Zambia At 49: Reimagining the Myths of Our Nation
Munshya wa Munshya
Myths are powerful. Not only do they create nations, but they also perpetuate them. No nation can last, for a day, without some story justifying its existence as a nation or as a group of nations. Human genius knows no better partner than the myth of national storytelling. Through myths, we tell stories of our nation. Through myths, we philosophize our nationhood. Through myths, we define the perimeters of patriotism and demarcate the fields of vision and national purpose. It, therefore, goes without saying that while myths might provide ammunition to run a nation; they can in the same vein ruin a nation.
Forty-nine years of our independence call for deeper reflection of those myths and stories told to us about our country. With the 49th Independence Anniversary comes the activity of mythmaking and story telling. The problem with these myths is that once repeatedly told the same way, they stop making sense. They become stale. They cease to inspire. Cast in this tired light, the independence narrative becomes a burden. When this happens, we must awaken ourselves to seek a renewal and a reawakening of national mythmaking.
Forty-nine years after independence, most of our people still live in abject poverty. May be Hakainde Hichilema is right: it is not enough just to celebrate independence; we must have something to show for it. However, within the context of disappointments, it is easy for the population to give way to despondency and hopelessness. In the face of failed fruits of independence we must, actually we should, recast the independence story in ways that are relevant to our times. Independence Day should not just be a day where we gather and listen to the same old and drowsy story of how we fought the Europeans. It should be more than that. Each Zambian should see themselves within the context of a continuous story.
The reimagined Zambian myth should begin by challenging and questioning the popular assumptions of what it really means to be Zambian. In spite of evidence to the contrary, Zambia at the turn of independence became a victim of a citizenship formulation that was, at most, a lie. This formulation envisaged a nation with “pure Zambian citizens.” This primordial paradigm, unfortunately, has continued unchallenged almost 50 years after independence. Kaunda at independence demanded for pure Zambians, and so did Chiluba with the 1996 amendments to the constitution. The current sidelining of Guy Scott by Michael Sata also shows that the puristic views of Zambian identity are still prevalent.
The 1964 explanation of what it meant to be a citizen made people like Kaunda to live in absurdities. For his part, Kaunda tried to cure this absurdity by writing to the Malawian government so as to renounce his Malawian citizenship. That 1973 letter goes to show the inadequacy and utter drivel of one-dimensional outlook of citizenship. In an African country like ours, it should not have been required of Kaunda to renounce his Malawian connections. He should have been allowed to be both Zambian and Malawian. Indeed, in the modern Zambia, many of our people are realizing and abandoning the purist one-dimensional view of what it means to be Zambian. As a nation, Zambia will comprise of peoples transecting varied demographics, religions, and persuasions. Whites, blacks, Indian and mixed race peoples are uniting and claiming a share in the process of mythmaking. People like Guy Scott and Dipak Patel should be given the full rights and recognition of citizenship. There should, therefore, be no justifiable reason why Guy Scott should not act as President of Zambia. In a reimagined myth of Zambia, we do not discriminate based on origin or based on the past. Rather, we unite those minds among us who share a common destiny. In this reimagination, Zambia becomes to us a destiny more than a heritage. A heritage connects us to the past, but a destiny connects us to the future. When we say we are Zambian, it is not to the past that we are seeking an identity, but rather it is to the future.
The reimagination of Zambian nationhood should also embrace the many Zambians who now live outside of the country. The present government should give a hearing to the many demands from the diaspora to recognise dual nationality. It is absurd that in the face of globalization, Zambians can become global citizens while being denied the legal protection of citizenship in their own country of origin.
A reimagination of nationhood might also involve a confrontation of our identity as a Christian nation. It goes without saying that most Zambians are Christian. In fact, beginning from independence, even Kaunda recognized Zambia as a Christian nation. By declaring Zambia as a Christian nation in 1991, President Chiluba was merely affirming a reality consistent with what Kaunda and others believed about Zambia. The fact that the Christian nation declaration forms part of the preamble to our republican constitution goes to show the significance of Christianity to our people. But the Christian nation identity of our country should be reimagined and recast in ways that, nevertheless, recognise the religious diversity of our country. Even if we have minority religions in Zambia, people who adhere to those religions must be accorded the same constitutional protections accorded to Christianity. In spite of being a Christian nation, Zambia is not a church and certainly not a parish. Our country is made up of a diverse cadre of adherents to various religions. This religious diversity should be recognised and respected. Our government should not run affairs of this nation in ways that deny constitutional liberties to citizens. As such, the Declaration should not be taken as a tool to oppress non-Christians. It is in this vein, therefore, that it worries me for Information Permanent Secretary Emmanuel Mwamba to cancel radio licenses to Muslims for the fact that they are Muslim. Tyranny against one group is tyranny against all groups.
Reimagining the myth of nationhood also means that we must relook at the meaning we assign to mottos such as “One Zambia One Nation”. One Zambia One Nation motto is perhaps one of the founding myths of our republic from which many in Zambia derive a great sense of unity and patriotism. But there are areas in which this motto has been so interpreted not as a tool of liberty, but as a tool of tyranny. The aspirational value of One Zambia One Nation means that, it is the various sects and tribes and peoples of Zambia that are contributing equally to the creation of a modern state. This motto should make each sect in our nation to be more humble towards others. It means that the majority should never think they are the only ones making Zambia, but rather that Zambia, like a human body, survives and subsists through the contribution and sacrifice of even the smallest parts. In practice, it means that we will not let this motto to delegitimize our tribes, but rather that this motto will legitimate our tribes while assigning a new aspirational vision.
There are many ways we could begin the process of reimagination of the myths that make our nation. I offer only but a few hoping that as we all participate in our nation building, we will find ways and opportunities to build. The Zambian myth is no greater than the people making it. At 49, we are presented with a rare opportunity for imagination and reimagination.