13 Things I Learned About Small & Medium Enterprises in Zambia

By Chipo Muwowo

I spent last week in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, carrying out research for a magazine piece I’m writing on the state of SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) funding in the country – the challenges, opportunities, and subtleties. I conducted a series of interviews, and enjoyed numerous off-the-cuff conversations. Here are 13 things I learned:

1. The opportunity for strong returns on investment in Zambia is huge. As one interviewee said: “Where aren’t there opportunities?”

2. The potential to have a strong social impact is also massive. Whatever industry you choose to enter, you’ll quickly spot ways in which business can uplift people’s lives.

3. If one is building a business for growth/scale, the opportunity to establish and/or drive a whole industry forward is significant.

4. The emerging tech industry needs to solve local problems and not get sucked into Silicon Valley’s “an app for everything” culture, which often tries to solve problems people aren’t really facing.

5. For venture capital (VC) and private equity (PE) investors, it’s not actually that easy to identify solid local businesses to invest in. 

6. Type of SME funding is just as important as the funding itself. No one-size-fits-all.

7. Mindsets need to change. Zambians need to start creating businesses that look beyond survival. The country needs homegrown businesses that last and have scale.

8. Upcoming businessmen and women are in desperate need of mentors. On the other hand, a lot of mentors need to be guided on how to mentor.

9. The country needs people of goodwill (Zambians and non-Zambians, but especially Zambians) to return with their global training and expertise.

10. If a company is seeking VC/PE investment, Zambia probably won’t be a big enough market. Such investors seek aggressive growth so these businesses will need to look out to regional markets like SADC and COMESA. However, such growth will take time. (see point 7)

11. Government policymaking needs to look beyond the election cycle and the country’s current over-reliance on multinationals. Neither are sustainable in the long-run. One interviewee told me that currently, 240 multinationals generate 80% of the country’s GDP. That’s staggering. Zambians don’t own their economy. 

12. SMEs (especially in the manufacturing sector) are not being given the space to breathe. They need similar benefits to multinationals (e.g. tax holidays, etc) to begin to grow.

13. The informal sector problem (“How do we formalise the informal sector and generate tax revenues from it?”) is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon because it’s primarily a political issue. Those in the informal sector are many and they are voters.

I had formal interviews with:
– Mafipe Chunga, Senior Manager, Deal Advisory, KPMG Zambia
– Lukonga Lindunda and Simunza Muyangana, Co-Directors, Bongo Hive (tech hub)
– Kayula Siame, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Commerce Trade and Industry
– Tembwe Mutungu, Partner, Oakfield Holdings (majority shareholder in Yalelo Fisheries)
– Noel Nkoma, CEO and Founder, Betternow Finance Company 
– Monica Musonda, CEO and Founder, Java Foods

Author:
Chipo Muwowo is a freelance journalist writing about economics and business investment in Southern Africa, focusing specifically on Zambia.  

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“The Peaceful Nation” – Zambia’s Most Common Story About Itself (a reflection)

Every nation on earth has a set of stories about itself that it tells itself. These tales are passed down from generation to generation through food, music, and art, as well as through government-led social, economic, and foreign policies. From America’s “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” to South Africa’s “Rainbow Nation”, these national narratives deepen the people’s sense of identity and belonging, and they set clear markers which distinguish them from other nations. Often, these stories are rooted in some historical event: a victorious war, or some widely celebrated invention. They can also be rooted in a person (some national hero), a key natural resource, or the physical landscape.

Zambia, my homeland, has its own set of stories. Perhaps the most common is “the peaceful nation” narrative. The idea of Zambia as an inherently “peaceful” place is one we have truly internalised – it’s what we believe we are at our core. The narrative isn’t just aspirational, it even informs public policy. Zambia as a “peaceful nation” is something we try to protect at home and sell to investors abroad.

But when last did we pause to reflect on how this idea squares up with day-to-day reality? Is it possible for “peace” in Zambia to mean so much more than just the absence of armed conflict? And who benefits and who loses out from this narrative as we have it today?

Zambia as a ‘haven of peace’ is an idea that has a lot of weight behind it.

Zambians are among the warmest and friendliest people anywhere on earth. We’ve never experienced civil war despite our rich cultural diversity. And during Southern Africa’s fights for independence, many liberation leaders from across the region were exiled to Zambia. This role cost us greatly. We literally took bullets (bombs, too) for our neighbours and the toll on our economy and way of life was considerable. Even as recently as the mid-1990s, Zambia was still acting as an important regional player in trying to bring an end to the armed conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

But while this evidence supports “the peaceful nation” narrative, other evidence doesn’t.

Over the years we have taken these noble acts of peace-building and stretched them. “Protecting the peace we’ve enjoyed since Independence” is a well-worn phrase used by successive governments to quell debate and dissent.

What’s so peaceful about that?

And what’s peaceful about economic injustice? Corruption? A crumbling education system? Desperately poor public health infrastructure?

Most Zambians face unthinkable injustices every single day. Would they happily agree that being part of “the peaceful nation” of Zambia has served them well over the years? “Peace” is not just the absence of armed conflict, it’s so much more than that.

The prolonged absence of armed conflict is a wonderful thing, something we should be so thankful for. But I refuse to settle for “peace” in the way that the politicians tell me to – by keeping quiet and agreeing to be told what to think. Ben Okri, the Nigerian writer, says:

‘If nations tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face reality, they will free their histories for future flowerings.’

We have a choice; to celebrate and build upon what is true about Zambia’s “peace” narrative but also to face down the lies. Learning to share together in our nation’s diversity – its traditional ceremonies, food, music, art, languages, politics – provides us with a much better chance of holding together than empty, recycled rhetoric ever will.

© Chipo Muwowo, July 2017.

Cover image by Gary Bernard, Getty Images.

Kaunda on human nature and my own thoughts on ‘Shalom’…

Kenneth Kaunda (affectionately known as ‘KK’) was Zambia’s first President. I’m currently reading a book he wrote in 1980 called Kaunda on Violence. In it, he wrestles deeply with the idea of peaceful protest in the face of violent oppression. As one of the key leaders of Zambia’s independence movement against minority British rule, the consequences of his thought processes and eventual actions were all to real – for the movement but also for the future independent country he hoped to lead.

KK is an intellectual and a pragmatist. In the book, he does history, political theory, philosophy and theology. He concludes that pacifism, though often viewed as a non-violent act, can in fact lead to violent consequences with those it aims to protect actually getting hurt. He comes to the view that the violence of war is necessary and acceptable some of the time. The deep and difficult questions he asks about motives and consequences often focus on himself; he’s very aware of his own propensity to do violence and explain it away. But of ours too.

This reality exists all of the time regardless of which side we’re on in any political argument. This is one thing we’re truly all in together. In the two paragraphs below, KK offers piercing analysis of the human condition. I’ve paraphrased some sentences to make them more easily understandable:

I am not suggesting that the tactics of violence and those of non-violence [e.g. sanctions] are indistinguishable. Nor do I think that because a revolutionary act will inevitably harm somebody, it doesn’t matter if we do harm indiscriminately. I seek only to dispel the illusion of innocence, for no fanaticism is so dangerous in politics as that which assumes inherent human goodness.

[…]

By all means we need those who bring to bear upon Southern Africa’s problems qualities of idealism and courage but they must be yoked in double harness with a healthy scepticism, close observation of human affairs and above all, a deep understanding of the dark forces at work in one’s own heart. For we ourselves are part of the battlefield on which great issues are being fought out.

Wow. A healthy scepticism? Dark forces in one’s own heart? This is deep. It’s uncomfortable!

KK wrote this nearly 40 years ago but it still rings true today; painfully so. It’s so hard for us to zoom out and look at ourselves with the honest clarity he presents here. Doing so would be unbearable and greatly disconcerting. Nobody wants to do it – I don’t. But it’s reality.

It seems we’re incapable of living out our greatest and highest ideals. A big part of the problem is that we’re blind to our own smugness and pride and our natural inclination for folly. Yes, we occasionally surprise ourselves by turning things the right way up but that’s not the normal day-to-day human experience. We don’t have to look far to see that this is true.

We’re saddled with a great weight that can’t be shaken off, like a millstone around our necks. We’re shackled and our attempts to break free prove fruitless. We long for the permanent quenching of our arid souls. There’s a constant, resolute, even desperate striving to do better but enslavement to pride and vain glory derail us just when we think we’ve got going. We totally get the Apostle Paul when he says, For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

If we’re honest, to live life in this world is enslavement not freedom, emptiness not joy, brokenness not healing. But then the prophet Isaiah speaks of one who has come, and will come again, a Messiah who will bring freedom and healing like we’ve never felt before, joy like we’ve never tasted before. Isaiah says:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
  The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
  The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
  They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

They will neither harm nor destroy” – this is peace forever! Our propensity for folly will be righted, our failings forgotten, our thirst quenched by rivers that will never dry up, and behold, our future: one of feasting with others in brotherly love, sharing the finest foods and wine, and worshipping the one who made it all possible for us. We, his children, we who have said Sorry, Thank you, Please, will toast the Death of Death, toast the Death of Hate, toast the Death of Folly…forever!

This is what I’m holding out for.

True peace.

Shalom.

For the month of May, I’ve become a Daily Mail reader #FightTheEchoChamber

Since the start of May, I’ve been doing something I’ve never done before: I’ve been buying and reading the Daily Mail newspaper once a week. I plan to continue doing this for the rest of the month.

“Why?” you’re probably asking.

Well, the idea popped into my head a few weeks ago as I was reading a very different newspaper and my regular, the FT Weekend. As I sat there reading, I thought:

“This is nice. This is safe. What would rattle, even anger me, if I read it right now?”

“The Daily Mail,” came the reply!

I can’t stand most of what is printed in the Daily Mail but it’s popular – it’s Britain’s second most-read print publication after The Sun. Its website is the most popular English-language news site in the world. Whether I like it or not, many people I live close to, share the bus with, worship alongside, read it regularly – zealously, even.

I started to imagine the reasons for its popularity. Did people genuinely read it for its news? Are people really that obsessed with celebrity gossip, including the over 65s, the largest group of regular readers (45%)? Did readers enjoy being shouted at by Editor Paul Dacre through his headlines? How did they process the scaremongering, the hyperbole, the poison? I was intrigued.

It’s clear that all these questions reflect my negative view of the Daily Mail. And while I believe that a lot of my cynicism is justified, I remained curious about the paper and the people who read it. So, if you’re a regular reader of the Daily Mail, I’d really love to hear your thoughts. It would be refreshing to hear a positive case for the newspaper. And I hope it goes without saying: I’ll treat you with the utmost respect.

***

People read newspapers that express their worldview. Newspapers (which are consumer products at the end of the day) give readers pleasure and enjoyment, not just information. Often, this comes in the form of reinforcing ideas they already hold. And I’m no different. I enjoy the FT Weekend because of its centrist, internationalist, and pro-market stance. Among Britain’s newspapers, it comes the closest to representing where I’m at. But not just that: the FT does journalism well. Each issue of the weekend edition includes well-written, fascinating, and educative pieces from this country and elsewhere covering an array of themes: business, politics, technology, culture, and the arts. As a budding journalist, it’s a great source of inspiration.

Now regardless of the FT’s virtues, I read it because I (largely) agree with it and it (largely) agrees with me. Regardless of how right its/my ideas are, the FT and I have an “echo chamber” thing going on. In any democratic dispensation, and especially in the political environment we find ourselves in, this is problematic.

The political climate is so polarised, toxic even, that many of us aren’t hearing alternative voices. Not because all viewpoints are equally valid – no! But the people making those points are. They have an inherent and permanent worth that no one can take away. They are fellow citizens and they deserve to be heard. Yes, even Donald Trump!

His rise and the rise of other right-wing populists has taken us into new political territory – at least since the Second World War. In all this, it’s become painfully clear that we don’t know each other as well as we thought. The anger and bitterness is making us talk past each other like ships in the night. Harvard Professor Michael Sandel calls this “the lost art of democratic debate.

Recently, I was reflecting on this “echo chamber” phenomenon in my own life. As I’ve already said, I too have been living in a silo, not regularly encountering views that were odious to me, unwilling to step outside and view the world from the point of view of the other. I wrote:

“It feels like my daily life is one safe space. There’s very little to shock, to surprise, to disagree with. There’s hardly any room for the little Englander, the communist, the extreme liberal. If I’m honest, I spend most days cleaning, tidying, shining, and polishing my preconceived ideas like a chambermaid. An echo chambermaid.”

Regardless of your political persuasion, you’re most probably guilty of this too. We must all own up to it.

***

Glen Scrivener, a Christian evangelist and writer, observes: “The big problem with the world, according to the Bible, is not so much people doing wrong. It’s people who think that they are right. And if you are right, then everyone else has got to be wrong.”

One of the reasons for doing this project was to keep my own smugness and pride in check. In the current climate, I believe that we need to be willing to cross the aisle and try to see the world from the point of view of the other. That simple action is humbling.

But it’s also costly. One of the reasons for deciding to buy the paper and not just read it online or in a café was that I wanted to feel a bit of pain in all of this. I wanted it to cost me in a small way – and I don’t just mean £0.65 each week. Trying to see the world from the point of view of the other is painful.

With each issue I read, I’m looking for stories that are thought-provoking, interesting/informative, and weird. I’ll write something about the whole experience at the end of the month. In the mean time, I’ll be tweeting about it so do follow me!

And if you’re normally a Daily Mail reader, maybe pick up The Guardian tomorrow! Let me know how it goes 😉

An Echo Chambermaid

Openness is a virtue. This is our belief.

For progress to take place, for fresh ideas to flourish, for peace to reign, minds must be open. This is our creed.

The ability to look at the world from the point of view of Another is one of life’s greatest goods, so the liberal liturgical texts say.

I’m open-minded. Open to people of different colours, cultures, shapes and sizes. But open to what exactly?

Open to their right to exist? Yes.
Open to them enjoying life’s freedoms? Broadly, yes.
Open to them upending my life and ideas? If I’m honest, probably not!

The ability to look at the world from the point of view of Another is good and right. But what if I don’t like what I see?

I honestly can’t tell you when I last listened to a radio station, read a newspaper, attended a conference or festival that didn’t reinforce some idea I already held; or even made me feel surprised and vulnerable.

The ability to look at the world from the point view of Another is good and right. But do I really do it?

It feels like my daily life is one safe space. There’s very little to shock, to surprise, to disagree with. There’s hardly any room for the little Englander, the communist, the extreme liberal…

If I’m honest, I spend most days cleaning, tidying, shining and polishing my preconceived ideas like a chambermaid.

An echo chambermaid.

Book Recommendation: The Good Immigrant

The Good Immigrant is a rich and powerful collection of 21 readable – and very personal – essays by 21 non-white British writers exploring what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today. These writers tell stories about trying to find their place in a world (read: country) where “the default is always white”. The book encompasses a broad and colourful sweep of narratives which include: a history of family names; ‘blackness’; being typecast as a terrorist whilst travelling; and TCK angst.

Continue reading “Book Recommendation: The Good Immigrant”

LUNGU-NOMICS: Zambia’s Post-Election Economy (by Hjoe Moono)

By Hjoe Moono, Secretary of the Economics Association of Zambia

History has been made once again in Zambia. Since Frederick Chiluba, President Elect H.E. Edgar Chagwa Lungu is the only president to be elected by a vote of over 50%. Marginal as 50.3% might seem, it speaks volumes, and indeed, congratulations are in order to the Head of State and his party, the ruling Patriotic Front. Continue reading “LUNGU-NOMICS: Zambia’s Post-Election Economy (by Hjoe Moono)”