We interviewed Mrs Mercy Chicha, a diasporan living in Kenya, on her decision to invest in property while living abroad. Here’s what she had to say in her own words. Click to listen or read the transcript.
DC: So we are here with Mrs Mercy Phiri Chicha. How long have you been living outside Zambia?
Mercy: Three years.
DC: Have you invested in property here in Zambia since you have been away?
Mercy: I invested in property before we left.
DC: What challenges did you face?
Mercy: Mostly financing. But also finding the right location, even just to get to know where the properties can be found. I think the problem lies in having unscrupulous middle men that’s a big challenge, but dealing with established people helps.
DC: What advice do you have for Zambians living in the diaspora who want to invest back home?
Mercy: I think they should do it. They should not procrastinate, it doesn’t matter how long you have been out there, it doesn’t matter how much your friends have developed. You need to start from somewhere.
DC: What do you think is holding them back?
Mercy: Mostly some are embarrassed, others are ashamed – I don’t know or getting used to a certain life style and thinking you cannot make it at home. But eventually one always comes back home. Maybe not you, but your children. I think it’s advisable to have some sense of security [and say to yourself] ‘I need to come back to something’. I noticed like those that went a long time ago, especially when things were not easily available in Zambia, it is nice to come back and feel like you have this, that and the other. But after some years you realize Zambia is catching up with the rest of the world. So what else can you do [that’s different] apart from [buying] nice clothes?
DC: Yes that’s very true. You mentioned that Zambia is catching up with the rest of the world. How would you say that Zambia has changed in the last few years?
Mercy: in terms of government we are seeing investment in infrastructure, roads are being done. And then there are areas we thought people would never settle there, but people have gone to settle there.
DC: Like where? Can you give some examples?
Mercy: I was in Chalala last time. When I came to Lusaka last time I stayed in Woodlands extension, that’s as far as it went. The whole Chalala is now occupied. We never thought people would build beyond certain parts of Roma, people are now building in Ngwerere. If you look at that place after Chilenje going further, the one that leads into Makeni, everywhere [people are building]. Probably the only thing we seem to be lagging behind is every one of us concentrates on bungalows. I have [only] seen a few people coming up with apartments. But in years to come we will be competing for space so that for those that have an early start in utilising space to the fullest, they’ll have an advantage.
I’ve seen in Nairobi people build going up, so a space that would accommodate one big house in Zambia, they’ll put up four town houses. But the one thing we keep noticing with all this development is how service providers are lagging behind. They seem to be playing catch up all the time. Infrastructure is coming up but water facilities are not there, electricity is a problem by the time you are finishing your house these service providers feel overstretched and they cannot provide services. I see that even in places like Nairobi, there’s a lot of stress on water, sanitation etc.
DC: What do you think of the Diaspora Connect platform where we bring together developers, banks and legal services?
Mercy: I think that’s a very viable concept. What I noticed is there is a lot of people that bought houses that time when there was [a policy of] empowering citizens who can’t maintain them. They would want to sell that plot but because they don’t know who to deal with, they would sell their plots at a giveaway price. But at the same time there’re developers that want to come into the country and they don’t know who to deal with. If a developer comes they don’t want to go into all the legal details, they would rather someone handles that and information is disseminated. They should have someone on the ground even when they leave. In the past as Zambians, we want to raise our own money, sometimes we want to build but we don’t have the financial capacity so it’s time we started partnering with people that can finance and reach some agreement on how you can benefit depending on what you contributed.
DC: Were you pleased with your decision to invest in property before you left?
Mercy: Yes, I am not working right now but every 3 months I am assured of income, and if I don’t have immediate use of that money I put it in the bank. And I am proud to say with the little money that I earn I can say I am a lender to the government because I’ve invested a bit in treasury bills. Now, it’s not easy to manage your property from afar, but if you’ve got a bit of capital and put it in treasury bills you can raise enough to buy another property in the next 5 years.
DC: Would you do it again if you could?
Mercy: Yes, Absolutely! What I like about the Foxdale arrangement is that I pay and then they handle all the construction. I don’t have to worry about going round and buying building materials. When they finally hand over the house to you and, if there’re defects, you can go back to them and they’ll do the repairs for free. They help you maintain your house because they have standards they want to maintain and that works for me.
DC: Thank you very much.