Tribal Economies

I wish the Zambians the best …


By Danford Mpumilwa

I admit that I have a more than occasional interest in the affairs of Malawi and Zambia. This is if only because my two parents come from the highlands of the south which border the two nations.

Therefore, what happens in these two countries is generally of interest to neighboring Tanzania – and even more so to Tanzanians whose tribal roots are in their vicinity.

The same goes for Malawians and Zambians. You can never miss them in pubs and restaurants in places like Mbeya, Njombe, Tukuyu, Tunduma and other semi-urban centers in the region. They naturally feel at home here.

No wonder then that at one point in my life I visited these two countries. I first visited Malawi in the early 1980s under President Kamuzu Banda (1964-94). Obviously, this was not the most appropriate time to undertake this trip – given the “mini cold war” between Bongoland and Malawi at the time.

Readers of this column will recall how I was briefly detained at Lilongwe Airport because my passport showed that I was a journalist. But my official mission there was to promote tourism. They must have taken me for a super spy. Wow!

But, overall, I ended up having a wonderful time in their “shebeens” – read “grocery store” – at places like Kawale One and Two. Shebeens have a life of their own … But let’s come back to my stays.


The next trip was to Zambia. I was returning from Harare in the late 1980s and stopped over in Lusaka for a tête-à-tête with a fellow scribe and former collage colleague in Berlin.

The friend, Ken Wafulila, knew exactly people like me who always want to mingle with the locals and hear about their experiences. So we went to one of the townships where the Shebeens are thriving.

Really, I had a wonderful time. We talked about football, politics and, of course, the prices of cornmeal. The question of flour was a hot one. For Zambians and Malawians, ‘Nshima’ – ‘Ugali’ in Tanzania – is a burning policy.

But what caught my attention was the presence of a number of young men with empty wheelbarrows at the entrance to the shebeen – and, indeed, at the entrance of all the shebeen in the area.

Upon investigation, I was informed that these were rented by customers who splashed so much that they couldn’t get home. Then the boys in the wheelbarrow would take them home like sacks of corn … And, because the “gentlemen” were running out of “kwacha” – the local currency – or were too poor to pay, their wives had them. paid. That’s life! (French for ‘such is life!’)

And for those who don’t know the word ‘shebeen’, it comes from an Irish word ‘Sibin’, which means ‘illicit whiskey’. In addition, ‘Sibin’ was a place where alcohol was sold without a license.

Shebeens are popular in southern Africa, where they originated in colonial times, when blacks were not allowed in bars and pubs where they mingled with whites. As such, they created their own drinking establishments – the shebeens – in townships operated without a license.

Back to Zambia … In the 1980s, Zambia had a vibrant copper-based economy. But we all know what he went through afterwards; the economic and political ups and downs are a story in themselves.

So it goes without saying that I had more than an occasional interest in the presidential elections that just ended there. The elections ended with the defeat of incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front to opposition leader Hakainde ‘HH’ Hichilema of the United Party for National Development by a million votes.

But who is this “Hichilema?” He was born into a poor family in Monze district on June 4, 1962. On a scholarship, in 1986 he graduated in economics and business administration from the University of Zambia – and an MBD shortly thereafter in the Kingdom. -United.

He worked in a number of financial institutions – and eventually became a prominent businessman, currently owning the second largest cattle ranch in Zambia. According to the Forbes 2021 ranking, Hichilema is the richest man in Zambia!

He unsuccessfully ran for president in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016. He once said: “Africa needs businessmen who don’t need to make a living from politics. , but which contribute to the growth of African economies. It would be their policies that would lift Africans out of poverty through business.

As a Bongolander and neighbor, I wish President Hichilema and the Zambians all the best in this new phase of their political safari. And, I promise to revisit a Zambia without wheelbarrows parked in front of the shebeens … Long live!


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