Christmas and New Year celebrations in 2015 seem to have come at a time the country is struggling to climb a mountain of bumpy macro-economics, with visible signs of diminished spending by citizens owed to a heavily battered economy.
Forays into the markets this week revealed that mostly people’s pockets are dry; while shoppers mind what and where to spend, business people are reeling under an un-thriving market where the customer is hard to come by.
Shops around the city of Blantyre which are usually characterised with mega shopping sprees such as Peoples, Chipiku Plus, Shoprite, Game and others were unusually quieter this week.
The same scenario was replicated in reports from Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Zomba and indeed the rest of the country as the usual buzz of spending on clothing, decorations, food and drinks have but decreased considerably.
Patrick Misomali, who sells stationery products including seasonal greetings cards, flower bouquets, lighting materials and other decorative products at Blantyre Flea Market, said he has experienced a sharp decline in volumes of business this year in comparison to the past few years.
“It goes without saying that this festive season has been one of the toughest in terms of business. The fact that the economy is bad is written all over the place. Customers are too selective of what they buy now. Unlike in the past years, people are not spending much. There is less money in circulation now,” he said.
Misomali said on average his business proceeds have declined by at least 20 percent this year compared to the same period last year.
From taxi drivers, liquor sellers to food shop owners, they all blamed the economy for not being good enough for their businesses to thrive at a period of the year, most of them say, they normally make a kill due to market madness that forms part of the celebrations.
But customers such as Timothy Ndiuzaani from Lilongwe said a lot of factors are at play as regards non-responsiveness of the market at this time of the year.
“These are trying times. Much as we appreciate that there are always considerations to make with regard to forth coming essential expenditures such as school fees and farm inputs, people simply do not have the money to spend. Most of them are not employed. For those employed, some have not been paid yet. That is why I cannot spend on non-essentials,” he said.
Such statements, including those from Febe Mbewe, a resident of Blantyre who said she expected the festive season to be crazy with shoppers as has been the tradition, is putting shop owners at a knife edge.
“As it is now, we will not afford to buy good food for the family during Christmas, unless some miracle happens. I am a businessperson and my creditors are yet to pay me. Most of them are civil servants who are yet to receive their December salaries,” she said.
While businesspeople are worried, it seems there is more than what catches the eye to their woes as a businesswoman, who sells second-hand clothes at Limbe Market, Mary Malunga, pours out her frustrations.
“As people in business, we are in a tight spot. Where we buy our stocks prices have been adjusted upwards. Similarly, we have to transfer the costs to our customers. In the end, people have no choice but to reduce spending. This has had negative effects on our businesses to the extent that many of our friends are even failing to service debts with micro loan institutions. Government must step in to make the economic environment positive again,” said Malunga.
Market analyst Benson Jere, in a telephone interview, described the current economic situation as ‘gloomy,’ calling on the political leadership to do everything in its power to resuscitate the ailing economy.
“Currently, exchange rates are high for those who are doing cross-border business. That means their capital is losing value and the development trickles all the way down. At the same time, consumers’ buying power has greatly diminished. That is why you are seeing there are no long queues in shops as it usually happens,” said Jere.
He pointed out that those additional factors that have contributed to the current situation is the carried over food shortages that the country has been facing, the unpredictability of rains, prospects of early year expenses and high inflation which has resulted into the sky-rocketing in prices of essential goods.
In the past years, there has been an outcry that people overspend during Christmas and New Year celebrations which are usually characterised, among others, with food and beer parties. n