Current statistics show that the Chinese have invested about $4 billion in Zambia, and our trade with China keeps on increasing year on year. The Chinese construction companies get more than 80% of all construction contracts in the country for our airports, roads, power generation, etc. Therefore, our Chinese colleagues are here to stay.

Zambia is currently undergoing unprecedented construction boom. The last time I saw such construction taking place at the same time was during my time in China where I was studying civil engineering.

However, the difference between the massive construction in China and our massive construction in Zambia is that more than 80% of their construction in China was done by themselves, whilst here it is the direct opposite.

Honestly there is a problem here. At the time when China was undergoing massive construction, many jobs were created for the local people for project managers, engineers and general workers. However, this is not the case for Zambians because we are not in control of the industry.

Therefore, we are failing to realise the true benefits in job creation for our people, more especially the highly skilled such as project managers and engineers. To start with, the Chinese companies constructing our infrastructure mostly employ Chinese engineers from China and only employ general workers from Zambia on a minimum wage.

Only a handful of highly skilled Zambians are employed as project managers, engineers and Directors. The excuse that is normally given for this is that Zambians are lazy. However, research has shown that the major reason for this is actually language and cultural barrier.

Of course we cannot rule out completely that Zambians are not as hardworking compared to the Chinese workers. In special cases, if a highly qualified and skilled Zambian is employed by the Chinese company, they mostly do not stay for long because the conditions of service will not match other foreign companies in the same sector.

This has contributed to the high Zambian employee turnover for most Chinese companies compared to other foreign companies in the same sector.

Since language was identified as one of the critical factors to why the Chinese do not employee Zambians in favour of their country mates, it is important for us to look at our immigration law. Before, it was a basic requirement for foreigners coming to work in Zambia to be proficient in English language for them to be given a work permit.

However, over the past few years, we have seen a number of Chinese who can hardly utter a word in English working in Zambia.This lack of English language abilities by our Chinese colleagues somehow disadvantages Zambians as instead of them employing Zambian juniors to work with them they will prefer employing another Chinese and avoid speaking through a translator.

If you visited a Chinese company today, you will notice that apart from the general workers, drivers and perhaps receptionist, the rest of the management team is most likely going to be Chinese. So, how are our Zambian brothers and sisters going to get the much needed experience to one day run a big company like the Chinese companies we have today?

To be Continued……………………….

Article by Kumbukilani Phiri and Durban Kambaki
Chinese Scholars

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