Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
I WAS taken aback by the Lusaka City Council (LCC)’s decision to ban Chinese from selling poultry and vegetables at Soweto market.
The move taken by the city fathers is retrogressive and is against the spirit of global free trade. It is unfortunate that LCC has gone that route of banning the Chinese traders.
In fact, the action taken by LCC has potential to ignite xenophobia. It is not helping us as Zambians in any way.
An isolated policy by LCC has potential to promote verbal harassment, hate speech and violent attacks targeting the Chinese.
Recently, most Zambians and Africans at large cried foul because of the xenophobic attacks witnessed in South Africa in the recent past.
Zambia cannot afford to go that route. We don’t go that route because it is dangerous.
Not too long ago shops for Rwandans were looted and set ablaze in Lusaka by some uncivilised Zambians who claimed that the Rwandans were taking business and jobs away from Zambians.
If the Chinese and Rwandans are doing their respective businesses within the confines of the law, they should be left alone to do their businesses.
The actions taken are against the spirit of global trade and fairness. A good example is the current trade war between China and the United States of America.
No one country will emerge victorious and it is the ordinary citizens that will suffer and the global economy at large.
We, therefore, need to be cautious how we treat foreigners doing business in Zambia because we have Zambians doing business in other countries.
We need to take positives and lessons as a people when we see foreigners running successful businesses.
Instead of being negative, we should be happy that there are all these business opportunities and learn how our foreign counterparts are succeeding.
We have a lot of Zambians trading across our borders.
Recently I was in Lilongwe, Malawi, for a media workshop. My friends and I decided to visit their markets to buy gifts. We were pleasantly surprised to find women traders speaking Bemba.
These are Zambian women from Lusaka and the Copperbelt eking a living from cross-border trade.
There are hundreds of Zambian traders entering Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe looking for a living through trade.
Similarly, there are several of our citizens flying to China and Dubai plus other countries for business and work.
While out there, they also go for other businesses which include keeping chickens and growing vegetables.
Imagine if authorities in other countries started behaving like LCC, our compatriots will have a tough time doing business.
In global trade, there is nothing like business for Zambians. Our people should learn to compete. Until our friends from Eritrea and Somalia came, we knew nothing about block making.
Thanks to our brothers from the Horn of Africa, we are now able to start block business.
Until the innovative Rwandans came, we had no business with ‘utu ntemba’.
Thanks to the innovation and hardworking Rwandans, we are now learning to own ‘ntembas’ in our yards.
The Chinese have seen opportunities for poultry and vegetables. Zambian entrepreneurs are failing to meet the demand.
That is why our friends from the Far East made a conscious decision to join in the poultry and vegetable business.
After all, their participation means more jobs for Zambians and more money for the taxman, including skills transfer.
Of course, I am aware that there is nothing like complete open door trade policy. Our expectation is that foreigners should be seen to be adding much more worthwhile investments and not coming to make vitumbuwa.
But we cannot just sit and specifically target Chinese or any other nationality, especially if demand for chickens outstrips supply. The guidelines should be in the value and type of investment in poultry that foreigners can engage in.
For instance, they can say a minimum of US$100,000 and sales channels are limited to wholesale.
There must be so much value addition they have to undertake and employ a certain number of Zambians, not dead end jobs.
Further, we cannot simply block foreigners from trading in chickens and simply sit back without doing anything about growing the capacity of locals.
The investment laws must be faceless but allow for growth of the economy.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO