When the coronavirus first became the topic of conversation on world news, I kept my fingers crossed hoping it wasn’t going to reach Africa, not least Zambia, my beloved country. Alas, it has.
I appreciate the efforts the government is putting in place to combat the spread of the virus. It goes without saying that Zambia’s current health infrastructure isn’t prepared to deal with the severity of the pandemic should the situation currently happening in New York City befall us.
While I understand on an intellectual level that the lockdown is most likely our best approach to prevent the spread of this deadly virus, on a practical level, I don’t think it’s a sustainable approach—especially in a city like Lusaka.
Why am I taking this stance? It’s important to understand that the city of Lusaka is unlike cities such as London or New York. People in these foreign cities can survive during the lockdown but in Lusaka, life takes a whole different shape. To begin with, the majority of people in Lusaka fall under the category of informal employment.
This largely means when people go to work, they don’t report to offices. Rather, they report to the streets. Essentially, the streets and roads are their offices. You only have to walk the streets of Lusaka and you’ll see people selling secondhand clothes, fritters and doughnuts, phone accessories, to mention just a few.
These people don’t spend their time on the streets to make surplus income. Instead, they do it for survival. Hence, enforcing a mandatory lockdown in Lusaka will only result in starvation to many families.
Secondly, the lockdown is likely to exacerbate the problem of homelessness. Unlike in Western countries, landlords in shanty compounds of Lusaka such as Kanyama and Chibolya aren’t rich people. They rely on rentals from tenants to feed themselves. Many of these tenants make their money by getting out in the streets to run their informal businesses. The lockdown makes this impossible, making them unable to pay rent. The landlord is left with no choice but to evict them from his property.
Lastly, the lockdown causes economic activity to slow down, if not come to a halt. It doesn’t take an economist to realize that income reduces when economic activity slows down. The downside of this scenario is that it is likely to lead to higher rates of crime. When people are fighting for survival, they do desperate things—even breaking the law becomes an option.
Yes, the lockdown may be good at preventing the spread of the virus, but it’s important to understand the implications of this course of action to the many small business owners in Lusaka who rely on being on the streets to generate income. Those with government jobs have dodged the bullet of this lockdown, but they’re only a few. Authorities need to remember that informal is normal in Lusaka. This lockdown is hurting the masses.
By Joram Mutenge
The author is a Zambian student in the USA pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy.
In Other News – George Bester and Family placed under Intense Counselling
Commissioner for Juvenile Welfare in Zambia, Mr Kennedy Mumba has disclosed that the man who beat his son for failing G12 examinations have been placed under intense counselling.
Last week the Child Protection Unit under the Zambia Police summoned Mr George Bester after a video went viral depicting him slapping, poking and beating his son for failing G12 Examinations.
George Bester has since apologised to his son. He explained that the incident occurred 3 months ago shortly after G12 results were released.
And Mrs Musumpa Bester said she took the video for purpose of the family circle to discuss the matter after the incident. She says she learnt that the video was leaked and circulated on social media last week by one of her son’s friends. See More on George Bester…