“One of the historical issues for Zambia has been its lack of a sea port. Being landlocked was considered a substantial economic disincentive. But ironically, I believe being landlocked in the middle of Africa is now potentially a great advantage.”
So says Robin Miller of Real Estate Investments Zambia (REIZ), a leading property development company.
While Zambia might have a relatively small population compared to other African economies – around 14m – it borders on eight countries giving it access to a significant market in central, eastern and southern Africa. And as Miller points out, its political stability and conducive business environment makes it an attractive hub for key industries looking to target less stable neighbouring markets, such as the DRC.
“Around us we have 400m people. So let’s not say we are a small country with little ability to trade within our borders. Let’s say we should be the hub for the region. In some ways that’s happening, especially with our Congo neighbours who never seem to be able to stop fighting,” continues Miller. “And many operators are stationed in Zambia while targeting the Congo market.”
Abhilash Bajpai, director of home electronics and appliances retailer, Radian Stores, agrees that Zambia’s geographical positioning is actually a potential advantage. “We can call it a landlocked country, or we can call it a land connected country.”
Transport costs must be reduced
Zambia also has considerable potential in manufacturing, but the sector is currently underutilised due to the transport cost of importing raw materials. A solution, notes Bajpai, would be to manufacture products from locally-sourced raw materials, such as copper, and then export to the region.
Zambia is also integrated within two free trade areas, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which holds trade benefits between member countries.
“If you manufacture something in Zambia, all the countries can import it duty free,” Bajpai adds, highlighting the potential for Zambia to become both a manufacturing and export hub for the region.
However, in order for the country to fully take advantage of this potential Bajpai says the region would first have to develop its transport infrastructure, especially freight.
“The current transportation of bringing everything in by road, from Dar es Salaam, from Mozambique, from Durban, or from Walvis Bay in Namibia, turns out to be very expensive. And if we want to consider Zambia as a hub for serving all the nearby countries, infrastructure has to improve,” he emphasises.
“The prices for transportation have to be brought down.”