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March 21, 2007

Interesting tidbits about Zambia

Zambia is in the middle of Africa, and it feels like it. Like all African countries it has its story of colonialism and independence, but Zambia’s uniqueness is that is has never been through a major war. People pride themselves on being a peace loving country, and I have been told by several people that if people hear gun shots, they run to the event to see what happened… it’s that rare. A nice break from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nairobi!

Being a peaceful country next to the DRC and Zimbabwe, and close to Angola, Mozambique and South Africa, means that Zambia has also become a center of international aid and attention. Many NGOs are based in Lusaka, as a jumping off point to other places or to try out their aid strategies here in Zambia.

On the economic side, Zambia has a few interesting notables. Walking around, you see many people in clothes that looks like someone’s nice donation from the States… lots of American t-shirts and baseball hats and the like… and then you go to the market and see mounds and mounds of second hand clothes lining the streets. Hmmmm, could it be? Yes, the clothing that gets donated to “help the poor children in Africa” gets sold to vendors and resold on the streets. Interesting.

The really sad part of the story is that the massive amounts of incoming material donations has wiped out Zambia’s cotton growing and materials making industries. And I mean WIPED out—what was once a major aspect of the economy here is gone.

On the note of interesting trends in the market (the street market I mean), I learned today how to tell the difference between Zambian and Zimbabwean vendors. Since Zimbabwe has so many economic sanctions on it, people have no where to sell their goods. So, head to Zambia to sell non-perishables like soap and cookies and random other items. The Zambians are the ones selling tomatoes, bananas, greens, cabbage, white eggplants, onions etc.

There’s are two other types of street vendors (usually men) – men walking around with a random sports coat, pair of shiny leather shoes or mirror, or a neat display laid on the sidewalk of electronics and random plastic things. All of these goods come straight from China. Zambia is one of China’s major focuses for “support.” Of course, the Chinese are in it just to secure resources, but they have also opened the channel for selling cheap goods and used busses. Lots of mini busses and mini-trucks have Chinese writing on them. Ah, the global community.

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