The word “investment” in the Patriotic Front manifesto is mentioned 25 times, but we have not seen anywhere where the ruling party policy document is referring to the Provincial Investment and Tourism Expos that it has embarked on. So, whoever came up with this idea probably did not get enough attention to have the plan incorporated in the manifesto as a means of promoting industrialization and job creation.

The tollgates vision is clearly outlined in the PF manifesto, and we have read how they plan to recover the money spent on road infrastructure through toll fees from the already financially-depressed motorists. But we haven’t seen any policy analysis on how this government plans to actualize prospects from these Provincial Investment Expos in its bid to foster economic growth.

The closest that the PF manifesto gets towards this undertaking is under Commerce Trade and Industry where they pledge that by 2021, they will “accelerate industrialisation through identification and initiation of appropriate industries by the Industrial Development Corporation; establish special Economic Zones – industrial parks, logistics parks, industrial estates and innovation hubs; promote labour intensive industries to create employment; and enhance Zambia’s participation in the regional economic integration initiatives.”

Our point is that these investment expos came into being by chance, a fluke in other words. But be that as it may, this is one of the best economic development plans coming out of President Edgar Lungu’s administration. If anything, it is one of the top benefits of the Zambia-China relations, because according to our memory, this whole initiative was started by what was called an exchange programme between the Chinese investors and our provincial ministers.

We still recall how Zambians complained that such a huge delegation of ministers was travelling business class to China with no clear explanation of what they were going to do there. The next thing we saw was an unprecedented Investment Expo in Luapula, awakening the tourism and investment potential of the region. Today, this fluke initiative has been replicated in other provinces and we are seeing investors jostling to see what opportunities they can tap into.

What we particularly like about this initiative is that it is a diversified and decentralized programme that takes social economic transformation opportunities to the people who, otherwise would be migrating towards the line of rail looking for employment. If properly actualized, the investment prospects from this initiative can cause the opening up of so many industries in areas where school leavers and college graduates are running from.

We can’t continue crying over Mansa Batteries, Kapiri Glass manufacturing, Mwinilunga Pineapple cannery, Chipata Bicycle Plant or Mulungushi Textiles, as if our national leaders don’t have brains any more. If investors don’t want to pour money into those fossil companies and revamp them, showcase something else. Open up the rest of the provinces and let the local people partner with the foreigners in opening up value-addition businesses in the agriculture sector, tourism and what have you.

However, to maximize national benefits from these Provincial Expos, government will have to do more than just “creating a conducive environment” for investment. A conducive environment could mean simply facilitating for the quick processing of operating licenses, or frankly, keeping an open-door policy to corrupt investors and calling that ‘the ease of doing business in Zambia.’

We want government to do things differently under this initiative. We need government to first of all, guard Zambia’s interests jealously and put citizens first! Let there be a system that follows through to ensure that the local people are partnering with those who are seeking to invest in these regions. This must not be about creating more casual labour for Zambians. Our people have the brains, they have the business ideas, they must be empowered with land and other necessary requisites so that they can have meaningful leveraging power as they partner with those who are coming into the country.

When we hear that the Chinese are opening up a US $300 million private multi-economic facility zone in Ngabwe District, we also want to hear the names of the Zambian partners in this massive investment. The Central Province Investment Expo was not a conduit for more shady deals and giving land to foreigners, it was about getting Zambians involved in the industrialization initiative.

We want to admit that the PF has got the tools under this undertaking to fulfil just one campaign promise, at least for the people out there. Yes, they have built and continue to build road infrastructure – leading to these provincial centres where investors are being enticed, but if they mishandle the undertaking, it will become a source of further pain for the suffering Zambians! The start looks sensible, but we are worried about poor finishing.