Doing Business in Zambia

Zambia is one of the most prosperous countries in Africa, because of its stable political structure and growth oriented government. The privatization of Zambian businesses, especially mining has been a major boost to the national economy. Zambia is also very sparsely populated with a large urban population. It is unusually urban for an African country and very much westernized.

Zambia is a a landlocked country in Southern Africa that’s roughly the size of Texas or France. Zambia is, bordered by Tanzania to the northeast, Malawi to the east, Mozambique to the southeast, Zimbabwe and Botswana to the south, with a narrow strip of Namibia known as the Caprivi Strip to the southwest, Angola to the west, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the northwest.

Zambia offers travellers some of the world’s best safari opportunities, a glimpse into “real Africa,” and Victoria Falls, one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What you need to know about Zambia

Thanks to its former colonial status, English is Zambia’s official language and the language most often spoken in schools, on the radio, in government offices, etc. However, there are over 70 different Bantu languages spoken throughout the country, the most important of which are Bemba, spoken in Lusaka(a little), the Copperbelt and the north; Nyanja (Chewa), spoken in the east as well as in Lusaka where it is the main language; Tonga, spoken in the south and Livingstone; Lozi, which predominates in Western province; Lunda and Kaonde are spoken in Northwestern Province.

Many urban Zambians will speak at least passable English. As you move into the rural areas, though, expect communication to become more difficult. Nevertheless, do not be surprised to find a rural Zambian who speaks flawless English.

The most important thing to remember when speaking to Zambians is to greet them. When you first approach a Zambian, always begin by asking, “How are you?” even if you do not care. They will consider you very respectful. Sport, especially football (soccer) is a very good conversation topic with men; church is a good topic with either gender.

Wherever you happen to be in the country it is a good idea to learn the local way of exchanging greetings, asking for something politely and thanking someone. These simple phrases will help make life easier.

The capital of Zambia, Lusaka is a beautiful city. The must visit tourist destination in Zambia is the city of Livingstone, which is a hub of tourist activity and all tourism related businesses. Zambia is rich in natural resources and has plentiful supply of copper, which is why all major metal companies in the world have offices here. Agriculture is very important to Zambia, there are several prosperous tobacco and food processing businesses here.

The territory of Northern Rhodesia was administered by John Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company from 1891 until it was formally administered as a British crown colony in 1923. During the 1920s and 1930s, advances in mining spurred development and immigration.

Britain tried to administer Northern Rhodesia in a federation with Nysaland (Malawi) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) however this was opposed by Northern Rhodesian which was concerned that the majority of the investment and money would flow to the south. During this period to help build the economy the British built the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River creating Lake Kariba, one of Africa’s largest lakes and providing hydro electric power for the area. The British granted self rule to their colonies in the period after the Second World War and after abandoning the federation idea Northern Rhodesia transferred to self government.

The name was changed to Zambia upon independence in 1964. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, declining copper prices, one party democracy under Kenneth Kaunda and a prolonged drought hurt the economy. However Zambia under Kaunda was a staunch anti-Apartheid supporter, one of the only countries in the region to be so. As such it provided a base for the ANC to operate from, the current South African President Jacob Zuma was at the time based in Lusaka. This created huge obstacles to Zambia, with South Rhodesia under Ian Smith’s white rule invading and actually bombing Lusaka and with South Africa cutting its economic ties and attempting its own “sanctions” against the Zambians.

Elections in 1991 brought an end to one-party rule, but the subsequent vote in 1996 saw blatant harassment of opposition parties. The election in 2001 was marked by administrative problems with at least two parties filing legal petitions challenging the results.

Zambia transitioned to a proper functioning democracy with the advent of Levy Mwanawasa as President. He led the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) to power with a platform of stamping out corruption. Following Mwanawasa’s untimely death in office Zambia went on to the 2011 election and claimed the title of being one of the few African countries to have a sitting President lose an election. The peaceful election was taken as an indicator of how far Zambia had come and is viewed as a model African democracy.This was shown after the handover of power from the MMD to the Patriotic Front (PF) under Michael Sata. Sata would hold onto power until his untimely death in October 2014.Guy Scott served briefly as interim president until new elections were held on 20 January 2015, in which Edgar Lungu was elected as the sixth President.

Business Facts

If you are looking to expand your business to Zambia, it’s important to have a Zambian business partner who would be familiar with the country, the bureaucracy and have the right local business contacts for you to take advantage of. There are also a few things about Zambian business culture you should know about.

Much of Zambia remains poor, with GDP per capita of the order of USD1800/year, and the bulk of Zambia’s population lives on subsistence agriculture. The economy continues to revolve around copper, but after decades of mismanagement the industry is now doing better thanks to higher commodity prices and investments made after privatization. Another recent success story has been the rebranding of tourism, driving tourists to the northern side of the Victoria Falls and Zambia’s safaris, and the fast growth has come from a low base.

Zambian visa policy is best summarized as confusing: there is a bewildering thicket of rules on who needs visas, whether visas can be obtained on arrival, and how much they cost. Local border posts also apply their own interpretations. Due to recent political turbulence in Zimbabwe, Zambia has been cashing in on the unexpected boom in its tourism industry, with visa fees hiked and the previous visa waiver program canceled: you’re now expected to pay in cash on arrival at the immigration kiosks. Since 2014, it has been possible to pay by credit card at Lusaka International (Kenneth Kaunda) Airport.

Zambia is a a landlocked country in Southern Africa that’s roughly the size of Texas or France. Zambia is, bordered by Tanzania to the northeast, Malawi to the east, Mozambique to the southeast, Zimbabwe and Botswana to the south, with a narrow strip of Namibia known as the Caprivi Strip to the southwest, Angola to the west, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the northwest.

What you need to know if you’re doing business in Zambia

Zambia offers travellers some of the world’s best safari opportunities, a glimpse into “real Africa,” and Victoria Falls, one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Much of Zambia remains poor, with GDP per capita of the order of USD1800/year, and the bulk of Zambia’s population lives on subsistence agriculture. The economy continues to revolve around copper, but after decades of mismanagement the industry is now doing better thanks to higher commodity prices and investments made after privatization. Another recent success story has been the rebranding of tourism, driving tourists to the northern side of the Victoria Falls and Zambia’s safaris, and the fast growth has come from a low base.

As can be seen even from the bizarre squashed-peanut shape of the country, Zambia is one of the stranger legacies of colonialism, agglomerating a large number of different tribes (73, according to the official count) and languages (20, plus dialects). Fortunately, with a long history of coexistence, significant migration around the country and similar Bantu-family languages, they all seem to get along pretty well and Zambia has been spared the violent inter-tribal strife that has decimated countries like Rwanda.

The Bemba are the largest group in Zambia, but they still form only about 20% of the population. The Bemba came from the Congo in the 16th century, and while their homelands are in the north and middle of Zambia, many have immigrated to Lusaka and the Copperbelt.

The Chewa, Ngoni and Nsenga tribes, all found in the east of the country, share the Nyanja language and form Zambia’s second largest grouping with about 15%.

The Tonga, Ila and Lenje, known together as the Bantu Botatwe (Three Peoples), are a close runner-up with 15% of the population, concentrated in the west of the country in the Zambezi Valley and the plateaus to the north.

The Lozi in the far west (6%) are known for their craftwork, particularly basketry, and for a low-key (non-violent) secessionist movement calling for an independent Barotseland.

Other tribes in Zambia’s patchwork include the Lala and Bisa (5%), the Kaonde (3%), the Mambwe and Lungu (3%), the Lunda (3%), the Lamba (2.5%) and the Luvale (2%), and 57 more. Despair not: the differences are not crucial for travelers, and locals will be happy to explain their traditions when needed, notably at festivals. White Africans of English or Afrikaner descent(1.2%) are also visible, particularly in the more upmarket areas of the major cities.

Zambian visa policy is best summarized as confusing: there is a bewildering thicket of rules on who needs visas, whether visas can be obtained on arrival, and how much they cost. Local border posts also apply their own interpretations. Due to recent political turbulence in Zimbabwe, Zambia has been cashing in on the unexpected boom in its tourism industry, with visa fees hiked and the previous visa waiver program canceled: you’re now expected to pay in cash on arrival at the immigration kiosks.

Traveling Zambia

Since 2014, it has been possible to pay by credit card at Lusaka International (Kenneth Kaunda) Airport. The upside is that once customs has figured out what category you’re in, actually obtaining the visa is rarely a problem and a rule of thumb is that most Western visitors can get visas on arrival. Visa-free entry is possible for some nationalities, including Hong Kong, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, Zimbabwe and South Africa. See the immigration department’s web-site for the full list of visa-exempt nationalities. Current visa prices are US$50 for a single-entry and US$80 for a multiple-entry visa for all nationalities and is valid for 3 months; US passport holders can only apply for a multiple-entry visa, but it is then valid for 3 years.

Lusaka Airport Customs and Immigration is unprepared to deal with tourists. There are four lanes, segmented by: Zambian passport holders; Residents; Tourists; and Diplomats. Tellingly, the lane for tourists is sometimes unstaffed. Although there are many immigration officers present the tourist lane is often unstaffed. Be prepared for all other lanes to empty before being processed.

For those who would prefer to leave the hassle to someone else, specialist safari holiday companies can arrange immigration for you.

Zambia’s main international gateway is Lusaka; gone are the days when getting to Zambia meant flying via Johannesburg, Lusaka is fast becoming something of a regional hub. KLM now fly direct from Amsterdam and Emirates are offering low cost connections via it’s middle east base alongside the existing British Airways service and a much expanded Ethiopian network. Also Air Namibia also now offer low cost connections from Cape Town via Windhoek. British Airways fly to Livingstone from Johannesburg with Pro-Flight, a local operator, connecting Lusaka with Livingstone, near spectacular Victoria Falls, and Mfuwe, near South Luangwa National Park, and the other regional destinations.

Lusaka remains well-served by flights from Johannesburg, Cairo, Dubai, Nairobi, Lilongwe, Addis Ababa, and London. British Airways remains the main intercontinental carrier that flies to Lusaka from Europe, with direct flights from London three times a week. South African Airways fly to Lusaka and Livingstone from Johannesburg with multiple flights per day.Flights to Lusaka are more plentiful and EgyptAir from Cairo, Kenya Airways from Nairobi and Ethiopian Airlines from Addis and Air Namibia from Windhoek fly daily.

Business etiquette

It is important to be very formal while negotiating with a Zambian business partner. It is considered impolite to address people in a business meeting by their first names, no matter how junior in the hierarchy they are or how young. Always address one with the honorific “Mr”.

Zambians are very professional when it comes to business so it’s important to wear sharp, conservative suits. Business cards are important, and it’s important to ensure that they are smartly printed. Hand over business cards to those highest in an executive hierarchy and when offered a business card in exchange, do make it a point to glace over politely.
  
Zambians are meticulous business negotiators, and never rush to a business decision. They always take their own sweet time. They will want to indulge in small talk at the beginning of a business meeting, chat about the weather, sports and politics. Indulge in them, and be equally polite and friendly in exchange. Irritation or impatience would be interpreted very badly in Zambia, so avoid showing your displeasure, even at the slightest, at all cost.

Networking and business relationships are very important in Zambia, so if you’re looking to expand business here, be sure to develop contacts in the local political, bureaucratic and business community.

English is the official language of business communication in Zambia, so getting your point across won’t be a problem. However, if you are working in rural areas in the country, you might want to take the help of an interpreter.

Officially, women have the same rights in Zambia as men, but there are a very few female business executives here, and fewer at higher positions. But this is changing fast, and we do expect this young generation of new female executives to rise to the highest positions in Zambian business in the near future. 

One thing you should be very careful about is not to offer gifts to your contacts in Zambian political or bureaucratic circles, as this may be seen as being akin to a bribe, which could get your contact in deep trouble. So avoid offering gifts at all costs.