Today is the forty-second anniversary of Zambian Independence.
I was living in Lusaka, the capital of the British colony of Northern Rhodesia, on the day it became the nation of Zambia. For months we had practiced our new national anthem in school so we would be able to sing out proudly when we became our own country. They had songs on television to help us learn about our new decimal currency, the Kwacha, after years of British pounds and pence, which was not decimal in those days. We were hopeful.
On the evening of October 23, 1964, we gathered in Lusaka City Stadium around seven o’clock. There were military bands, dancers and drummers from all the provinces, local pop stars, and all kinds of stuff to help us count down the hours. At about 11:45, the British colonial leader made a brief speech and, as the day came to a close, we sang “God Save the Queen” and watched the British flag come down for the last time. As midnight struck, our new Zambian flag was raised and together we sang the anthem of our new nation:
Stand and sing of Zambia, proud and free,
Land of work and joy in unity,
Victors in the struggle for the right,
We have won freedom’s fight.
All one, strong and free.
Africa is our own motherland,
Fashioned with and blessed by God’s good hand,
Let us all her people join as one,
Brothers under the sun.
All one, strong and free.
One land and one nation is our cry,
Dignity and peace ‘neath Zambia’s sky,
Like our noble eagle in its flight,
Zambia, praise to thee.
All one, strong and free.
Praise be to God.
Praise be, praise be, praise be,
Bless our great nation,
Zambia, Zambia, Zambia.
Free men we stand Under the flag of our land.
Zambia, praise to thee!
All one, strong and free.
I still stand in the living room and sing it with great feeling every October 24.
Zambia’s most promising natural resource was copper. When they built the new Parliament building, the top had a burnished copper veneer to show our wealth. But the biggest copper producer in the world was not Zambia, but the United States. With Britain out of the picture, any arrangements protecting Zambian copper fell by the wayside. The new nation could not compete with the big boys; the US flooded the copper market and Zambia never recovered.
The colonialists did very little to give the new nation a chance. The British did not educate the people of Northern Rhodesia very well so they could keep telling them they were not prepared for independence. Zambia’s first university was built after independence. The point of a colony was to use it up, not to help it grow to statehood. The British, politically and economically, did to Zambia what Kathy Bates did to James Caan in Misery, hobbling the nation and then having the audacity to concede independence with a straight face.
Today, Zambia is one of the poorest nations in Africa. Somewhere between twenty-five and forty percent of the population is HIV positive. Zambia is bordered by Angola, Zimbabwe, and the Demcratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, all countries in turmoil, which means there are many refugees looking for shelter. Zambia is dying and we, as Americans, don’t know because it has no oil and it’s in Africa.
I still want to stand and sing of Zambia.
When I was in fourth grade, the den mother of my Wolf Cub pack (that’s British for Cub Scouts) made arrangements for us to sing Christmas carols at State House, our presidential residence. There were eighteen or twenty in our troop and we worked up several numbers and then went on a December evening and began to sing on the front porch of Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president. He and his wife answered the door and stood there smiling as we sang “The First Noel,” complete with soprano descant. After we sang four or five songs, they invited us in for tea and we sat around the living room with our president who seemed quite happy to sit and chat with a room full of ten year olds. After a few minutes, he put down his cup and sat down at the grand piano in the middle of the room.
“You were kind enough to sing of the birth of Jesus,” he said. “Now I would like to sing for you of my faith.” With that, he began to play and sing, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .. when he finished singing, he sat down with us again and continued to converse.
Much of David Livingstone’s work was in Zambia, where he died. His colleagues prepared to take his body back to England, but the people with whom he worked said his heart belonged to Africa. Though he has a tomb in Westminster Abbey, Livingstone’s heart was buried in Zambia. Part of mine is still there, also.
As I was driving today, I listened to Tom Ashbrook interview Casey Parks, a young journalist who spent time in Africa with Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times reporter who is one of the few in our country committed to keeping the genocide in Darfur, Sudan in our consciousness. She told a story of watching a young woman die because the fetus had died in her body and the doctor had delayed doing a caesarian section because she didn’t have the hundred dollars for the operation. By the time he did operate, the woman had contracted a severe infection for which there were no antibiotics in the country.
Zambia is not unique in its problems among the other nations of Africa. Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Liberia, Togo, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Ghana are all countries where the average annual income is about $200 and the biggest killer is malaria. While they die for lack of a hundred dollars, our government is spending $2 billion dollars a week in Iraq and our pharmaceutical companies are doing all they can to keep coming up with new products for male erectile dysfunction and female contraception. (Talk about creating your own market!)
I hope I live long enough to see America treat the African continent as if it really mattered. It is no accident that most Africans will not live that long. The governments of America and Europe have done little more than offer feeble lip service to the continent they labeled “dark.” A change in policy and approach is unlikely because our lip service, as the American public, is even feebler.
We don’t stand and sing about much more than ourselves.
Fascinating post. Thanks for sharing your experiences in Zambia with us. Over the years my church has attracted a number of Africans, mostly from Nigeria, who settled in our area. Getting to know them has made me more aware of the importance of Africa.
You know, I agree with you about America’s disproportionate spending of money on items which are often self-serving. I wonder what it will take to move our country back the other way. Maybe a bunch of Christ-followers continuing to speak out and live differently than the norm?
as much as I agree with everything you have said in regards to our spending in Iraq vs helping others I would beg of you to not use contraception (not just an issue for women!) and erectile disfunction in the same way. The two are completely different issues. With abortion becoming more and more restricted we need more better, easier, cheaper method of birth control availible in this country. (heck even if abortion was widely availible I would argue that….) we need to not make birth control a quality of life issue, nor merely a female issue.
I hear your point. They are different issues. My reaction is primarily to the incredible amount of money Big Pharm spends on TV advertising to sell products like contraception as a quality of life issue rather than to educate people about what really matters or to spend their resources in ways that help rather than merely sell product.
Hey, I stumbled across your blog because of the picture of the Zambian president. Awesome post. I have been to Zambia for about 4 hours once when I was living in Botswana for 3 weeks for a mission trip. The story of Zambia sounds so similar to the stories of the other African countries I guess because they’re all in the same boat. So many people I know want to talk to me about how they feel about Africa when they learn I’ve been there, but no one ever actually does anything about it.