Hon. Alexander Bwalya Chikwanda has been overseeing Zambia’s strategic Finance Ministry since 2011 during the tenure of the country’s late President, Michael Sata. It is testimony to his intellectual and political savvy that he has been retained by current President Edgar Chagwa Lungu.
A veteran’s veteran, Chikwanda was a youth member of Founding Father Kenneth Kaunda’s National Independence Party before heading in December 1964, to Sweden – just two months after the country’s independence – where he earned a degree in Economics from Lund University.
Over the years, Chikwanda has served in virtually all ministries and at various times in parliament while remaining prominent in party politics right from before independence. Chikwanda brings the full weight of his experience to bear in his current assignment as Zambia’s fiscal policy chief.
The following are excerpts of the minister’s insights on the Zambian economy and the ongoing African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meetings in Lusaka.
What is the significance of hosting the AfDB annual meetings to Zambia and its economy?
This is a significant milestone for Zambia as it demonstrates the country’s capacity to host such major international conferences. It is without doubt that hosting such a huge international conference requires immense financial and human resources. However, there are measurable and immeasurable benefits which compensate for the costs associated with hosting. We expect about 5,000 delegates and participants to attend the 2016 African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meetings. These delegates and participants will stay in our hotels, take meals in restaurants and purchase various goods and services in the country. This will boost the hospitality industry. The event will also bring Zambia to the world and promote the country’s image which we expect to bring long-term gains.
What sectors of the Zambian economy would you like the delegates amongst who are investors to take particular notice of?
Zambia has enormous investment and trade opportunities in all sectors of the economy. However, the main sectors that I would wish the investors to pay particular attention to are the agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and energy sectors. Zambia’s economy has predominantly been driven by mining especially in terms of export revenues. While mining will continue to play a pivotal role in Zambia’s economic development, it is Government’s desire to promote agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. These sectors present attractive investment opportunities. They have huge potential for earning foreign exchange and are largely labour intensive, which is particularly important in a country like ours where youth unemployment is quite high. Zambia is a member of the COMESA and SADC free trade area. This, coupled with its central location, presents Zambia with a wider export market which makes investment in these sectors worthwhile.
Another important sector is energy which is an enabler of economic progress and development. Zambia and other countries in the Southern African region have, in the recent past, experienced power deficits which have negatively impacted on these economies and now threatening to reverse economic gains. Addressing this energy crisis is, therefore, of utmost importance in facilitating continued economic progress and universal access to electricity. Zambia has an estimated potential of 6000 megawatts from hydro of which less than half is installed. Further, there are prospects for solar and thermal power.
How would you describe the relationship between Zambia and the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group?
The relationship between Zambia and the AfDB has been excellent. The AfDB has supported a number of important projects in Zambia in sectors such as agriculture, energy and water resources management. It has also propped up road infrastructure projects. These projects have been identified through an extensive consultative process. Whenever there are issues of concern on both sides, the two parties have always been available to dialogue and address the concerns. It is my hope that this spirit continues.
What areas of AfDB relationship with Zambia do you think should be enhanced?
The major area in the Zambia-AfDB cooperation that needs to be enhanced is the Bank’s support to the private sector, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). This should be done in the context of the Country Cooperation Strategy which the two parties are negotiating.
What should participants remember Zambia for after the meetings?
Participants should remember Zambia for its hospitality and friendly people. They should also remember Zambia for some of the magnificent tourist attractions such as the Victoria Falls. Delegates are, therefore, urged to find time to visit some of these tourist attractions.