By Field Ruwe
My articles are a quest—not for today but for tomorrow. Today our democratically elected president Michael Chilufya Sata holds the promise for a better Zambia. He’s mentally unpacking the crate of crushing problems—some old, some new, all challenging. He has promised to fix them under our watch. He has pledged not to amass wealth at our expense, and will graciously step down when his full term of office expires. In other words we have in our State House a truly democratic leader.
Tomorrow, at the end of his odyssey, he will honorably pass the torch to a new bearer. That’s King Cobra, he keeps his word. He is not like FTJ whose decisions undermined our democracy by demanding a third term, or Robert Mugabe and Mwai Kibaki who refused to concede even when it was clear they had flunked. He’s not like them.
Whoever raises his right hand to the oath of office as the next president in 2016 or 2021 should be a youthful intellectual who will break away from the monotonous past and take us into a new future—a future of scientific research and technology. That’s the Holy Grail I seek.
And yet my critics and some loyalists see red. Some believe it is the clever wooden offering of the Greeks to Trojans: something that appears to be a brilliant idea on the outside but is cunningly dangerous within. They are saying it is telltale symptoms of decadency and intransigency. Nothing makes me feel sorrier for those who are trying to create such a spectacle. They hate an open-minded proposal and are willing—even eager—to kill it through reckless and unsubstantiated accusations as well as demagogic attacks.
Let me pause and ask this: How advanced is Zambia today? It is almost half a century and we have barely advanced by historical standards. We have failed to engage in meaningful production, invention, building, or a labor system that gives our low-waged security. What defines our stagnation is not the failure of the Zambian people but the consequence of our leaders’ lack of resourcefulness. Our leaders become infatuated with cultivating power and in advancing their self-seeking interests and agendas they ignore the important tasks of improving our lives.
KK led us to independence, national harmonization and “modernization.” He kicked off well with the building of the University of Zambia. And in his effort to adjust our country to universal standards he introduced innovative industries like Livingstone Motor Assemblies, but he shifted his attention and put all his effort in creating a political kingdom. As a result our economy tanked.
The stupendously clueless FTJ led us from modernization to financial disintegration in his cash and carry epoch and bankrupted the country. LM, moderate to a fault, was precautious, but he built a bridge to nowhere and left us there. RB engaged in lease and lend deals with external interests whose thirst for our resources continue to shape the dynamics of our government. Whether these leaders espoused Marxism-Leninism, African and non-African socialism, capitalism or mixed capitalism, their efforts have produced a stock-still Zambia.
Michael Chilufya Sata is yet to show us his ingenuity. How I wish he could start by pursuing all those implicated in the FTJ dollargate, so that they could reveal where our hard-earned dollars are buried. He then should put the money in the Kaponya pockets, as pledged, by creating small-scale industries that befit them. That way he will be delivering the promises of democracy to the citizenry of Zambia.
Anyway, while our politicians are trapped in a time warp, replaying the same broken vinyl record, the Zambian people have not remained static. They have sharpened their survival skills and are continuing to educate themselves.
Today, Kaponya boys have made great leaps in their understanding of Zambian politics. Their level of political awareness is such that they are now able to challenge poor governance and political malpractice to the extent of removing an incompetent and empty-promises leader. They now know that the Kaponya Desk created at the State House by FTJ “Abede Pele” was a hoax. They are already saying “King Cobra nga atubepa tuka mufumyapo,” (If the president takes us for a ride we shall have him removed). “Kabili nifwe twamubikilepo.” (After all we are the ones who put him there). It is therefore clear that in order to serve two terms King Cobra must provide good governance. He must recalibrate his moral compass and observe the rule of law.
In the area of education, we have thrived. Whereas there were 109 graduates at independence time, today there are thousands in and outside our country. Our universities boast of some of the most novel minds you can find anywhere, and so do our streets. Sadly our leaders do not appreciate them. They display a boorish and indiscriminate distrust of our lecturers at the University of Zambia and the other universities in the country. They refuse to accept their intellectual capability and exclude them from major tasks of nation-building. They like them in the state they are—poorly paid, neglected, vilified and marginalized.
It is this uncaring of our intelligentsia, coupled with the lack of freedom of expression and means for researchers to pursue their work that drives the human capital flight known as brain drain. Westerners know the true value of our intellectuals, and they surely know how to poach. They spotted Katuba Chitumbo and made him head of International Atomic Energy Agency’s Safeguards Operations Division for the Asia Pacific region. In England they placed Jacob Mulenga at Cranfield University, Defence Technology Center, and elevated him to Defence Technology Expert in the Human Factors Division in the Ministry of Defence. In Poland, Mpazi Sinjela became Director of WIPO -World Intellectual Property Organization’s Worldwide Academy & Division of Human Resources Development.
How about David Mchaina? The man should be at the helm of our mining industry. David is currently the Vice President of Environment & Sustainable Development at Nuinsco in Canada. Upon his appointment company President Brian Robertson was full of praises: “David is a tremendous addition to our team as he brings a wealth of experience that will be invaluable as Nuinsco moves forward with the development of the Cameron Lake gold deposit in Ontario and Corner Bay high-grade copper project in Quebec, and as Victory Nickel completes the Minago feasibility study and evaluates near-term nickel production scenarios at the Mel deposit in Manitoba and the Lac Rocher deposit in Quebec.”
There are hundreds of Zambian intellectuals like David strewn across the globe. They work as researchers in universities, think tanks in international agencies, and as draftsmen in the corporate world.
Visualize for a moment a Zambia in which world acclaimed automotive and aerospace expert Clive Chirwa and Misheck Mwaba, research fellow in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University, Canada, spearheaded our very own motor industry, let alone our own aircraft factory. All they would need is our president’s sturdy back-up, support from other mechanically and technically-savvy Zambian dons, equipment and raw materials, and our faith in them. Zambia would produce Africa’s first automobile. You are shaking your head. We have been shaking our heads since independence.
Lack of support and confidence in our intellectuals is the defining deficiency. But our intellectuals in Zambia continue to bravely persist under adverse conditions, and those abroad lie in wait, believing that one day a youthful intellectual shall rise, embrace them and other well-resourced citizens, and make Zambia, not Nigeria, Ghana, or Kenya, Africa’s most innovative nation. They await you, yes YOU shaking your head. They await a leader with the mien and fervor to play a key leadership role in the research, design, development and in the execution of great ideas. They are ready to plod, plan, and plot with you every logistical way.
Imagine yourself president of Zambia surrounded by a non-partisan think tank calling itself the Zambia Institute for Innovation and Development supported by the likes of Clive Chirwa, David Mchaina, Jacob Mulenga, Katuba Chitumbo, Misheck Mwaba, Dambisa Moyo, and Abraham Mwenda, imagine that. Picture yourself hosting the State House Science Fair and celebrating the winners of a broad range of science, technology, and engineering. You present the Innovative Award, the country’s most prestigious award, to the overall winner, and applaud.
After the State House Science Fair you drive to Mulungushi Hall to view exhibits of winning student projects, ranging from breakthrough basic research to new inventions. You hand out grants and scholarships to winning teams, deliver a speech and congratulate the students on their assiduousness, desire to tackle hard problems, and their drive to invent and discover. After five years you flag off Zambia’s own car. Wow!
Now, I know youthful leaders in Zambia shudder when I mention their names as possible successors—Moses Banda, Elias Mpondela, Chibamba Kanyama, Dixon Tembo, Simataa Simataa, Lazarous Chota, Given Lubinda, Wynter Kabimba, Dora Siliya, and many others I personally know. They are worried they could suffer loss of employment, destruction of career, or become a target of gossip, mistrust, intimidation, or spend every day titillated by threats. I hear you.
I am not a prophet of doom inciting you to get into a brawl with the status quo. All I am doing is to reach and encourage progressive quadragenarians (40 to 50) and quinquagenarians (50 to 60) to respond to the demand for a 21st Century Zambia. I am encouraging you to start now so that we can experience one of the most amicable transfers of power between the last of our venerable martyrs Michael Chilufya Sata and the first of our youthful learned leaders—one who shall lead a nation that will be ready to flex its intellectual muscles to the maximum as we embark on an expedition into the world of recognition and respect. Be strong. Stand up and be counted. The age of intellectual leadership is nigh.
Let me end by tapping Obama’s youthful wisdom: “If we are willing to work for it and fight for it and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that (ten) years from now, we will look back and tell ourselves that we prepared well. And we will tell our children that this is the moment when we began to patch and stabilize the sinking economy.”
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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.