Mfikeyi Makayi:
A Limitless Mind

Getting to a TableTalk venue typically doesn’t involve checked luggage or the collection of boarding passes. However, this particular TableTalk was unique. It was the first time a TableTalk interview took place outside of Lusaka in over seven years of these interviews. Initially scheduled in Lusaka, our interview with Mfikeyi Makayi took an unexpected turn when she suggested the Nkwazi team travel to the Copperbelt to meet her. As the current CEO of KoBold Metals Africa, a mineral exploration using AI to search for metals crucial for the transition to clean energy, meeting in the heart of Zambia’s mining industry made perfect sense.

On a random Tuesday morning, my colleagues and I boarded the first flight to Ndola, continuing on to Chingola, where we met Mfikeyi. She warmly thanked the team for making an effort to meet her, emphasising that mining, predominantly centred around the Copperbelt and North-Western provinces, is a driving force in the Zambian economy. Despite this, Lusaka often receives more attention as an economic centre. This was one reason Mfikeyi chose the Copperbelt for our meeting. She jokingly mentioned that you can’t tell the story of mining from Lusaka.

Our rendezvous took place at Crumbs & Co, a cosy café popular among Chingola residents and those passing through the town on their way to or from North-Western Province and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mfikeyi emphasised her intentional selection of a local business as our interview venue, stating that supporting Zambian local entrepreneurs is crucial for their growth.

Although Mfikeyi now considers the Copperbelt home, she was born and raised in Lusaka. A precocious child, she grew up in an environment that nurtured her creativity and talents. Raised by a single mother, one of the first two qualified physiotherapists in Zambia, Mfikeyi was encouraged to have a “limitless mind.” Her mother allowed her to explore the world around her and experiment, even if it meant taking apart household gadgets and trinkets to build a mini version of the Kariba Dam (something which she did in the sixth grade). Mfikeyi later pursued civil and environmental engineering, earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees from Old Dominion University in the United States before returning to Zambia in 2010.

“People are excited about mining, but Zambia needs more exploration projects. We’ve got a lot of mines that have been open for decades, but we want new ones.”

— Mfikeyi Makayi,
KoBold Metals CEO, Africa

Upon returning, Mfikeyi joined First Quantum Minerals (FQM) at Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi, North-Western Province. Starting in a supervisory role, she progressed to a mining engineer position and later returned to a supervisory role in the internal audit department. Throughout her time at Kansanshi, Mfikeyi prioritised continuous learning and obtaining qualifications in drilling and explosives handling. She also earned a master’s in mining engineering from the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines.

After seven years with Kansanshi, Mfikeyi transitioned to the role of assistant operations manager and later operations manager at Barloworld Equipment Zambia in Kitwe, the official dealer for Caterpillar earth-moving equipment in the region. Some people viewed moving away from the mining industry into mining services as a step down but Mfikeyi saw this change as a necessary move. Tasked with turning the company around during a challenging period of increased competition and the impact of COVID-19, she was soon promoted to country manager. Mfikeyi did not stop to celebrate or publicise her promotion as she was faced with the daunting task of retrenching 30% of the workforce due to a 50% business loss during the pandemic.

Mfikeyi’s first year as country manager was tough, but she focused on making her smaller team more efficient and identified key people to help her turn things around. The strategy paid off, as the company surpassed sales targets and achieved higher profits after an initial challenging year.

After turning around the company, some people called Mfikeyi a one-hit wonder, but Barloworld continued to meet and beat its targets under Mfikeyi’s leadership, regaining market share in the construction industry. In addition to her work, Mfikeyi was also pursuing an MBA at the Lagos School of Business, shuttling between Zambia and Nigeria. She began thinking about a transition long before joining KoBold Metals. She took a month off before taking the helm of KoBold Metals Africa in August 2023.

KoBold Metals is a mineral exploration company using artificial intelligence (AI) to discover metals such as copper, cobalt, and nickel, critical for driving the transition to clean energy. As Mfikeyi points out, “We know climate change is real, and we see its effects, especially in our rainfall patterns.” The transition to clean energy is essential, and Mfikeyi wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to be part of this transition. 

I asked Mfikeyi what she plans to achieve during her tenure as the company’s leader; I have learned from this discussion that she always has a long-term plan. “If there were ten greenfield projects, of which three or four become a mine, I will be thrilled because that would cascade into many other things for Zambia and the continent. Another thing is grooming a successor, that starts now, not at the end.” 

Reflecting on KoBold’s achievements in Zambia, Mfikeyi says, “The biggest exploration investment in decades, 150 million dollars in exploration at Mingomba, in partnership with ZCCM-IH. People are excited about mining, but Zambia needs more exploration projects. We’ve got a lot of mines that have been open for decades, but we want new ones. New projects mean new capital, increased productivity, a growing economy and the GDP.”

Addressing KoBold’s financial and social goals, Mfikeyi emphasises the interconnectedness of investor returns and community benefits. “Our investors understand that over and above expected returns, the energy and materials transition is working towards solving a global crisis and protecting our natural environment, while other stakeholders expect returns such as job creation in the community. We are searching for commodities that will alleviate climate change and support the move to electric vehicles and cleaner energy sources and this will lead to a better world for everyone.”

“Who I am at work is who I am outside. I don’t have a separate me out there and then a whole Mfikeyi at work.”

— Mfikeyi Makayi,
KoBold Metals CEO, Africa

As our conversation concluded, I asked Mfikeyi who she was outside of work. She answers in a logical, straightforward manner, much like the way she approaches life. “Who I am at work is who I am outside. I don’t have a separate me out there and then a whole Mfikeyi at work. I don’t have it all figured out; maybe that’s who I am. The journey had a lot of twists and turns, and I don’t know what is next, but that’s who I am.”

Evolution through leadership

Kobold Metals Africa CEO Mfikeyi Makayi believes that successful leadership requires agility and the ability to accept criticism. She describes her leadership style as transformational because she evolves through the people she serves.

Commitment to continuous learning

Mfikeyi has three engineering degrees and just completed an MBA but initially wanted to study history. She still has a passion for the subject to this day.


A few of her books include The Road Less Travelled (M. Scott Peck), Tools of Titans (Tim Ferris), Only the Paranoid Survive (Andrew S. Grove) and Africa Rise and Shine (Jim Ovia), Imported: Locking in Africa’s Value(s) (Chuks Ibechukwu) and The Black Jacobins (C.L.R James).

Sports fanatic

One of Mfikeyi’s favourite pastimes is playing sports, including squash, football and mountain biking. She played football in her university’s team in the United States and she credits sports with helping keep her straight during her studies.

Crumbs & Co

Crumbs & Co was opened in 2020 by self-taught chef Mwaba Mutale in Chingola. The restaurant represents a culinary journey where passion, grit and global flavours meet. Every dish tells a story. The Crumbs & Co menu features Asian, Mexican, Italian and Spanish-inspired foods, with their desserts leaning more towards French cuisine.

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