Analysis: ANTHONY MUKWITA
ZAMBIA has been known for many things starting from being the continent’s number two copper producer to the country of smooth democratic transitions since
independence in 1964.
Few pundits, however, have deeply delved into trying to research what has kept the southern African country peaceful for several decades without collapsing into a state of lawlessness and turmoil until now.
A university of high repute, one of the oldest in the entire Scandinavia, the University of Uppsala, has decided to burn the midnight oil and find out why Zambia remains a Shangri-La in a region that has been known to have pockets of instability.
Oftentimes at international fora when I say I am from Zambia in Africa, I get this non-nonchalant question from one person or another, “I am sorry but which one is Zambia again in Africa?”
I often respond with a warm smile and immense pride and quickly give the location; southern central tip of Africa, surrounded by eight countries including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Tanzania and Mozambique etc.
“How come I have not heard of it?” would normally be the puzzling follow-up question from many I meet on my travels, especially Westerners whose main source of news is either BBC or CNN that often show a continent ravaged by graft, poverty or instability.
Without a second thought I say, “Oh, I think it is because we have never been engaged in a bloody conflict due to political or ideological differences. We have the knack to resolve our conflicts without shedding blood. It is in our DNA to resolve things peacefully and move on before losing sight of peace.”
President Edgar Lungu has perhaps lately put it more apt and given me a quote I could parrot from time to time regarding Zambia and prevention of turbulence when he said, “A stitch in time saves nine, or literally translated in a local language, aka bangilile kaumine ipulu or aka bangilile takanwa mfundwa.”
The reason most people I meet out here do not know Zambia, in my considered view, is because the story that makes it on the front page of the Herald, The Telegraph, Reuters, etc, is the negative one – that of starving children, graft in officialdom, etc.
The one on single-digit inflation, steady GDP growth, fewer babies and mothers dying at birth, lowered interest rates and dropping food prices, including smooth transitions like Zambia, is often spiked because, after all, Africa or Zambia remains the anti-thesis of the West as prescribed by the Western media and so-called paid-for think tanks.
This is probably because proverbially ‘if it bleeds it leads’. Common Western media sense.
Out of Sweden, however, in Uppsala, a serene town with a university under the same name (Uppsala University), academics have found Zambia’s history of peace as an issue of positive academic concern.
This is alongside two other countries in sub-Sahara, Malawi and Botswana, of course, which continues to have great records from the ease of doing business to wildlife conservation.
Sweden’s Uppsala University is studying intensely, presently, why Zambia has remained a bastion of peace and stability during pockets of instability and uncertainty.
What is the foundation of Zambia as a peaceful nation?
Uppsala was established in 1477, it’s highly respected and often does not take up a research topic like Zambia’s peace tradition unless it has strong grounding worthy an academic effort for posterity, and for adding to the body of international knowledge.
The Zambian peace secret is ostensibly now an open academic secret.
Speaking at a recent round-table discussion at the Daghammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala, Johan Brosché, assistant professor in the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, pointed out the following as reasons peace continues to prevail in Zambia:
• Inter-marriages between two different tribes or more, a normal practice in Zambia where East comes close with West, North with South, etc without regard to tribe
• Traditional cousinship among certain tribes or chimbuya where the North plays cousinship with the East, the West with the South and North-West, etc
• Coming from a colonial background that is not so heavily tainted with bloody uprising such as, say, the bloody struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Zambia, despite Chachacha, did not record significantly open and wanton bloody uprising against its former colonial masters
Incidentally, Dr Brosche’s delivery was done in the presence of Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba during his May engagement of Economic Diplomacy in Sweden, Finland and other western European countries where Zambia has representation.
“It explains a lot,” Mr Kalaba said, “the inter-marriage, but that is because I have a personal story to that. My wife is from Eastern Province so that makes people from Eastern Province of Zambia my people. This is the same case with other brethren and sisters that have spouses from other regions of the country.”
The current Zambian leader, President Lungu, has been known off and mostly on the record to look down with scorn and contempt, any form of tribalism which he says has in the past led to victimisation of people that are totally innocent such us children.
“You cannot punish people just because they don’t share your tribe,” President Lungu has often said. “It is not only unfair, it is primitive in my view in this day and age.”
Fast forward to our history of independence, the University of Uppsala study zeroes in on the fact that Zambia and perhaps neighbouring Malawi on the north and Botswana on the south remain havens of peace because their independence struggle was not as brutal and bloodied as other African countries.
Violence begets violence, a scholar once wrote.
Conversely, scholars agree that the peace Zambia enjoys must be protected because as President Lungu and others such as the church have re-affirmed, peace cannot be taken for granted because it has been known to disappear in other countries in the region.
Tough measures sometimes, others argue, have to be taken in order to ensure that a larger section of Zambians, women and children, that are often the first victims of instability are protected as political power struggles abound.
A keen eye must also be focused on so-called international think tanks that focus on destabilisation of stable democracies like Zambia where peace has found a good home.
Foreign think tanks and foreign media do not live in Zambia and will never pay the heavy price that cometh with political instability.
Peace, like President Lungu said during his last and rare press appearance, is what investors will first look at before they can direct their investment to Zambia and help create jobs and stability.
I may conclude with the adage that you never miss the water until the well runs dry, but I am hesitant because the country I belong to and am happy to represent shuns a leadership and a political mantra that preaches hate and love.
Zambians support a leadership that embraces peace, Christianity and stability. It is the biggest commodity we sell even as we increase the clarion call for greater economic diplomacy riding on six smooth presidential elections.
The spirit of One Zambia, One Nation, we must always latch onto.
The author is Zambia’s Charge d’ Affaires in Stockholm, Sweden.