MAZIMBA KAUNDA, Samfya
THE First World War was a momentous event with enduring consequences not only for Britain, but Zambia too.
This centenary, when the First World War is discussed, we should remember the war as it was fought in Northern Province, Zambia. Lunga, Mbala and Isoka should be among the recognisable names like Somme or Marne because the war, after all, was a world war.
For the people in Lunga, the armistice signed on November 25 did not end the war as people continued to feel the effects long after.
The war was not about one European country fighting another in an empty country.
Neither did Europeans come with food and labour. It was Africans, in this instance, Zambians, who provided food, labour and the means of transportation.
Lunga district should be particularly located within the events of the First World War not only because it was a global war but also because by being ignored, the district has forfeited the benefits that could have been derived from such an association.
Development could have hastened if it had been established sufficiently as having historical significance. At an address commemorating African Liberation Day in South Africa in 2012, Africans were reminded that learning history tells us who people are, ‘what they have been, where they have been, where they are now, but most importantly, where they still must go’.
Many Zambians took part in the war as combatants and non-combatants. Lunga played an even greater role by solving Britain’s transport problems. The Ndola-Lunga-Kasama route was not only short but cheap.
Lunga also provided food like fish and game meat to feed the couriers and troops. All in all, the war forced the colonial administration to recognise the importance of Lunga district to the existence of Zambia as a state in the uncertainty of the war.
The war brought more untold suffering among the people of Lunga than any other group in Zambia. Thousands of people suddenly found themselves out of employment. Former porters, paddlers and soldiers trekked to Katanga in search of employment – which they did not find due to the post-war recession.
In desperation, the Lunga natives returned to their knowledge of otter and lechwe hunting and hawking dried fish but there was no market. Where they managed to sell, it was for prices lower than the war-time prices.
To add insult to injury, in 1915 and 1919 there were poor harvests due to reduced rainfall. The dredging of the Goodall channel in 1916 led to flooding of large areas of Bwalya Mponda and Nsamba’s chiefdoms. People in these villages were forced to move to the inland territories of Kalimankonde, Ng’umbo and Mpika.
Famine also attacked Lunga beginning from January 1915 as all the food had been offered to the war effort. Lunga’s capacity to sustain its population was stretched beyond imaginable levels. People could not even import grain from Samfya, Ng’umbo and Mpika because the government had collected all the grain from these areas.
Those people who left as couriers and soldiers within the territory and abroad usually starved as the administration prioritised the white soldiers at the front. For these Africans, the famine translated into extreme food shortages, forcing them to eat roots.
The First World War also broke the autonomous development of the economy of Lunga district by transforming it into an externally oriented economy. When the war ended, there was an immediate slump as capital was withdrawn.
Additionally, the laws governing labour and remuneration were severely altered. Before the war, services rendered were rewarded with either other services or goodwill, but by 1918, these services were rewarded with money or food. On this basis, kinship rights and obligations became distorted.
Many Zambians died in the First World War. The death toll for the British side was 105,000 and 90 percent of these were porters. D Killingray and J Mathews have noted that 400 porters died every month from wounds, malnutrition, exhaustion, accidents, execution for desertion, ulcerated feet and legs, digestive and respiratory problems and ‘wasting’.
Not only did people die in the war but they continued to die after the war from the Spanish influenza. German soldiers carried the Spanish influenza into Northern Rhodesia as they marched to capture Kabwe in October 1918.
The disease spread quickly through porters who moved from camp to camp and then returned with it back home. The disease soon spread across Zambia and wiped out many people.
The last shots of the First World War were fired on the banks of the Chambeshi River in Zambia.
Marching into Zambia was actually the last aggressive act of Germany in the First World War. This year, 25th November 2018, will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.
There will be centenary celebrations in Mbala under the theme ‘Unlocking the tourism and investment potential of Northern province 100 years after the end of the First World War’.
In reminiscing events which characterised this war, Zambians need to understand their history because important contributions were made to the war effort by individual groups and these groups have been ignored for 100 years – no more.
Though the war ended on November 25, 2018, its effects continued to be felt in Lunga years after as the economy collapsed, diseases spread and famine hit the area. Such is the enduring legacy of the First World War.
We need to remember WWI in Zambia: remember Mbala, Kasama and Isoka; but also remember Lunga. As Kathleen Bowman (2014) admonished, The erasure of Africa’s involvement in World War One… painstakingly reminds us that, once again, it is for us to make sure history is told in full…”
MAZIMBA KAUNDA, Samfya