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25 Mar 2009

Economic imperialism in Lusaka

Filed under: Africa — paulcook @ 10:52 am

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.

20 Mar 2009


Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 6:21 pm

Since it’s been more than a week since my last post, I think it’s time for an update.

I’m leaving on Tuesday for three weeks travelling through Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. I’ll be joining a few other people in a beast of an old-school Land Cruiser, and meandering through the game reserves and mountains, then along the coast of Lake Malawi [does linking to Wikipedia even count as a link anymore?], and finally along the Indian Ocean in Mozambique, with side trips to places like Bazaruto Island. It’ll be my first trip to most of these places, and it’s looking awesome! What with camping, it’ll also be my longest separation from the Interwebs in many a year.

While on travel, I’ll be in Los Angeles, and briefly San Fransisco, arriving in LA on 5 June and leaving 17 June. I’m expecting big parties, so yeah, people over there, get organising. You know, between thesis writing. (And seriously, best wishes to all those in the write-up stage).

I’m staying in a really cool apartment in Killarney, which is fantastically central to almost anything in Johannesburg. Buying furniture from scratch has been a mission, but I’ve got most stuff covered now. Pictures are … uh … coming. Actually, I finally bought a camera recently, so when that arrives pictures will actually follow.

Wednesday Night Dinner has worked out really well, with as many as 17 people for some weeks, and a restaurant roster that’s included some really interesting places, and lots of new people to meet.

Going even further back, some highlights were Christmas holidays in the Western Cape winelands and at the coast — there’s nothing like hitting the beach and ocean to make it really feel like Christmas. A few days before that, I went to a Christmas party at a surprise venue, organised by a friend of a friend. We loaded into two buses, and were driven to an empty floor of a building in Braamfontein (somewhat analogous to areas around downtown LA). There we found a bar and small stage and sound system that had been set up, so we partied! Pitching up at a random place and having a party appeals to me, it turns out.

Looking forward, the big news is that I’m going to be changing jobs in July. The company I’m working on at the moment is doing well, and it’s interesting, but I’m getting tired of working by myself with just a computer screen. So it’s time to meet new people and work on new problems. As a result, I’ve taken a position at a large international management consultancy we’ll refer to as “M”. It is going to be a substantial change to my daily routine, but I’m very excited about the range of interesting problems that the Johannesburg office is involved in solving, around Southern Africa, including a lot of big public sector engagements. It does, however, leave me with a lot of programming to do before July.

And that’s the bulk of the news! Or at least the news that is going to land up online.