Growing up in Zambia has been a ride, to say the least. Like most Zambians, there have been challenges along the way, and yes! I do say challenges and not problems. But I am grateful for the little blessings that God has afforded me, which I should mention that not every person in the country has had. For example, not everyone has had the chance to graduate High School let alone see the four walls of a University. Most of them never make it beyond the eleventh grade and that is due to several genuine reasons. I am not a stranger to this kind of place because I have been on both sides of the coin. I have felt the bitter pain of a long campaign to get yourself to college only to be disappointed by a lack of funds. I have known the loneliness that is found in sitting at a small shop in Chisokone Market only to make less than 5 Kwacha after a day’s work. I believe that for the many Zambians living in Ghettos out there, getting a decent education up to college level looks to be more of the privilege of a few than a reality of the many. Out of work and unemployed, most of them turn to entrepreneurship to be a light to their paths. A beacon of hope in a dark tunnel of immense poverty. Although most of them work from hand to mouth, having an entrepreneurial mind can make all the difference between starvation and making it to the next day.
Entrepreneurship is a special kind of self-leadership that is rare to find among the educated. That is why it usually falls on those who don’t have much faith in the educational system. There’s no doubt that the ability to make wealth is a talent of some sort. Not everyone has been graced with it. However, the level and number of entrepreneurs that spring up in Zambian Ghettos challenge that assumption.
The words ‘Rape Chinese!’ usually exclaimed with vigor, are the most distinctive words you will ever hear in a Zambian Ghetto or Mine Area. Relax! The words don’t literally mean what they imply, I mean that would just be barbaric. They don’t mean that we should go out of our way and rape Chinese people. Rape is a common Zambian relish that is often found alongside our traditional meal, Nshima. Chinese is also another common Zambian relish. I have never really bothered to ask where these names came from but they are very common. It’s quite normal for you to walk to a vegetable stand and tell the seller that, “Hey, I want rape.” Or you would hear old friends telling each other at dinner that, “My wife knew that you like rape and that’s why she served it.” I know, it’s strange. It’s only recently that it dawned on me that this wasn’t probably the best name to give to a vegetable. Anyway, what does this have to do with Self- Leadership, and Entrepreneurship? Well, the answer is in the form of a story. Like I said earlier, most Zambians struggle with finances and they are forced to sell anything so that life doesn’t grind to a halt. One of the ways that they do this is through selling vegetables by making rounds in neighborhoods. They would yell at the top of their voices saying, ‘Rape Chinese’ and a customer would stop them to buy. The same goes for other products like Charcoal and used Car Batteries. There was one man I met who taught me a very important lesson on Entrepreneurship. Usually, selling vegetables like Rape and Chinese is done by women and it is quite rare for you to see a man in that type of business. But this man was different. There was something he was doing that was attracting more customers than most of his competitors. I will tell you about his secret shortly. You see, it’s not about what product you are selling but it is about how you sell it. At the end of the day, it is the salesperson that makes the money. During my job hunts in Kitwe, I had the opportunity to test this theory out and see if it works. There was a company that was training salespersons to sell lotion and other cosmetic products and I applied for a job. After getting the necessary documents, I was called for an interview. Sitting in that office, I was only bothered by two thoughts: How much are these people going to pay me? and do I really have to talk to strangers to make money? To cut the long story short, I was paired with a mentor, and off we went to convince people to buy our products. My mentor told me that out of 100 people, chances are that 95 people will say ‘no’ to your pitch in selling them the product, only about ‘3’ would say ‘yes’ and the rest would tell you to come back tomorrow. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, those are way too many Nos for me to take.” Going from customer to customer, I watched my mentor use every trick in the book to convince a potential customer to buy. At the end of the day and in an almost prophetic outcome, we had only managed to sell five of our products. We never split the money at that point because I was still a newbie. So, my mentor told me, “Well, you did well today. Make sure to come back tomorrow for more.” Nope, I never went back. I don’t know if it was my ego or my sense of introversion that made me change my mind. Like the many of us, I couldn’t take the brunt of people rejecting my product 95 times in a day and only making a loose commission on sales. Nonetheless, the lesson was learned. In those few hours, my mentor taught me a lot about human psychology when it comes to buying. You have to be charismatic in the way you sell your product. People are emotional creatures and respond to things that make them feel good. I don’t know about you but I think feeling good is a good incentive to buy someone’s stuff. Now, let’s go back to the man I mentioned earlier before I digressed into this tale of tales. The man’s secret into making more sales than his competitors was his charisma. Instead of going around and chanting the common mantra of ‘Rape Chinese’, he added a little charisma to the mix. He was saying in Bemba, ‘Umuti wabwali!’ which translates to medicine for your Nshima in English. Then he added a high-pitched intonation of the word ‘Yeah’ before every sentence. The kids loved it. They would follow him around the neighborhood as he sold vegetables and unknowingly, increase his popularity in the neighborhood. I had also tried to use the same tactic on this post. Be honest, when you first read the title ‘Rape Chinese!’, The most common words in Zambian Ghettos: Self- Leadership Lesson on Entrepreneurship, what was the first thing that came to mind? Crime in the ghetto, right? Raping Chinese women to get some money? All sorts of thoughts came to mind of which, unless you have lived in Zambia, vegetables were the last on that list. I should mention, however, that this wasn’t an attempt at charisma. Lord knows I don’t have the talent for that. But the main point remains: grab the attention of your customers by engaging them through spurs of charisma.
Then, you also have to work hard and sacrifice. It takes a little bit of yourself to be an Entrepreneur. Unfortunately, Entrepreneurship is not one of those skills you can just wake up in the morning and master. It takes time and effort. You must put in long hours of work and discipline yourself to a workable schedule. People will follow and are more likely to buy products from someone who is consistent. From my point of view, the man I mentioned earlier showed a high level of consistency in his work. I observed that he would usually pass by our neighborhood before midday almost every day. The importance of consistency cannot be overestimated.
“Without commitment, you will never start, and more importantly without consistency, you will never finish.”Denzel Washington
So, to conclude, always show charisma and consistency in your endeavors. I can bet that you would be able to achieve some sustainable results in doing so.
P.S. Don’t yell Rape Chinese unless you are in Zambia.