In a growing concern among Zambian contractors, the influx of Chinese investments in the country has led to intense competition, with local businesses struggling to secure construction contracts. Over the past two decades, China has become a significant player in Zambia’s economic landscape, particularly in the construction sector. However, reports suggest that local contractors, such as Lawrence Musaka, are finding it increasingly challenging to compete against Chinese companies that consistently outbid them for projects.
Musaka, a frustrated contractor, stated, “Even the small contracts that we hope to secure are being taken away by the Chinese. It’s a challenge. It’s hard competing with them.”
Many Zambian contractors argue that initiatives like the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which funds infrastructure projects in developing countries, often result in Chinese companies bringing in their own workforce. This practice, according to Muchinga Mandia, leads to unemployment for Zambians and poses a significant threat to local businesses, VOA reported.
“When you’re in the construction business, if you stay for a year without a job, it’s not only you, the owner of the company, who’s going to suffer. You’ve got other people who work for you. How are you going to pay those people if you are not given a job?” Mandia expressed concern.
According to the Ministry of Commerce in Zambia, 69% of capital construction projects, including roads, are being awarded to Chinese firms. While the Chinese state-run news outlet Qinghua claims that these projects have generated jobs for locals, Edgar Siakachoma, the president of Zambia’s National Association of Medium and Small-Scale Contractors, argues that the arrival of Chinese companies has led to the collapse of large Zambian construction firms.
Siakachoma emphasized, “Zambian companies have been wiped out by these Chinese companies because they are backed by their governments, and they have significant sources of local means, cheap capital. Zambian companies are unable to access such facilities.”
Despite the concerns raised by local contractors, the Chinese embassy in Lusaka and Chinese-led business entities in Zambia have not responded to requests for comment from VOA.
Inok Chitawu, a voice from the construction sector, believes that the Zambian government should take steps to empower local contractors by providing financing and awarding contracts preferentially to qualified local businesses. Jaffe Chiasu, another contractor, suggests that government-led empowerment programs, such as the Citizens Economics Empowerment Commission and the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), could be instrumental in helping local companies compete effectively.
For now, Zambian construction companies are left to compete with their Chinese counterparts primarily using their own resources. The situation raises questions about the need for government intervention to ensure a fair playing field for local businesses in the competitive construction industry.