By Field Ruwe
Forty-nine years later, we are contented with mediocrity; with poverty; with disease; and with an idle mind. We have failed to turn our country into a paradise. Yes, this country, endowed with minerals and precious stones is for the Chinese, Indians, and others to exploit; this fertile undulating picturesque country, flowing with abundant water has eluded our intelligentsia—engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, and dodged even our most gifted. In annual languid unison we drink, dance and toast to dismal achievement.
Yes, I hear incensed academics hauling invectives in counterblasts and calling me unpatriotic for attempting to dampen our self-sufficiency spirit. Do not secure my head and arms in a pillory, place a gag on my mouth, and throw me into the ring of fire, no, not until you show me what you are worth. Do something spectacular and show the world you are the genius we have been waiting for; that you are the Zambian with unprecedented insight, exceptional talent, intellectual ability, creativity, and originality; that you are the one who can retrieve us from the bottom of the totem pole at which we have dwelt for forty-nine years.
There you go again with your “Rome was not built in a day” poppycock, you lazy intellectual. We are approaching half a century and you keep saying stuff like “It took hundreds of years for Caucasians to be where they are today.” It is utterances such as these that have kept Zambia in a prostate state. You have dragged us into the gutter in which even our most intelligent young men are being irresistibly drained.
Georg Hegel sums up your forty-nine years of scapegoating: “For [Zambia] is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit. Historical movements in it…belong to the European World…what we properly understand by [Zambia], is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature…” These words uttered 138 years ago in reference to Africa by the German Philosopher have stood the test of time. They reflect our failure; they are the reason we are called lazy, unintelligent, uncreative, disorganized, docile, and other derogatory terms. It is these words that separate us from the “White” world.
Go ahead, pick up your pen and write like you always do in lazy ink: I find it obnoxious and shocking that Ruwe should invoke the name of Hegel to advance his point. Those of us who have studied Hegel’s Philosophy of History identify him as a Eurocentric bigot; a racist who failed to value the contributions of Africans to human development. Ruwe should not be quoting a man who “places blacks in the lowest category of development and precludes them from any possibility of progress.” To do so is to insult the black race…
Put that pen down! You’ve got the most in you, and you use it for whining. You’ve a ton of intelligence and you use an ounce. What will it take to make you think; to make you take up the challenge and make yourself great in life and in death? You trained your mind for intellectual equality. You buried yourself in books by candlelight; you graduated with highest honors. How can you fail to be our guiding light and give us full value of life? For forty-nine years you have failed to create a spirit of intellectualism and make us become stakeholders in the building of automobiles, telephones, radios, televisions, and computers. You still lack the ability to be curious and think outside the box.
Don’t blame President Michael Sata for your ineptitude. He is a politician. You went to school and fully understand that politics is for both saints and imps; that it is in politics you find pickpockets, armed robbers, hit men, inept megalomaniacs, and also seraphs, and saviors. Sata saw you were asleep in the hallowed halls of academia. He picked up the mantle of leadership and left you to your slumber. He now wields unquestionable power over you. He treats you like a preschooler. He appoints and disappoints you.
I leave you lazy intellectuals to your own failed devices. Let me turn my attention to our young Zambians with prolific minds and those with the best talent. Please do not emulate our torpor. We have dismally failed you. We have abdicated our role as thinkers and denied you modernization. Instead we have given you poverty and placed you in a tragic position. As you can see we have become a desperate people with a distressing addiction to corruption. We don’t invest in your future; we steal from your coffers and enrich ourselves with no regard for the 14 million hungry mouths.
Our inability to join the inventive and innovative global community has severely dented our image. We are hardly respected. Wherever we go, the UN, Commonwealth, IMF, World Bank, we represent smallness, and defend not our innovation-worth, but our sense of self-worthlessness and under-achievement. Our spectators know it; they know we carry with us a bowl of alms and treat the West, and now China, as the proverbial provider of milk and honey. I am sure you have seen how whites, Asians, Arabs, and Latinos feel each time we come in contact with them. Even in our tailor made suits, they treat us like ignoramuses—like trash.
Please do not fall asleep in the hallowed halls of academia the next fifty years. You will mirror us at your own peril. You will be extinct. Just look at the rate we are dying from hunger and disease. Figures of the dead will break your heart. Let me tell you about us. Our past has been “education for under-development.” Our elders above the age of 65 grew up in an era of scientific racism. Theirs was education of low expectations; of vocational training. White settlers feared that too much “black” education would threaten their supremacy. In the 1950s, a psychological phenomenon was rooted in our elders that they were intellectually challenged; that the Sciences—math, physics, biology, and chemistry, were not for their brain. They bought into it and passed on to us a sense of self-doubt and low esteem.
As we head for the 2014 Golden Jubilee, you, our young intelligent minds must collectively begin to undo this perception. You must rise and help to stop the idleness. Embark on a “Revolt of our Elders.” Scrap their archaic ideas and put our nation on a new track, a track more suitable for your future. Set a new chapter in the history of our country by creating your own Zambian Dream. It is the only way you can save yourselves from the impending calamity.
The Zambian Dream with the motto “ours is a future of innovation” must be enshrined in your hearts and must be used as a weapon in the fight against intellectual inertia. You must express the dream not by word of mouth, but with your minds and hands. You must make the dream omnipresent and declaim it after every success—after you have created irrigation pumps, ploughs, and kilns for your retired parents in the villages.
Ignore skeptic politicians and identify among yourselves pathfinders with a keen eye for intellectual excellence. Allow them to lead you into a world ruled by technology. Invest heavily in technology and the sciences. Become strong mentors and pontificate about math and science at public fora and at dinner tables, and encourage your children to become mathematicians, engineers, chemists, and computer scientists. You must start now to call for a leader who can influence, to a larger extent, your thinking, and develop a system of education founded upon invention and innovation.
You must find among yourselves intellectuals who will be preoccupied with issues of advancement and become a dominant source of your effort in the building of a new Zambia. Such intellectuals must be physicians, engineers, scientists, and other technocrats—physical builders who can master our crisis intellectually and scientifically and lead the way out of this quagmire.
This is the right time for you to shine; to develop your full potential. Challenge the Ugandan students at Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology who have built an electric car; embrace young Zambian inventors who are developing useful technological devices and help to improve their designs. I know of several young men and women in Zambia with great ideas. Give them a chance. Help them to prove Hegel and other supremacists, chauvinists, and xenophobes around the world wrong. Please.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012