By Field Ruwe EdD
Get up and do something about it!
On August 12, 2021, Zambian youth shocked the world. In countless droves, this finest possession of the country queued duty-bound and resolved. One by one they entered the booth with ammunition stronger than the bullet and dislodged corrupt and incompetent politicians in black suits. In paying tribute to every Zambian youth for rejecting the Lungu regime in landslide style, I am inclined to remind the reader of the source of motivation for many lest it is lost in political arrogation.
Do the words “it’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die. Get up and do something about it!” ring a bell? The words struck at the heart of the Sub-Saharan Africa. I shared with the children of my motherland the resonance of the encounter in my 2012 article “Zambian Intellectuals Are Lazy” a.k.a. “You lazy (African Intellectual) Scum.” Within minutes of its release, social media exploded. Soon, anger, regret, shame, hope, and hopelessness left the Pandora’s Box and engulfed the entire world in its rainbow colors. The impact of the story was like an epiphany some said—like the wind of change, a tsunami, perestroika even, others mused.
Let the reader be reminded. It was New Year’s Eve 2011; I was already strapped in my seat. The plane to Boston was on the Los Angeles taxiway its large, powerful engines emitting waves of shimmering heat from the exhausts. I was angst-ridden because I was seated next to a brawny, fully bald white man with intense, steely eyes.
A few minutes into the New Year, we were up in the air when the American Walter went into a rant and called Zambia intellectuals lazy in my face. “You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. It is you, and not those poor starving people, who are the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state.” The words uttered like the piercing of the sword struck at the heart of not only Zambia, the intended country, but Sub-Sahara, and left a hole only the beholder could seal.
For the Sub-Saharan intellectual from Angola to Zimbabwe, it was a shudder of dishonor, a Hegel moment. Georg Hegel was the German philosopher who excluded the African from world history stating; “This distinction between himself as an individual and the universality of his essential being, the African in the uniform, undeveloped oneness of his existence has not yet attained; so that the Knowledge of an absolute Being, an Other and a Higher than his individual self, is entirely wanting.”
Some people say I should have punched him in the mouth. My heart was bursting with the same temptation. But in honest, though a cry of unassuaged anguish, Walter’s words were delivered with a sense of truthfulness. To this, a reader wrote, “The ‘bwana’ is the least racist I ever heard of – only someone who has your interest at heart will tell you if you have mouth odor – the rest will just shy away and gossip behind you.”
A good number of Sub-Saharan youth were calm. They saw it as a calling by nature; a moment of reflection. One Ghanaian responded in verse: I’ve heard your voice; let my hands labor for my motherland; all the talent given me, I yield to her; so when she sees my fruit, she may say, “you woke up and did done something about it.”
The Technological Revolution had begun
In countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Gambia, Liberia, Angola, Senegal, Ethiopia, and South Africa, presidents and political leaders, some who had read the article, and acknowledged in their speeches, recognized that the only way forward was through homegrown science and technology. Some of the brightest and innovative minds took up the challenge, and with that, a technology revolution had begun:
Kelvin Doe (Sierra Leone) built a generator and radio transmitter; William Kamkwamba (Malawi) built a windmill from scrap parts; Arthur Zang (Cameroon) developed Africa’s handheld medical computer; Usman Dalhtu (Nigeria) invented a street sweeper; Maasai herder Richard Turere (Kenya) invented the lion light to keep predators away from cows; Therese Kirongozi (DRC) invented human-like robots to help control traffic; Makerere University (Uganda) students made the electric car Kiira EV, and inventions kept pouring in.
Most of the young inventors reached out to me to acknowledge the source of their drive. In December 2020, Tanzanian inventor Askwar Hilonga wrote: “I just wanted to let you know how much I was impressed and then CHANGED by your article…At the time I was doing my Ph.D. in South Korea. You really challenged me…I [also] invented a water filter called Nanofilter that provides clean water in Tanzania, and your own country Zambia.”
As for Zambia, Harvard graduate (2020) Sela Kasepa and thousands of others endowed with intelligence and natural talent for home-grown science and technology got in touch with me. In 2017, Kasepa raised funds through her initiative, assembled a group of Zambian inventors to participate in the Global Robotics Challenge in Washington D.C. For her work in Robotics, Queen Elizabeth II rewarded her with the Queen’s Young Leader award. In her native country Zambia, she received little recognition.
I do not say so to cast aspersions on their abilities, it would be as far short as the truth to label the “democratic” presidents as the men who sapped the stamina out of Zambia’s intelligentsia. They peddled and promoted only their archaic agendas, forcing many intellectuals, inventors, and innovators to retreat to the barstool, their sedentary seat of ruin. Like the sloth, in moving slowly they had no peers. They hang to a fragile branch in their drunken stupor while life below them scurried and escaped them.
A case in point, in 2013, Charles Mumba made a compressor to maximize the potential of hydro energy. The Sata government showed little interest in his invention just like the Banda regime did in 2010 when he invented a domestic turbine. It was a sorry sight to see young talented and brilliant Zambians trapped in a labyrinth of abject poverty, play into the dirty hands of unscrupulous heartless politicians at a time when other African leaders were making attempts to take theirs to a higher stratum.
As for the leading highest academic institution in the country, the University of Zambia, political maggots were eating at the heart. Professor Lameck Goma was long turned into a lake. The water so still it reflected the faceless graduates on their knees reciting S.E. Kiser’s poem:
“I have hoped, I have planned, I have striven; To the will, I have added the deed; The best that was in me I’ve given; I have prayed, but the gods would not heed. I have dared and reached only disaster; I have battled and broken my lance; I am bruised by a pitiless master. That the weak and the timid call Chance; I am bent, I am cheated. Of all that Youth urged me to win. But name me not with the defeated. Tomorrow again, I begin.”
The March to August 12, 2021
The above poem led to my writing of “Hunt for Successor 44: The Faceless Graduate” as part of the “Hunt for Successor” series. I slew myself with pen, staked my life and reputation amid arrest and death threats. I did so because I sensed neglect and mediocrity in governance. My writing was meant to mobilize Zambia’s elite youth and make them serve as a major engine for social and economic change. The ultimate goal was to snatch the mantle from the old guard and complete the unfinished work by God. “Hunt for Successor 1: Last of the Venerable Martyrs,” flagged off The “One-Million” March to August 12, 2021.
The title referred to middle-aged politicians who had dominated Zambian politics since independence to the point of decay. King Cobra for one, failed to recognize the downtrodden youth for their potent force for change. Instead, he took advantage of their gullibility and coerced them to do the dirty “kaponya” work for him. Consequently, during his tenure, cadreism became an endemic feature of Zambia’s political landscape. Each of the one hundred and eight “Successor” articles written in the Sata reign focused on paving the way for a youthful intellectual leader, among them the now president of Zambia Hakainde Hichilema who was heading UPND at the time.
King Cobra’s successor Edgar Lungu accelerated the march to August 12. By this time he had turned the country into Lake Zambia, that’s what Walter called our country. “You guys are as stagnant as the water in the lake. We come in with our large boats and fish your minerals and your wildlife and leave morsels—crumbs. That’s your staple food, crumbs. That corn meal you eat, that’s crumbs, the small Tilapia fish you call Kapenta is crumbs. We the Bwanas (whites) take the catfish. I am the Bwana and you are the Muntu. I get what I want and you get what you deserve, crumbs.”
The words were lodged at the base of the Zambian youth’s mind as they turned the corner and finally, on August 12, 2021, at 6 a.m., reached their destination—the ballot box. On their way, many, among them graduates, could not afford a meal, their shoes, and clothes worn to the skin. All of them were overwhelmed by neglect by a leader who promised a paradise on earth. Some remembered the words: “As long as you are dependent on my plane, I shall feel superior and you my friend shall remain inferior, how about that?”
By the time they were casting their vote their country was on oxygen, its lungs filled with a litany of scandals. The economy had fallen into the abyss. Tribalism had reared its ugly head. Corruption had become deeply rooted in every alcove and recess of all sectors of the country. Violence had become an inevitable characteristic, claiming the death of 50 gassed people and many others. Arsonists were burning markets, and President Edgar Lungu had no clue how to heal the self-inflicted cancerous wound. The youth of Zambia showed him the door, shocking the world, and setting an example to their peers in the Sub-Sahara.
Now Shock Yourselves
It’s a delight to see a confident and eloquent youthful leader possessed and obsessed by a vision of an ideal Zambia take the youth, their parents, and siblings on the journey they seek. It is by far not an easy one. If he allows deeds to speak for him then we have the leader we’ve been waiting for. We fought for our independence. We have obeyed the laws of our country and kept our eagle flying. We’re by far not lazy people, but the most hard-working on the planet. We’re by far not dull people but the most intelligent in the universe. We have shown resilience in moments of hunger and disease. Many-a-time when the chips are down, we have come to the rescue of the other. We can be even better now that hope is beckoning.
Young men and women of Zambia: you have shocked the world, and now shock yourselves if in honor and glory you are to be remembered as the ones that changed our beloved Africa. Help the leader you have put in State House to leap the country from stagnation to advancement. You will be glad you did. Thank you all and God bless.