Expats doing business in Zambia will find themselves in a politically stable country that has seen positive economic growth in recent years. The capital, Lusaka, the tourist hub of Livingstone, and the mineral-rich Copperbelt are the most important commercial centres and where the majority of Zambia’s population live.
Much of Zambia’s economic growth has been attributed to the privatisation of the mining sector, which has managed to attract much foreign investment in recent years. Zambia is rich in natural resources and is the world’s largest producer of copper. Agriculture is another important sector.
Despite positive growth, challenges remain with doing business in Zambia: corruption and nepotism are pervasive, while other obstacles to economic growth include widespread poverty, poor service delivery and infrastructure, as well as rising AIDS/HIV infection rates.
In the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business Survey, Zambia achieved a middling rank of 85th out of 190 countries evaluated. However, Zambia did well in a few categories, including ease of getting credit (4th) and paying taxes (17th). According to the survey, the most prominent barriers to doing business in the country are registering property (149th) and trading across borders (155th).
Working hours are generally between 8am and 5pm, which includes an hour lunch break.
English is the official language of Zambia and the most widely spoken in business circles. Expats working in more rural areas and in mining communities will do well to learn key phrases and greetings in the relevant local dialects.
Business attire is usually smart, although men are not expected to wear a suit and tie. This can vary depending on the company and industry though. Smart trousers and a shirt are usually acceptable. Women should dress conservatively and avoid exposing their shoulders and legs.
Gift-giving is not common in business circles. With the prevalence of corruption, such gifts may be misconstrued as a bribe.
Women have equal rights in Zambia, although men still occupy most senior roles in Zambian business.
A firm handshake is the norm when greeting in Zambian business circles. If greeting a woman, it's best to wait for her to extend her hand first.
Business culture in Zambia
Titles are important in Zambia and should be used when greeting associates, especially in official government circles. The most senior individuals in a room should be greeted first. Associates should be addressed formally using their title and surname.
Expats doing business in Zambia will need to learn patience when it comes to dealing with local associates and the bureaucratic procedures that accompany business dealings; meetings are never rushed and contract negotiations can take time. In line with this, Zambians are friendly and genuinely interested in other people; a proper greeting and small talk are common at the beginning of meetings, with conversation covering topics such as family, one’s health and sport.
Business structures in Zambia are hierarchical and decisions are made from the top. Unfortunately, corruption remains an ongoing concern in Zambian government and business circles and it’s not unusual to be faced with the expectation of extracting a bribe in order to make connections and win contracts. Networking and making important connections within the business and political sphere may go a long way to opening up opportunities to doing business in Zambia.
Dos and don’ts of business in Zambia
Do always greet Zambian associates politely
Don't address a Zambian colleague by their first name unless invited to do so first
Do be prepared to start meetings with small talk about personal matters
Don't rush Zambian counterparts. Business dealings take time in Zambia and it’s important to always be polite and respectful.
Do dress smartly for business meetings. First impressions are important, as are appearances.
Do be prepared to network and make important connections within Zambian business and political circles in order to facilitate commercial opportunities