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Heads up – Embassy 23 – February 2010

Delivering development

Professor Royson Mukwena is not your typical civil servant. “As an academic, I am open to new ideas that are going to deliver results,” says Zambia’s new High Commissioner to London.

It’s an attitude that stood him in good stead during his first post with the foreign ministry as High Commissioner to Tanzania (2005-2009). Concurrently accredited to the Comoros, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region – a grouping established to restore stability to the troubled Great Lakes Region – the High Commissioner was involved in the Burundi Peace Process, which he believes is bearing fruit.

“With peace returning to the region Zambia stands to reap economic benefits through increased trade among the countries of the region,” he says.

Politically Zambia has successfully managed its transformation from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy, but on the economic front a lot needs to be done to diversify the economy to capitalise on this newfound stability. 

“We are too dependant on copper which unfortunately is also a wasting asset,” says the High Commissioner, whose priority in London will be drumming up business in other areas. “Our focus will be on economic diplomacy.  We are going to be judged by what trade and investments we generate from here to Zambia.”

And he’s wasting no time in raising Zambia’s profile. Shortly after his arrival, the High Commissioner bolstered the trade and economics section of the mission, he organised an investment seminar, he forged ties with business groups operating in Africa, met with think tanks and the City of London and he’s actively lobbying MPs to form an All-Party Group on Zambia.

Zambia is keen to attract investment in renewable energy and agriculture, says Mukwena. “We are sitting on 40 per cent of the water resources in the region that can be put to good use as hydro-power and in farming,” he says, adding that Zambia needs to widen its manufacturing base to add value to its agricultural products.

Strategically situated, Zambia has the potential to be an energy and transport hub, but its infrastructure is in need of major upgrading. Part of the High Commissioner’s role is to attract British investment in Zambia’s  rail, road and energy networks.

Home to the Victoria Falls and national parks abundant in wildlife, Zambia’s tourist facilities are ripe for improvement too if the country is to attract more of a share of the British tourist pound.

But most important for Zambia’s development, says the High Commissioner, is investing in education and human capital. A former doctoral student at Manchester University (1993-97) and a one-time professor at the Universities of Zambia and Namibia (where he was acting Dean for a year), he plans to use his many academic contacts to strengthen links between British and Zambian universities.

“We have lots of resources, but if you don’t invest in human capital and science and technology then you are not going to turn those resources into wealth. Our universities are in dire need of development,” says the High Commissioner.

Moreover, it cannot be ignored that some of the most productive sectors of the Zambian labour force have been ravaged by HIV/AIDS. While the government has managed to get the infection rate down, it remains a huge challenge, admits the High Commissioner. In collaboration with UK-based charitable organisations and friends of Zambia, the High Commission will take an active role in the fight against HIV/AIDS back in Zambia.

An expert in public administration, who has written widely on issues such as local government and decentralisation, the High Commissioner also emphasizes  the critical role local government plays in national development.  “If you are going to develop your country you have to improve your local government system. If it is weak then forget it. You can have good policies at the centre but somebody has to execute them at the local level. We have to undertake a lot of capacity building at the local government level”. 

So part of his time in London will be devoted to ‘municipal diplomacy’ – establishing links and learning good practices from local councils in Britain.

Clearly, High Commissioner Mukwena has set plenty of goals for himself during his tour of duty. But, as a childhood fan of Manchester United, he also hopes to find time to see a few goals being scored too!
HE Professor Royson Mukwena

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