Africa: Shanty trading becomes norm as Zambia's industries wither

ZAMBIA has become a nation of traders. It is impossible to enter a shop or office in central Lusaka without having to squeeze through row after row of ramshackle roadside stalls.

On the main streets they sell shoes, bags, clothes, electrical equipment. In residential areas it is small amounts of food or individual cigarettes arranged in delicate patterns to disguise the fact that the seller has not much stock.

"It's great," a World Bank official told me, "economic activity on such a scale has to be a good sign." He would say that. Street trading sprang up in 1993 soon after Zambia's new government brought in an economic- reform programme inspired by the World Bank and IMF. In Zambia today no one seems to make, mine or grow anything: they are all selling to one another.

When you look closely at the stalls you find they are selling identical produce at identical prices. And business is poor. "You can go all day without selling," said a trader who travels to Zimbabwe by bus to buy stock. "That's terrible, because you have to sell at knockdown prices, so turnover is crucial."

At the poorer end of the scale the shanty trader can end up eating unbought stock, leaving no money to replenish it. "I used to sell tomatoes but too much didn't sell and went bad. So I switched to this," said Matilda Phiria, a widow. She now smashes rock into gravel in the hope of making a little money selling it to a builder.

A diplomat from one of the nations to which Zambia owes a large chunk of its foreign debt said: "It's all trade, and it's good. If maize passes through Zambia in transit from South Africa to the Congo that's a worthwhile trade. It creates jobs."

Things look different to the hungry of the Copper Belt who see the cereal pass by on its way to the Congo, where it sells at a good price. The market is working perfectly in this, matching supply to demand, taking the food to where there is the money to pay for it. The shame is that ordinary Zambians do not have the cash, nor do their businessmen. Part of the reform demanded by the West is large-scale privatisation. Some 215 of the 315 state businesses have been sold in a programme which the World Bank sees as "the wonder of Africa".

But Zambian entrepreneurs cannot afford to buy. Most of the businesses have been sold to foreigners. (If you have the cash, try the Zambian national grid, was the tip of one Westerner out there to prepare it for sale).

The trouble is that the Zambian national interest and that of foreign capital sometimes do not coincide. When a big hotel was privatised in Livingstone, it was bought by a rival Zimbabwean hotel across the river and promptly shut down. Something similar appears to be happening with the nation's main fertiliser factory at Kafue.

But foreign money has the Zambians over a barrel. That much is clear over the sale of the nationalised copper industry, whose South African and Canadian buyers, having initialled a deal, are currently trying to renegotiate a much harder bargain with the government. Trade may be the lifeblood of any nation, but it does nothing to redress those injustices which grow from an imbalance in power.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Client Relationship Assistant / Business Support

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you willing to give fantastic Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Assistant Document Controller

£11000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Greenwich based firm of Archite...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum