Economic imperialism in Lusaka

We’re in Lusaka at the moment, stayed here overnight. Chris and I flew in yesterday morning, and we had a lot of time to wander around, as the Land Cruiser on the way from Livingstone had a little wheel bearing problem. All sorted out now!

My first impression of Lusaka was that it felt like China — meeting the plane were a row of fully uniformed Chinese policemen/army officers, and it looked like there were Chinese military jets in the airport. Many of those on the plane were Chinese.

My second impression was that it felt like South Africa — most of the billboards and almost all the products in local shops (not to mention that local shops themselves) are South African. Lots of billboards, for example, are for the cellphone company MTN, and they all have the 2010 World Cup logo on them — even though the cup is going to be held just in South Africa.

After some chatting to the locals, we’re gathering that lots of infrastructure construction is being undertaken by the Chinese government — though often using Chinese labour, and sometimes of poor quality. They’re interested in building ties because of the resource wealth of Zambia. South African involvement, on the other hand, seems little driven by government, and much more by export of consumer products and groceries.

Which, on reflection, makes sense: China has a huge domestic market but few resources, so is engaged in government-driven development of resource sources. South Africa has all the resources it needs, but a small domestic market, so South African companies are building markets north of the border. So what might initially have seemed to be a clash of interests might well be more of a complementary involvement.

Of course, the real question is where this leaves the Zambians. I’m still trying to work that one out.

2 thoughts on “Economic imperialism in Lusaka

  1. So glad you met up with the rest of the group, and delighted to hear that someone in Zambia has the expertise to fix The Beast’s wheel.

    While it is a pain to have to wander round, with one’s luggage, while waiting to be collected, it IS a stunning opportunity to sense the mood of the nation from the lips of the people themselves. Many ideas to occupy your mind as you travel the endless kilometres across African savannah. Hope the savannah does the traditional stuff and shows you some animals.


  2. Very interesting perspective. The scramble for Africa continues. I had not thought of China’s and South Africa’s interests as being complementary, although our government might see it that way, given their refusal to allow the Dalai Lama in. One area we do compete in is construction, with SA firms very frustrated by the uncompetitively low Chinese tenders. And the quality that ensues. We were interested to see in Shanghai that the construction quality there looks quite good (from a superficial and lay perspective). So why is it so poor in Africa?

    But your question of where that leaves the Zambians is very pertinent. Many of the best of them are elsewhere (including Johannesburg), which is the lot of resource-based economies. How we use the resources we are blessed / cursed with in this continent now will determine the welfare of many generations into the future.

    See if you can get a sense of how the new president is doing. The previous one seemed to be very good, but unfortunately died in office.


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