Posted June 1999
|This paper is based on a one-month field research visit  to Western Province in the period March-April 1997 and some studies of evaluation reports, books and articles dealing with the Peoples Participation Project (PPP), the economics and culture of Western Province and/or the cultural dynamics of savings behavior in other parts of Africa. The paper discusses social-spatial, economic, ecological and cultural determinants of savings behavior in Western Province, and in particular the dynamics of financial self-help groups promoted by the PPP in its old quality as a project (until June 1996) implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (MAFF) and technically supported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and in its new quality as an NGO with the name of the Peoples Participation Service (PPS). Of course, these determinants and dynamics cannot not be extensively investigated and documented on the basis of a one-month visit of an individual researcher. The status of the arguments should therefore be considered a preliminary one to be further documented, tested, clarified and/or rejected on the basis of follow-up in-depth studies .|
The general objective of the paper is to stimulate policy and scientific discussion on savings options and decisions of rural people in Africa and what might be considered the various social-spatial, ecological, economic and cultural determinants and dimensions of such options and decisions - this all on the basis of some exploratory research and literature review. One of the main entry points of the study have been a few of the many people who have organized themselves in small economic self-help groups with the help of the Peoples Participation Service (PPS). Two more specific objectives of this paper are thus to support the PPS with the identification of "best savings services", given their mission but also given cultural, economic and ecological conditions of Western Province; and to foster discussion among various actual and potential donor agencies of PPS on the findings and what they might imply for the organisation and promotion of savings activities (of whatever kind) by and through self-help groups in Western Province and elsewhere in Zambia.
The discussion on savings decisions and in particular the contribution to PPS-group funds includes the identification of possibilities to foster accumulation processes and also the issue of replication. Yet, those who are basically interested in mechanisms that can set in motion a process allowing people to accumulate capital (Van Dixhoorn, pers.comm. 1997), first have to identify possible socio-cultural, agro-ecological and financial-infrastructural constraints and, more basically, get insights in why and how people save. Likewise, those who would like to learn from the PPS-experience for replication elsewhere (Mburathi, pers.comm. 1997) need to assess first the criteria of success and failure, then what explains the periods of success and/or failure and finally what elements of a PPS-scheme in one location are compatible with those in another with completely different economic, ecological and/or cultural parameters. For instance, can one speak of a success when the savings of nearly 300 self-help groups with a total membership of more than 3,000 people amount to close to 6 million Kwacha (as per September 1996), that is, nearly USD 4,800 (PPS 1996) - not knowing under what conditions these savings have been collected, who are the savers and for what various purposes money has been saved group-wise? And is this total amount acceptable given the large financial and advisory inputs to PPS in Western Province or is it too early to judge as this former project actually introduced something like a savings policy in 1994?
Social-spatial organization includes kinship systems, neighborhood, ethnical bonds and settlement patterns. Such systems very much define the individual or more precisely: the social identity and ownership claims of an individual as a mother, a child, a husband, a widow, a villager, a neighbor and/or member of savings group, village health committee, ethnic group or migrant community. This has decisive implications for analysis in terms of individual versus group savings.
The decision to save as an 'individual' is very much a social-normative affair: the room to define and defend particular resources as ones 'property' as well as the capability to time-label the use of resources are basically outcomes of complex social processes. Likewise, the decision to save in a group is very much affected by the different qualities and life-worlds of the individual members. Paradoxically, processes of individualisation might very well explain the popularity of group savings: kin escaping or avoiding money claims of relatives, women joining hands vis-a-vis their husbands, youngsters revolting through savings clubs against elders and their ascribed positions (Bouman 1994). The choice between saving individually versus saving in a group is thus not a simple choice between acting selfish and expressing solidarity, herewith providing evidence for either rational peasant theory or moral economy views (cf. Cheal 1989). Both practices cannot be described in terms of either 'the individual' or 'the group' only, which is close to the argument of Barlett saying that, "If it is true that human beings unlike animals, must achieve their goals through relationships and activities within groups, then positing an opposition between 'the individual' and 'the group' misspecifies the conceptual problem" (p.9). I believe the challenge is not to simply classify savings practices into individual savings and savings in a group but to unravel the social organization and processes underlying these practices.
Although savings in a group certainly reflects much more of the life-worlds of individual members than is usually assumed, analysis of such savings can not be reduced to analysis of these life-worlds. The ground rules and rule-making of (the members of) the group also explain a lot of why and how individuals participate in such a group. Ground rules that have proved to be very atttractive (cf. Bouman 1994), include simple procedures, regular contributions, rotation of the fund, short cycles, and more generally speaking, self-regulation and short-term planning (to quickly adjust to changing member needs and wider conditions). Rules and rule-making again mirror wider social processes and changing life-worlds, as the following two properties of member-based funds illustrate.
The first one is the regular contribution of a standard amount of money to a rotating or accumulating fund. This is considered one of the most attractive elements of financial self-help groups, like ROSCAs and ASCRAs. Such standardization saves participants the trouble of discussing reciprocal behavior or rather the lack of it (Bouman 1995), like in case of rotating labor groups or people belonging to the same lineage or neighborhood, helping each other on a reciprocal basis in case of life-cycle events. Interrelated processes of monetization and weakening of kinship- and neigborhood-based relationships might explain a new preference of economic peers for contributions in cash to a common fund. In a subsistence-oriented economy or economy characterized by barter and/or de-monetization (like the one of Western Province of Zambia), however, one would expect fewer possibilities to organize standard contributions (in cash) to a common fund. Small-scale savings funds will rather be (calculated) in kind and/or be the more or less ad-hoc income of a labor group.
A second property or dimension concerns individual ownership (equity) of a group fund or rather the denial of it. Such denial can be a normative device for a member to avoid or turn down money claims of relatives and friends - who are being told that the money belongs to the group. This, however, might put the same member in an ackward position when she or he expects a loan or some financial assistance from the group (fund) in case of an emergency or economic opportunity. Unequal contributions to the common fund due to unequal labor inputs (which is not strange to PPS-groups of Western Province, see 3.3.2), can further complicate the matter.
Social relationships and interrelated forces like cultural practices, ecological conditions and economic climate, not only together define and condition ownership and usufructuary rights on savings but also and herewith the possibilities to conserve movable property for future disposal or use. Saving is a diachronical transaction, a transaction through time, connecting the present with the future and basically refering to expectations on future but unsecure developments.
Social relationships and processes also greatly affect another dilemma of individuals or groups related to conservation of property: to save in cash or to save in kind (like grains, cattle, gold). The decision to save in kind might very well reflect the wish of the individual to earmark or conserve scarce resources for a particular purpose or person (like, for instance, support of next of kin at times of emergencies) and at the same time frustrate money claims of (other) relatives and neighbors. Related to the dynamics of social relationships, there might be cultural patterns, economic forces and ecological conditions in effect as well, explaining popularity or the sheer necessity of savings in kind: savings in cattle or gold might be prestigious or simply the one and only option in a subsistence-oriented economy where money is a strange 'good' that cannot be easily traded against any other good. Savings in kind can also be a sound investment, given monetary instability and lack of nearby places to store money safely, or function as a safety net against unexpected losses or expenses.
Western Province, like all other provinces of Zambia is a multi-ethnic area where it is hard to reach consensus on who are the original owners of the land, the waters, the wood and the game, who are the newcomers and what authority has the final say in what kind of resource dispute. Pre-colonial wars, British indirect rule (cf. van Binsbergen 1992), post-colonial land tenure reforms, and more peaceful processes of migration of people from poorer soils of Western Province (and elsewhere in Zambia) to the richer ones (like those of Kaoma district), have resulted in an ethnic jumble and much contributed to legal-administrative complexity - to put it nicely. Some called all inhabitants of Western Province Lozi people - possibly refering to pre-colonial times when the various tribes were federated under Lozi rule (cf. Hayward 1987: 8) - whilst others situated Lozi in particular parts of Western Province. Some simply labelled Mbunda people as Luvale people, whilst others really got upset when the two names were treated as synonyms.
Anyway, in every part of Western Province, there are early settlers and newcomers with the last category usually having lesser or no ownership rights on land and water. In the Lukona Action Area of PPS in Kalabo District the Lozi are the early settlers who consider Luvale and Mbunda people as the newcomers, except those who married with Lozi people and descend from Luvale or Mbunda who settled here nearly a century ago. Typically, the newcomers live in the upland areas where they mostly cultivate millet and cassava on not so fertile, sandy soils. The situation is quite the reverse in Mangango Action Area in Kaoma District where most of the Lozi and Luvale are newcomers. In this area the Nkoya are early settlers who have great difficulty accepting the presence and rule of a Lozi chief who claims to be senior to the two Nkoya chiefs.
Processes of migration and (re)distribution of ownership and usufructuary rights on land, water, trees, etc. greatly affect possibilities to conserve movable property. In Kandiana village of Lukona area, for instance, the Lozi have allowed the Mbunda to settle at a strip of land behind their houses and to cultivate millet and cassave more upland. Lacking first ownership rights on land, it is typical that it is Mbunda who undertake petty shopping activities. In Kandiana village the one and only shop is run by a Mbunda boy. According to Mutyoka (pers.comm. 1997), 75 percent of the shopowners of Kalabo town are Mbunda. (The local word for a petty shop, kantemba, is even strange to Lozi: it has been imported from Bemba language.) On similar grounds, one would also expect Mbunda to sell their labor to Lozi and to be more open and mutually helpful to each other as a migrant community. Related to this, we found some evidence of newcomers being more open and eager to undertake joint action as promoted by development workers: those Village Health Committees of Kalabo District that were being awarded official prizes for exemplary performance were managed by Mbunda people, said the environmental officer, not being an early settler either. From this he even concluded that if an agency would like to start a project here, then there is a greater chance of success when targetting Mbunda than Lozi. The Group Promoter of Munkuye B of Kaoma District, a Lozi lady, reported that the early settlers, the Nkoya, were quite reluctant to organize themselves into PPS-groups in contrast to the newcomers, the Lozi and Luvale people. Maybe it is also easier for a Lozi Group Promoter to convince people with a similar ethnical background to organize themselves in a PPS-group: all the 18 members of the Namukau PPS group that started in 1995, are Lozi, like the Group Promoter. The members who live in three different villages, suggested that their Mbunda neighbors should start their own group if they wished to do so.
Possibly, the largest category of newcomers are women. When a woman marries , she moves to her husbands place and starts to work her husbands fields. "She does not belong there, she is a foreigner" (Kahanda, pers.comm. 1997), even though, of course, she might have grown up in a neighboring village. So, in other words the PPS groups that consist for about 70 procent of women are groups of "strangers" working together. In the Lukona area of Kalabo District these women were often left behind by their husbands who had died or migrated. We hardly met adult and able-bodied men in this area, which confirms the observation of Kanyangwa and Shula (1985) who found on the basis of their baseline study in Kalabo, Kaoma and Mongu Districts that, "Of the total households visited only 19.3 percent had men of 36 to 50 years" (p.5) . This altogether means that membership of PPS groups to a large extent mirrors the age and gender composition of local society: a typical member of such a group is a widow or divorcee of 30 to 50 years old.
A final important social-spatial parameter of conservation of movable property (that is: savings) are local conceptions and practices of housing and settlement. All Lozi respondents when asked to translate the concept of household in their local language, suggested the word lapa. However, it proved very difficult to reach consensus on what exactly is a lapa. Some said it basically means 'fence', that indeed surrounds most or a large part of a hut or compound in Lozi places - also supporting the widely held belief that Lozi are 'secretive'. This is in contrast with Luvale and Mbunda who usually do not fence their huts and are said to be more 'open' and 'interactive'. Others emphasized that lapa refers to 'being independent' in terms of consumption and production, which means that also those who have not fenced their hut, like three yet unmarried brothers living together, can form a lapa. These two definitions happen to match with those of Jalla's dictionary (1982): a lapa is a yard round the house or in front of it; fence surrounding it; and in the figurative sense: people living in the house, family.
What this all implies for savings activities is yet unclear. Can members of one lapa put claims on savings in kind of another lapa, are lapa units of savings or do we have to further differentiate the lapa according to gender to identify and analyse savings practices? Location, storage and ownership of granaries might provide some clues in this connection. Yet, the location of granaries both inside and outside the fences is confusing or at least defying the existence of one dominant savings norm.
One or two lapa (headed by one man or two brothers) can make a munzi, which is being translated into "village" or "family village". It is important to note that the concept of munzi differs from the concept of village as known and practiced in official circles. The munzi is a kinship-based unit (of 1 to 15 huts) which is considered too small for administrative purposes. For this reason, government officials have identified 'registered villages' to include a number of munzi. A village headman (who enjoys a mix of kinship-based and official authority) is supposed to keep a village book with the names of all inhabitants older than 18 in it. According to Kahanda (pers.comm. 1997) and Mubonda (pers.comm. 1997), there is no Lozi equivalent for "community". Lozi, however, do speak of silalanda to characterize an area or neighborhood (see also: Jalla 1982) which consists of several munzi. Such an area is headed by a junior induna, a representative of a local-traditional chief. Several silalanda together form a silalo (defined as "the district" by Jalla, 1982), which is headed by a (neo-)traditional authority called a senior induna, senior chief or induna silalo. In Koama district, an agricultural officer even distinguished an extra level between munzi and silalanda: the siwako.
The vastness of the province covering approximately 126,386 square kilometers (Chabala 1994: 3) is misleading: it suggests that there is enough (fertile) land for everybody and that few land conflicts will have occured. Hayward, explaining the "unique and productively forbidding ecology" of Western Province, speaks of "marginal agriculture on the thin band of soils neither too dry nor too wet, neither too sandy nor too clayey" that have "put sharp limits on the expansion of cultivation and have generated political competition and domination of the richest sites" (1987: 8).
The unpredictable flooding of the Zambezi river make the production of food and cash crops in the flood plain unsecure, which is one of the main reasons why Kalabo District is a "food deficit area", according to Weinberger (pers.comm. 1997). These ecological insecurities also have large implications for possibilities to accumulate money. For instance, rice cultivation that is being considered a potentially attractive way to make money - also by some PPS groups in Kalabo District - can yield a nice income in one year but bad ones in following years, hereby depleting the savings fund or working capital of an individual or (PPS-)group.
Maimbo et al. (1996) distinguish three distinct economic systems of Western Province: "the semi-subsistence oriented economy of the Barotse floodplain and surrounding areas, the semi-market oriented economy of the new settlement areas in Kaoma district, and the economy of Sesheke" (p.74) that is oriented towards Southern Province" (and excluded in their study). They conclude that, "The food security situation of the wetland-based livelihood systems (plain/plain edge, upland river valleys, dambo areas) is relatively comfortable" (ibid) but warn that, "The recent series of relatively dry years may have had an impact on cropping decisions by farmers" (p.75).
Kaoma district enjoys better soil and rainfall conditions than the rest of Western Province, explaining high crop productivity but also high in-migration. Maimbo et al. (1996) conclude that, "For the majority of households, there is no subsistence risk. However, there is a distinct category of resource-poor households - mainly female-headed households - which depends heavily on piecework income probably constituting one of the most vulnerable groups in Western Province" (p.76). It is exactly this category that seems well represented among PPS-groups in the Munkuye B Action Area of Kaoma district. According to the Group Promoter of PPS her groups were brewing beer, cutting grass and/or working in someone else's field (piecework) against payment in cash or maize.
According to Chabala (pers.comm. 1997), "Value is still much perceived in Western Province and in particular among the Lozi. Money is preferably converted into tangible things, like cattle, a plough or a fishing net". Money is quickly transformed into non-monetary capital; yields are quite often bartered, like maize and fish. These preferences might, of course, greatly affect the significance and use of a group fund (see 3.3.2). Money accumulation is not and cannot be a goal in itself. The fund of a group is used as working capital to enable purchase of tangible things, like tradeable basic goods (like maize, salt, parafine and jerrycans) with the ultimate objective however, to buy a plough or cattle.
It is generally believed that Lozi people very much define being wealthy in terms of ownership of cattle. Weinberger who is an engineer stationed in Kalabo town, mentioned that, "ownership of cattle" and "throwing away food" to dogs are signs of wealth among the Lozi (pers.comm. 1997). Kahanda referred to the saying: "This person is poor (bubotana), he does not even have a cow, only a duck" (pers.comm. 1997). Cattle ownership was indeed quickly mentioned as a sign of well-being in a discussion with members of a Village Health Committee of Mashwafela, a Lozi village in the Lukona area. Yet, the village headman who chaired the VHC, then complained that all of his villagers (together 14 lapa) had to be classified as 'being poor', except a few members of three lapa who own cattle. This supports our general impression that cattle ownership is very much concentrated. It also confirms the findings of Kanyangwa and Shula (1985) who observed that, "Despite the fact that cattle rearing is one of the most important activities in the Western Province, we found that cattle is only kept by 20.8 percent of the respondents" (p.15). Villagers are well aware of the advantages of cattle ownership: cattle provides manure, milk ("A meal without sour milk is not a meal" ) and off-spring; it can also be very well used for ploughing and transporting maize baskets; finally, cattle can be sold or slaughtered in case of food deficits and/or unexpected expenditures. Yet, cattle ownership seems more like an ideal than a common practice. Still, one has to be careful with such conclusions as keeping cattle is something different from owning cattle. The herds kept by a minority might very well belong to a majority of people who have entrusted management of their one or two cows to an uncle or a reputed but non-related herdsman. However, after years of herding the keeper of the cattle might claim quasi-ownership rights and not easily give in to the demands of the first owner. For instance, at birth every boy and girl are given a cow. Yet, when they grow up, they (and in particular women) find it hard to exert ownership rights when, for instance, their uncle has since long taken care.
Another salient outcome of the discussion with this same VHC was that "food throughout the year" was the first-mentioned sign of well-being. This, of course, would mean that being poor might very well be of a seasonal nature and so much dependent on food production, changing household composition and demands of needy relatives and friends. But it basically suggests that food security is simply of vital importance to villagers. Other signs of well-being, according to the people attending the meeting, were furniture, a well-maintained house (with no insects and leakages) and proper clothes. Ownership of land, ploughs and ox-cart were also mentioned as signs of well-being but one of the members of the VHC commented that a land-owner does not always properly manage his land whereas a tenant might do so (which, however, provides no clues whatsoever on who exactly profits from the hard work of the tenant).
Contrasting views were given with regard to the question whether it would be acceptable to dress nicely to show off prosperity. Some said this would quickly lead to rumours accusing the nicely dressed person of being a witch. Others, including the village headman, said that the success of one person should inspire others to imitate her or him. Probably, he also told us this out of self-defense as he explained that one year he was the only recipient of hybrid sorghum-seed whereas his villagers had to wait another year to receive such seed as well.
A culture of jealousy greatly affects options and decisions related to savings and more in particular possibilities for capital accumulation. According to Roberts (pers.comm. 1997), "people are afraid of moving ahead because of jealousy." Piece-workers prefer to be paid when it is dark so that rumours about their payments will not reach their family. A 'community' prefers to use limited funds to construct foundations for everyone in a housing project, instead of building complete houses for a limited number of people. A Zambian environmental officer stationed in the Lukona area of Kalabo District, put it this way: "Lozi are not people who can appreciate someone else succeeding." He added that, "Most of the government retirees originating from this area, fear to be bewitched because they are considered rich. They do not come back" (Mutyoka, pers.comm. 1997). According to Weinberger (pers.comm. 1997), "If you are doing well, you have either 30 relatives in your yard or you are bewitched." His story of an old lady was very telling:
An old woman had just lost 4 ZK million because her house burned down together with the money put under it. Her neighbours called her stupid but she replied fiercely: "No, I am not stupid, otherwise my relatives would have claimed it."
This all confirms earlier findings of Hayward (1987) that jealousy "appears to involve a conception of 'zero-sum benefit' or 'limited good' [...] by which one person's improvement is another persons loss. Those in a family group who achieve economic success are the target not only of increased demands to share their wealth - the natural process in a reciprocal, diffuse economic framework - but are also the object of both overt and covert (e.g. sorcery) attempts to bring them back down from their present level of pride" (p.20).
Yet, one should not conclude at this point that a culture of jealousy is the one and only normative order to completely regulate the behavior of all inhabitants of Western Province, whether Lozi, Luvale or Mbunda. Also, it would not be fair to conclude that ownership of cattle is the one and only preferential asset of these same 300,000 people. For instance, two Lozi development workers stationed in Munkuye B of Kaoma District did not mention cattle ownership at all when asked about signs of wealth, but referred instead to a big house, a clean house and yard, and big fields that can feed many mouths. According to the same informants, a culture of competition characterizes the social interaction among the Lozi as well as the Luvale of Koama district whereas their Nkoya neighbors feel that it is dangerous to become rich as there is a risk to become bewitched. On a continuum from rich to poor, they would definitively position the Nkoya closer to the poor end and the Lozi and Luvale to the richer one. Unfortunately, the Group Promotor of Munkuye B found it very hard to convince Nkoya to organize themselves into PPS-groups: Nkoya blame Lozi and Luvale to have stolen their land (see also 2.1) and do not like the idea of being told to get organized in a PPS-group. And if Nkoya and Lozi join hands and become member of one PPS-group, then there is the risk that at a time of new tensions between the Lozi chief and the two Nkoya chiefs of Kaoma District, the groups will fall apart - like recently happened with two groups that were started in 1995, reported the Group Promoter of Munkuye B Action Area.
Definitions of 'being rich' and 'being poor' are very much subject to interests and points of reference of those defining these concepts. One can get a general idea about local perceptions of 'being rich' and 'being poor' when one asks several local informants (who are used to speak English) how to translate these concepts into the local language(s) and then discuss with groups of individuals what they consider the dominant features of those 'being rich' and 'being poor' in their own area. A wealth-ranking exercise with an individual who has a supposedly detailed understanding of the life-histories of people living in a particular area, is fluent in English and not unfamiliar with some of the habits and interests of the interviewers (in this case: foreign researchers), can generate a more nuanced, yet very location-specific picture. The chairlady of the Area Development Team of Lukona who had earlier worked as a teacher and then with an airline, met all these criteria. When we asked her to rank lapa of her village from rich to poor and to cluster them into groups, she finally classified 28 lapa into four clusters.
The poorest seven consist of old widows with no children to look after them, a women addicted to beer, young people with no land to cultivate - all of them facing great difficulties to guarantee food security and not owning cattle. According to our key-informant, the second cluster of eight "poor but not very poor" lapa have at least the means to sustain themselves. They own some land but not a plough or oxen. Often, they work for other people. The third cluster consists of 10 lapa who own land and can sometimes afford to hire people to work for them. This cluster also includes (Lozi) people who own cattle and (Mbunda) people who easily make money with petty trading or the sale of their labor power. The richest cluster is the only cluster with people who used to have a formal employment. The cluster consists of three lapa: two of them concern two ladies who are married to a retired government worker and the third one is headed by our key-informant herself, who is also a retired government worker. These government workers own cattle and a plough. This means that, "food-wise it is easier" said our interviewee, who further added that especially the husband of the two wives has not to worry much about food supplies: each wife brings her own food.
In a final stage of the time-consuming exercise, the key-informant was being asked to classify the 28 lapa in terms of ethnical background, marital status and (non-)membership of a PPS-group. All but the richest cluster consisted of a more or less equal number of Lozi and Mbunda lapa. The richest cluster consisted of Lozi only. Eight of the 13 lapa with a married woman, were classified into the two richest clusters. Ten of the 15 lapa headed by an unmarried woman (divorcee and/or widow) belonged to the two poorest clusters. Ten out of 14 lapa with PPS-members were put in the two richest clusters whereas 11 out of the 14 lapa without PPS-members were ranked into the two poorest clusters .
For several reasons many women are not really calculating how much food is left in the granary or elsewhere until the next harvest - with a view to make decisions on how much food can be on average consumed every week or day. "One eats as long as there is food", says Roberts (pers.comm. 1997). Even if there would be enough for the whole season to feed a lapa, then still shortage of food might occur due to claims of other relatives, neighbors and/or friends. According to Roberts, "There are so many factors in social relationships that it is frustrating to set a budget." Likewise, if one person or lapa faces shortage of food herself or itself, then one can always put a claim on another person or lapa.
Two key-informants put it this way: "People live in the present" (Weinberger, pers.comm. 1997; Roberts, pers.comm. 1997). Both also mentioned that many food relief agencies have unintentionally reinforced this mind-set during the last five to seven years characterized by more or less regular provision of food aid. Chiefs and their followers (now) increasingly expect such agencies to help in case of food shortage.