Namibia: My personal reflection on President Lungu’s call to support youth entrepreneurs

By Eng Kumbukilani Phiri

For the past few days I have been restricting myself from commenting on the matter concerning the Presidents call to relevant institutions created to promote youth entrepreneurship to show cause or risk being reshuffled or fired.

Speaking in Kabwe during the Central Province Patriotic Front Conference, President Lungu cautioned against the laissez-faire attitude most institutions mandated to help and support youth entrepreneurs show. The President called for immediate action failure to which he was going to reshuffle or fire some of them.

As a youth entrepreneur, when I listened to the President’s speech, I was filled with joy to the extent that I even shed a tear. For a number of times, I have bemoaned our lack of drive as a country to support local entrepreneurship. Most of the time, we have heard government officials boasting about inviting foreigners to come and invest in Zambia. This has always made me wonder whether Zambians are incapable of being investors in their own country. Most policies have been crafted and designed to attract foreign investors with tax holidays that go for many years, yet, local investors no matter the size of their investment do not enjoy similar incentives. Local investors are made to start paying taxes right from their first day of operations. Similarly, due to this discrimination in policy development that somehow favour foreign investors, even financial institutions in the country tend to be more supportive to foreign investors than to the local ones. I have seen some foreigners come with nothing, pick up a business idea locally, go to financial institutions and get funded, yet many locals have brilliant ideas which are never operationalized and end up going to the grave with the owners. It is just appalling.

Coming back to the Presidents call for support to youth entrepreneurs, I was reluctant to comment on this matter due to my own personal experiences as a local entrepreneur. In 2017, I had the worst experience of my life as a local businessman. To date, I am still shocked and traumatized at what I went through. To make matters worse, its now almost two years since that fateful day when our hope and investment got shattered by our fellow Zambians, but still to date no progress has been made for us to recover anything and probably allow us to invest in any of our many ideas that we have.

Prior to 2017, I had managed to build a very thriving business founding and managing three companies. One was involved in construction and real estate development, the other was involved in import and wholesaling of foreign products, and the last one was formed as a diversification into timber processing and export. The diversification into timber processing and export is what brought all the misery in my business life. Some of you may still remember the lamentations and pleas I made to see to it that at least, those of us who had invested genuinely and were operating within the law were given a fair treatment and if anything supported to build our businesses according to what the government wanted at the time. To cut the long story short, my company Green Lake Zambia Limited applied and was given a concession licence to harvest and process timber in Isoka. This was after meeting all the requirements that also included an Environmental Project Brief and consent from both the Chief and the local council. When the Minister addressed us and told us that no timber was going to leave Zambia unless it was at least processed into four corners, my company obliged and went further to acquire equipment to process the timber. However, after harvesting and processing the timber and just before getting an export permit for our first consignment, government banned the harvest and trade in Mukula and all export of timber unless in finished product form. This all happened when we had already made a huge investment in millions of Kwacha that left our bank account dry. The decision to ban harvesting and trade in Mukula could perhaps be justified given the rampant illegal dealings at the time. However, special consideration should have been put in place to secure investments for legal and genuine licence holding companies. This was never done and companies like ours suffered major losses and continue to suffer to date.

When the ban was effected, there was no prior communication to the concession licence holders as required by law. To our surprise we just saw security wings coming to our processing site and saying there was a ban on harvesting and processing of timber. They even arrested four of my innocent workers despite showing them that we were not operating illegally.

At the time all this was happening, I was abroad on a business trip which I had to abort and flew to Isoka via Mbeya in Tanzania. After four days in cells and after being denied bond, we finally managed to secure bail from the court for our four workers. Thanks to the three brave Isoka residents who came to our help despite being threatened by some local officials there. The case went on for 17 months, but the people who arrested my workers failed to prosecute the case until the magistrate decided to discontinue it. During this whole time, my workers were driving from Lusaka to Isoka every month spending thousands of Kwacha to go and appear in court just for a mention. I tried everything I could to seek answers and help from all the officials I knew. However, nobody seemed to have any answers or means to help.

What makes me cry to date is that, despite eventually understanding that we were victims of circumstances, nobody seemed bothered about our predicament. Worse still, nobody seemed bothered that a fellow Zambian had lost a huge investment that could be used to invest in other areas and create employment for the many unemployed Zambians especially the youths.

During the time when all this was happening, we were treated like common criminals. The security wings refused to look at our documentation and took our timber and dumped it at the DCs office together with timber from illegal operators. Surprisingly, it was not long before ZAFFICO came with Chinese buyers to load some of the timber that was dumped at the DCs office. Very shocking indeed. The remaining timber still rots at the DCs office having gone through many seasons of rains and hot weather eventually losing all the market value and can only be good for firewood at the moment.

When It became very clear to me that there was no one who was going to help me, I started panicking and ended up writing an open letter to President Edgar Chagwa Lungu that appeared as a feature story in the Daily Nation of the 4th of October, 2017 and was widely circulated among many online news platforms. I received calls from both Zambians and foreigners from all over the world. Many Zambians in the diaspora were very concerned about how I was treated, many feared that the same thing would happen to them if they decided to bring their hard-earned money to invest in the county. The truth is that, I came back to Zambia as an investor only that I was not a foreigner as Zambia is my own country.

I called for the Presidents help because I had tried to seek answers and solutions from the government officers, Directors, Permanent Secretaries, Ministers, etc., but none seemed to have any. To me it was clear that only the President being the most powerful man in the country would help me. Unfortunately, maybe due to his busy schedule, the President may not have seen my open letter to him as I never got any feedback from him or those around him. Maybe the people who were supposed to show him the open letter never bothered because it was a Zambian investor crying for help and not a foreigner. For all I know, President Lungu is a very caring leader who would have called me or instructed those mandated to deal with such issues to quickly find a solution for us. He just recently called a young artist who had made a portrait of him and offered to buy her paintings, which clearly shows that he very much cares about the talent and plight of the youths and I can never claim to be an exception. Sadly, to date our issue has remained unresolved and nothing from our investment has been recovered.

Now that the President has spoken and warned those that are not helping youth entrepreneurs like myself, my hope has been ignited that perhaps our issue will now be looked at with the seriousness it deserves.

Many of you may be wondering why we have not gone to court as a company. Firstly, when this thing happened, we had invested all our money in the business and remained with nothing to pay any lawyer. Secondly, four of our workers were still appearing in court. We wanted the case to be resolved first before we could think of anything else. Thirdly, I have so much trust and hope in our President as a father of the nation. I was so sure that after writing that open letter to him, once he got wind of it, a solution was going to be found. This is the more reason I am writing this article with confidence that at least now that he has made a stance, perhaps he will get to read this and help us find a solution. To be honest, we have brilliant ideas that we would like to implement and employee many more Zambians than the over a hundred our company has now.

My principle is that, instead of just being critical of government to provide all of us with employment, I decided to be creative and innovative enough to create employment for myself and other youths to supplement government effort.

Finally, I am still pleading with President Lungu to consider meeting some of us from the youths who have made a choice to venture into entrepreneurship. Your Excellency, any help you will render to the youths now will stand out as your legacy when you finally decide to retire one day.

God bless

Source Lusaka Times

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Zambian gov’t issues mining license to youths to curb illegal mining

The Zambian government on Sunday issued a small-scale mining license to youths in Chingola town on the Copperbelt Province to curb rising illegal mining activities.

By Xinhu

Chali Chilombo, a lawmaker for Nchanga constituency in the town, presented the license to the youths. The move is one of the government’s plans to empower young people in the district, he said.

The decision will reduce cases of illegal mining in the district, which has seen many illegal miners dying, Chilombo added. He said all young people that will be working on slag dumps will be trained in safety measures to avoid accidents. “Please let’s not fight over this site. Let’s work in harmony and ensure all working safety precautions are put in place before operations start,” Chilombo said.

Kabaso Mulenga, chairperson of the small-scale miners in the district, commended the government for the commitment to empowering young people. “To the youths let us ensure that the operations and distribution of resources are done in a transparent and equitable manner because no levels of selfishness will be entertained,” he said.

Zambia has been grappling with illegal mining activities especially on the Copperbelt province, as youths mine copper on slag dumps and disused pits.

Source The News Times

How Zambia Can Create a Million Jobs For Youths in 3 Years

Featured photo credit: World Bank Blog

By Kalima Nkonde

This article is a follow up on the Youth unemployment article that I wrote early this year entitled “ Zambia’s untold Story: High Youth unemployment, a ticking time bomb as Youth commits suicide”. The previous article did not suggest solutions as it was going to be too long given the poor reading culture in the country. The current one is suggesting practical solutions which merely needs political will to implement and results will show within a very short space of time if the right experts are consulted.

Zambia faces a critical youth unemployment problem which requires innovative thinking to tackle the multiple drivers, at both macro and micro levels that fuel youth unemployment. Although there are various positive macro-economic policies in the 7th National development plan aimed at increasing economic growth and foreign Direct investment, Zambia and other African Countries’ past experience have shown that these policies do not create sufficient jobs to cater for the number of the Youth population entering the labour market. It is in this regard that other direct interventions are required to supplement these policies.

The solutions to youth unemployment are multifaceted and require short term, medium term and long term and well-coordinated strategies which should be concurrently implemented ,and if done, within a period of three years, over a million of good paying jobs could be created. There are six practical interventions suggested in the article.

Government and Multinationals procurement

The first practical intervention which has not been tried, entails the formal cooperation between government and the private sector especially the big multinational companies like Banks, Mines and Chinese Construction companies. The initiative entails involving the private sector by Government negotiating with them for the establishment of formal business linkages programmes whereby they procure supplies from Youth owned small business thereby creating a market for their goods and services.

Zambia and other African countries’ recent experience has shown that foreign direct investment is not generating sufficient jobs for the labour market, partly due to mechanisation of most tasks but also due to the huge overdependence of multinationals on imports thereby exporting jobs . It is, therefore, up to smart governments to ensure that Multinationals Enterprises (MNCS) are made to generate indirect jobs through preferential procurement from youth owned companies.

Mining companies’ suppliers relocation to Zambia

The second initiatives is involves Mining houses. They could can be a source of indirect jobs if they are utilized in an innovative manner. Mining companies, for example, import 95% of their supplies. Government could negotiate with them and persuade them to force their captive suppliers abroad to relocate to Zambia where they are operating and create thousands of jobs and transfer skills. This is no rocket science.

Internship and job placement programmes

The third initiative could be entail asking the private sector to participate in internship or job placement programmes or if they have no openings, contribute funds in form of grants to be used by small companies for wages to employ interns to gain work experience.

In Zambia, there is little evidence of formal cooperation between Government and the Private Sector in order to fight youth unemployment. Zambia should copy from South Africa who has programmes where big business is involved in indirect job creation. The recent programme that was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March, 2018 was the Youth Employment Service (Yes). The initiative which takes the form of a partnership between government ‚ business‚ labour and civil society is set to create 330‚000 jobs for young people in its first year. The initiative aims to see more than one-million young people being offered paid work experience over the next three years.

“We know that the depth of youth unemployment is huge and therefore we have to respond. We need effective and sustainable programmes to prepare young people for first-time employment. This demonstrates that we are a country on the move. We will be coming up with further initiatives to address youth unemployment‚” Ramaphosa said when launching the YES initiative, adding that South African government, in partnership with business would create more programmes aimed at alleviating youth unemployment.

Promotion of self employment initiatives

The fourth initiative for promotion of youth employment is self employment. The success of this intervention depends on the design of the various initiatives and the implementing agencies chosen for the purpose. The self-employment initiative entails the promotion of practical entrepreneurship programmes which are tried and tested. These programmes should entail the provision of a balanced range of support modalities such as training/skills development, mentoring and advisory services, easier access to finance through microcredit schemes, provision of grants and business start-up loans.

Graduation of Vendors to formal sector

The fifth initiative should include efforts to graduate some of the informal sector players like street vendors into formal businesses, providing them with short term entrepreneurship training courses, assisting them with a market for their products or services and providing them with capital for equipment and working capital ,and ensuring they employ additional workers in the process. This initiative can be implemented in a form of a medium to long term project funded by the World Bank or the Africa development bank .

Education system reform
The sixth and final initiative is a medium to long term solution. There is a need to focus on the reform of Zambia’s education system and the promotion of maths, Science and technical skills training so as to solve the problem of the mismatch of the skills being produced and what the labour market needs. The current basic and tertiary education system is failing as it is producing young people who are unsuitable for the labour market. This mismatch between the skills required for jobs and the levels of skills with which young people leave schools, colleges and universities with is one of the main reasons for the high youth unemployment rates. The former Minister of Youth, Sport and Child Development, Mar. Vincent Mwale did correctly make this same observation at the United Nations in 2016.

“We have young people that graduate from universities and colleges but do not have the right skills that are required on the market. The education system is kind of misplaced,” Mr. Mwale said when addressing African youths at United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum 2016 in New York.

At basic education level, there is need to emphasize the teaching of STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The introduction of courses on entrepreneurship in the school curriculum so as to change the mind set of young people at an early stage that on completion of education there are two choices: self-employment and wage employment.

At tertiary level, there is need to reduce investment in mundane University education of the 20th Century and more focus is made on research and technical training. The Technical Education and Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TAVETA) needs to be properly realigned, well-resourced and linked to industry and entrepreneurs who have run real businesses so that it is not too theoretical in approach to training. The 21st Century is based on the knowledge economy

The initiatives suggested above can only work effectively if a special purpose vehicle to implement the multifaceted nature of the solutions is created. The research by International Labour Organisation(ILO) and the World bank have shown that programmes that integrate multiple interventions are more likely to have a positive impact on reduction of youth unemployment. What is needed is a structured system of support to the Youth to solve Youth unemployment.

Source Lusaka Times

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