More than 600 Chinese companies operate in Zambia, mostly in the Copperbelt region and primarily serve Chinese mining companies, according to Global Risk Insights, a political risk analysis firm.
As of December 2020, Zambia owes the Chinese government more than $23 billion in loans, used for projects and infrastructure construction, it adds, noting that this debt creates the risk of economic dependency. On the other hand, Zambia benefits greatly from the growing Chinese presence – not only in terms of jobs and increased economic activity, but also in developing the skills and experience of its people.
Chinese economic projects in Zambia (and other countries) depend in part on enabling good communication between Chinese and locals. Therefore, education and training programs are a major support pillar for the Chinese presence in Zambia and elsewhere.
Thus, it is no coincidence that China is the single largest provider of undergraduate scholarships for students from Sub-Saharan Africa. China awarded 12,000 of the 30,000 scholarships offered by the world’s 50 largest donor countries, according to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2020.
Beijing awards about 800 scholarships each year to Zambians to study in China. In total, there are more than 3,500 Zambian students currently enrolled in a wide range of degree programs in China, making China the preferred destination for Zambian students wishing to study abroad. One of the laureates, Moffat Chivita, recently completed a degree in Music in China. “I am now living my dream after studying in China,” he says. “This experience will definitely shape my musical career.”
China also sponsors study programs for Zambian students in their country. The Confucius Institute of the University of Zambia, a Chinese state educational and cultural organization, has provided Chinese language lessons to more than 8,000 local students since its establishment in 2010. It also runs cultural programs and promotes bilateral cultural exchanges.
Thandwe Chapa, CEO of China-owned Hongsen in Zambia, which recycles plastic waste into household products, studied Mandarin at the Confucius Institute. In addition to providing jobs for local residents, Hongsen has taught Zambians important skills, she says. “This factory was among the first to use a specific technology to recycle plastic in Zambia. Staff and managers learned the value of this equipment and how to use it.”
Specific job training is another important component of educational outreach in China. In the past three years, more than 1,500 Zambians including government officials, technicians, researchers, businessmen and journalists have received work-related training in China.
Others were trained at Chinese-owned companies inside Zambia. Frederic Sachi, Managing Director of Zhongyang Eco-Agriculture Industry Park in East Lusaka, participated in such a programme. “I was trained by my Chinese bosses,” Sachi says. “It is an excellent experience to be entrusted after training to manage the company on behalf of its foreign owners.”
Chinese education and training programs in Zambia are just one component of a much larger network of economic enterprises. Large Chinese industrial and infrastructure projects in Zambia include the construction of new milling plants, the Lower Kavu Gorge hydroelectric power plant, and the new Ndola International Airport. Building a large pool of trained Zambians in China can help ensure that these projects run smoothly.
Derek Selemina Freelance journalist based in Lusaka. Focuses on Zambian agriculture and sustainability issues.