Beyond the Bike

Stories from Stuart and Claire's original & recent journeys….

The Economic Cycle looks for a hard landing in China!

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Guilin, a premier tourist destination in Southern China has enjoyed double digit growth in the last 10 years. Chic residential tower block developments with exotic western names have sprouted up amongst the ancient limestone karst scenery, fuelled by cheap credit from China’s banks. We cycle into town on a drizzly mid-week May day along empty multi-lane highways. Cranes tower above nearly finished developments, with Starbucks and KFC advertising pathways to future obesity on the ground floor. But there is a eerie silence, exacerbated by the mist and spectacular scenery. The cranes are not working and many of the finished developments are empty….

Supply has exceeded demand in new residential development…

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Straits Cycling: Singapore to Malacca and Penang.

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Wonderful people, careful drivers, and very few hills: after over a month of ‘holiday’ where we cycled only about 200km we needed to make up some miles and Malaysia was the perfect place to do this.  We chose the west coast as it was a shorter distance, better weather and less touristy. In fact, between Malacca and Penang we didn’t see another westerner...

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The Elephantine cost of trade in Africa

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‘At the current rate of poaching, elephants will not exist in Africa in 12 years time’ Kelvin, educational officer for Game Rangers International (GRI), explains to a group of American & European tourists at the Lilayi Elephant Orphanage near Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. In the background, Musole, a 2 year old bull elephant plays in the mud, seemingly enjoying the audience. Named after the ranger shot dead by a poacher whilst trying to protect his mother in 2014, he will be released back into the wild at Kafue National Park in 2016. We cycled out to the park, 250km west of Lusaka, spanning an area the size of Wales, to find out more about the economics of the ivory trade and the poaching crisis that could destroy Africa’s largest mammal…

 

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Triple deficits and Economic Crises in Zambia

Triple deficits and Economic Crises in Zambia
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Kwacha on the run….

I concluded my last blog suggesting that this week I’d be exploring the role of China in Africa using Zambia as a case study. However, my conversations since stepping off the MV Liemba, whether with roadside tomato sellers, farmers, mining executives or indeed Chinese businessmen, haven’t strayed far from the currency. The Kwacha value against the dollar has halved in the last 2 years, with the majority of the depreciation coming in the last 6 months (chart below). And when an economist with more than 40 years experience in Zambia tells you that the underlying economic crisis, caused by a perfect storm of three deficits, is shaping up to be the worst he can remember, the Chinese blog can wait…

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Stage 3: Many miles travelled but not all on the bike....

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This stage was a bit of a mixture and rather exciting,  involving cycling through remote North-Western Tanzania, a voyage on a 100 year old German warship and breaking out a new friend out of a Zambian prison...

  After crossing into Tanzania we had several more tough days, even though the road was tarmac there were great swathes of sand, gravel and potholes and the hills continued. I was not happy. We had our first night seeking hospitality and camping in a homestead which was fun and we certainly amused the family when we put up our tent. The road then ‘officially’ turned to dirt and it started raining and as we were running out of time to get to Zambia we hopped on bus for a few hundred km. This was an interesting experience, we cannot quite believe that we, our panniers and our bikes all made it in one piece!  

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“Mzungu – Give me Money…” ($138bn please)

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Should the UK (& other nations) be spending 0.7% of GNI on AID?

As I highlighted in my last blog, the aid debate is probably the most contentious issue surrounding Africa development, highlighted by the recent spat between Bill Gates and Dambisya Moyo. Since then, we’ve travelled through Rwanda into the DRC and are now in Tanzania. All three countries have been recipients of vast sums of overseas aid and I’ve met and spoken with many stakeholders, including several people asking me for money - “Mzungu - give me muni’ is the usual catchphrase that I’ve been  trying to ignore. On a macro level, meanwhile, the UK has been leading the way in meeting the UN commitment for countries to spend 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA). In the UK, the majority of this money is spent by DfID, the Department for International Development and we were lucky to be hosted by its Rwanda chief, the impressive Laure Beaufils and her lovely family in Kigali…..

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