ZESCO United’s Jesse Were and David ‘Calabar’ Owino are top quality football players. Both also happen to be Kenyan; they are just two of the six foreign players in ZESCO United’s 30-man squad.

Football teams and their management are judged by their successes, and there can be no success without the right combination of talent and experience. Football clubs – whether in Europe or Zambia – look far and wide for players who can give them the edge over their competition. Top quality foreign players bring skills, but more importantly they bring international knowledge and the experience of other leagues – often the big league.

This approach to recruitment is really no different to that taken by a modern mining company.

After all, a company is also judged on success, and it too bases its successes on the skills and experience of its management and workers. If there is a difference, it is that the price of failure for a company, to the staff, investors and stakeholders, far outweighs the bitter but momentary disappointment of club relegation.

Zambia is reliant on the success of its mining industry, and will be for some time to come. It is therefore in all our interests that the right conditions are in place to allow these companies to succeed in what is an increasingly competitive global industry.

For this reason alone, it is vital that certain myths about the use of ‘expats’ are dispelled.

In a 2014 study of Zambia’s mining industry, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) found that expatriates represented a miniscule proportion of the workforce, whether contractors or direct employees. The figure for Zambia was 1-2% of the total, which compared directly with Chile – the world’s largest copper producer – and favourably to Peru (8%), Lao PDR (10%) and Tanzania (17%) – and very favourably to ZESCO United’s 20%.

Of course, there needs to be a balance. Outside talent and expertise should be sufficient to fertilise the domestic game (industry), by improving the standards of local teammates (workers) who learn by association. But it should not be so extensive that it inhibits local participation and development.

Also, whether we are talking about football or mining, bringing in foreign talent is invariably expensive, so huge reliance is necessarily placed on building homegrown talent.

The mining industry pours millions of dollars every year into training and skills development in Zambia, which goes on scholarships and bursaries for Zambian students, apprenticeships and state-of-the-art employee training facilities, as well as the sponsorship of technical and trade schools.

Fortunately, Zambia has a history of mining education and therefore Zambians are represented at all levels, right to the top. For example, take Mopani Copper Mines; the Chairman of the Board (Moses Chilangwa), Chief Financial Officer (John Chiwele) and Chief Services Officer (Senga Chitoshi) are all Zambians.

Furthermore, Zambia is also an exporter of talent – in other words we have our own high-flying ‘expats’. Norman Mbazima was formerly CEO of Kumba Iron Ore, and is now Deputy Chairman of Anglo American South Africa. Anthony Mukutuma is another example; he is the General Manager at First Quantum’s Guelb Moghrein copper mine in Mauritania.

So, Zambia’s mining industry is actually far more Zambian than many give credit for, and it’s time that we stop perpetuating damaging myths about ‘expats’ that create a hostile environment for foreign talent, whose skills our countrymen can benefit from.

Nathan Chishimba
President, Zambia Chamber of Mines