16 January 2020

Training trade policy leaders: Zambia takes a ‘homegrown’ approach

by Michelle Kovacevic / in Impact story

Education key for an informed trade and policy future

In the thriving town of Kitwe, about six hours drive from the Zambian capital of Lusaka, Edna Kabala-Litana is teaching a class of students who will, one day, be leading Zambia’s trade efforts in government, not for profit and the private sector. As students at Copperbelt University’s newly developed Trade Policy course, they are at the forefront of learning about the theoretical and practical aspects of trade policy and its link to Zambia’s development.

Kabala-Litana has the students split into pairs to discuss a trade policy question she has just posed. The classroom is lively; the students are enthusiastic and opinionated.

But just two years ago, Kabala-Litana would not have known to use this think-pair-share teaching methodology. In fact, she was probably more likely to deliver a two-hour lecture, without breaks. Class attendance was suffering as a result.

“The way it works here in Zambia is that you are not taught how to teach… you just go on with your usual style and you don’t even get feedback from students about how you are going,” said Kabala-Litana, who originally trained as an economist.

In 2016, after lecturing for a few years, she heard about an opportunity offered by the Swedish National Board of Trade to take an advanced trade policy course for civil servants called the Trade Academy as well as several additional days of “train-the-trainers” sessions, specifically designed to strengthen the teaching skills of selected Zambian lecturers from public universities.

Kabala-Litana applied and was selected to attend the 2017/18 course, which she describes as ‘eye opening’.

“I was taught how to teach,” she said.

“As I started applying different styles of teaching that I learned to my students, I’ve even seen class attendance improve and students say they see themselves using what they have learned from the course.”

Kabala-Litana has also been teaching her colleagues to apply the methodologies in their classrooms. They have appreciated the encouragement to make the learnings relevant to their context.

“Involving the lecturers in Zambia and our homegrown study materials [into an international training program] has… empowered us with capacity to learn and also train others in trade policy.”

The experience is ongoing, said Kabala-Litana.

“We soon have experts visiting from Sweden to offer guest lectures and also build capacity in us to offer lectures without needing them. This is important for sustainability.”

Sustainability has been a key focus of Zambia’s Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, which has been working with the National Board of Trade Sweden and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) to get trade as part of the curricula in academic institutions.

“We wanted to ensure that when training is given on trade policy, it’s not a one-off where you have consultants who give training and they are not there,” said Lillian Bwalya, Director of Foreign Trade at the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry.


In the capital of Lusaka, lecturer Wisdom Kaleng’a and his colleagues at the University of Zambia are a few steps ahead, with a trade policy curriculum that has been tested and refined over the past five years, as well as staff who have the capacity to lecture on more specialized trade policy topics that would previously have been delivered by guest lecturers.

“For example, with our field trip to Chirundu where we saw trade facilitation in action, instead of having the National Board of Trade fully in charge of the lectures, they presented side by side with lecturers from the University of Zambia, Copperbelt University and Mulungushu University,” Kaleng’a said.

Julian Sievers, from the National Board of Trade Sweden has also observed a much better capacity in lecturers to teach relevant trade policy topics.

“Earlier, lecturers had a more general understanding of various trade policy concepts. The level of independence of teaching the courses has clearly raised,” he said.


Reducing outsourcing to guest lecturers hasn’t been the only issue. According to Bwalya, having a wider pool of Zambians who are knowledgeable about trade policy will be of benefit to policy development.

“People who were coming out of university and joining the workforce had a gap in their understanding... We want to be turning out trade policy experts who will join different organisations and have this knowledge about international trade policy,” she said.

Despite only being a few years old, the course at the University of Zambia is already developing a pool of experts. Lewis Chimfwembe who took the course at the University of Zambia in 2014 said he would have been “lost” in some aspects of his job at the Zambian Association of Manufacturers without the knowledge the course provided.

“There was a time where the manufacturing industry complained that there was too much competition from imported products. I went to my class notes and I realised we had learnt something about trade remedies so I was able to go to the WTO website, download the trade remedies manual and suggest trade measures that they should put in place to protect their industry as well as being in line with our regional trade agreements with the WTO,” Chimfwembe said.


Trade policy course - Zambia

Students in one of the new Trade Policy courses in Zambia


His background in trade policy was also instrumental in the instance of an edible oil import ban.

“When the edible oils industry complained about imports, the Minister announced a ban on imports of edible oils. I was able to advise the Ministry that this was in breach of our regional trade agreements and to instead put in place a permit system.”

When he was promoted to acting CEO of the Zambian Association of Manufacturers, Lewis saw trade policy course graduates as more employable.

“We thought it was best to hire people that already had an appreciation of trade policy issues that our organisation dealt with. To train someone while in the workforce would probably take five years for them to develop the level of knowledge that the course can teach in one year,” he said.


The course has proved popular with students at the University of Zambia (enrollments have more than tripled in three years and over 200 students have now graduated). Over the next decade, these graduates will infiltrate different stages of the policymaking ladder and will be directly inputting into the policymaking process, Kaleng’a said.

“We are building a critical mass who will influence major decisions related to trade policy in Zambia and elsewhere around the world over the next decade.”

But, the gap in knowledge of those who are currently working in trade policy, the private sector and NGOs still needs to be addressed, Kaleng’a said. For this, the University of Zambia has developed a curriculum for a short evening course, but is still seeking resources so it can begin.

To further increase the pool of lecturers with relevant trade policy skills, the National Board of Trade will continue to train lecturers over 2019/2020, mentor lecturers, as well as support trade policy course curriculum development.

“In this way the hope is to build up a substantial institutional capacity at the University of Zambia, Copperbelt University and Mulungushi University,” said Sievers.

Lecturers are also getting opportunities to play a more influential role in trade policy, said Kaleng’a.

“The Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry has been actively involving us in consultative meetings, launches and forums. In the next 5-10 years we see ourselves having a greater influence on trade policymaking processes.”

Any views and opinions expressed on Trade for Development News are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect those of EIF.