By Theresa Lungu
“Africa, our Mother Africa, must be free, and it has fallen to our lot to free this part. Be of good cheer, we are just beginning.” – Dr. Kenneth Kaunda
This October Zambians all across the world are holding lavish parties in jubilation of 50 years of independence from British tyranny.
While the jubilee parties heat up, anger simmers particularly in Zambian diaspora who cite mismanagement of Zambia perhaps to justify and validate their reasons for leaving the country. Quite frankly, Zambian diaspora has no right to be angry about Zambia’s failures. We gave up that right when we ‘escaped’ Zambia’s dilemmas and opted to put our skills and manpower behind other countries. Zambians who genuinely care about the development of the country live in Zambia. They are the ones being innovative and starting companies that employ and empower other Zambians. They are not in diaspora deconstructing the country with empty words on meaningless blogs under stupid pseudonyms. Unless you are making efforts at bettering Zambia, it is futile and hypocritical to keep blaming those who are trying. Mudslinging only dirties hands and little else.
Last December, I visited my parents in Luanshya and my father and I went on a long freedom walk from the town center to the township of Mikomfwa where I grew up. Our walk took us through a desolate compound of one room dwellings clustered around communal bathrooms called ku Nkungulume (for bachelors), aptly named since establishment by the British as a settlement for unmarried young men. Although the name remains, the compound now houses families. My father has memories of his residency there and he pointed out some of his old hangout places. One of the bars is named Biyaolo, obviously from the western term, ‘Beer Hall’. Our walk ended back in town at the civic center. The Mayor at the time was a 30 year old man who had brought positive changes to the council. The building was clean, the staff courteous and knowledgeable and a robust PR team produces a newsletter updating the public on current affairs. The team work at the council has results, Government recognized the council’s efforts and awarded it the only corruption-free city council in Zambia. I am positive ku Nkungulume will one day have indoor plumbing because Luanshya is making steps toward bettering itself as a community. The town Library is another example of self- improvement in Luanshya. As a native of Luanshya, I started a campaign 10 years ago, through the Books for Zambia Project to equip the library with books. Luanshya library is thriving and the city council is at the center of maintaining the library.
We have to recognize and acknowledge fruit bearing efforts by Zambians. We could collectively as a people, work on figuring out the best practices for Zambia instead of photocopying what western countries are doing. What works for London does not necessarily work for Lusaka because we have different needs; culturally, traditionally, economically etcetera. Basically, we’ve only been in civilized society under our own rule for a measly 50 years. We have much to learn. HH, Mumba, Chipimo, Kambwili, RB or whoever else is aspiring to be the next President of Zambia will not salvage Zambia on their own. They may have leadership qualities but without proper policy formulation and implementation in tandem with skilled advisors and cooperation from citizens, nothing will change. I witnessed blatant leadership failure and selfishness in my position as personal assistant to one of the top directors at the Ministry of Science and Technology some years back. At the time the ministry was in charge of funding all the Trades Training Schools including Evelyn Hone College. The funds were rarely disbursed to the colleges wholly or promptly. I know this for a fact because I was in charge of typing up the budgets. Every time the funding came in, directors would convene unnecessary seminars in Siavonga and I mean unnecessary because I attended a couple of them myself and I had no idea why we were there until the per diem allowances came in! A certain director openly used government personnel, vehicles, gas, and office supplies to establish his own college in Northern Province. All the employees knew the stealing was going on but no one spoke up. I was disgusted with what I witnessed but I was green and straight out of Luanshya trades training school and still dizzy from two years of consuming beans and cabbage at the dining hall. In a case like this do you sit there and insult the President of the country or the specific people at the ministry? Kleptomaniac behavior and vandalism is prevalent at all levels of society but it is generally left unchecked or frowned upon. Growing up we had a neighbor who worked at a local clinic and her house was basically a dispensary. I thought she was a kind lady because my mother would send me over to her house for painkillers and she dispensed of them generously until one day there were no painkillers left at the clinic, then we all became exasperated and cursed the government for failing at their job. What about our duty to the communities we live in?
Lack of community engagement is debilitating to the country. I have seen some rural settlements waiting on government to come and replace a roof on a school because their children can’t learn in inclement weather. Are we honestly that bereft of initiative? A good parent will patch up the roof so their child can continue learning. Yes, it is government’s duty to provide education, but remember in the beginning schools were not started by government. Schools were started by individuals who knew the value of education. Before colonialists came to Zambia, missionaries were there first bringing with them education and modern medicine. Many missionary schools and hospitals still standing in Zambia were built by Zambian hands without modern machinery and no government assistance to rely on.
In retrospect, we can trash every incumbent government and hold tribunals and embark on witch hunts all day long but words alone will never bring about the positive changes we long to see and need in our communities. The change we need is within and through ourselves. Luanshya City Council is a good example. Building strong communities is not achieved through words, it is through action and collective organization and engagement. Change in attitude about the way we perceive ourselves and our abilities, self- esteem, confidence and treasuring and protecting our resources could help propel us into a self-sustaining nation. For instance instead of evacuating to South Africa for good healthcare, perhaps we could invite South African officials to Zambia for some lessons in healthcare management, same with our schools and universities. University of Zambia is like a warzone at any given time, one wonders about the caliber of graduates coming out of there when the institution is more famous for its riotous tradition than its academic prowess.
Change can be dispensing of our third world mindset of living in the moment and not planning for tomorrow. A better tomorrow can begin with curbing the senseless plunder of public resources and installing early childhood intervention programs so that the coming generations will have better mindsets that will help stamp out intergenerational poverty and dependency syndrome. We have the tools, we can stop the war within ourselves and get to work. The last 50 years is done, we can’t go back and change the blunders and learning curves we have endured as a new nation but the next 50 years is in our hands to shape and mold. Are we going to stand together and fight for a better Zambia as one, or are we going to continue to stand divided and vie for position and status instead of improved living conditions for all?