Yesterday was “Africa Freedom Day” in Zambia. Some of our holidays here are nebulous at best (Youth Day and Unity Day are at the top of my ???? list). But I actually like this one. I’ll admit there’s a side of me that does a real eye-roll, though. After living in Africa for 8 years I can tell you that there is still a LOT of work to be done before real freedom is achieved, especially in the political, police, and military corruption sectors. That being said…. Zambians have come a long way since achieving their independence from Britain in 1964.
First accolades would have to go to LOCAL GOVERNMENT. They are no longer ruled by a foreign power in an entirely different hemisphere. While I appreciate a lot of what Britain did with infrastructure and development in Zambia, I do not believe that you can understand a country and her people from thousands of miles away. The Zambians really own their government now. They have taken control of their country and they truly want to be a great and prosperous people. (Unfortunately, many of the government officials have zeroed in on the “prosperous” bit…).
I also love how Zambia as a country is working to empower women. This is still a very real issue in Africa. Women are grossly under-educated and badly mistreated. I can tell you from personal experience that the average grade achievement for women is grade 7 in the towns and grade 3- THREE- in the rural areas. And this is African grades 7 & 3, not equivalent to what we see in Westernized nations. In the bush women are still chattel, sexual merchandise, and slave labor. I love that Zambia has so many programs to improve the lives of her women.
But I think it would be a mistake to spend the day celebrating Africa’s “Freedom” without contemplating a few things that have gone wrong- and I mean really, really WRONG since Zambia’s independence nearly 50 years ago.
Dependence- While the theme of the holiday might be liberty, the unofficial motto of the government is something like “Trust in me…. only me……” Political candidates here secure votes by passing out mealie meal (grain for porridge) and promising schools, houses, cars, etc to people in poorer districts. The medical clinics and government schools are free to extremely cheap. The care and instruction are less than abysmal but most of the local people don’t know any better and the officials take great care to make sure everyone feels privileged to receive anything at all. The maize prices are set at a rate that keeps the farmers at a subsistence level (which means they need government loans and subsidies every year) and gives the people cheap staples. This perpetuates dependency because there is fear of independent farming and selling- the “cheap maize” would go away. Zambians depend almost entirely on their government for food, education, and care. They have few options since they are not taught to seek anything else.
Education- I have noticed that many of the older Zambians can read and write in 2 or 3 languages. They achieved British equivalent certificates in school and could have transferred to British or European universities. That is no longer possible. I know a guy here who nearly finished his degree in architecture and wanted to transfer to a university in the UK. He barely, BARELY passed the entrance exam for Year 1 at a British university. He was shocked and dismayed at these results. Then he started the course and was utterly horrified. The uni was generous to let him in at all. The education he received in Africa was woefully deficient.
Corruption- there is no longer a strong system of accountability for the Zambian government officials. No “checks and balances”. No auditing. Nothing to stop those with power from exploiting those beneath them. It’s bad. You can’t get anything done without “making a contribution toward expenses” or “helping” things along. We don’t participate in that method which means our applications and permits move a lot slower than if we “helped” the department out.
Medical care- look this up online and you will find a wide array of opinions. Sure, there are more rural clinics. But believe me when I say that for the most part they do more harm than good. The hospitals are FILTHY. I was privileged to save a baby at a local hospital… he nearly died of dehydration from diarrhea. They refused to put in an iv. Best I can figure, the mom couldn’t afford the “fee” (bribe) required by someone on the hospital paperwork chain. The medical situation is BAD.
Africa Freedom Day. There is indeed more freedom. But it came at a very real cost to the generations that followed. Zambia’s hope lies in God’s grace and in the determination of her people to keep going and their ability to look on the bright side.
Thank you, God, for the freedom that you’ve brought to Zambia. Thank you that you have brought them closer to “a hope and a future”. Please guide these amazing people into your embrace- into a walk that honors you and in turn creates a culture of Christ, a culture of humility, honesty, and hope.