What to buy in Zambia
Zambia's best bargains are handicrafts: carvings and baskets made locally. The curio stall near the border to the Falls has a good selection, but prices are lower if you buy away from tourist areas, in Lusaka or at some of the roadside stalls.Kabwata Cultural Centre
is an obvious place to do some shopping. Wherever you buy handicrafts, don't be afraid to bargain gently. Expect an eventual reduction of about a quarter of the original asking price and always be polite and good-humoured. After all, a few cents will probably make more difference to the person with whom you are bargaining than it will mean to you.
Note that you will often see carvings on sale in the larger stalls which have been imported from Kenya, Tanzania, DRC and Zimbabwe. Assume that they would be cheaper if purchased in their countries of origin, and try to buy something Zambian as a memento of your trip.
Occasionally you will be offered 'precious' stones to buy – rough diamonds, emeralds and the like. Expert geologists may spot the occasional genuine article amongst hoards of fakes, but most mere mortals will end up being conned. Stick to the carvings if you want a bargain.
Imports and exports
There is no problem in exporting normal curios, but you will need an official export permit from the Department of National Parks to take out any game trophies. Visitors are urged to support the letter and the spirit of the CITES bans on endangered species, including the ban on the international trade in ivory. This has certainly helped to reduce ivory poaching, so don't undermine it by buying ivory souvenirs here. In any case, you will probably have big problems when you try to import them back into your home country.
In the past eight years Zambia's shops have emerged from a retailing time-warp, where cramped corner-shops had the monopoly. Until a few years ago, most of the country's residents were innocent of consumer-friendly hypermarkets where wide, ergonomically designed aisles are lined with endless choice.
Then, in 1996, Shoprite/Checkers arrived promoting a largely alien practice of high volume, low margin superstores using good levels of pay to reward honest employees. This rocked Lusaka's existing, mainly Asian, shop-owning community – who had always gone for the high-margin corner-shop approach. Rumours were rife of the ways in which Shoprite's arrival was resisted, and even blocked by the capital's existing business community.
However, now Shoprite has now found a very solid footing. Within just a few years, it has opened stores in most of Zambia's major towns, and these are normally the best and cheapest places to shop for supplies. Increasingly you'll also find the chain's fast food subsidiary, Hungry Lion, next door, selling chips, burgers and similar hygienic (sanitised?) bites.
However, all is not rosy. To many it seems that while the state is dismantling many of its own monopolies, the private sector is being allowed to generate new ones. Many aggressive South African companies, from Shoprite to Supreme, and HI-FI to Electric City, have moved into Zambia and started to dominate it, causing resentment from local businesspeople.
Critics say the success of these is down to South Africa's policy of lucrative tax breaks which effectively subsidise exports. They fear that by allowing these new companies to build monopolies, local entrepreneurs are losing out. They point to the import bills generated by such stores, which often source more of their stock from outside Zambia than from inside. However, supporters point to the increased availability of goods, and the small Zambian businesses which are improving their standards and starting to supply to these stores.
Whatever the arguments, you can now buy most things in Zambia (and in kwacha) at a price, and if you have the money then this will seem like a good thing. Perhaps the best advice for the careful visitor is to try to buy Zambian products wherever possible, for the sake of the local economy.