Africa: Shanty trading becomes norm as Zambia's industries wither
Paul Vallely is visiting professor in Public Ethics at the University of Chester and a senior research fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester. He writes on ethical, political and cultural issues. He has a fortnightly column in the Independent on Sunday and also writes for the New York Times and the Church Times. His latest book is Pope Francis – Untying the Knots. He was co-author of the report of the Commission for Africa and has chaired several development charities.
Wednesday 13 May 1998
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.
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 British tourists 'murdered' in Thailand: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 4 Vogue under fire for 'Big Booty' article
- 5 Julian Assange and Edward Snowden join piracy mogul Kim Dotcom’s political campaign in New Zealand
British tourists 'murdered' in Thailand: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Jihadi John': MI5 may have identified Isis militant who killed David Haines but options limited
Scottish independence: Police will be on high alert on Friday whatever the result
David Haines beheading: David Cameron says Britain will hunt down Isis 'monsters' shown in video murdering aid worker
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke
£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...
£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...
£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...