Zambia’s real-life The Economist

Image copyright Graphic artists The manager of Zambia’s first office with a team of reporters, economists and analysts, The Zambian Economist is not your usual daily newspaper. Taken from the title of one of…

Image copyright Graphic artists

The manager of Zambia’s first office with a team of reporters, economists and analysts, The Zambian Economist is not your usual daily newspaper.

Taken from the title of one of the writer’s novels, which was made into a film starring Idris Elba, The Zambian Economist’s very existence is arguably a metaphor for the east African country’s economic fortunes.

Suffering a decade of heavy recession, deepening poverty and skyrocketing debt levels, Zambia is a very different place to the one the journalist arrived in in 2005.

The government enjoys a surprisingly solid public approval rating of 60% (though this is disputed by the opposition) – but things could be very different if, in fact, “We the people” have access to critical economic analysis like this.

The journalist who brought this story to is Daniel Kalenga.

He is a student of political theory, entrepreneur and journalist, who will soon turn 40, because, he says, the economy “turns 40 every year”.

“I started out working as a reporter for the Zambian daily The Post,” Daniel says.

“But it was during the 2008-2009 economic crisis when I realised that the way my job seemed to be working for me was through being a silent observer in my glass office with my typewriter and my pen on the table,” he says.

“I realised that if I was going to do this job, it had to be more active.”

Hailing from the southern Copperbelt province, Daniel was sent on a temporary assignment to South Africa to work on the Post’s international wire service, which is key in reporting on current affairs for foreign readers.

And when the owner of the Post was killed in 2009, Daniel’s father – Zambian journalist Don Kalenga – suggested that his son take over from him.

Together, the two have been running The Zambian Economist since 2010, when the demand for economic news from Zambia’s highly cosmopolitan diaspora in South Africa finally began to translate into advertising.

It turned out to be quite a mission impossible at first.

“Originally The Zambian Economist did only one thing: It was only a daily newspaper with a commentary page.”

“After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, when there was so much need, we saw there was a desperate need for such a publication, but there was no readership for such a publication,” Daniel says.

“Then in 2011 we also saw the need to be available 24 hours a day. So, we started a website.”

This new publication has gone from strength to strength and is now read by tens of thousands of people. It is also published in 22 countries around the world, and has now been translated into 36 languages.

But the reason behind this is that, in Daniel’s opinion, The Zambian Economist is ultimately a newspaper that confronts its readers’ personal problems.

“I find it amazing that people are willing to pay 50 kwacha ($5.20, £3.70) a week to read on their computers about things they are going through.”

The journalists behind The Zambian Economist say there is a real appetite in Zambia for financial information in the form of daily reports.

“Where we do fail is the lack of strong enough economic analysis and explanations,” says deputy editor and reporter and multimedia entrepreneur, Petros Kafongo.

“Some of the articles have done very well, but we are always challenged by the lack of good sources and good analysis,” he says.

This, however, has not stopped journalists at The Zambian Economist from exploring some interesting innovations such as live events for Zambians, with seats sold at the same cost as the online readers, in order to showcase the stories being reported, and to test the idea of having a daily print edition in addition to its online publication.

Now those experimental ideas are perhaps becoming mainstream. This year the prestigious Investigative Reporters Network launched a Global Reporting Network programme, working with a number of international organisations in linking up investigative journalists around the world.

The countries included in this programme are the Czech Republic, Chile, Ecuador, Japan, Kenya, Ireland, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Ghana, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Norway, Zambia, and Zambia.

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