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Do We Zambians Know What We don’t Know?

National Dance troupe during the World AIDS day Commemoration march past in Livingstone on Monday, December 1,2015 -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA
National Dance troupe during the World AIDS day Commemoration march past in Livingstone on Monday, December 1,2015 -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA

By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology



A few years after Zambia’s independence from 70 years of British colonialism in 1964, the veteran hard-hitting journalist and TV Sunday Interview host Charles Mando had the opportunity for the first time in his life to travel to the Western world to Canada. When he flew back to Zambia a few days later, one of his first comments was memorable. I remember him saying with shock or surprise something to the effect that (this is not a quote) …”I saw Bazungu that were very poor. Many bazungu were poorer than me; they were street sweepers, beggars, and toilet cleaners. I never realized bazungu are so poor too in the Western countries they come from.”

The vast majority of the ordinary 15.7 million Zambians and over a billion Africans on the continent have been made to believe that all white Europeans are rich. This muzungu superiority racial myth was  inculcated in all of us Zambians since European explorers first came to Africa going back to the 1600s. I would have believed the same myth of all white Europeans being rich or wealthy had I not travelled to the Western world about 6 years after Charles Mando had made his memorable comments.

This article addresses the issue of us Zambians who have lived in the country all our lives without ever going outside the country, “Do You Know What You Don’t Know?” Do you know sometimes that you don’t know what you don’t know? Why is it important to know, not just what you know or have learned through formal education text books and the news, but to know what you don’t know about foreigners from the outside world who come to live in Zambia? After all, knowledge is power. After all, people who know that you don’t know will have power over you. On the other hand, if you know what you don’t know and come to know what you previously did not know, you become a strong person who will be liberated from mental slavery as Bob Marley the great Raggae  singer would say.

Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

Why am I writing this article? Is it to cause Zambians to hate all foreigners or stoke xenophobia as is the case in some countries that I won’t mention? Is it to needlessly criticize and humiliate even Zambians who are very educated? Is it to create suspicion, dividedness and animosity between the various groups, tribes, ethnic groups, as some would still say to use the bogus term “races”,  that live peacefully in non-racial Zambia motherland? Since the 1600s we have had people of various ethnicities live in and explore Zambia; the Soli and Lenje people were some of the earliest to settle in Central Zambia. White Europeans including the British, the Scottish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and Indians from India lived in Zambia. To day we have the Chinese that economically dominate not just us but the world, the Filipinos, Somalis, Greeks, Italians, the Japanese and many others.   Why is it important for us to know what we don’t know about the histories, origins, and the home country back grounds of these people including our own history as Zambians and Africans?

Times have Changed

Before 1964, the 3.5 million Zambians generally lived in rural villages with members of the large extended family who included numerous grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nieces, and cousins. Vital knowledge and history were transmitted through the older kinship or family members teaching younger members. But today after 55 years and so many drastic population, cultural changes and movements including globalization, we Zambians are in grave danger of completely losing the transmission of this knowledge.

The population of Zambia is 15.7 million. The proportion of the country that is under 14 years old is 46.0%, those between 15 and 24 years old are 20%, those between 25 to 54 years old are 27.9% and but those between 55 and 64 years old are only 3.0% and those above 65 years old are even smaller at 2.9%. The age statistics that are the most important for the crucial possible important role in understanding what we Zambians don’t know that we don’t know are that Zambians that are younger than 30 years old may be about 73.9% of the population which is about 11.6 million young girls, boys, women and men. And yet those who are over 55 years old are only 5.9% which is only 926,300. Therefore, there are fewer elders to day in Zambia to teach younger people about our history, customs, and our culture perhaps due to the high death rate of older Zambians who are over 55 years old because of the  HIV/AIDS epidemic and other diseases since the 1980s. Urbanization also takes its toll as the 39.4% of the urban population is rising.

What does all this mean? This means increasing numbers of Zambians lose their connection to rural areas where the source, strength and origin of our traditions and some of our indigenous knowledge are the strongest. The total number of Zambians who have migrated in search of better opportunities and live in the Zambia Diaspora abroad is 1.4% of the population or 219,800. This population of Zambians increasingly has children who may have limited knowledge or no direct connection to the Zambian society they love.  They would also need to know what they don’t know besides the often only very negative stories that they might read about Zambia their father or mother homeland.

Zambia Best Country in the World

Zambia is the best country to live in because of the people and the geography. If you don’t know what you don’t know you will be stunned or not believe me. Compared to some other people and other societies we are very friendly to each other and love each other. We have our own disagreements, but we generally love each other. Ignorance is a very strong term just as primitive is also a very strong term. But if you don’t know the details of the lives of other societies, you will think Zambia is very bad or the worst. But it is often because you don’t know what you don’t know. I myself did not know what I didn’t know until I travelled and especially read about other societies. Zambia is one of the most peaceful and ethnically integrated societies in spite having 72 tribes. The praise and tremendous credit must be given to President Kaunda and all the numerous founders of our country who chose the motto One Zambia One Nation and the policy of  a non-racial and non-tribal society. All of us Zambians have lived through this peaceful era over the last 55 years.

The geography and climate of Zambia is  one of the best. It is not too cold, or too hot and humid. It is dry, sunny and warm for about 6 months of the year. Most of the foreigners who came in the past and even now love the weather and climate. All of these countries such as Japan, China, United States, European countries, Russia, and even some countries in Africa and South America may not have the best climates. In some of these countries some tribes, races, and peoples hate and still kill each and their women and girls have fewer rights. Some of them may even be richer than Zambians. In fact, it was the late great scholar Ali Mazrui who said that may Europeans in the 1700s and 1800ss migrated to Africa including Zambia because the weather and climate here was so much better than in Europe. This is true even today. But if you are a Zambian and you don’t know what you don’t know, you will not believe all that has been said.

If you want to become a better Zambian citizen, please you should answer these questions for yourself: Do you know what you know? Do you know what you don’t know? Are you in a condition in which you don’t know what you don’t know? Do foreigners know that you as a Zambian you know what they don’t know? Some foreigners know what you don’t know which makes you very vulnerable to manipulation. You as a Zambian you should also know what you don’t know about foreigners and other foreign societies. When you have found answers to all the knowns, the unknowns, the known knowns and unknowns, then you will be a truly educated Zambian.


1. Zambia and Urban populations

2.Exploring the Zambia Diaspora

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  1. Boss good proposition… of course, one to know what one does not know, which boils down to what we all have been saying.

    A culture of reading, which eludes many Zambians. This is the only sure way for one to know what they do not know.

    But boss, you have missed a percentage of Zambians regardless of age, who are over indulge in chibuku & Dobo!

    This percentage which I think is roughly 65 percent of the country’s population, dances to kalindula and don’t know what a book looks like.

    This is the problem child of Zambia who hangs the rest of us to dry …

    Otherwise good article

    • Great piece … Zambia to me remains the best country God gave man and I have been to every continent on earth except Australia and the Antarctica.

      Epo mpelele,


  2. This Prof is an expert at verbosity. He uses too many words where a few can do the job. All I get from the food Prof is that we as a people ought to learn about ourselves, other people and the world around us. That is all. By the way there is no society with poor people either by choice or circumstance. And our people know this very well. Yes people come to this country armed with knowledge and information about this country, how else do they know about the location of our vast natural resources which they exploit indiscriminately and wantonly assisted by our very own people who “know what they know and dont know”? The tragedy is we including knowledgeable and informed people like the good Prof take pride in the fact that our people, through various ways and means remain in a…

  3. “Zambia Best Country in the World”

    Allow me to disagree with you prof. This kind of a mind set amongst Zambians is very retrogressive. A lot of Zambians are simply full of self praise and keep white washing their lazy attitude. Why don’t you let them know what they don’t know that they need to get their arsez up and work rather than waiting for ” foreigners” to come and do everything for them? That they are far behind most countries? That they should do away with this culture of begging? should I need say more? What a shame!

  4. Poverty is relative! Cleaning toilets or sweeping streets does not amount to poverty. It means that you will have a roof over your head and a meal. I submit that not knowing where your next meal will come from or if you will have a job after graduation is poverty. What is our productivity? How do you address that? The analysis is flawed!

  5. I know what i dont know, which makes me know what you dont know that this article is a cliche and lacks substance coming from a professor.

  6. Zambia is indeed a beautiful country but we now have vultures and crooks as leaders. We are also full of drunkards and cowards as citizens; people who cannot even stand for their own rights. We are easy to bribe and we believe everything foreign is good. We surely don’t know that we don’t know that Zambia is a beautiful country. Foreigners are simply taking advantage of these weaknesses that they have seen in us.

  7. I agree with the writer of this article to a larger extent. There are mobile home and lot more homeless people in those nations. Recent happening in country’s government shutdown resulted in masses of those boastful workers queueing for food handouts (meal handouts), just within their first month of no pay. They don’t even have a small Shama of their own to fall on. That was shameful to me. It’s a hand to mouth for the majority there.

    • at least they never had to ask from donors outside their own country. Well, article serves to make an average Zambian smile but we have little to smile about really if we are honesty with ourselves.

      How much can we really sing about as products from Zambia? how many of us pride in buying things American yet dispise things African and Zambian if there is anything that goes by that name. if the author says Zambia has potential to be the most beautiful, yes I will agree and that will make all of us at least fight on to realise that potential otherwise we are but cheating ourselves

  8. All countries are created good .The main difference is that better countries are governed by rule of law and patriotic leaders where as bad countries are misgoverned by selfish and criminal leaders.

  9. Charles Mando (of blessed memory) was a great broadcaster and I personally miss him. However, he was reacting to his lack of exposure then, which might not be an issue with many of us now.

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