I play, in this article, with some simple arithmetic and statistics about Zambia. I argue that our children and young people are our true and real gold. They are not a cost and economic burden. We must unlock their full potential by providing them with the best chances to grow, get educated and develop to their full potential their energies, talents and creative capacities. If we do not do this, Zambia will remain an impoverished, backward and debt dependent country.
Zambia will be 58 years old this year, on October the 24th. Some estimates of Zambia’s total population say that by July 2021 there were 19077816 of us, less than a million shy of 20 million people. Little more than 5% of Zambians alive today were there when Zambia celebrated its first Independence Day, on the 24th of October, 1964.
Crudely, 5% of 19 077 816 people gives us 950 000people. If we assume that more than half of these currently surviving newly crowned Zambians then were above 21 years – perhaps the year most people would have a working memory of those days of struggle against British colonialism- then it is possible to safely assume that of the less than 1 million Zambians who are alive today, less than 450 000 actually can narrate their experiences of our political lives during the days leading to our independence on 24th October 1964.
If we further make the generous assumption that about 20% of the 450 000 Zambians alive today directly participated in the then Northern Rhodesia’s African struggles against British colonialism and the eventual birth of Zambia on the 24th of October 1964, we have a much-reduced number of just around 90 000 Zambians scattered across the country alive today who may have the possibility to share their experiences of the struggle against the British and for an independent Zambia.
Here is the last challenge: 58 years is a long time to hold on to memories, and these Zambians would roughly be 79 years old or older – an age ripe for memory troubles for anyone!
If we were serious with ourselves as a people in putting a huge distance between the extreme state of underdevelopment, backwardness and impoverishment the British left us in, in 1964, and actualising our dreams of independence and becoming truly a country of “work and joy”, we would be in a hurry to find these 90 000 Zambians and get from them as much information and knowledge about pre-independence Zambia, the reasons for the struggle against colonialism, the sacrifices they made, and what their opinions are today, about Zambia, 58 years after our independence.
Estimates of our population in July 2021 say 8 million of our estimated 19 million population is below 14 years! This means almost half of Zambia’s population (roughly 46%) are children below 14 years old. This 8 million is split almost perfectly between boys and girls, with boys being slightly more than girls by a few thousands.
Only Africa, especially the extremely impoverished and underdeveloped so called “Sub Sahara Africa” has a similar young population. We are told by the UN Development Program that from Africa’s 54 countries 46 are “sub-Saharan.” These of course exclude Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia. These “Sub Saharan” African countries disturbingly have quite similar histories and share populations commonly referred to as “Black Africa”. This is, therefore, “Black Africa”. Zambia is a part of “Black Africa”.
Slightly more than 80% of Zambians are under 35 years! We are a young country indeed. Less than 6% of our population are older than 54 years, and an even smaller percentage are 65 years or older – actually less than 3%! The fundamental question is why do we have such a very young population, 58 years after our independence?
The usual lies about our inability to grow old and have a well-balanced population distribution include the lies that we have a very high birth rate – above 30 births per 1000 of our population, that Zambian women on average in their life time will have given birth to at least 6 children because they lack knowledge and access to contraceptives, teen pregnancies and early marriages, inability to graduate the country into a full blown private sector capitalist country, the One Party Sate period and many such dubious “reasons”.
The truth always is right there, staring us in our blank stress battered faces: as a people, as a country, we are not “standing and singing, proud and free, in a land of work and joy”! We are not free because we do not own and control all of the 752 618 square kilometres that compromise Zambia. The majority of us do not even know that this is how large Zambia is. A truly free people know their country, fight to own it and control its resources; human and natural. Without this, there is nothing to be singing about, let alone to be proud of.
We have land in abundance. We are destroying, fast, the natural vegetation which is our people’s natural heritage. We have a natural fresh water river network. Periodic droughts we suffer from time to time, but these we could overcome by utilising well the periods when nature combines with science and technology to give us in abundance the things we need.
We are endowed with plentiful natural life. We have failed, 58 years after independence, to eradicate the mosquito and prevent outbreaks of cholera.
We are rich in copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, coal, emeralds, gold, silver, uranium, hydropower and many other as yet undiscovered natural resources. Some say we might have oil too.
Our economic and social crises are a product of our inability to fight and wrestle full ownership and control of our human and natural resources, 58 years after our independence, and to harness these for the full development and enjoyment of our people, who desire our country to be “a land of work and joy”.
The source of our problems over these 58 years has been the calibre and quality of our political leaders and their attitude to our human and natural resources: apart from a period during the Kaunda era, we Zambians have tended to waste our children and young people by investing next to nothing in them. As for our natural resources at best we are small scale exploiters of these riches and at worst and usually, we are happy to receive a paltry commission!
Currently as a people the question of ownership of our country and its resources, and thinking for ourselves how best to manage these in our interests is not even a whisper in our minds; instead, we have given up our economic and financial sovereignty to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
If we are “victors in the struggle for the right” how come we are throwing our daughters and sons, 58 years after 1964, into the streets, as street children and orphans? Meanwhile a small thieving and corrupt fraction among us becomes filthy rich by auctioning our natural resources to the highest foreign bidders.
With Kaunda we flirted with utopian visions of Socialism incoherently mixed with our assumed fictitious African past. We failed to build “a land of work and joy”. With Titus Chiluba and all those after him, we have relied on our mythical “private sector” and “foreign investors” and the IMF/WB and donors; we have become a perfect example of what misfortunes any foolish country that gives up its economic and financial sovereignty can be reduced to – a country of poor babies literally and figuratively.
After the elections of August, the 12th in 2021, the majority of Zambian voters who are in fact young people said “no” to poverty and corruption, and “yes” to democracy and development. Properly guided, nurtured and provided for, our children and young people are our true and real gold; they are the creators of our tomorrow!
January of every year is that time when those Zambians who care know how much we turn Zambia’s children into ash, as we fail to fully invest in their education.
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