in including the business in key decisions such as who should be Ambassador for Washington, Bonn or London, and others where the country can maximize trade and investment benefits. Is it possible for the business sector to have its own Ambassadors in certain Embassies where they can focus on promoting real business issues like trade and investment because they know better the landscape of business? Can we have some unique management styles like that whereby we do things in a business way? If a business person is sent to Germany (the country of industrial machines) as Ambassador, reporting to the Zambia Manufacturing Association and Government, wouldn’t that signal an innovative move and change of the way we manage Embassies?
Wouldn’t things change somehow? Common, look at the low range of products that are being exported by our business sector. To the UK, only copper, precious stones, printed matter, sugar, vegetables, tobacco and cotton. But they all have very low values. To Germany, you are only exporting tobacco, vegetables, copper and semi-precious stones. It is the same backward products and in very low values. That is not Government’s job. Government regulates and provides a conducive environment for trade. But the choice and size of export products is the business sector’s job. Please see how you can improve because your colleagues in other African countries are doing much better than you.
A good Ambassador must monitor competition from other countries
Yes, that is another point for Ambassadors. Don’t just think about Zambia when you are in the Embassy. Think about competing countries, from Africa and elsewhere. Even as you meet as African Ambassadors in Germany, speak about this competition to improve. It is embarrassing that Zambia is ranked number 25 in African countries based in Germany and exporting to that country as Table 2 shows. Perhaps for trade it is not the country’s priority. I don’t know what the policy is. Competition analysis can be done by other Ambassadors the same way.
Table 2: Zambia’s exports to Germany compared with African countries in $millions
|8||Dem. Rep. of the Congo||285|
- The President needs someone who can help him to rigorously monitor the performance of Ambassadors so that they become accountable and results-oriented. He needs a small Unit in State House to check on these highly paid Ambassadors.
- Perhaps the President should allocate ten Ambassador posts in serious and big Embassies to be selected by the Public Service Commission including the business sector to seriously go and do business. These posts should not be subjected to political appointments. It is not fair for us to burden the Head of State to undertake basically ALL appointments.