FOR a long time now various stakeholders have been raising alarm about the steady loss of business by Zambian small businesses to foreigners.
A few years ago, a public outcry forced Government to come up with a list of businesses that should be a preserve of Zambians.
These included block making, chicken rearing and vegetable trading.
Foreigners who wanted to engage in such business were required to partner with Zambians for them to obtain necessary permits from local authorities and central government agencies.
But the foreigners have taken advantage of the absence of an enforcement and monitoring mechanism and are openly engaging in the same small businesses that should be reserved for Zambians.
This sad situation has created stiff and unfair competition for the locals, which is pushing many of them out of business.
They are unable to compete with the foreigners who in many cases have easy access to cheap finance from their governments.
In Lusaka the situation has become worse. One only needs to visit Soweto Market at night between 21:00 hours and 05:00 hours.
Truckloads of chickens produced by foreigners are offloaded onto the market and sold at prices that are lower than those charged by local producers.
Because of the low cost of production the foreigners can afford to dump the chickens on the market at ridiculously low prices, choking local producers and middlemen out of business.
The situation is the same in the blocks, pavers and other small business.
Taking advantage of the cheap loans provided by their countries of origin the foreigners are able to bring in advanced machinery which gives them an edge over local producers.
Our economy does not favour the local small businesses, who in most cases are left at the mercy of predatory micro finance companies and exploitative commercial banks that are only interested in reaping profits and not empowering citizens.
Government has made some headway in strengthening the small and medium enterprise (SME) sub-sector through various empowerment instruments such as the Citizens Economic Empowerment Fund, Youth Development Fund and many others.
But the number of beneficiaries is still negligible due to limited resources.
Let us protect our own people from these unfair competition.
The poor repayment rate among beneficiaries has complicated matters. Money that should have been paid back so that others benefit is yet to be recovered from the recipients of the loans.
On the other hand foreigners are able to repay the soft loans they obtain from their respective countries because of low interest rates.
The situation is desperate and requires radical intervention by the government and other stakeholders.
The nation cannot just fold arms across the chest while its vulnerable small businesses are being choked out of existence by unfair competition from foreigners.
In countries where these foreigners come from a Zambian cannot be allowed to run the businesses they are engaged in here, and this cannot continue.
It has just complicated the government’s efforts to reduce unemployment and scale down levels of household poverty in the country.