By Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa
I read the “transcript” of your conversation with my compatriot with much intrigue. Your view of the “third world” is not only dated in nomenclature, it is also dated in reality. When was the last time you were in Zambia? The Zambia of the 1980s is not the Zambia of 2012! Zambians are far from sleepy and lethargic (though I do not see sleep or dreaming as a bad thing). Perhaps it is because I subscribe to Rabindranath Tagore’s words, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I woke and saw that life was duty. I acted and behold, duty was joy.”
I know many other Zambians who live by the same value. I know doctors, artists, cleaners, entrepreneurs, innovators, and intellectuals, amateur and seasoned, small and big, who, despite the odds, work slavishly to improve Zambia. Some work 9-5 and others do not, but rather than focus on “billable hours”, they focus on results. People see the light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps because you spent your time behind a wall fence-watching the people rather than interacting with them, you failed to notice that.
Lastly, I contend there is no Lake Zambia. As the Chinese proverb goes, “Water not damned won’t rise.” Dams are being built. No longer will anyone rape, pillage and exploit Zambia. Zambians will not accept the morsels. People are tired of being sick and tired. In case you did not understand the lyrics to the popular Dandy Crazy song, “Don’t kubeba”, citizen action is in full swing – we just have not told you yet.
“What is different?” you wonder. In 2011, the World Bank categorised Zambia as a lower middle-income country, which means the per capita gross national income is between $1,006 and $3,975 per year. This categorisation came with pride and sorrow. Zambians know development is more than statistics. Zambians understand that development is an inclusive process; decreasing poverty is a priority. Zambians peacefully elected a new government thus demonstrating that the government is one of the people, by the people, for the people.
Arguably, Zambians have not always made the best political decisions, but the last election was testimony that the people command the way forward and will not blindly allow government to regress national progress. If government does not serve the people, the people will get a new government. Good governance in action is in Kalingalinga. No longer is it the neighborhood (where I went to school as a child) from where we would hear gunshots at night. Flimsy housing structures are replaced with brick houses, street kids are going to school thanks to free education offered from primary school to basic school (grades 1 – 9), sanitation has improved and it is a bedrock for micro, small and medium enterprises.
Not all Zambian intellectuals are sitting twiddling their thumbs “waiting for Godot”. We are not willfully sitting as our people die. The sad reality is that it takes time, time to reverse the rot in the system and time to create new visions, innovations and achievements. While Zambia may not have many patented inventions, Zambian products are part of the global supply chain. We subscribe to the “Made in the World” concept. According to the World Trade Organisation, “The statistical bias created by attributing the full commercial value to the last country of origin can pervert the political debate on the origin of the imbalances and lead to misguided, and hence counter-productive, decisions.” Nevertheless, we bear much guilt because people die under our watch. That forces us to work harder to make good on our commitments to Zambia.
Though we sometimes get sidetracked by intellectual banter, fail to connect theory to life’s realities and get frustrated by our history and point fingers, we know it is our responsibility to build Zambia. Granted, there are some Zambians in the diaspora who want nothing to do with Zambia; those are not our concern. There are many Zambians, who if called home to serve, would. Diasporans spill their sweat in other countries to be able to provide for their extended families and invest in Zambia. In 2010, remittances were over USD $68 000000. Whether from Timbuktu, Mali or Namushakende in Zambia, the money many Zambians earn invariably goes into the Zambian economy.
I recognise the fact that we all need to make a living, but you working for a vulture fund makes me question where you get the authority to apportion blame? Though we might not have domestic legal resources to go up against your New York or London lawyers, we will fight to the end, be assured. There are resources like the Africa Legal Support Facility (affiliated with the African Development Bank) that provide legal assistance to African countries to fight vulture funds. In case you did not learn this in Zambia, here is for a lesson, “Wanya!”. It will not be like the Donegal case. This time Zambia will win the case, plus costs.
I agree all humans are equal and we have quirks. Yes, some Zambians drink more than they should, and others have a negative self-perception about their black skin and their abilities compared to other races, while others do nothing but pull others Zambians down. Luckily, that is not the whole population. Furthermore, I cannot say any human is incorruptible. What I can say is that we do have institutions in place to enforce anti-corruption laws. In case you have not paid attention to the news, the current government is slowly trying to eradicate institutional corruption. Obviously, it will take time.
Rather than criticising Africa, I think you need to be critical of human nature generally; after all it is not Africa that caused the current global economic crisis. Lastly, if you want an example of a president that has not fallen for “the carrot at the stick”, look at President Kagame of Rwanda. Rwanda has in successive years ranked as the least corrupt country in East Africa. According to Transparency International, “The likelihood of encountering bribe demand occurrences is 3.9%, the prevalence of bribery is 2.15% and the impact of bribery on service delivery is 1.98%, while more than 80% of Rwandans have neither encountered nor witnessed corruption.” Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius all rank in the top 50 least corrupt nations in 2011.
Didn’t you know, anyone with money, black or white, is a bwana? So no, I do not think you are racist. Misinformed and prejudgmental, yes. You might have interacted with “old school” Zambians. Let me tell you, we, the “new school”, are dancing to a new beat. We are innovative and driven to find solutions to the challenges, we are globally connected and getting more people exposed and we have learned from our ancestors. Failure is not an option.
I know that when my child sits in a plane next to yours, they will be having a very different conversation.
Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa runs Hoja Law Group, a boutique New York and Kigali (Rwanda) law firm that uses the law to bridge the African development gap through advising on deals that create wealth for Africa. HLG advises investors investing in and companies expanding within Africa. She is a frequent speaker and writer on African affairs. She is a Mo Ibrahim Fellow at the World Trade Organisation and Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.