Violently disturbing the livelihoods and businesses of our street vendors and booth traders in order to create the false impression that our capital city, Lusaka, is everywhere clean and orderly, to the African Union (AU) delegates is a most sure way of fuelling hostility, especially among our young people who are the majority of street traders, for the remote and obscure AU among Zambia’s young people. There was absolutely no need for the inhuman drama of evicting street vendors and removing booths from their usual trading areas, just to impress delegates coming from, in most cases, even poorer and more impoverished African capitals!
Africa, especially so-called Sub Sahara Africa, is home to the world’s poorest people who survive on extremely low wages when they manage to get employed, survive on subsistence farming, and millions of them in towns and cities hustle in the streets as vendors: all the AU delegates know about this, and more. Twenty six of the twenty-eight lowest income countries are in Africa; Zambia is among them.
Urban poverty, extreme rural poverty, congested cities, poor housing, inferior public health facilities, mediocre schools, colleges and universitas, crumbling government infrastructure, endemic diseases such as malaria, cholera, typhoid, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, bilharzia and many others, and the usual systemic and structural chronic unemployment common to just about all the 54 African countries mean that none of the delegates were expecting to see Norwegian cleanliness and orderliness, in Lusaka, during the meetings of the AU.
There is a very bad inverse relationship between punishing street vendors because of meetings of an organisation created in fact to unite and lift Africa out of its poverty and popularising the AU, among especially poor Zambians, who survive on the streets, 58 years after Zambia’s independence, in 1964. If the AU was genuinely concerned about the plight of the majority of Africans who are young, cannot find meaningful employment and economic activities and therefore survive on the streets of all African towns and cities, it would object and protest at the hypocrisy of hastily attempting to create the impression Lusaka is free from the poverty which afflicts all African cities.
Some may wrongly think it is good manners to hide your poverty when other poor people visit you. Some may even say it is good to clean your house in anticipation of visitors. And yet some may even argue that it is important to create a good impression to visitors, because you must encourage “investments”. There are some half-truths in this kind of thinking. Unfortunately, half the truth, as they say, is still a lie! It is immoral to take food from the mouths of babies and children because you want your streets to be free from poor people who survive by trading in the streets. It is even worse if you are doing this to impress other equally poor people! This is beyond hypocrisy and self-deception: it is plain evil and cruel.
Africa needs to face up to its true self, and not shy away from the image this real self throws at the world: Africa is poor, extremely poor, and its peoples struggle to survive, throughout the African continent. With almost the entire African continent “free” and “independent”, with some countries like Zambia and Ghana having been independent for more than 58 years, rich in natural resources and endowed with a variety of biomes, Africa’s political leaders in the AU need to look each other in the eye and ask these burning questions: when and how will Africa be free from hunger, killer diseases, poverty, mass unemployed and extreme inequalities? Why and how long must Africa’s people suffer economic, social, cultural and political violence and instability at the hands of its politicians and soldiers? When and how will Africa fashion for itself methods of rule and government free from the influences of slavery, colonialism, capitalism, imperialism and neo-colonialism? Africa’s children need answers to these questions, now, not being swept off the streets where they survive, like dirt.
How long will Africa’s natural wealth and cheap labour make the billionaires in South Africa, US, Canada, Western Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, Australia and elsewhere rich, while leaving Africa polluted and environmentally damaged and its people thoroughly impoverished and diseased? These are the questions young Africans want their politicians and AU bureaucrats to answer, rather urgently.
It is called the “African Union” – when will Africa abolish the colonial borders, guarantee the free movement of all Africans in Africa, have a single currency, single African army and defence policy, single all Africa government that must guarantee justiciable equal economic, social, cultural and political rights to all citizens of a United Africa? For, only such a genuine, concrete and practical union can expel imperialism from Africa and guarantee the rapid material and cultural development of all the peoples of Africa.
When will Africa have a continent-wide anti-corruption force capable of protecting Africans from their predatory, lying, thieving and corrupt politicians? The history of independent Africa has ample evidence to prove that no single African country has ever succeeded to weed out the liars, the thieves, the corrupt and puppets of imperialism from government. Doing some of this will make the AU relevant, especially to young Africans whose current and future lives the AU in its current form threatens, and participates in destroying, wrapped as it were, in its current concerns.
All AU delegates should know, that Zambia is now officially a low income country, a very poor country. Apart from mass unemployment, extreme inequalities and the poverty which is the common lot of more than 60 percent of Zambians, the country has a near collapsed public sector system. Most affected of course, are Zambia’s young people who form more than 80% of the population. To survive, most of these young people hustle for a living – begging, buying and selling, stealing and pawning anything including, sadly, their bodies when everything else fails, in the streets.
Zambia has no national strategy to urgently and radically transform the Zambian economy into a modern agrarian, industrialising, egalitarian and full employment driven economy. Zambia’s president Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND government are stuck with a narrow focus on the IMF debt restructuring programme, are everyday anxiously waiting to hear that our creditors have agreed about how to be repaid and the IMF board has decided to place Zambia onto its punishing debt restructuring programme, and its loan to Zambia may start flowing. Even after being told, perhaps actually because they have been told, that we are a low income country, they are stubborn Zambia must be an export led economy: low wages are our competitive advantage!
While the AU delegates have been supplied with medicines, doctors, nurses and other health services and personnel, Zambian government clinics and hospitals are suffering a prolonged shortage of these things. The supper modern venues where the AU meetings are taking place were built by the Chinese and are a far cry from the quality of our crumbling government primary and secondary schools, and colleges and universities. The delegates should take a walk to our premier university – the University of Zambia, and sample some of our student residence toilets! This is a safe walking distance from the conference venues.
Africa is a rich continent, it is one country: our slave masters and colonisers divided it among themselves into the unmanageable 54 concentrations of poverty called “African countries” today. The African Union, by its very name, suggests a struggle to expel imperialism and destroy the legacies of slavery and colonialism, on Africa. To free Africa’s children and young people from the poverty Africa’s history has thrust upon them, will the AU become real and confront the true obstacles to Africa’s union? Failure is not an option: it permanently condemns Africa’s young people into permanent poverty!
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