Today is 12th August 2022. It marks exactly one year since Zambians went to the polls to choose their new leaders. Social media is awash with the hashtag #ThisTimeLastYear in reference to the experiences that Zambians had in the run up to that election. This time last year, many Zambians were living in fear of political party cadres, of repression, of entrenched poverty. One year on, the cadres have largely retreated, and Zambians can literally breathe again. We are still poor, but now we live with hope for the future. Jobs are being created, debt relief looks like it will be a reality, our currency the Kwacha is strengthening, and inflation is reducing. Zambians once again believe that wealth should only be obtained through diligence and hard work. This is not Utopia; Zambia still needs to strengthen its democracy and improve on its record in the area of human rights and corruption. However, there is a renewed sense of pride in coming from the “land of work and joy in unity”, in the words of our national anthem.
Not everyone is happy that things appear to be going well for Zambia. The new sense of hope that Zambians seems to have irked some people. After all, didn’t Tanzania’s former President John Magufuli, “the Bulldozer”, look like he was cleaning things up in Tanzania in the beginning? Didn’t Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa promise a new dawn for Zimbabweans post the Robert Mugabe era? And didn’t the preacher from Malawi, President Lazarus Chakwera, tell his people he was leading them to the promised land free from corruption and poverty? These new beginnings did not bear the fruits of democracy, human rights, and freedom – quite the opposite. Is the situation in Zambia any different? Perhaps it is too soon to tell. However, so far there is no sign of “bulldozing”; no ascendancy to power through a “coup”; and, apparently, no sign of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Dare I say it, Zambia appears to have won the political lottery.
The major chink in the national armour is the high level of unemployment and the lack of access to decent education among the youth. On the one hand, the Zambian economy was in steady decline over the ten years that the ruling Patriotic Front Party was promising “more money in your pockets. Understandably, the youth are impatient with the pace of progress.
Governments all around the world are bureaucratic by nature so as to ensure checks and balances in the government machinery. This really slows things down. It is difficult to explain to someone who is jobless and hungry. They want access to the things they see and hear about in the mainstream media and on social media. On the other hand, the youth should not be complacent as that will lead to inertia by the government. Any government should rightly be terrified of the electorate. I would encourage the youth to keep pushing for the things they need, and I would encourage the government to listen. Our nation is at war with poverty and inequality. The cost of living is still high. The government needs to communicate more with the people to manage their expectations and inform them of any progress made towards addressing their plight. “Bally” needs to fix this. Failure to do so will be costly at the next election.
There is, however, a lot to be optimistic about. In many ways Zambia is experiencing a renaissance or rebirth. This renaissance has manifested itself in several ways. Several Zambians have recently been appointed to high-level positions in international organisations. In science, twenty-five-year-old multi-award-winning inventor, Arnold Nyendwa has created the first African-made multi-fuelled stainless-steel stove. Thirty-year-old software engineer, Bright Bwalya, has created an app to alert the loved ones of an epileptic person of them having a seizure in real time. In sport, Zambia’s Copper Queens have just qualified for the Women’s World Cup. Zambia’s Chess team is competing at the highest levels. Zambians “killed” it at the recent 2022 Commonwealth Games in swimming, boxing, and track. After Muzala Samukonga’s historic win of the gold medal in the men’s 400 metres final at the Commonwealth games, one Zambian remarked on Twitter, “I don’t even know if in my lifetime I have ever heard the Zambian national anthem on such a podium”. In music, Zambians are also taking to the world stage. For me, ‘Sampa the Great’, a Zambian artist who has performed at the Glastonbury and Coachella music festivals, embodies what Zambia can and should be: bold, daring, original, and playing on the global scene.
One Zambian, identifying herself as “Legal Ninja” on Twitter, said, “Lord, what you are doing for Zambians in this season, I decree and declare, I shall be one of them. This winning season shall not pass me and my family by”. I hope that is the prayer of every Zambian. Ask any athlete, they will tell you that winning is a state of mind that needs to be cultivated. Once you have a winning mindset, it becomes harder to lose. We as a nation need to stop playing small.
All aboard! Abaleya, abaleya!
The author is a lawyer, human rights activist, and an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow.