JACK Kalala says he agrees with President Hakainde Hichilema’s view that the Democratic Republic of Congo is a big business opportunity for Zambia.
Kalala, who served as Zambia’s consul general to the DRC from 1992 to 1999, added that it is absurd and illogical to criminalise trade between the two countries.
He was reflecting on President Hichilema’s press conference last week where he said it was wrong to call people smugglers when they were actually Zambia’s customers.
Kalala said it was abundantly clear to all that in President Hichilema, Zambia now had “a right person with a vision in State House” who knows what is expected of him as “chief executive officer” of Zambia.
“He knows what it takes to move the country from poverty to prosperity,” Kalala said.
Kalala backed President Hichilema’s statement that it was wrong to consider trade between Zambia and the DRC as smuggling.
“It was delighting to listen to the President’s press conference where he reported on his trip to the USA and indeed on the meetings he had with other Heads of State, in particular with President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which shares a long border with Zambia,” Kalala said. “The President explained that he discussed with his colleague issues of common interest and the meeting was very fruitful. He explained that among the issues they had discussed was trade between the two sister countries.”
Kalala resounded President Hichilema’s statement that the best thing to do was to formalise and promote Zambia-DRC inter-trade by creating a customs union between the two countries.
He added that Angola might be included in this arrangement, saying it would not only promote trade between the countries involved, but also enhance peace, stability and cooperation in other areas of mutual interest.
Kalala noted that it was irrational for authorities to restrict trade between their countries.
“How would they expect to develop their countries and fight poverty? The setting up of roadblocks on the roads linking neighbouring countries are unnecessary and a senseless waste of resources. When I served there as consul-general in Lubumbashi, I encouraged trade between Zambia and the DR Congo. I advised the Zambian Government to remove restrictions and president [Frederick] Chiluba was very supportive,” he said. “Restrictions were subsequently removed and the number of roadblocks reduced. In addition, we reactivated the regional permanent commissions and they were regularly held during the time I served there. The meetings helped us to amicably resolve the problems along our common border, helped to build trust and enhance relations between the two countries.”
Kalala said the DRC was indeed a strategic neighbour as it provides an attractive market for Zambian products and services, and further noted that Zambia too had many Congolese doctors working in its hospitals.
Kalala said the two countries should therefore strive to enhance their cooperation in different areas of human endeavour for the benefit of their peoples.
“There are many opportunities on either side of the two countries that can be exploited to benefit both nations. It beats logic that DRC has to get goods they can easily get from Zambia from faraway countries and Zambia allows its roads to be damaged by heavy trucks to and from DRC,” he said.
Kalala said it was “absurd and illogical” that Zambia and the DRC could not normalise trade between them and wondered how the two countries would develop if there were restrictions to business.
“African countries should learn to coexist in harmony and promote trade between them. This would bring people closer and make them live in harmony and peace. It is an indisputable reality that enhanced trade between the two nations would lead to the cementing of relations and creation of prosperity for the people of the two countries,” he further said.
Kalala said the building and cementing of effective and mutually rewarding relations should not be restricted to DRC only but extended to other countries sharing borders with Zambia.
He noted that being surrounded by eight countries, with four of them providing access to the sea, Zambia is strategically and advantageously located and should make use of the opportunities offered.
“Eight countries surround Zambia, which potentially provides a huge market to Zambia. Zambia can be turned into an industrial hub and the products and services can be supplied to these neighbouring countries and through them to other countries beyond,” Kalala said.
He said with a visionary President who had the political will to put Zambia on the path to prosperity, the moment to develop Zambia could not be better than now.
Kalala added that every opportunity should be exploited to Zambia’s advantage.
He urged those serving in government and quasi-institutions to rise to the occasion and activate contacts with the authorities in the DRC and other countries.
“It should not be business as usual. The business community should also rise to the occasion. Now is an opportune time for the business community to critically look at the opportunities DRC offers and build mutually beneficial relations with their counterpart in that country. This is the time for the farmers to rise to the occasion to look at the yawning market in DRC and Angola and plan accordingly. The early bird catches the worm,” he said.