setup NGO zambia

How to set up an NGO in Africa – The details

Let me start with telling you a few things. First of all, this blog is more like a guide than ‘a fun story to read’. If you want to read the story of our first month, you can find it in our other blog here. Secondly, this blog explains how we handled everything with the NGO, work permit and car. We think we did okay. However, TIA (this is Africa), so there is probably multiple other ways that could be better or worse! Our motto for this part of the story:

“We’ll make the ‘mistakes’, so you don’t have to”

So, it’s been a little over a month since we left the Netherlands on Kingsday, the birthday of our precious King Pils. And what a month it has been, true to the African style it has been a month with a lot of frustration and huge amounts of patience and waiting. In this blog I will tell you the steps we had to undertake to get where we are now in the process of setting up an NGO in Zambia.

A few tips when you’re booking a one-way ticket

  1. First of all, try not to have too much of a social life ?, it makes it that much harder to leave everything behind! But, if you do have a social life like any normal person, just a simple tip to make that part easier: time! Give yourself enough time. We had 27 days ‘off’ after we stopped working and before leaving. It may seem like a lot, but it wasn’t enough! During these 27 days, we were busy preparing everything for the NGO; working out details, contacting people relevant for the NGO and rephrasing the plan time and again. At the same time, we were also trying to see all our friends and family, wanting to have a proper goodbye before we immigrate to Africa! And then 27 days are gone in a blink of an eye.
  2. Second tip to save you a lot of trouble. When you make sure you have enough time back home, then you’ll also have time to get your visa sorted in advance! It sounds only logical, but for us it didn’t seem possible at the time. However, even when you think it might not be possible, give it a try anyway and you’ll be surprised how far you can get on the online world of the internet. Ask around on the expat Facebook group of the country you’re going to, mail the embassy, etc.
  3. When flying to South Africa, and probably other countries as well, they are going to ask questions if you have a one-way ticket. So, have an explanation for your one-way-ticket! For once in our live we were at the airport early, and luckily, because Egypt Air did not want to check us in. The reason? Because we did not have a flying ticket for leaving South Africa. Our solution, we bought a flying ticket from Johannesburg to Gaborone (Botswana) right then and there. It was a pain in the ass, because we already had a bus ticket for the same trip and thus a waste of a lot of money. So, be warned!

Our circumstances.

We’ve travelled through Africa for three months before we decided to start our own NGO. We had in mind that we could join an existing project, but we didn’t come across an NGO where they had a spot that fitted us. We did come across a beautiful area in Zambia with so much potential for nature conservation and community development, that we knew that this was the place to be for us (see our blog about Kafue NP). We went back home to figure out a plan, get in touch with different stakeholders active in the area, work and save money. And then we booked our one-way ticket!

But that’s also were we get to the tricky part. If you want to do anything in a country like Zambia, you’ll need something else than a visitor/tourist permit. At first, we wanted to get a temporary work permit, but then we heard a story from a Dutch lady who applied for this permit (6 months) and after it expired, she wasn’t allowed to re-enter Zambia for another year! We’re not sure if she was the exception or the rule, but we figured it is not the way to go for us then.

We decided to ask the experience experts on the several Expat Zambia Facebook groups. We’ve got many replies, some more useful than others, but the main thing we found is that there were a lot of different stories. Apparently, there is no one way to do it, so that’s why we’ve decided to write down our own story. And let me warn you, it was a rollercoaster of feelings where the one day we thought we had to leave the country for two months and the next we knew we could stay!

The start.

We flew over Johannesburg, South Africa on a one-way ticket (which is a whole other story with several bumps on the road, read about it here). From there we visited some friends at the community operated Wild Olive Tree Camp next to Orpen Gate of Kruger National Park. Lars had done his thesis research there a few years back and we were eager to see them again and wondering how they were doing. Turns out, great! We definitely recommend staying there. It has become a beautiful tented camp fully operated by the locals, all the facilities you need and a brilliant game driver. After that, we went to Graskop near Blyde River Canyon where we stayed in our own little apartment for a few days with internet to figure some stuff out. From here, we called with several people from Zambia to find the best way to get a work permit. Our conclusion in the end… Get to Zambia as quickly as we can on a business permit and figure it out from there!

Our car.

Next step was to get our car. Last time we were in southern Africa, we bought a Toyota Landcruiser Prado together with our friend. It had done us well during those three months driving, except for the one time when the shocks broke on a horrible road in Etosha NP (read about it here). Unfortunately, during the time our friend used it, several things broke and we had to invest a lot more money than we intended. And then you have the next step, you have to figure out a price to buy each other out. We had discussed it and our friend agreed that he would buy us out and we would fix another car in Gaborone, Botswana. Or even in Zambia, we weren’t sure yet. However, when we suggested a price which we thought was fair, our friend started thinking and asked us to buy the car from him. Unfortunately, Lars and I didn’t agree on the fairness of this whole process, so that was a rollercoaster of intense discussions between us, advice from car mechanics and some more from family… Alas, in the end, friendship and practicality went over money and we regrettably spent much more of our budget on the car then we intended to. What we learned, it is smart to buy a car together, but properly think about the rules in advance, put them in black and white and sign them. Don’t just trust on your friendship, because in the end you’ll have different views on what’s fair and what’s not.

Reunited with Sisi! (These are old pictures from our last trip)

More car trouble!

Hold your horses, this wasn’t the end of our car issues. We drove a day to pick it up, get it registered on our name and drove a day back again to have everything checked. The mechanics found some other parts that were broke, not essential if you’re just driving on tar roads, but they are essential in the bush. And thus, we had to have them fixed. These parts had to come from Johannesburg and that takes three days… And of course, weekend included. Then when they arrived, the girl from the Toyota dealer ordered the same part twice, instead of two different ones. In short… it took another two weeks in Gaborone before we could leave. Luckily for us, we were staying in a great Airbnb with a local family and two sweet dogs (link Airbnb). Our host, Tumo, who is the same age as us and a traveler as well, took us out on several occasions. And on Mothers day, his mum vouched to be our substitute mom while we were there! We’ll miss them and definitely stay there again when we’re back in Gabs.

Setting up the NGO.

During these two weeks waiting in Gabs, we started to do some more research online about our best options. We found out the best thing to do when we enter Zambia, is to start the process of setting up our own NGO. We didn’t find any party around Kafue NP willing to employ us, so basically, we’ll have to employ ourselves then to get a work permit! We did this by getting into Zambia ourselves on a business permit (you’ll need an invitation letter from a Zambian resident to show you’ll be there on business) and go through the whole process, visit all the offices etc. But actually, a lot can be done online from a distance if you just know how, and we know how now! So let me walk you through it.

To set up an NGO as a foreigner there are some rules. First and foremost, your Board needs to be at least 50% Zambian residents. Tips for this; obviously find Zambian people you trust and who have enough money themselves. Make sure they know they are not going to get any money out of it.

There are currently still two ways to set up an NGO in Zambia. The official and best way is registering your NGO with the Ministry of Development. The law of the Non-Governmental Organisations Act No. 16 of 2009 (the “Act”) requires all NGOs as well as international NGOs operating in Zambia to be registered in accordance with the Act. Here’s the steps you’ll need to follow:

1) Certificate of Registration

  • Step 1
    You need to submit three copies of Rules and Regulations of your NGO and a recommendation letter from the collaboration government Ministry. Below are the guidelines of a constitution and the recommendation letter. You may not necessarily follow the order below, however the rules and regulation of your NGO must have contents as outlined below.

<Guidelines of a constitution>

  • Name of Organisation
  • Postal/ Physical Address
  • Objectives/ Aims
  • Office Bearers
  • Duties of Office Bearers
  • Term of Office Bearers
  • Members
  • Termination of Membership
  • Discipline
  • Finance
  • Meetings
  • Elections
  • Amendments to Constitution
  • Dissolution
  • Disposal of Assets upon Dissolution
  • Extract from “Register a Society or Church” by Office of the registrar of societies

<Recommendation letter>

Recommendation letter from line Ministry which the NGO will work under. This means, you’ll have to visit the local office of the Ministry in the town your NGO is based to get this recommendation letter.

  • Step 2

When you submit the above, details about the procedure and required documents will be provided. Below are the required documents;

  • Form 1- Application for Registration/Exemption, the form must be submitted in triplicate (3)
  • Copies of NRC, Passport or Driving Licences in respect of Zambian Members and Immigration permits in respect of Non-Zambian members must be submitted. Additionally, phone numbers of the office bearers should be included.
  • All the members appearing on the form must be scrutinized and cleared by the Police before the application for Registration is submitted (fingerprint certificates should be attached to the application).
  • Three certified copies of the NGO’s Constitution must be attached.
  • Clearance letter from the Registrar of Societies, PACRA and Lands and Deeds.
  • Fee: ZMW1,008.00 for International NGOs

Registration forms can be obtained online or from the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health, Headquarters, at the department of Registrar for NGOs and the District Community Health Office in all the Provincial capitals, where a manual receipt will be issued upon production of a computerized bank receipt and deposit slip showing payment of a non-refundable application fee.

  • Step 3

When your documents are approved, you will be given the certification which has a registration number. The certification is issued within three months of submission of all required documents. You are advised to make a schedule which shows time deadlines.

As you can see, applying for an NGO through the Ministry of Development can take up to three months. We don’t have that time, as we needed the NGO to apply for the volunteer work permit. The other way is registering yourself as a ‘Company limited by guarantee, non for profit’ at PACRA. The procedure for that is as follows:

Step 1. Name Clearance.
If you do this online, this might take up to three days. If you go to the PACRA office, they will give you the Name Clearance immediately. You don’t need much for this:

  • Three possible names for your NGO
  • Your ‘principal business’ in accordance with the ISIC Classification. For us, and for most NGO’s this is Other social work activities without accommodation.
  • Certified copy of the NRC(s) of your Zambian Directors
  • Fee which is 90 Kwacha

Step 2. Set up the NGO

We went to the PACRA and had our Name clearance the first afternoon. We also already took the documents described below to have them checked. The lady from PACRA told us the few things we did wrong or needed extra. As we had everything ready, we could set up the company limited by guarantee the next day!

  • Articles of Association (you can find a format online/here)
  • Form 3 from the PACRA website
    • On this form you need the signatures of all Directors. If it is a photocopy (which it was for us, because our directors were in Mumbwa and Lusaka, while we were in Livingstone), you’ll need to get this certified at the court.
    • To certify a signature, you need the already certified copies of the NRC of these people. These can be copies. It costs 10 Kwacha to have a document certified.
    • Have a look at this form for all the information you’ll need. E.g. personal details of all the directors, guaranteed amount, address for your NGO office etc.
  • Registration fee which was 950 Kwacha

After we’ve received our work permits and settled down a bit, we will also register as an NGO through the Ministry of Development, as every NGO will need to do this in the end.

Work permit.

After the registration of the NGO, we wanted to apply for the volunteer work permit. This has to be done online nowadays. However, we did visit the immigration office for advice, as we heart too many different stories. At PACRA we have put ourselves as Guarantors of the company, so we’re basically the owners. Some people said we then couldn’t apply for a work permit, as we cannot employ ourselves. However, this is going to be an NGO, so we will volunteer. This is what we asked at immigration, and they told us it should be fine. If you want to be sure, start off with asking some friends or family to be the guarantors of the company. This is only an amount of 7500 Kwacha per person (which is about 500 euro) and you can agree between yourselves on paper that you will pay this amount when things go wrong.

Online registration of your NGO

Back to immigration. We explained all of our circumstances to the immigration officer and he told us that we could apply online through the NGO. However, to have an online account on the NGO’s name, we needed some other things first.

  • A ZRA clearance or TPIN. You can also apply for this online, but we went to the office in the hope that everything would go faster (it didn’t).
  • Certificate of NGO
  • Letter addressed to Director of Immigration with the question to unlock the online immigration registration account of your NGO (click here for our letter).

Take these papers to the immigration office to get your account unlocked. For us the unlocking of the account took about a week and a daily visit to the office, but we were very unlucky. The IT guy in Livingstone, apparently the only one in the whole office who knows how to work with the online registration, was on leave and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get a hold of the IT guy in Lusaka. In the end we went to Lusaka ourselves and fixed it there.

Online registration for your Work Permit.

After the page for the NGO is unlocked, you can apply for the work permit. You could apply for the work permit individually, but this will cost you about three times more. That’s why we went through the NGO. For the application you’ll need A LOT of documents:

  • Covering letter from employer addressed to the Director General of Immigration
  • Application for an Employment Permit (Form 23 for volunteer employment permit)
  • Employment contract/Letter of offer
  • Police Clearance from country of residence
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Registration certificate from the relevant professional body in Zambia (where required)
  • Certified Copy of qualifications (academic, professional)
  • Copy of marriage and birth certificates (where available)
  • Certified copy of valid Passport particulars (bio data & last endorsement stamp for Zambia)
  • Certified certificate of company
  • List of Directors
  • Two recent passport size photographs
  • Prescribed fee (volunteer work permit requested through NGO should be 2000 Kwacha)

All of this was in cooperation with our Zambian directors and with total transparency towards all the officers we’ve asked for advice. It’s then that they’ll realize your intentions are good and that they want to work along. Unfortunately, the officers from immigration we talked to, won’t actually be the ones handling our case, so we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out! We’ll keep you updated ?.

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