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From Tanzania Corespondent Lute Wa Lutengano…
Those who are of my age will vividly recall the age of the ‘maxam’. This was the era when the shelves of the then RTCs or Regional Trading Companies and other ‘dukas’ had nothing, literally nothing.
There was nothing to buy from the many public and few private shops in the urban and rural areas of the country. Actually whenever there were any little amounts of flour, sugar or rice in the shops, one had to get a special permit – kibali – to get an allocation of the same to buy for his family.
I do recall how I actually bought my first Radio Cassette Recorder. I was then a young journalist with the Daily News in Dar es Salaam and as part of the privileges of a scribe you get to know some strategically positioned individuals in society. One of these individuals was Kapinga, the then General Manager of DABCO, a company which traded in among other items, electronic gadgets.
He easily issued a special ‘kibali’ for me to buy a Phillips Radio cassette. I went and bought one but, can you imagine that I never reached with my prized item home. As soon as I walked out of the DABCO shop, along then Independence Avenue, I was mobbed by scores of craving Dar es Salaamites, who all wanted my item. Naturally I sold it to the highest bidder. That evening I was the darling of all my friends at the Bonga NikuBonge Bar in Mwananyamala. And that is where my Radio Cassette dreams were buried.
In efforts to alleviate these acute shortages of almost everything, the authorities of the time decided to turn east and appeal to the Chinese. That is when the market got flooded with Chinese products. ‘Maxam’ the toothpaste, was the flagstaff of them all. All of a sudden all the shops in the country were full of ‘maxam’ toothpaste, ‘maxam’ soap, ‘maxam’ lotion and many other ‘maxam’ products.
I do remember when, one time my guardian angel smiled at me, and I chanced to come into possession of three tubes of ‘Colgate’ toothpaste and several ‘Rexona’ bathing soap pieces. I suddenly became a sensation, and actually very attractive to the ‘sisters’ of the time. This sudden stardom evaporated soon after they relieved me of my prized possessions. In no time I was back to my Chinese ‘maxam’ life.
Somehow the Chinese and their products disappeared for many years after that. But now they are back and with a vengeance. They are everywhere. They are building our highways, our cloud-licking structures, running restaurants and even selling items from small shops in Kariakoo. There are Chinese shoes, clothes, liquors, medicine and even chemicals to, I am told, even enable our sisters grow some voluminous bottoms. Somehow, though, I have to admit, I have never come across a huge bottomed Chinese lady.
I thought this was only happening to Tanzania. No! The same is taking place all over Africa. The other day, as I flew Air Malawi to Blantyre, I was worried I had entered a flight to Beijing. It was full of Chinese people. On enquiry I was told all those were small businessmen who run small shops in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba in Malawi.
In Zambia, I read the other day, if you are going to buy some chicken for your evening ‘nsima’ – ugali – and you enter the Lusaka city’s main market, chances are you will do so from a Chinese run stall.
Writes Justin Rowlatt, “As you push your way through the crowds, the hawkers and traders will shout and cajole, offering you every product imaginable. You will probably not see a single non-African there. Until, that is, you get to where the chickens are sold. Here you will see a row of trucks piled high with cages, each packed with plump white chickens all fussing and squawking. The African shoppers will be weighing the birds in their hands and looking their prospective purchases in the eye.
In the background you might spot the owners of the trucks – Chinese men and women holding wads of money and making sure things go smoothly.” These Chinese men and women are chicken farmers in Zambia. They have travelled more than 11,000 kms from their homes to do just that. No wonder even the Americans and the Europeans are wary of the Chinese. It seems the Chinese are here!