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SUNDAY Chanda.

243rd independence anniversary of USA

HISTORY teaches us, with the benefit of hindsight, that the independence of the United States of America (USA) 243 years ago, did indeed serve as an inspiration for many countries of the world to rid themselves of foreign domination, and conceive for themselves unique and suitable political and economic systems.
Therefore, as we look forward to celebrate with the good American people on the occasion of their 243rd independence anniversary, it is pertinent to look at the key lessons that this historic American independence offers for both Africa and Zambia.
1. Globalising Human Development – Development in the midst of global poverty and disease is not sustainable.
The USA achieved significant economic development through hard work, ingenuity, collective effort, persistence, perseverance and faith. In the process, America became the richest and most powerful nation in the world. Instead of basking in its newly acquired wealth, the USA embarked on efforts to ‘globalise’ human development, with its first major economic effort being the Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP), passed in 1948, in which the United States gave over US$12 billion (approximately US$100 billion in 2018) in economic assistance (by some reports), to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. The goals of the Marshall plan, among others, were to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernise industry, and improve European prosperity.
From an African context, the USA government has introduced innovative, high-impact programmes such as PEPFAR (the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which was launched in 2003 by President George W Bush and strengthened significantly by President Barack Obama and currently by President Donald Trump. PEPFAR represents “America’s commitment to saving lives and the shared responsibility of all global partners to achieve an AIDS-free generation”, through which the US government has committed more than US$70 billion to bilateral HIV/AIDS programmes; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and bilateral tuberculosis programmes. Zambia remains a grateful beneficiary of the generous support of the American people, through PEPFAR and other innovative programmes.
The aforementioned “American commitment to saving lives” exemplifies the virtues of “loving your neighbour as thy self” and “being a brother’s keeper”. Therefore, Africa and Zambia should emulate these values and scale-up the practice of these virtues – within the limits of available resources – for example, as Zambia did when it offered material support to Mozambique in the aftermath of cyclone Idai, or continuing being the safe bastion for refugees.
Collectively, Africa should emulate the American core value of “shared responsibility” in order to achieve “the Africa we want”, which according to the African Union entails: “Inclusive and sustainable development for Africa” accompanied by “a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”. By and large, USA’s “commitment to saving lives” and to “shared responsibility” should inspire Africa and Zambia to revive and strongly embrace ‘solidarity’ and ‘shared responsibility’ – which, within an African context means, embracing Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance as drivers of Africa’s development.
2. Political and Economic Independence are attainable – though at a high price.
Under the dominion of the Great British Empire, an empire so large, it was said that ‘not even the sun could set on it’ (because the empire covered both ends of the world); the confederate states and its leaders dared to dream of acquiring their own political and economic independence – despite the odds and costs.
As Thomas Jefferson would later say, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” USA realised its dream to conceive for itself – not cut and paste – unique political and economic system most suitable to American culture, norms, conditions and aspirations (in line with international laws).
Locally driven and rooted in the norms and values of its people, the American political and economic systems have stood the taste of time. Accordingly, Africa and Zambia – like the USA – should dare to “dream bigger dreams about its future than its past”, while endeavouring to conceive for themselves, unique, people-driven systems and processes rooted in norms, values and aspirations of the people themselves – despite the odds and costs.
By so doing, the resultant systems shall serve the interests of local present and future generations, and stand the taste of time to attain.
Having attained its own independence, USA sought to spread Western liberal democracy as a more efficient, effective, fair and most representative form of governance. Subsequently, America became known as the ‘leader of the free world’. As expected, western liberal democracy has had mixed outcomes in different countries and regions through the years.
Indeed, implementing an already pre-conceived, fully-formed system without room for adjustments to fit local conditions, values and norms, will either render such a system ineffective or a failure. And in cases where systems and processes are almost coerced from outside, such a practice is contrary to a country’s inalienable right to ‘self-determination’ – be it, political, economic, social and cultural – as long as it is in line with international law.
This means that Africans should rehearse their inalienable right to self-determination by conceiving for themselves their own versions of fair, effective and representative forms of governance – an Africanised (African-context) democracy – which, in no way means it will be inferior to the western conception of democracy.
To support the above train of thought, Lee Kuan Yew (the man who led the transformation of Singapore from a Third World to a First World country) observed in his book (‘From Third World to First’, 2000: 490) that:
“… It was 50 years since the British and French first gave independence with Western-type constitutions to over 40 former British colonies and 25 former French colonies. Unfortunately, both in Asia and Africa the results have been poor. Even America had not succeeded in leaving a successful democracy in Philippines, a former colony it freed in 1945 after nearly 50 years’ tutelage….
“Since different societies had developed separately for thousands of years in disparate ways, their ideals and norms were bound to be different. Therefore, it was not possible to insist that American or European standards of human rights of the late twentieth century be imposed universally…. America should not foist its system indiscriminately on other societies where it would not work.”
Against this background, the lesson for Africa and Zambia is that while the America system has served America very well; it does not automatically mean it will do so within our context. Therefore, African countries should start exercising their right to start conceiving for themselves their own versions of fair, effective and representative forms of democracy – an Africanised democracy just as there is a Western conception). Doing this is important for the simple reason that, as Lee aptly put it, “since different societies had developed separately for thousands of years in disparate ways, their ideals and norms were bound to be different.”
4. An Institutional Polity – Away with Institutionless Polities
Another key lesson which Africa and Zambia can draw from America’s 243 years of independence is; how the good people of America reverence their institutions and their deep patriotism to the great country of USA. This reverence for American institutions is practiced by and at all levels of American society, including political players – no matter how high the stakes may be, for them, it is America first.
A prime example of this is the 2000 USA Presidential Election between Al Gore and George Bush where, the Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote in the election, with 50,992,335 votes to 50,455,156 votes for the republican candidate George W Bush. Although Bush narrowly won the Electoral College, 271 to 266, there was controversy over the awarding of Florida’s 25 electoral votes. The close race triggered an automatic recount of ballots in Florida.
Despite the controversy and the high stakes, Al Gore respected the institutions and process, graciously conceded defeat, and recognised the presidency of George W Bush. If this were any other country, it would have been the start of endless court battles, insults, refusal to recognise the new presidency, or at worst, it would have sparked off violence and bloodshed among contending parties.
Therefore, both the lesson and challenge for Africans and Zambians from this great American tradition is recognition that, the manner of conduct and speech by citizens at all levels can erode the legitimacy of a country’s institutions.
In this regard, Africans and Zambians should work towards preserving, promoting and strengthening institutions and institutionalism – individually and collectively – in order to avoid situations where African countries gravitate towards being almost institution-less polities (‘soft states’) – which can be recipe for bad governance, wars, violence, instability, poverty of politics, and underdevelopment.
5. E Pluribus Unum: History teaches us that this American motto was suggested by the committee Congress appointed on July 4, 1776, to design “a seal for the United States of America” – the new nation’s official emblem. “E Pluribus Unum” is Latin for “out of many, one.”
Africa and Zambia should emulate American in its almost religious practice ‘E Pluribus Unum’, so that it shall come to pass that, “out of many” African nations, one Africa; “out of many” Zambian tribes – one people and one cohesive country. This will bring about an Africa and a Zambia which is stable, developing sustainably and at peace with itself.
There can be no sustainable development, solidarity, stability and peace in Africa and Zambia without a religious practice and knowledge among its citizens that indeed, “out of many, one”. For Zambia, the practice of E Pluribus Unum will prevent politics based on tribe and regions, and lead to the actual realisation of Zambia’s national motto, ‘One Zambia, One nation’, because out of many tribes and ethnicities is One Zambia.
6. Thought Leadership for the World: The 243 years of American independence has given the world many thought leaders who served as Presidents of the USA. One of such thought and inspirational leaders in the USA and globally was President Franklin D Roosevelt, who articulated the ‘Four Freedoms’ on January 6, 1941. Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that he believed people “everywhere in the world” had to enjoy, these are: ‘Freedom of speech’, ‘Freedom of worship’, ‘Freedom from fear’, and ‘Freedom from want’.
Although Zambia and much of present Africa has delivered to its people the first three freedoms listed above, the last freedom (i.e. ‘freedom from want’) remains unmet not only in Africa but even in some of the most industrialised nations. However, this freedom from want remains mainly unmet in Africa. Therefore, African countries – emulating the American example – should move forward through solidarity, persistence, hard work, ingenuity, faith, perseverance and trust in God’s grace, to give the continent the ‘freedom from want’, thereby effectively deliver the “Africa we want”.
With the above, may I take this opportunity to wish the good and gracious people of the United States of America, a very happy, peaceful, healthy and prosperous 243rd Independence anniversary.
May God bless the United States of America, Africa, and Zambia.
The author is Patriotic Front media director at the party headquarters in Lusaka.