Interview by: Cynthia L. Blandford, Publisher & CFO
Excellency, Chibamba F. Kanyama, Ambassador, Republic of Zambia, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak to me for this very important interview. Please let me introduce you properly regarding your background and accomplishments.
His Excellency Ambassador Kanyama is the 18th Ambassador of the Republic of the Zambia to the United States of America since April of 2023. He is married and has four children. He studied at the University of Zambia from 1985-1989 where he received a BA in Mass Communications (with Economics). You later received your MSC Development Finance degree from the University of Reading in 2001 on a Chevening scholarship. In addition to your academic qualifications, you are also a corporate leader, public speaker, communications specialist, a strategist, published author, television personality, investment advisor, and a journalist. You also received the John Maxwell accredited coach and trainer certification. You started your consulting firm as Chief Executive Officer for Bridges Limited in 2017 and worked for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Director General for the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation, including several fellowships with the Zambian Institute of Public Relations and Communication. Mr. Kanyama has served on several Boards for the public and private sectors as well as charity organizations.
Excellency, please share how you believe your background and experiences prepared you for a diplomatic career as Zambia’s Ambassador to the USA in Washington, D.C.
Well thank you very much. I think first of all, having worked as a broadcast journalist for quite a number of years, helped me to understand how to engage at a very high level. When I was a broadcaster, I interacted with high-profile individuals. I interviewed people like Nelson Mandela just before he became President of South Africa while he was visiting the then President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda. I was the journalist who was appointed to interview Mr. Mandela. I’ve interviewed people like General Olusugun Bassanji of Nigeria, Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania, Daniel arap Moi, former President of Kenya, Robert Mugabe, former President of Zimbabwe and a number of other dignitaries. As a young journalist I learned that journalists are not at the level of a diplomat. My job was to talk to people, learn from individuals and write stories. However, I learned many lessons from this experience that helped me to be where I am today.
Having worked for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, D.C., as Communication Advisor, helped me to engage with the U.S. community, U.S. decision makers, and policy makers getting the right messages, the right narratives, and understanding the stakeholders who matter the most to your country and to your own institution. It was during my IMF tenure that I learned about the value of opinions, insights and feedback that came from all over the world. This helped me understand the diversity in stakeholders, the complexity about stakeholders and how they view your own institution. I would then take this information and then develop and design strategies on how to engage these stakeholders so that they are part of you. This experience was invaluable to me and the institution I served.
Excellency, I’ve had the opportunity to review Zambia’s Vision 2030 Plan where the aspiration and vision is to make your country a prosperous middle-income nation by 2030. I’m wondering if you can talk more specifically about the objectives under the 2030 Plan in the areas of health, education, and business that you’d like to share.
Yes, absolutely. We are more or less aligned to the UN goals in these sectors. Where we have not scored the best is in healthcare and education as well as infrastructure. To see the future better and to be assured that the future generation is well anchored to be a Second World or even First World country, you have to prioritize your human resources towards health and education. This is what we’ve been planning to do as a country of 19 million people where nearly 70% are poor, and quite a large number of those are also illiterate. You cannot develop a country where the malnutrition levels are quite high because of poverty, and girls get married off at age ten. It’s shocking that at age ten, girls get married off by their parents who want to escape poverty.
Zambia is aligned with some of the strategies under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which looks at concerns of the girl child, and development in terms of infrastructure, general health, and education. What you will notice is that the new government that came into power two years ago has gone ahead to demonstrate that these are critical priorities and I’ll share with you what has happened since.
In terms of health, the allocation towards healthcare has increased marginally. Healthcare used to be about 10% of the total budget, now it is about 13% of the total budget and the same applies to education. There has been a massive recruitment of healthcare workers, and this process is continuing. In addition, Zambia has been able to recruit over 60,000 teachers and healthcare workers within a period of 24 months. This is unprecedented in the history of the country, and it is a clear demonstration of the government’s commitment towards attaining the 2030 Vision.
In the area of infrastructure, Zambia had an external debt burden of nearly $13 billion U.S. dollars. We are the first country to default on Eurobonds, which we couldn’t pay in 2019. This has implications on how you are perceived as a country because you cannot get any more debt. Zambia’s GDP is about $27 billion U.S. dollars. Fortunately, government fought really hard to negotiate for the restructuring of our external debt and two weeks ago, there was the signing of the memorandum of understanding under the G20 framework which allows Zambia to begin to negotiate with each individual creditor. Now, all we are simply saying is that we are postponing our repayment period so that we are in a position to pay when we have grown the economy.
Quotes from the Zambian Leadership in Atlanta in support of His Excellency Ambassador Chibamba Kanyama’s visit:
The visit by His Excellency Ambassador Chibamba Kanyama provided us with great insight into the many benefits of investing in Zambia. The Tourism, power generation, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors present many exciting opportunities for U.S.-based firms.
Mr. Bella Siangonya, President
Association of Zambians in Atlanta
About a month ago, I attended an event where you gave a talk at the Global Atlanta Leadership Forum entitled “Banking and a Better future: Zambia’s Embrace of Enterprise with Equity.” While conducting my research, I found it most interesting that your major export destinations were Switzerland, the Netherlands, China, South Africa and Egypt. It seems to me that there are many opportunities for two-way trade with the U.S. to include mining, construction, and manufacturing. Tourism is also a key opportunity with the magnificent Victoria Falls, which have had the privilege to visit a few years ago.
What did you hope to achieve during your visit and how important is Atlanta in your efforts to strengthen trade and economic development between Atlanta and Zambia?
Right, thank you so much. My participation in the Global Atlanta “Banking on A Better Future: Zambia’s Embrace of Enterprise with Equity” in Atlanta, Georgia was two- fold:
First, as government, we wanted to leverage on the expertise of our diaspora and their networks to leverage partnerships that would benefit not just Zambia, but also the United States as Zambia pushes its economic diplomacy agenda forward. Secondly, on behalf of the Zambian Government my focus was to share that Zambia is ready for investment and has created an environment that made it easy for American companies to do business in Zambia.
Atlanta is a City that ranks fourth in the number of Fortune 500 companies. Zambia has prioritized mining, agriculture, manufacturing, ICT, energy, and tourism to drive its economic agenda and ultimately, grow its economy. Atlanta has one of the busiest airports in the United States. This could be an area we can leverage and market Zambia as a country of choice for tourism, and we can engage airlines to consider flying to Zambia or partnering with other airlines on that route. Atlanta has many multinationals housed there and is also a booming manufacturing hub. Zambia’s focus, as we attract companies to the country, is on value addition. It is, therefore, imperative that we attract manufacturing companies in Atlanta to set up businesses in Zambia or open up trade opportunities with Zambian companies e.g., fresh fruit and vegetables, joint ventures in electric vehicle battery manufacturing, fashion, fintech, etc. Thank you!
We are all extremely excited about the Africa Free Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) where the aim is to enable the free flow of goods and services across the continent and boost the trading position of Africa in the global market. The five priority areas are namely Tourism, Business Services, Communication Services, Financial Services, Transport Services and Travel Related Services. With cross-border trading opportunities that can potentially improve your economy and the fact that Zambia borders eight different nations, how do you envision that AfCFTA can benefit your nation and how might we work together to help identify U.S. companies that could benefit as well?
The African Free Continental Free Trade Area is the way to go for Africa as it provides an avenue for the creation of a single market for goods and services whilst allowing Africans to do business with each other and boost exports.
Let me put this into perspective: For example, if you’re an investor looking to set up a critical minerals’ refining hub; this could be set up in Zambia in suitable locations that could easily be reached by other neighboring countries to bring their raw minerals for refining in Zambia and for export to the western countries where they are required. The exports of all these countries could be combined so as to meet the required quantities.
An investor looking to set up a fertilizer company in Zambia would not only be catering to the Zambian population, but to a much bigger population in Africa.
Another opportunity Zambia has taken advantage of as a land-locked country is the gateway that its borders provide. You have heard of the Lobito Corridor which provides a trade route that connects Zambia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and even Mozambique. Zambia has corridors it can use in conjunction with its neighbors or its borders through the signing of various border concessions to ease the movement of goods to and from the country or through the country enroute to other countries.
All this is what the Africa Continental Free Trade Area is aimed at achieving and harnessing all the advantages of each country in Africa to benefit the respective countries and Africa as a whole as economies will grow, employment opportunities will be plentiful, and Africa will become a hub for manufacturing, and value addition using affordable labor and raw materials.
Having Ambassador Kanyama in Atlanta, on his very first visit, resonated and aligned with our ZLA Foundation efforts on Shifting Mindsets. This is not just a change in perspective, it’s a transformational journey towards a brighter future. Ambassador Kanyama showed his commitment to catalyzing this change and inspiring new horizons for Zambia and Atlanta.
Dr. Freda Mwamba Brazle, Founder and Executive Director
Zambians Promoting Leadership in America (ZLA)
The African diaspora, as you already know, has always shown themselves to be a critical link in nation building with the continent of Africa. How do you envision working with the Zambian community in your development efforts in support of the Republic of Zambia?
Yes! For us, the diaspora is our low-lying fruit. The initial message was that our diaspora should begin to go back home, however, we have determined that it is more important for Zambians in the diaspora to have the opportunity to be in the USA where we can leverage their expertise while they’re here in America.
We recognize that there are diverse levels of the diaspora. There is the working group, who are able to earn income and send remittances back home. To us, this is the biggest insurance for the balance of payment security because those remittances mean a lot for our own balance of payments, and some countries survive just from those earnings. The second one is Zambian professionals who are able to still render service back home like a medical practitioner using telemedicine. Now, where we are facing challenges with consultancies helping our public hospitals with state-of-the-art physicians, we have been able to tap into our own people using telemedicine to do consultation and they are offered for free. We’ve been able to undertake some operations on patients by a doctor in Zambia with a physician who is based in the U.S. to guide the surgeon back home. The diaspora has been effective and helpful in these areas in particular and the Embassy is very appreciative of these efforts from the diaspora community.
Zambians in the diaspora also have their own networks and some of them are businesspeople who are running highly successful enterprises. They know who we can talk to and what message we should communicate with them. They are more like a special lobbying group for us because they have an interest in their own country. So, this is how we propose to work with the diaspora, the low-lying fruit, and they’re already coming forward to make proposals in almost all different sectors. Recently, I was meeting a group that is supporting us with energy investments, energy, mining as well as infrastructure. These are Zambians who are based in the U.S., and we find that once they understand our vision and we sell it well, then we shall leverage each other profitably.
I want to talk a little bit about the upcoming Houston Global Trade Conference and Expo – “Pivot to Africa,” to be held in Houston, Texas, July 11, 2024. As a member of the Host Committee, along with Mr. Val Thompson, President of the Houston International Trade Development Council (HITDC), it would be our great honor and exciting opportunity to have you and members of the Zambian government, and the private sector to attend the event. Would you be interested in attending and collaborating with us to identify a working group that can help plan to bring Zambians to the conference?
Certainly! This is a huge opportunity for us. The Houston Global Trade Conference and Expo will definitely be one that would attract the participation or SMEs from Zambia to come and exhibit and engage in B2B and G2B meetings with the possibility of harnessing beneficial partnerships. The President of Zambia attending is something that could be considered, but definitely high-level government officials in key government institutions would be interested in attending and high-profile SMEs including those in our identified and prioritized sectors and Fintech would be interested in attending.
Our team is extremely interested in hosting a trade mission to Zambia in 2024-2025. As you previously mentioned, trade missions are a key priority of yours. Please advise how we can work together to plan for an extraordinary event in collaborating with you and your team.
Thank you. This has been long overdue. Zambia has a Commercial Agreement with the United States which was signed following Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Zambia in April this year. This aims to ease the way of doing business between the two countries.
Zambia and the U.S. share very cordial relations dating back to our independence in 1964.
A lot is happening in the country in the investment, trade and business space with the U.S. playing a very critical role in this. The Lobito Corridor, which involves laying hundreds of miles of track from Zambia’s Copperbelt province to an existing line in neighboring Angola, also serves as a flagship of the Biden administration’s efforts. The U.S. is providing critical support including in the area of infrastructure development. The Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC) is also providing critical support to Zambia with regards to infrastructure and technical expertise.
President Hakainde Hichilema has continued to provide a platform to assure the U.S. Government regarding transparency and accountability, which are key fundamental requirements for potential U.S. investment. Zambia has enough resources and offers opportunities for investment in various sectors for all countries and the competition this brings in terms of investment is one that has different models and strategies on how to invest in a country.
There is a need for partnerships which could provide Zambia and other countries in Africa who have a youthful population, with opportunities for capacity building and training that will potentially equip them to take up roles in the future.
Allow me to end by saying skilled labor and management play a critical role in developing economies as they transition into the digital era and transform through the supply chains.
Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, and we look forward to seeing you in Houston at the Pivot to Africa Conference and Expo in July 2024 and collaborating with you and your team to plan a high-level and impactful trade mission to Zambia in 2024.