By Wesley Ngwenya
It is that time of the year when we foolishly celebrate our “independence”. We have been illusionary about the fact that every year on the twenty-fourth of October we have to celebrate this meaningless holiday. Every year for the last ten years or so I have asked myself the question—Is Zambia truly independent.
A few years ago I designed my own t-shirt that I wore every October 24th. In the front of that shirt I had the words “44 Years of Independence” while in the back I had the A,B, C, and D of why we are not independent. I would like to share with you what these letters stand for.
Absolute Poverty: How can a country celebrate independence when more than 80% of its population are extremely poor? You mean this country has been independent for close to half a century now and people live in the kind of housing in Kanyama, Chibolya, Mtendere, Mandevu, and all those Zambia compounds found around the country? You mean this country is independent and most of its population don’t have access to clean water? Those who do have to line up at 4am to draw water supplied to them by the Chinese? You mean this country is independent when most of its citizenry have absolutely nothing do and have been reduced to be beggars in their own country? You mean this country is independent when people still die from diarrhoea and mosquito bites?
Zambia, as a nation, cannot afford to feed its own people. We cannot afford to grow enough food to fill our belies. We pride ourselves with having Shoprites in our neighbourhoods and yet 90% of those goods are foreign. We pride in the fact that we own a house that was built in the pre-independence times. When we had plenty to eat, had real schools, money in our pockets, and a peace of mind. Now that is what independence should be all about. If independence means hunger, diseases, no freedom of speech, no money in the pocket, and no jobs then to hell with it. I certainly don’t want it.
Bad Policies. A policy is typically described (Wikipedia) as a principle or rule to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. Furthermore, Public Policy is defined as the principled guide by government to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. Now, are we really independent if we cannot make rules for a game we want to play? And when we make the rules we are the first ones to cheat or completely disregard them.
How can we be financially independent if we cannot make policies that benefit the poor especially when it comes to the resources we have in this country—land, forestry, minerals, rivers, etc. How can we be independent when the policies that government has created continue to benefit the foreigners and disadvantage its own people?
How can we be politically independent if half a century on–we still don’t have a constitution that we can be proud of. We continue to make policies that will last the tenure of the sitting president. If we were independent, by now, we should have had a constitution that represents the majority of Zambians not the few politicians. We should have had a constitution that our children’s children will celebrate 200 hundred years from now. The United States’ Constitution has been in existence for hundreds of years. Now that is an independent country.
You see there is no conceivable way Zambia will ever be independent if our leaders continue to make these kinds of policies. The game plan has to change now. It is about time we put in place selfless policies that will drive this nation to independence. It is about time we held those in power accountable for the decisions they make.
Why is it that Zambians don’t ever protest at parliament, cabinet office or statehouse for any bad policies created by our politicians? Because we are afraid to be shot at. Because we don’t have the freedom to speak our minds in this country. Because we are not independent. So what is there to celebrate about 48 years later?
Corrupt Politicians: How can we claim to be independent when our minds are still as backward as they can be? We continue to elect leaders who drive us in reverse gear; leaders who are too old to think about tomorrow; leaders who are too old to believe that the youths are the leaders of tomorrow/today; leaders whose brains are as grey as their hair. Leaders who have not made any meaningful difference in the welfare of those they rule. Honestly, is this the kind of leadership we can celebrate about and call ourselves independent?
If the elections which were held in the United States in 2008 were held here in Zambia or in Kenya guess who would have won? Of course it wouldn’t have been Barack Obama because his father happens to come from a smaller ethnic (Luo) group. Meanwhile, in the same year, Zambians elected a 73 year old man as their president. This is not forward thinking. This is not thinking that is evident of a people who claim to be independent.
You know if not being independent means having a bunch of white men in khaki shorts called prime ministers and driving old land rovers and yet living in good housing, having food to eat, a job and a per capita income of $20,000 then please sign me up to the good old days. What we call independence today is daytime robbery. Our politicians continue to rob us of human dignity. They have no interest of making a real difference in our country. Listen to the debates in parliament. They are often childish, have no direction, and too shallow to take this country forward.
Dependency: What exactly is the meaning of independence if as a nation we depend on other nations to sustain us? Zambia is a nation that lives on handouts. We cannot manage to govern ourselves period. Look at the some of the nations that were recently visited by our president—they are independent in every sense of the word. And yet half a century ago we were in the same shoes and having the same political, social and economic afflictions. Today, we have the decency to send our “great leader” to go beg for money and investors to come to our country and we claim to be independent.
The disease of dependency is such a cancer in our society that we have accepted it as part of us. How can a nation claim independence and yet it has a budget that it cannot finance? How can a nation claim independence when most of the social programs are sponsored by foreign nations? How can a nation be so excited about borrowing money from another country without taking into account the cost implications of those debts?
So, those of you who celebrate independence think about what you are celebrating and more importantly think about the direction you want to take this nation. Can you say that your family, neighbour village, or town is truly independent? If so, congratulations to you. But if not then please reflect on where you have come from and where you want to go.
As for me, this time of year, I celebrate my birthday with family and friends. Everyone raise your glasses. To Zambia and 48 years of complete dependency. Cheers!