By Field Ruwe
“A lot of West Africans I’ve encountered seem rude, aggressive, and downright arrogant,” said a Caucasian friend. “They are not like you Zambians. You’re courteous and gracious.”
I admonished him for painting West Africans with a broad brush. “There are many who are polite and approachable.”
“Yeah, but you all are meek,” the Caucasian said.
He had me thinking: I generated some “meek” synonyms; “humble,” “submissive,” “compliant,” “cowed,” “fearful,” “tamed,” and my thoughts took me back to 1994:
I arrived in the United States for the first time with my sense of community life; sense of good human relations; sense of hospitality; sense of sacred and of religion; and a sense of respect for others.
My father taught me to have deep and ingrained respect for old age; that a man older than me had earned himself the right to courtesy and politeness. The elders are taken to be the repository of communal wisdom and therefore they are accorded leadership in the affairs of the people. I respect any man a few years older because he is supposed to be closer to wisdom. If I don’t, he reminds me “Ulekwata umuchinsi, mwaice” (young man, show some respect) like Frank Mutubila, three years my senior, did in 1975 when we both worked at ZBS (ZNBC).
I had been in the U.S. for a year and couldn’t grasp the American etiquette of addressing people across the board by their first name. My Nigerian friend who had arrived a few months prior was often incensed with me for addressing my seventy-year old instructor as “professor” or “Dr.”
“We all call him Marshall,” he said.
I couldn’t even when the lecturer himself insisted that I use his first name. In class I was polite and acquiescent. That’s what we Zambians are. We are generally well-bred. Our good morals stand out in public. Wherever we are gathered, at home, abroad, in pubs, at work, travelling, we carry with us a high need to please others and to be liked by others. In Lusaka bars we are unselfish. We buy rounds and bankrupt each other at the expense of our starving families.
When many of us are in the presence of foreigners; Chinese, Americans, Britons, and other Europeans and Asians we adopt the meek mood and overrate them because it is etched in our minds that they are generally more veracious than us. In this state of inferiority we are paralyzed by faintheartedness. We underestimate ourselves and attentively listen and nod to a pile of rubbish. As a result, we allow boloney like Structural Adjustment to subject us to perpetual indebtedness.
My Nigerian friend is a hard charger. He reminds me of Given Lubinda, Wynter Kabimba, Dora Siliya, my former classmate Willie Nsanda, Sylvia Masebo, Edith Nawakwi, Mbita Chitala, and Father Frank Bwalya. Love or hate them they are rock-star politicians who are ambitious, task motivated, goal oriented, and produce results, thanks to their aggressiveness. They are opinionated, vocal and seem to have the “never say die” attitude. They take downright abusive comments and pick apart the pieces to make themselves better. Each day as they shovel through a lot of garbage, criticism and abuse, they remain undaunted because their ultimate goal is to die a leader.
Most, if not all the above come from humble beginnings. At one point in their lives, they chose to stand out among their siblings and companions. They waited for an opportunity, gathered enough courage, sharpened their rhetoric, defended their point of view, and most importantly, found enough support to fulfill their dreams. Through their own initiative and personal achievement, they have joined the country’s elite and are guaranteed a good life. You have not because you have chosen to be led.
You remind me of me. I belong to the meek people. We are submissive. We expect little and seem to be happy with even less. We share low-esteem. We don’t dream of becoming a president after King Cobra has served his terms because, like you, we feel it is a treacherous route.
We fear if we take the unpopular stand of challenging or criticizing our leaders, we will be persecuted and incarcerated. In short, we are reluctant to “rock the boat.” When we feel threatened we tuck our heads in our shells and wait for trouble to pass. We are cowards, sycophants, flatterers, minions, toadies, bootlickers. Because we are the “run over people” we are loved by our leaders, but neither admired nor respected.
In class I feared to be disliked. I did everything my lecturer asked me to do. I was obedient and dutiful. Not my Nigerian friend. He vigorously defended his point of view. And when he received an inferior grade he threatened the instructor. On campus he was the editor of the school newspaper. Off campus, he served burgers at McDonalds and drove a cab by night. I couldn’t see myself doing that. I was afraid my country-mate would write or call home that I was a destitute.
“Field napwa.” (Field is finished).
When I asked my Nigerian friend what his ambition was, he was unwavering in his heavy Yoruba accent: “I want to be mayor of this town, and I hope to serve in the U.S. Congress someday.”
“But you just came the other day.”
“Who says I can’t fulfill my dream? I came here to be a leader.”
When I told my country-mate about the Nigerian’s mayoral plans, he laughed.
“Impossible!” he said. “He doesn’t stand a chance. Not in America. They won’t let an African, more so a Nigerian, to lead them.”
This is our failure. Our country is filled with skeptics and cynics who limit our capacity, quality and potential for growth. They have a phobia for success and are therefore scornfully and habitually negative. Their low self-esteem gets in the way of their qualities and abilities, thinking, if they can’t achieve what King Cobra has achieved, no one should. And because they are failures they assault others with negative responses. Unfortunately, many Zambians gravitate towards such people and for forty-seven years this has been the trend.
By the way, the last time I checked, my Nigerian friend had steered himself through a spectacular victory to become a Councilor in a ward of predominantly white.
“We love him,” One Caucasian resident said. “When the landlord tries to be funny, we send him to speak on our behalf and often he succeeds.”
You don’t necessarily need to be aggressive to be a leader. Sometimes an aggressive leader is an addicted, predatory, brutal personality; addicted to rage, hurt, and manipulation. Often aggressiveness overshadows your positive characteristics. Don’t forget when a leader employs aggressive behavior when dealing with his followers, the reaction is usually that of resentment, fear, or anger.
They are a lot of people who resent Dora Siliya, for instance, and many more who are angry with Wynter Kabimba. It is said that aggressive leaders almost always expect compliance from their people, often at the expense of long-term loyalty, enthusiasm, and motivation. Remember, highly aggressive leadership can result in negative outcomes, such as alienation and dissatisfaction.
So, what type of young leader should we prepare for 2016 or 2021? We should look for an assertive leader who takes some of the positive characteristics of being aggressive, such as goal-oriented, strong-willed, direct, energetic, and purposeful, and combine with some of the best characteristics of being submissive, such as a good listener, unselfish, empathic, thoughtful, and considerate. Simply put a leader who can walk a tightrope that bridges the most positive aspects of aggressiveness and submissiveness.
The assertive leader is someone who honestly expresses his feelings, enforces rules, and requires results, but at the same time does so in a way that shows respect for the dignity of his fellow human beings. He must be strong, energetic and should be able and willing to fight. I know of a few: Clive Chirwa, Dambisa Moyo, Elias Chipimo, Sakwiba Sikota, Fredrick Mutesa, HH, Tilyenji Kaunda, Charles Mulupi, Chibamba Kanyama, Charles Banda, Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula, Charles Sichangwa, Cromwell Tambatamba, Charles Kakoma, and YOU.
After you have read this article, do not treat it as trash and start blogging insults and flagrant comments. Leave that to ill-bred demented individuals and cyber lunatics. Don’t let go the adrenaline that has overwhelmed you and is flowing with hope. Take time to dig deeper into your soul and see if you are vision directed. Remember human potential is the same for us all. Your feeling “I am good enough” is what separates you from others. You have the power of thought. You are your own master. With the realization of you own potential and self-confidence, you can build a better world for yourself and for us.
Release yourself from the hellish low-esteem prison and answer the call to succeed our president after he has served us well. If you believe you can, start developing your presidential competence and commit yourself to it. Become the sculptor and not the sculpture of your destiny.
Finally, it is important to stress that as author of this article I hold our president Michael Chilufya Sata in high esteem. I have always, and he knows it. In all my articles there is absolutely no sinister motive or personal grudge. Our country is an arsenal for democracy. The entire Africa has watched us embrace and defend democracy. It is a quality we can’t leave to mere slogans. If democracy means anything at all, it means that we the people of Zambia must participate in the shaping of the future of our country.
We, the meek people, seriously strive to prepare a young successor. We can’t expect to achieve that by fearfully hiding in a corner. After 2016 or 2021 we shall need a young socio-economic liberator who can free us from the economic slavery of the IMF and the World Bank. Anyone?
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.