Zambia Golden Jubilee : A Reflection

Published on 12th August 2013

PF candidate Lameck Mangani loses his seat. The Supreme Court upholds a nullity of the same ruled by the High Court. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is accused of living out its usefulness as the by-elections in Petauke Central, Malambo and Mulobezi  are postponed. The government is on its hot seat defending the looming deficit. These are some of the news items currently canopying Zambia. Are they  the most serious issues that Zambia should be concerned with right now?

On October 24, 2014, Zambia will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee. “Jubilee” itself is a joyful commemoration held on the fiftieth anniversary of any event such as the birth of a nation, in the case of Zambia. It is a special occasion for an important event. The significance of a Jubilee is in the etymology of the word itself; on the 49th or past the 50th year, the Hebrews blasted a trumpet of liberty. The papacy extended this to include the forgiveness of sins granted in return for acts of piety. This event has always depicted a significant event in the life of a people. It cannot be any different for Zambia.

Ironically, even if a nation, for all intentions and purposes, elected not to commemorate a 50th anniversary of its existence, historically, a Golden Jubilee dealt largely with land, property, and property rights. As nations and cultures began to evolve, Golden Jubilees became a sinister reminder of the social disparity between the Masters and slaves, the haves and have-nots. Slaves, in particular, were marginalized basically on every front – they neither could own land nor property. For the slaves, therefore, a Golden Jubilee was a cue of their state of poverty and despondency. For the rich, the strong and the powerful, it was, indeed, a golden moment.

When the Zambian fathers gathered at the newly built Independence Stadium at the eve of Zambia`s independence  on October 23rd, 1964, they were filled with hope. They were jittery, too. Jittery, because they were stepping into new territories, into the unknown. Hitherto, all they had come to be accustomed to were hand-outs: they were civil clerks and house-servants, a.k.a “ka-boys”, under the strong arm of their colonial masters. But now they must govern, they must rule a monstrosity of political mumble-jumbo, an economical labyrinth, and international rat-race. Kenneth Kaunda (KK) would shortly be handed the instruments of independence, and with them, the secrets of national governance. Then it dawned on them that the honeymoon could be short-lived; action was immediately required to educate the masses, orient its young leadership, and canvass for new pioneers in medicine, science, technology and communication.

Zambia – have we arrived yet? When I was beginning my Grade One education almost three decades ago, my siblings were living for now, perhaps for this moment. Still, they hoped. They hoped that things would be okay under the capable leadership of KK. KK would rule for an unjustified 27 years of unprecedented political hegemony. Still, he was not too selfish – relying on what Intelligence could afford then and all that could be knowable, KK mobilized the young nation into Humanism, with man at the centre. They built notable infrastructures – roads, hospitals, schools, government centres, military installations, and so on. Ironically, what KK accomplished between 1964 and 1979, though now overtly dilapidated, has not been overtaken by any subsequent government. And in that regard alone, KK is the Architect Extraordinaire of the Zambian cirque du soleil!

Things to be thankful for in Zambia? In 1897, Johnson Oatman, Jr. wrote “Count Your Blessings… ” and to many people, this is still one of the greatest hymns ever written. Indeed, there are many things to count and be grateful for in Zambia. Chief among them, the state of peace and liberty. These two values are priceless. Zambia continues to lead other nations in being a front-runner in peaceful resolutions. There has never been a notable civil war in Zambia, thanks mainly to its determined leaders who have used its judicial and legislative institutions to solving national impasses. The gun, in Zambia, rules only in the corridors of men`s imagination. The ballot is currency in Zambia. He did not sing in vain, when he led, “Tiyendepamodzi Nomutima Umo…”! Thank you, dear KK, thank you!

Let us set political controversy aside, especially in the wake of the Chiluba Matrix. The late Frederick Chiluba (FTJ) is perhaps Zambia`s quintessential democrat. And he can only make sense relative to KK’s totalitarian style of rule. Throughout the 1980s, it was FTJ who stood up to KK. KK even imprisoned FTJ for his agitations. It was therefore no surprise that it was FTJ who unseated KK in 1991. FTJ gave back Zambians a voice, a democratic voice that has given people like President Sata an opportunity to be presidents. FTJ liberalized both the mind-set and the economical ownership of private property and economic enterprise. In tandem with the soul of a Jubilee, it is FTJ, and not KK, who might give Zambians an occasion to commemorate Zambia`s Golden Jubilee! But FTJ`s personal flaws might be making him shake in his graves of what hit him – thanks, however, to records. Records will prove, in some distant future and in the light of the overall evaluation, that FTJ is the hero and not villain of the Zambian democracy!

Late Levy Patrick Mwanawasa may be the gold standard of the Zambian governance ethos. Mwanawasa lived for a larger cause than mere positions. And this he so graciously demonstrated when he resigned as Vice-president under FTJ citing rampant corruption. And FTJ should have known better, because when he was anointed as FTJ`s successor, Mwanawasa relentlessly prosecuted all those who were suspected of corruption, including FTJ himself. By all means, Mwanawasa fits the designation, “A Christian President”! Indeed, he was, and more, Mwanawasa reached across party-lines, amazingly, without sacrificing the plurality of the Zambian democracy. Mwanawasa epitomizes the remarkable quality of moral leadership, a conduit towards visionary governance. It will be a rape of historic proportion not to gazette the successes brought by the three enumerated regimes.

Let history be merciful to President Rupiah Banda (RB), for he had run his race with stamina. RB is Zambia`s ultimate economist. Under his rule, the economic light began to flicker at the end of the tunnel.  During his brief reign, RB borrowed enormously from the styles of leadership encapsulated by the roles he played under the FTJ and Mwanawasa regimes. Before he was defeated in an election on September 20th, 2011, RB had begun rebuilding the nation in terms of infrastructure. When I left Zambia for studies to Canada, the only construction of note in Lusaka was the Manda Hill Shopping Centre. When I returned to Zambia in 2012, I could mistake the Arcade and the Levy Junction to some of the most decorated plazas and malls in Toronto. Zambia was getting there, albeit, at a marginal scale!

President Michael Sata has entered into the annals of the Zambian Chronicles as a man of action. Ironically, at over 70 years of age, Sata has given many young Zambians hope for the future. When I met the president at State House in April of 2012, I could not but be overwhelmed by the quality of a man he is. You can almost salute, “Mr. President!” Contrary to media reportages, Sata is personable as he is approachable. His pragmatist style of rule has all the elements of a successful presidency at the end of his tenure. But the hallmark of Sata’s contributory bolster in the 50th Zambian golden carat is in his fighting spirit. When the generations ahead will be looking for men to emulate, Sata will be the limit to what every Zambian youth could aspire to. Almost single-handedly, he pioneered a political party that would assume the echelons of power within ten years. Even failure for the third time could not dispirit Sata from another attempt. Among the five Zambian presidents so far, it is only of Sata that it can be said, “He earned the presidency!” It is, however, too early to judge his presidency. That, too, is in itself a successful part of the Zambian heritage. For 50 years after independence, Zambian leaders are passionate about preserving amity and friendly relations in the country, although not without incidents.

Zambia is more than its five presidents. Zambia is its people. KK, FTJ, Mwanawasa, RB and Sata, are not Zambia; they are only a small part of Zambia. In fact, the entire fabric of the Zambian presidency is so designed as to make the office very powerful. Consequently, it’s only the “President and His Men” who truly enjoy all the joys of the land. The people in the conurbations and villages may have no real stories to tell, serve and except for struggles. Bana-Kapya is still struggling to make ends meet; Bana-Kabwela went to the Copperbelt to look for a bright future, only for her to lose her employment and return to the village. Bashi-Mwitwa has not been called since he applied for a teaching position. Bashi-Chuma still wallows in abject poverty. These will have a tough time celebrating Zambia`s 50th Independence Anniversary. And the irony is that, they are the majority!

By Charles Mwewa

President of the Zambian-Canadian Foundation and Author, Zambia: Struggles of My People; and King Cobra Has Struck: My Letter to President Michael C. Sata.

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