Zambian currency on the spotlight
By Staff Reporter
The battle for survival continues in the Zambian business sector.
On the streets of the capital Lusaka, almost everyone is complaining about the general poor state of the economy. Worse still, the value of the country’s currency continues to plummet. And this has affected various entrepreneurs, most of whom have been written about in this column.
Yet, another sector has had a fair share of these negative effects. Entrepreneurs that deal in foreign currency from non-traditional selling points infamously known in the economic circles as the black market, have not been spared from hardships. Currency dealers from the Intercity Bus Terminus and Katondo street in Lusaka’s central business district have also got something to lament about.
Robin Simagwali has been changing money at the Inter City Bus Terminus since 2005. And being an international transit point for many travelers, it has been a strategic place for him. Further, the place has established and connected him to many business opportunities.
‘’When I came here, the kwacha was just above 3, 000 then (K3.00 now) to a [United States] dollar. That time we used to deal in the [Botswana] Pula, the dollar and the [South African] rand,’’ Simagwali explained in part.
‘’And the [business] traffic was so much; there was a lot of demand for these currencies. Also the kwacha was on high demand from Zimbabweans, Tswanas, South Africans and Tanzanians who used to order things from here. But starting from, I think September 2015, our currency has just been falling like mangoes. Business has been extremely difficult, as most of our clients have disappeared; they cannot afford to buy the dollar.’’
His counterpart, Bernard Mkandawire, extended the lamentation further by reminiscing over those glorious days.
‘’Each day I came here in those days, I knew that I will go home with a lot of profit. When I was building my house in Kamwala South I never used to struggle so much for building material. Everyday I could get some money from the profit and put it aside for cement. And that helped me build my house quickly,’’ Mkandawire narrated. ‘’But now the situation is that some days we just go back with the money we came with. If you are not careful you can even get into your capital and finish it because there are days when we don’t have customers. I think these are hard days we have never experienced before.’’
Ephraim Banda is from Katondo street, and the only courageous entrepreneur from that side to have accepted to speak to NewsdayZambia.com
‘’Most people look down on us as traders from the black market. But what people don’t know is that we are serious business people. We are used to this business and we understand the economy very well. So, when we say our currency is performing badly, it is true. We handle money every day as we deal with customers in different currencies,’’ said Banda.
‘’Some people don’t know that there are a lot of customers who find it better to exchange money from the streets because we give better rates. For us our rates are not fixed, so we negotiate. But these days it has been hard; our profit margin has reduced badly. We put ourselves in the corner so that you just manage even two customers in a day. So, we lose out on rates just to keep customers coming. Instead of pushing the cost to them we choose to bear it. And this is not good for business, you see my brother.’’
Well, all these may sound like ‘small rantings of a few disgruntled citizens’, as some government leaders would say. But these are genuine experiences highlighted by victims of a battered economy. And for any discerning leader worthy their salt, these are matters to deal with. In fact, every citizen is a stakeholder in the affairs of their country – the economy included. The more these issues are ignored, the bigger the time bomb that is being created.