When applying for my internship in Lusaka, I honestly did not know much about Zambia. Even when I started my journey in September, this had not changed. I knew the mighty Victoria Falls would be there, and from my time in South Africa I remember Trevor Noah’s Video where he makes fun of Zambia.
At times I was asked by my family and friends: Why especially Zambia? Well, I couldn’t really give a straight answer. Of course, the special charme of developing countries, which make me realize the immense privilege white male Europeans have and make me appreciate and value my status even more, seemed attractive. Also experiencing the immediate consequences of global developments was surely an argument in favor of Zambia. Still, why not stay in Bolivia, go to Perú or Ecuador? Why not Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya or Sri Lanka?
Meanwhile I got to know a true Zambian Specialty, and I am even more happy to have made my decision to come to Lusaka. Admittingly, the fascinating is not visible on the surface of the daily life or in what news the media transmit to Europe. Superficially Zambia is not much different to other African states. It is economically deprived, lacking capital for investment, corruption destroys many hopes, the long term effects of colonialism, a broken or not existing infrastructure and the consequences of climate change all mint the image the world has of Zambia. I am sure that all the Lusaka based international organisations would agree to this description in their many project reports.
I admit that I also needed some time, foreign help and pure luck to come across a beautiful characteristic that really separates Zambia from most other developing countries.
A few weeks ago, FES organised the so called Southern African Regional Youth Forum, a workshop designated to connect Youth from Southern Africa to network and debate recent issues from their home countries. One evening we had the rare chance to have dinner with Dr. Guy Scott, former President of Zambia. In his remarks he told us about his personal feeling about Zambia and lifted what he called “the world’s best kept secret”, which makes Zambia so special: Never in its history have the Zambian people experienced war, dictators, armed conflicts, coup de etats or other similar diseases. It is the only country with a peaceful transition from colonialist regime to its post independence generation. According to Scott, this is based on the immense trust within the Zambian Society, but also on the slow but steady development of the Zambian state over decades.
We all know that Zambian history is not so much different to other countries’. The area which later became Zamiba had been conquered by Europeans, colonized and the local population was discriminated. Zambias was then called Northern Rhodesia and the Queen was the head of state. When the British left in the middle of the 20th century, as they didn’t find much economic potential anymore in the peace of land north of the Zambezi River, they also left an economically deprived, structure less power vacuum.
Finally, in 1964 the Repulic of Zambia was founded and Kenneth Kaunda became the first democratically elected President. But in contrast to most other states the new born country remained stable. No break out of political chaos, civil wars and dictatorship evoked. Until today Zambia has never experiences any coups, a military government or war. Neither did Zambia play a role in the Apartheid era.
This might seem a bit odd for our generation, as we are used to stable politics, but as shown by so many other countries this is truly remarkable. Even on other continents the pattern is often the same. Colonial time, Independence wars, Instability followed by military coups, revolutions, civil wars, and many many uselessly killed.
Zambia is different. Kenneth Kaunda managed, despite or maybe just because of a One-Party-System to align the population along more than 25 ethnicities and 72 languages and unite Zambia as “One Zambia – One Nation”. When time urged Kaunde for changes the next Zambian specialty was born. The transition of power from the Independence Party is especially in Africa either not yet realized (as in South Africa, Namibia or Zimbabwe) or only under violent conditions (as in Angola, Mozambique. In Zambia though, a simple referendum brought a Multi-Party-System into being in 1991 and Frederick Chiluba became the new president. The transition of Power was peaceful and Zambia kept its political stability. Despite all economic struggle Zambia managed to not tear itself apart, which is everything but normal.
To me personally this shows – once more – how important differentiation and looking at individual cases separately really is, as the true secret are not shown on the surface. Friendliness and trust are not measurable in statistics but shape Zambia’s character more than anything else!