Zambian consumers tighten belts for Christmas

A struggling currency, power shortages and rising food prices are all the things Zambians did not ask for this Christmas. The festivities are expected to be more moderate this year as consumers spend less in the face of economic woes.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (REUTERS) – Shoppers browse the mall in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. It’s a few days before Christmas – peak time for businesses targeting a middle-class that outlines the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative.

But this year the shopping lists are shorter and the feasts are somewhat leaner for people who would normally splurge on the consumerism that comes with the holidays in many homes around Zambia.

Africa’s second biggest copper producer has seen its kwacha currency tumble nearly 50 percent against the dollar this year, driving up food prices.

Walinda Muchele, a Lusaka resident says her family is braced for something simpler this year.

“We won’t do everything that we do during Christmas because of the hikes, inflation let me say. So it is like prices have been hiked on certain items so we can’t have the fun that we normally do, but we will still see what we can do,” she said.

Zambia is facing its toughest economic challenge in a decade as weak commodity prices, electricity shortages and slowing growth in China hit growth.

With increasingly erratic seasonal rainfall causing severe water shortages at Zambia’s hydropower plants, Zesco, the country’s sole power utility, says it has been forced to cut back on electricity supply to households and industries.

The lack of reliable power is hitting Zambia’s economy, as people struggle to make a living without electricity half the day, experts say. Unless heavy rains come to Zambia soon, they add, the country will face a heavy economic bill from climate change.

“We saw the pressure on the prices of copper affecting our nation economically and the dollar shot up to as high as 14.5 Kwacha at some point, we are still looking at how the prices have been affecting us, prices have trebled. So that in itself has economic impact on the way people are going to spend, even me as an individual definitely I may not spend as much as I would have loved to spend as we celebrate Christmas this year, so we still hope that families can still manage with the little resources that they may have,” said Walinda Gondwe another Lusaka resident.

In October Zambians took part in a national day of prayer seeking divine help for the country’s economic woes. Responding to an appeal from President Edgar Lungu, churches across the southern African nation conducted prayer services.

Housewife, Juliet Chowa often hosts her extended family over the holidays for days of feasting and merry making. She says this year she will spend it with her husband and children.

“We will not cook anything special this Christmas because food prices have soared too much. Maybe we will have some rice, and go to church. I hope the government does something about food prices, it is really getting out of hand, everything is so expensive and it is affecting our quality of life,” she said.

Falling commodity prices, political upheaval and simmering conflict are exposing the differing fortunes of Africa’s economies, undermining the idea that the continent of a billion people is on one collective ascent.

Sub-Saharan Africa has achieved annual growth of more than 5 percent over the last decade, and foreign investment has more than quadrupled over the same period, but the regional cooperation, infrastructure development and political reforms needed to diversify economies and even out growth are taking longer than expected.