Reflections of Zambia’s Independence Struggle
The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a growing coalition of young African leaders established after President Obama’s Forum with Young African Leaders in Washington D.C, is calling upon Zambians to reflect on the crucial role youth leaders exhibited during Zambia’s struggle for independence and encourages young people to build their capacity to promote democratic ideals based on political tolerance, co-existence, the rule of law, fair and equal justice.
As young leaders we call upon the newly-elected Patriotic Front (PF) Government to ensure more young people are given a chance to actively participate in Zambia’s democratic governance and decision-making as well as in developing new strategies to address challenges youth face in post-independence Zambia. We request that our leaders heed the advice from one of Africa’s great sons, Kofi Annan who said, “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime.Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death.”
As YALI we know that young people have a body of experience unique to their situation, and they have views and ideas that derive from this experience. Young people are social actors with skills and capacities to bring about constructive solutions to their own problems. We sadly note the failure or even refusal by our governments to recognize the legitimacy of young people’scontribution to programmes, policies and decision-making. Much of government policy has a direct or indirect impact on young people day-today lives, but seldom are young people consulted or considered in these decisions which affect their present and future well-being. YALI is troubled by this trend.
Fellow young African leaders further join calls by the Zambian peoples for members of Parliament to commit themselves to delivering a new Constitution that shall demonstrate their true aspirations and the will of a people who, for 47 years, have been subjected to governance under Constitutions which raised controversies.
It is our view that the theme for this year’s independence celebration, “Rejuvenating our prosperity, patriotism and fight against corruption,” offers our young people a chance to reflect on the challenges faced by pre-independence youth leaders and their patriotism during the struggle. YALI is proud to note that persons our country calls “founding fathers and mothers” were in their youth when they worked toward independence. Simon Kapwepwe was only aged 26 when he became a founding member of the Northern Rhodesian African Congress. Harry Nkumbula was aged 35 when he was elected President of the Northern Rhodesian African Party. At the same time, we remember Mainza Mathias Chona, who became the first President of the United Nations Independence Party when he was only 29 years old. Even Zambia’s first Republican President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, was only 27 years when he became Organising Secretary for Northern Province in the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress. By age 29, he ascended to the position of Secretary General of the African National Congress (ANC). At the age of 40 he became Zambia’s first Republican President and to date remains the youngest person to hold the office post-independence. Both former President Rupiah Banda and newly-elected President Sata were both in their twenties when they entered politics. Like the others presented here, both have gone on to make tremendous contributions to Zambia. If anyone can appreciate the value of youth and hard work, it is men such as these who were afforded leadership opportunities so many years ago.
While is important to appreciate our history and the role youth have played in the struggle, we cannot forget the struggle facing post-independence youth. It is our role to ensure that our leaders too do not forget their responsibility to Zambia’s youth. The profound difficulties faced by young people in Zambia must be subjects of serious concern for the new government. Illiteracy, poverty, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and discrimination are just a few of the challenges facing young Zambia. In all provinces young people deal with increased unemployment and insecurity at work, greater family instability, and reductions in social welfare programmes. Youth is characterized by uncertainty and risk.
As opposed to trends during the struggle, our post-independence era has witnessed more young people being relegated to the backwaters of decision-making in both political parties and government. Furthermore, the numbers of young people participating in key decision-making positions have continued to dwindle. Instead of being prepared for leadership, youths are being used as political vuvuzelas.
In meeting these challenges and rejuvenating our prosperity and patriotism, we urge young Zambians to work hard and dedicate themselves to fighting injustices such as corruption. YALI believes that a living democracy must not end with young people casting a vote at a ballot box, but instead it must provide ongoing opportunities for young people to have their voices heard and participate in decisions that impact themselves and their country.Independence Day is our day to celebrate our democratic achievement as a nation and begin to appreciate that youth participation in decision-making often leads to better decisions and outcomes.