Category Archives: Zambia

Antelopes on Bicycles

My Malawian taxi driver got going about the house he was building, brick by brick.  Sort of like Bubba telling Forrest Gump about the different ways one could cook shrimp, it was a long list.  I listened politely since I had a couple of hours to the Zambian border where I would cross into Zambia and spend eight days working with Nkosi (Senior Chief) Nzamane at the Mfumbeni Chiefdom.  Frequent readers of this space will recall that I have previously reported on my work with this chiefdom in eastern Zambia.  That work continues.

The Mfumbeni Development Association (MDA) is still on the search to fund their hoped-for animal feed mill.  They wish to use their local corn, soy, and peanuts to make feed for chickens. Here we call those three crops maize, soya, and groundnuts. But, same same. This time I helped them craft an application and business plan seeking funding from a World Bank program.  And, as in previous visits, I observed that the MDA is quite good at conceptualizing their desired new business.  Follow-up, including the pursuit of potential partners and funders, is not their strong suit however.  We will see how this latest round of effort plays out.

The daughter of the chief is a diplomat in the Zambian Foreign Ministry.  She is on her way to Moscow for a two year posting at the Zambian Embassy there.  I suspect she will find her surroundings in Russia shockingly different than her childhood surroundings in the Mfumbeni Chiefdom.  All in all the family is quite talented: diplomat daughter, businesswoman mother, senior chief father.  (The latter aided a bit by the custom of male primogeniture.)

As I cleared passport control at the land border between Malawi and Zambia I was reminded how important HIV suppression is in this part of Africa.  On the wall was one of the ABC posters frequently seen around Africa (practice Abstinence, Be faithful, use a Condom.)  Beneath the poster was a shoe box full of condoms free for the taking.  I just hope the active locals will take and use.

Finished with my work in Zambia, I engaged the same house building Malawian taxi driver on the return ride back into Malawi. He invited me to stop by his house-in-progress.  Since I had the afternoon free I agreed. It was typical construction in poor Malawi: locally made and fairly irregularly shaped bricks, cured by firewood in a hand built kiln, then mortared together in a rather slapdash way.  Fortunately they have no earthquakes or hurricanes in Malawi.

He is building a three bedroom house complete with bathroom and separate shower.  But because he will not be able to afford a piped water connection for several years, the shower will be a bucket and ladle affair and the toilet will – – for the time being – – be located in the outhouse. Likewise, no electricity supply from the grid is affordable to him now so kerosene lamps and charcoal cooking will be the norm.

This simple home will take about three years to construct because he can make progress only sporadically when he earns sufficient money from his taxi business to afford his next batch of bricks and, soon, corrugated metal roofing.  His wife contributes her earning from importing and selling bright CHITENGE fabric for the ubiquitous wrap around skirts worn here.

Nevertheless, their humble home will eventually be their pride and joy.  He estimates that the total cost when complete (sans water and electrical hook up) will be $3,000. At least the price is right.  I promised to visit again the next time I am in Malawi to view (we hope) the finished product.

Before I journeyed back to the US, I took a weekend of R&R in southern Malawi in verdant rolling hills covered carpet-like with endless tea plantations.  Emerald green in every direction and a perfect setting for long rambling walks.  My final day I stayed at Game Haven Lodge, set in the middle of a small private game reserve.  On view within the reserve were a few giraffes, zebras, and ten antelope species including Eland, the world’s largest antelope species – – weighing one ton, about the same as an American Bison. There were no hippos, rhinos, elephants, nor big cats, so this wasn’t the most spectacular game park I have visited, but a nice spot after hiking the tea plantations.

It is special, however in the way that one views the animals: by mountain bike led by a bike riding guide.  This is possible only because of the absence of big cats and charging bull elephants. In addition to humans only two other mammal species are known to ride bikes: trained monkeys and poodles at the circus.  We saw no monkeys and no circus poodles; all the animals in the park were on hoof.

In true poor country fashion several gears on my bike were inoperative and the handlebars came loose in my hands. Not ideal had I needed to outpedal an angry Eland.

Who’s your aunt?

As I wrapped up my assignment in Mozambique two weeks ago, I employed my usual arsenal of developing country marketing tools. Primarily the cell phone. As in other assignments I had the farmers make mock phone calls to potential buyers. They were practicing setting up a meeting to show their products. One farmer would act as the sales person seeking the meeting, another as a crop buyer. I teach them to always give their phone number to the buyer after scheduling a meeting. The seller needs to be contactable. This may be obvious to us, but not to illiterate farmers with little business savvy.

There is no point in taking a public mini-bus two hours to a meeting with the buyer only to find out that the buyer’s schedule has changed and he is not in the office that day. In one mock exchange, the seller failed to give his phone number, so the role playing buyer asked for it. The seller replied, “I don’t have a number.” During the post exercise critique one of the participants asked the seller why he did not give his number. He explained, “I don’t own a cell phone so I was pretending like I was calling from a phone booth.” Well, he failed to leave a call-back number, but at least he was quite realistic in his role playing.

After conducting a count of phone booths in Mozambique (there still are a few), I moved on to Zambia where I have returned to work with the Mfumbeni Chiefdom. This is the group I visited twice before. You may recall that my main client is Nkosi Nzamane, the Senior Chief of this Ngoni tribe. His marriage was arranged when he was in his early 20s by his parents and the parents of a 20 year old Ngoni woman. At that time he was next in line for the throne. Consequently, marriage to a tribesmate was important.

But of particular curiosity, both the chief and his wife told me that she, the wife, is the chief’s aunt. Now, I must say that’s a bit unusual. Their marriage has endured for 40 or so years and has resulted in four children. Now before you think this is all too weird, I should add that the term aunt (or uncle) is somewhat fluid in these close knit tribal clans. More likely they are cousins of some remove. For example, in a separate meeting, a woman introduced me to her own aunt; but after probing I understood that their relationship was first cousins once removed. The older of the pair had been denominated “aunt.”

We are working on a plan to build a poultry feed factory that will utilize the farmers’ abundant corn and soy – – ideal ingredients for poultry feed. My efforts on this assignment are designed to find a milling company to partner with the Mfumbeni Chiefdom and to help craft a proposal to seek grant money for the factory. Finding funding for such a venture is a big challenge.

One afternoon while working on my primary task, I was invited to attend a meeting that addressed an even greater challenge to the chiefdom. The meeting was held to evaluate the chiefdom’s efforts to combat HIV. By my observation they are doing pretty well on indirect measures (e.g. number of villagers trained in HIV avoidance, HIV awareness signs posted.) But they lack what I would think are crucial direct measurements: actual incidence of HIV, number of HIV patients under treatment with anti-retrovirals, and measures of condom distribution. Condom distribution in Zambia is not such a cultural/political flashpoint as in the US. A fact of life in rural Africa is that 15 year olds are having sex. Better to protect them with condoms than to condemn them to death for their behavior.

I was told that early marriages in the chiefdom contribute to a higher incidence of HIV. A 15 year old wife with a 25 or 30 year old husband is unequal in power in that relationship. This sometimes leads to the husband taking multiple partners outside of marriage, contracting AIDS from unprotected sex, and then infecting his young wife.

Now, back to my main task: Needing information on poultry feed consumption in our market area, my colleague and I visited the provincial Central Statistical Bureau…whose mission is to provide government statistics to people seeking those statistics. Mission fulfillment was not a strong point on the staff. We tried several people in several offices, but got the run around. “The system is down.” “I must ask my boss. He is out today.” “You should email Lusaka (the capital.)” So we tracked down the information on our own. We found a government veterinarian who could tell us the chicken count in the Eastern Province. We asked half a dozen local poultry feed distributors how many customers they served and how much they sold. We consolidated the data and calculated our own guestimate. For those of you interested, there are 1.5 million chickens in Zambia’s Eastern Province and they consume 36,000 metric tons of poultry feed annually. I worked so hard for those figures I just had to tell someone. Thank you for listening.

Nearing the End of the Alphabet

Zambia lies landlocked in the southern tier of Africa. It is the penultimate country in the world alphabetically. Name the last one; it borders Zambia to the south.

I am in eastern Zambia working with the Mfumbeni Chiefdom. In a previous post I related how I had met Nkosi Nzamane, the Senior Chief of this tribal area, on an airplane last summer. I visited his Mfumbeni Development Association briefly in August. I have now returned to conduct market research – – and train Chihwalla, one of the association’s bright young businessmen, how to conduct research himself. Give a chiefdom market research and they will have data for a day. Teach a chiefdom how to research and they will have data for a lifetime. Or something like that. Chihwalla and I have been going around Chipata – seat of the chiefdom, Lusaka – capital of Zambia, and Lilongwe – capital of neighboring Malawi, conducting research in an effort to determine which raw crops the Mfumbeni farmers should process into a value added product.

We have settled on a plan to grind corn, press soy beans, add vitamins and blend all together into poultry feed. There is a sizeable market, no competing feed mills nearby, and apparently chickens aren’t too choosy about taste. We had earlier ruled out making peanut butter because humans do care about taste and appearance and branding – – all things that we doubted the novice producers at Mfumbeni could get right in their first attempt at crop processing. In some years hence, if you read about the plump chickens around Chipata you will know that they got it right with poultry feed production.

Working with a senior chief as my client is a new experience for me. I am not accustomed to having the guy standing next to me addressed as your royal highness. I suspect I am even looked at with more respect due to my proximity. Senior chiefs are treated deferentially. Subjects enter a meeting room in a crouch so as to keep their head below the chief’s head. As a sign of respect people hand things to a chief with both hands. They let the chief select a restaurant seat against the wall so that no one can pass behind him. This is perhaps a holdover from the warrior days when an assassination attempt from behind was a very real risk.

I was riding with the chief in his 4×4. At a routine traffic stop the chief was asked to produce his driver’s license. A Zambian driver’s license shows no rank, only name…no way to see who is a chief. The inspecting cop pointed out that the chief’s license had expired eight months previously. It appeared the cop was getting ready to ticket the offender (or extract a bribe.) Nkosi Nzamane then produced his business card indicating his royal rank. It even had a photo of him in ceremonial animal skin dress. The previously snooty cop was clearly impressed. He apologized and gave the chief a free pass. No fine this time.

Zambia is a former British colony and its citizens are excellent English speakers, albeit with an accent that sometimes flummoxes me. But it is not just the accent; in this part of Africa even the perfect English speakers say things differently than we Americans are accustomed to. Someone might approach you and say, “How is it?” I think to myself, how is what? But he is really just asking, “How are you?”

“Did you sleep well?”almost always follows, Good morning. I tend to appreciate their concern with my sleep habits. They spell Hi as Hie. No, it is not misspelled, it is just spelled differently in southern Africa. When someone steps away from the dinner table momentarily, he will say, “I am coming.” And I think, no, you are going. But he really means, I am coming back. I once asked a business colleague, “How long does production training usually last?” He replied, “It depends, some don’t listen fast.”

Zambia, while still a poor country is developing rapidly. Its urban population is well educated, sophisticated, and still a bit superstitious. A Zambian lady told me that women in Tanzania practice juju. This is a sort of witchcraft with secret spells cast. “I had a boyfriend. We never fought. He went to work in Tanzania where he told a woman about me. That woman cast juju on my boyfriend. When he returned to Zambia we fought all the time because of the juju spell. Now we have broken up. Be careful if you go to Tanzania.” Naturally, I will.

In Zambia’s fast growing and vibrant capital, Lusaka, the traffic is horrendous. But the bright side of this is that during the never ending traffic jams one can watch the street vendors who weave among the stationary automobiles. They offer bags of fruit, bunches of bananas, water, chips, tomatoes,clothing, ties, caps, shoes,warning triangles, cell phone chargers, towels, newspapers, backpacks, stuffed animals, DVDs, decorated steering wheel covers, and sunglasses. So you can dine, select clothing, and conduct all your Saturday shopping without ever leaving your car…as long as you find a traffic jam.

And finally, the answer to the opening quiz is Zimbabwe. The last in the alphabet, nationally speaking.

Nkosi Nzamane of Zambia

I met Nkosi Nzamane early in the summer on a flight from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi. He sat next to me. In the process of casual chitchat I learned that he was the senior chief (Nkosi) of a large African tribe. Actually, he would not call it a tribe, sounds too primitive. He is the senior chief of the Mfumbeni Chiefdom – – over 300,000 people living mostly as subsistence farmers in eastern Zambia. So, you can think of Nkosi as the governor of a small state, say Vermont, or the mayor of a medium size city, Pittsburgh for example.

Like most poor, rural Africans the Mfumbeni members face many challenges. Nkosi Nzamane was heading home after a conference with other traditional chiefs who had met to discuss one of those challenges: ways to reduce the prevalence of underage marriages in their chiefdoms.

In parts of rural Africa, including in the Mfumbeni Chiefdom, fathers and mothers sometimes give their 15 year old daughters in marriage to men perhaps one decade older, sometimes more. I think the parents figure that eventually their daughter will get married anyway so why not do it now while the bride price is near its peak? The bride price is paid by the expectant groom (or more likely, his parents) to the family of the bride. The price is negotiable and is usually paid in cattle. A somewhat more modern version involves agreeing on the number of cows a young bride will fetch, then making the actual payment in cash, equivalent to the market value of the negotiated number of cows.

Marriage at 15 with babies soon to follow pretty much spells the end of girls’ education and also likely leads to many more children than a subsistence level family can easily feed. There are not too many good things one can say about this situation. Consequently the chiefdom has told the headsmen (traditional mayors) in each of the chiefdom’s 325 villages to dissuade farmers from giving away their too-young daughters in marriage. The village headsman has no absolute authority to stop a family who wants to give away its daughter; he has only his own persuasive power. But a headsman who doesn’t dissuade underage marriages in his village will have to answer to Nkosi Nzamane.

In addition to discouraging families from marrying off their teenage daughters, the chiefdom is trying to improve lives through improvements in health (reduce the prevalence of HIV and malaria), education (build secondary schools of which the chiefdom currently has none), farming (improve crop yields), and business (generate jobs). When I told Nkosi Nzamane about the business assignments I had completed elsewhere in Africa he invited me to visit Mfumbeni. Serendipitously, I was scheduled to speak at a conference in next door Malawi at the end of the summer so we agreed that I would cross the Zambian border after my conference was finished.

So in late August Nkosi Nzamane collected me at my hotel in Lilongwe, Malawi and we drove the four hours to his chiefdom near Chipata, Zambia. We spent an entire day meeting with the board of the Mfumbeni Development Association (MDA) at the chief’s palace. At least he called it a palace. To me it looked more like a modest ranch house…however, perhaps palatial when compared to the surrounding mud brick and grass-roof homes of the locals.

As is the custom, when Nkosi Nzamane entered the meeting area the MDA board members all rose and said in unison, “Yoh Jere.” This is a term of respect using the chief’s family name. At the end of the meeting, when the driver came to pick me up, he knelt at the entrance to the meeting hall, ensuring that his head remained below that of the seated chief.

During the meeting I learned that the local farmers grew and sold unprocessed crops; none of their crops was refined into a value added product. So we discussed their business development plans that involved adding value to the crops. We agreed that the MDA should select only a very few products (those with the greatest likelihood of success) to pursue in its initial business efforts. At our meeting we identified three such products:

• Process soy beans into soy milk and tofu
• Process peanuts into oil and peanut butter
• Blend soy, peanuts, corn, and other crops into animal feed

And then we planned the next step: I would return to the Chiefdom to lead the evaluation of each product to ensure that:

1. A sufficiently large market exists and is accessible to the Chiefdom
2. The cost of equipment and the cost of operation are in line with the expected revenues from the products
3. Factory operation can easily be taught to members, virtually none of whom are familiar with processing businesses and simple factory machinery

Now back home, I am busy contacting the several NGOs that have sent me on previous assignments. I am hoping to convince one of them to provide the necessary funding to support this work with the Mfumbeni Chiefdom. If I am successful in my appeal then you, dear reader, will see additional posts from Zambia.