Until recently Africa operated on a 100% cash system. Many places still do. When I travelled to Uganda I had to pay cash for everything, even my hotel rooms. Sierra Leone was even more of a challenge because there wasn’t a single ATM in the country. I was never entirely comfortable when I arrived at the airport (at night, with no electricity) with five thousand dollars stuffed in my pants.But some of the more prosperous countries have finally begun to adopt credit. I think I’ve only used an ATM to retrieve cash here in Botswana about half a dozen times because I charge everything. You can see the repercussions, for better or for worse, in the new homes that people are building and the clothes they wear.
My first week here I attended a conference. The Post Master was talking about Louis Vuitton. I was shocked he was familiar with such an expensive brand. There are no luxury retailers here in Botswana, but people are familiar with certain names from television, celebrities, and availability in South Africa. The Post Master went on to explain, “I have no idea why they call it Italian leather. That is a lie. There is no such thing as Italian leather. It is Setswana leather. They don’t raise cows in Italy! They buy OUR cows and make them into handbags and call them ITALIAN!”I can’t claim to know the truth about the Italian leather/ Setswana leather debate. But one thing is for sure, the Batswana like more than Louis Vuitton handbags. Today I was leaving my office on campus and here was a car sitting in the parking lot:
As you can see it is a Volkswagen (“It is a German car! And they are claiming it is Italian?!”) with Louis Vuitton embellishments. Make sure you look closely, because even the rims have the LV signature design. That is definitely one thing I could have never guessed I would see here.