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Expats – blessing or curse?

ZESCO United’s Jesse Were is a top-quality football player – 6 goals in two games earlier this season is proof enough. Were also happens to be Kenyan; he is one of 6 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.

A company is also judged on success, and 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. So it is important that the right conditions are in place to allow these companies to succeed in what is an increasingly competitive global industry. The use of highly qualified expatriates – or expats – with special skills is a natural part of that.

What isn’t always known, however, is the extent to which Zambia relies on expats in the mining sector.

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 not 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 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.

So, Zambia’s mining industry is actually far more Zambian than many give it credit for.

Furthermore, Zambia is also an exporter of talent. We have our own high-flying expats – such as Norman Mbazima, currently CEO of Kumba Iron Ore in South Africa, and Anthony Mukutuma, the General Manager at First Quantum’s Guelb Moghrein copper mine in Mauritania.

And according to Dr. Osbert Sikazwe, Dean of the University of Zambia’s School of Mines, Zambian graduates from the School can be found in high-flying careers, both in mining and academia, in Finland, Australia and other parts of Africa.

In fact, expatriates are heavily represented in some of the world’s most successful economies, both at professional and worker level. In Singapore, they represent one-third of the population; in the United Arab Emirates, the figure is higher than 80%, with the majority of them working in Dubai.

A fact sheet by the American Immigration Council states: “As a number of studies make clear, the presence in a company of highly skilled foreign workers whose abilities and talents complement those of native-born workers actually creates new employment opportunities for American workers.”

The evidence suggests that we should be celebrating the presence of expatriates who bring vital skills that Zambia needs, not just in football, but in mining and other fields tooCallow-Mopani Copper Mine CEO

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