Policy evolution and organisational learning in Zambia’s mining sector

  • Dan Haglund

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis explores how policy evolves in weak commodity dependent African states, in a context of increasing organisational diversity due to fast-growing foreign investment from emerging markets. Through a case study of the Zambian mining sector, where state-firm relations have been highly contentious following privatisation in the late 1990s, I develop an interdisciplinary and empirically grounded account of how policy evolves. My findings are based on over 100 interviews conducted with employees of Chinese, Indian and ‘western’ case-study firms, as well as government officials, NGOs and other stakeholders.

My aim is to give adequate attention to both state and firm perspectives on regulatory policy making. To this end, the thesis first reviews the literature on policy making in the African state as well as theories of institutional change. It then draws on evolutionary economics and organisational theory, to develop a framework for understanding firm behaviour that emphasises the role of organisational routines and objectives. I develop and define the concept of organisational learning as the process through which organisational routines and objectives change over time.

I find that policy development in Zambia, in its formal expression, appears framed around a ‘partnership approach’ to regulation. This approach is based on a view of government as enabler of private investment, emphasising state-firm consultations and consensus in policy development. This approach contrasts but co-exists with an alternative expression of state power through the Presidency, which maintains strong informal links with the foreign mining companies.

I find significant yet nuanced variation in organisational routines and aims across the companies under study. This includes the tendency among western companies to seek operational stability by engaging with local stakeholders directly, whilst Chinese investors prefer to operate through close relationships with the Presidency, relying on the Zambian state to ‘broker’ its wider social relations.

Over time there is some evidence of organisational learning taking place among the mining companies, including through convergence in regulatory standards and practices. Yet differences persist because routines and aims – conditioned by a firm’s institutional background – change slowly over time, even in the presence of inefficiencies.

Zambia’s mining sector was during the period under study subject to various pressures for policy reform, stemming from discontent with limited tax contributions and pervasive negative environmental and safety impacts. These reform proposals, however, failed to move ahead despite support from some of the mining companies. I show how Zambia’s accommodating and pro-investor regulatory framework sits uneasily with an interventionist political culture and a diverse mining sector. The consensus among the regulated companies – on which effective partnership regulation relies – proves elusive in a ‘presidential’ state that readily accommodates different articulations of state-firm relations.
Date of Award1 Nov 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJames Copestake (Supervisor)

Cite this