The soft yellow-orange glow of the camp’s night light casts delicate hues over the plain below the ridge. It is a dark African night. Ten billion stars and a thin crescent moon are the natural illumination. The herd of impala moves close to the camp because the night light gives them more protection. Light reflects in the eyes of the predator cats, and the camp’s glow allows the herd to see the eyes sooner. Things will change when the camp generator is turned off at 10 PM. Permanent power is expected in only a few weeks.
Across the plain large shadows track the huge forms that lumber toward a grazing area. Hippos have come out of the water and seek their nocturnal feast. One after another these monsters emerge from the river and cross within our view. Far on the right side, the impala are nervous and jumping. We see a hyena on the prowl. In Africa, on the grassland, night means eat or be eaten.
I am writing this over the weekend from the Puku Ridge tent camp in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Google will tell you the details for the park. For Puku Ridge, see: www.sanctuaryretreats.com.
We have finished the three-day event co-sponsored by the Global Interdependence Center www.interdependence.org and its global partners and hosted by the Central Bank of Zambia at Livingstone. Meetings allowed interludes to visit the famous Victoria Falls, which is a sight to behold and one of the true wonders of the world. Wondrous, too, was the conference discourse and the “takeaways.”
The public conference included ministers, members of parliament, four central banks, six commercial banks, and investors and academics. Private roundtable sessions delved into central bank policymaking and the impact of the financial crisis. Due to the Chatham House Rule, I have to limit the details reported in this text.
Suffice it to say the global financial crisis has hurt certain emerging-market economies, and African countries are among them. Terms of trade are changing and the ability to finance trade has been impaired. This is especially true in agriculture. There is a deep distrust of banks here and a loud call for more regulation and direction from government. Clearly banks are on the defensive.
Another important issue is the changing source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in African countries. In Zambia the Chinese have pledged nearly $5.5 billion USD in investment. China will own copper mines and smelters as well as industrial parks, agricultural facilities, construction companies, and some health investments. China is advancing its stake in African countries, and we see it in Zambia.
While Zambians welcome the FDI, they also quietly worry about elephant ivory leaving for China surreptitiously and about the 99-year leases that China will hold and about the special zones in which the Chinese investor firms will operate with some autonomy. Like all developing and emerging regions that attract monies from a foreign and different culture, Zambia too confronts a double-edged sword with FDI. But they do not get that much FDI from the West, and they do see inflows from China, India, and other countries that have built up large US dollar reserves and are now spending their dollars on harder assets.
Potential in Zambia is large; their natural resources are abundant. Forty years ago the Zambian economy and South Korea’s were about the same size. South Korea has flourished and is a regional economic power. At our conference, Zambians asked why they cannot do the same. We leave noting that there is movement here and serious interest in the advancement of capital markets and economic growth. Investment opportunity in Africa, and especially in countries like Zambia, needs to be watched and reviewed.
Let’s go back to Puku Ridge.
It is midday. The nocturnal coolness has given way to heat. I sit in the shade and watch herds of elephants, zebras, and impala graze. Flocks of multi-colored birds rise and fall and transit the space above the plain. No worries about the US Treasury deficit here in Puku Ridge. The giraffe doesn’t care. Neither do the kudu.
But next week the US banking system gets a jolt from credit-card securities going into liquidation and from commercial real estate loans deteriorating and from the ongoing saga of General Motors, ancestral home of a modern Impala. I will stop. Keenan, our ranger guide, is calling for us to come on the nighttime game drive. Will we see a leopard?