Chibamba Kanyama’s Controversy: A Review of “Business Values for our Time”
By Elias Munshya wa Munshya
Business Values for our Time is an over 300 paged book authored by consultant and entrepreneur Chibamba Kanyama. It has four parts spread across twenty-one chapters. Part one of the book focuses on Zambian tribal cultures as well as Indian and Jewish cultural ethics. In part two, the book deals with mainly mechanics and dynamics of investments, loans, borrowing culture and most interestingly chapter nine deals with the question of managing relatives. In part three, the book takes the stories of various Zambian entrepreneurs and derives various theories and values that have made them successful. In part four, Mr. Kanyama discusses various issues to do with attributes and culture for the business entrepreneur.
This book has generated a lot of discussion and controversy in academic as well as business and cultural circles. Following the advice of the author himself when answering some of his critics, I waited patiently to acquire a copy of my own which I could read and verify for myself whether the criticism levelled against the book are fair or not. I ordered the book through www.ibuy.co.zm, and after a total payment of about $57.00 my book was couriered to me.
The Book’s Virtues
This book has undoubtedly several virtues.
First it is a very personal book. Mr. Kanyama takes his personal, professional and even family life to teach and illustrate important business principles and values that are so critical to the success of the entrepreneurial spirit among Zambians. It is these personal stories, and illustrations that make the book so clearly relevant to all. The reader would see himself in the stories about credit, loans and the everyday struggles of having to finance small-scale to medium scale business.
Second this book is motivational. While Mr. Kanyama has rightly and frankly lambasted some bad-for-business qualities such as laziness, after reading this book you get motivated to begin working on your dreams. In his own words he says, “I want all those who have gone through the pages of this book to start making those critical decisions in their lives. I urge everyone to investigate and assess the various business opportunities that are before them.” This is exactly how I felt when I finished reading this monumental work.
Third, this book as its name suggests is truly loaded with business wisdom. By addressing issues of loans and how they can affect business, Mr. Kanyama pinpoints an important element which confronts most businesses and most of our people today. In this book, Mr. Kanyama teaches the role, the dangers and indeed the blessing of borrowing. He goes into principles of how one can assess his business financial needs and the needed due diligence necessary before approaching a lender for credit.
Fourth, this book is great in that it translates what business students learn in class into everyday language. Mr. Kanyama takes some of the language he used from years of study in economics and corporate finance and translates them into everyday language that ordinary folks may understand. In this book, principles of finance, entrepreneurship, and to some extent corporate accountability are given their needed bridge into the hearts and minds of ordinary folks.
Fifth, the book goes against the current in the sense that it identifies and attacks some elements within African culture that make us perpetually dependent and poor. He aptly addresses matters of extended families and how an unbridled cultural desire to please all family members may be bad for good business. Mr. Kanyama mentions how many businesses in Zambia have failed simply because of excessive and perpetual dependency from extended family structures.
Sixth, the book is also biographical in nature. In addition to its discussion of Mr. Chibamba Kanyama’s own family background, the book also mentions the likes of Mr. Bwalya Chiti, Mr. David Nama, Mr. Costain Chilala, and many other Zambian entrepreneurs. The stories of all these people show the effect that values of integrity, foresight, vision, courage and resilience have on success. There is nothing that is as inspiring as reading about the everyday struggles and triumphs of successful people. Generally in Zambia, very few successful people write about their stories. There is a dearth of biography in our country. And as such, a book such as this one helps to fill that gap.
The Book’s Controversies
Notwithstanding these virtues that Mr. Chibamba Kanyama’s book has, it is rather unfortunate that it equally contains controversial notions. These controversies do have the potential to make an otherwise good book seem flawed. I must confess that in its entirety, this is a good book and every Zambian should buy and read it, but it does contain some concepts that are not only erroneous but also prejudiced. Most of these controversial ideas are found in Part One of the book. I wish these controversies were small or minimal, but unfortunately they are not. As such, my suggestion to Mr. Chibamba Kanyama is that he removes these controversial passages from the future editions of this great book.
These controversies have unfortunately become the mainstay of various book reviews. This has created unnecessary distractions from the most important aspects that Mr. Kanyama may have intended for this book.
Part one is essentially, a part of the book where Mr. Chibamba Kanyama has gone to take some cultural characteristics of various cultures in order to derive out of these cultures principles and ethics of business. The part has four chapters: the first chapter deals with what Mr. Kanyama calls a focus on Zambian culture, whereas chapter two deals with Indian business values and influence, in chapter three he then addresses what he calls the “levers of Jewish Success”. Chapter four, a personal family story of Kanyama’s is good and it is here that his book should have started from.
I must now then turn to these ideas and try to, as much as possible, give reasons why Part One of “Business Values for Our Time” is flawed and why it should be removed from the future editions.
Chapter one of the book focussing on Zambian tribes, assumes that there are 73 tribes which can be narrowed down to seven tribes. This is simply not the case at all. The many Zambian tribes cannot be narrowed down to seven tribes. The seven languages on radio were not done to narrow down the tribes to seven. It was more of a political decision than clear cultural or tribal considerations. Further, it is equally inaccurate to portray that some Zambian tribes are offshoots of some bigger tribes. Mr. Kanyama may have needed to shed further light on this point. What he writes here is tantamount to assuming that because much of Luapula for example is Bemba speaking, the Luapulans are therefore offshoots of the Bemba tribe. This is just like thinking that the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh are the offshoots of the English simply because they use the English language. But why should this matter? It matters because it is this seed of thought that Mr. Kanyama uses to classify, categorize and then label the tribes. Additionally, already in a book about business values and entrepreneurship the reader gets bogged down into rebutting these inaccuracies instead of focussing on important business principles. Chapters one to three are unnecessary distractions.
The book, in both Chapter One and Chapter Two, makes several claims based on prejudice. For example, when discussing the Bembas Mr. Kanyama claims that the Bembas are risk takers by nature who are good at networking skills and pro-activity. The difficulty here is that these qualities attributed to the Bembas could be equally attributed to some other individuals in Zambia. Additionally, without clear controlled studies of how many people and how many tribes have invested in the stock market it is wild for Mr. Kanyama to claim that “the Bemba have eagerly participated in the stock market, and most of them have offshore investments”. Where did he get this information?
He also claims that the Tongas are the most accommodating peoples simply because most white farmers have settled in Southern Province more than any other province. I thought most white farmers could have settled in Southern Province due to several other factors such as availability of water, good climate, fertile soils and proximity to Lusaka. About the Lozis, he labels them as a people who “exert a lot of authority with margins of domination and superiority”. According to him, they are proud and do demean other cultures and tribes. Really?
On the Ngonis, he labels them as fair, tenacious and trustworthy peoples. He makes a quite wild insinuation that once you enter into a business with a Ngoni, you do not need to spend money on contracts, because they are trustworthy people. The best way to approach these matters is not to attribute such moral qualities to a tribe but to mention that there are some among the Ngonis that are trustworthy just as there are some that are villains. Trustworthiness is a personal quality and not a tribal quality. Further he paints the Ngonis as fair people in the way they treat their neighbours. Mr. Kanyama even attempts to use history to boulder this fact. But historically, it is clear that as settlers the Ngonis were not benevolent people sharing resources with their neighbours. When they marched from the Zulu empire to modern day Zambia and Tanzania the Ngonis were not in thoughtful business negotiations, they were about war! And the ChiKunda peoples received the brunt of their brutality.
After going on, making all these unsubstantiated prejudicial claims he reserves the bitterest analysis for the Luvales. I must mention here that when the North-westerners met in Solwezi a few months ago and derided Chibamba Kanyama, I could see the reason why. He links the Luvale tribe with witchcraft and even ritual murders. He claims that, “ritual murders are always associated with business interests of either Asian or Luvale entrepreneurs.” I am again forced to ask the question, where did Mr. Kanyama get the “always” from? Additionally, he paints the Luvales as people lacking academic sophistication. Granted that he praises them as a people with “cultural values of honesty, integrity, love and hard work”, the damage has already been done by his prejudiced view of a people.
On the Indians in chapter two, he praises their hard work and family commitments. But he nevertheless finds opportunity to paint them as flouters of labour regulations and even tax evaders. Immediately following this observation he then puts a disclaimer and says, while tax evasion should not be generalized as descriptive of all Indians it is nevertheless the way they are perceived by the government. It is not right to paint a people in that light. Mr. Kanyama should have been more discerning and sensitive to a people. There are several prejudices and innuendos that fly by in society, but once you publish them, they are given the force of authority. In this case regardless of the moral ineptitude of Indian businesses, publishing such innuendos as fact is not fair.
I am unhappy that in reviewing Mr. Chibamba Kanyama’s book I have spent a lot of time, critiquing the detriments of Part One. This should have been avoided. Mr. Kanyama should see that this Part One has had a very negative effective on his otherwise great book. He should not have included it in the book in the first place. It is demeaning, outlandish and prejudicial to say the least. As such, Mr. Kanyama’s book should start at page 43. Everything before page 43 does not help bolster his arguments for Business Values for our Time. Except for what lies from page 1 to page 43, I greatly recommend the rest of the book to all Zambians.