Zambian entrepreneur cashes in on local copper boom

Jack Chibi has figured out how to profit from the foreign investment pouring into Zambia's copper-mining sector. 

Workers at the Konkola Copper Mines PLC, in Zambia, wait to descend to work. Local contractors have rushed to offer support.

Zambia's copper-mining sector is a magnet for foreign investment, and some local entrepreneurs are finding ways to cash in – backed by a populist government that is putting new pressure on multinationals to give contracts to local businesses. (See related article.)

Jack Chibi is one entrepreneur who is eager to tap into the money coming from multinational corporations. He's won three contracts with Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), owned by India-based, London-listed Vedanta Resources, since he started a services company in Chingola in 2011.

So far, Mr. Chibi's company has planted 5,000 trees on a bare patch near a KCM plant in order to prevent soil erosion; renovated offices at a mining station; and changed pipes that transport liquid copper wastes to a dump site. Each contract was valued between $40,000 and $180,000. He's currently bidding on a timber-supply contract.

According to Zambian law, local companies must register with the Patents and Companies Registration Agency, the Zambia Revenue Authority, and the targeted multinational company to be eligible for contractual work. The local businesses are listed in a database and invited to bid when a multinational company is looking for work that matches the products offered.

Chibi has taken classes on bid submission with multinational companies but has no formal training. His father, who sells real estate and runs three grocery stores, where Chibi used to work, helped him to register his company and get accredited within a week, a fairly quick turnaround.

Chibi says his father inspired an entrepreneurial spirit in him. He employs one secretary and three workers, and has taken on as many as 20 employees per contract. He targets multinational organizations; they pay well and help raise his company's profile.

Chibi also enthuses over the support available from various ministries since President Michael Sata took power, including a loan program from the Ministry of Mines.

"With the pressure being heaped on multinational companies to give business to us [the locals], we know that the government has our back," he says. "So you go out there with more hope."

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