REPAINTING A CONTINENT
By Dr Nevers Sekwila Mumba
Leader of Opposition Party – MMD and former Republican Vice-President, Zambia
Africa is a piece of art pinned against the minds and consciences of art lovers. Those with money and capacity to buy the paint and pay the painters are the ones who have presented today’s image of Africa to the world. This is a continent they scrambled for because of its unlimited resources at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. They then painted the continent in colours that would favour their superiority over the inhabitants.
Today, we are battling with a distorted image of our continent and of ourselves which hangs heavily over our heads. It is in Summits like this when Africa’s best hearts and minds meet to undo the distortion of our continent’s image created over the years. We must repaint our continent in our own colours.
The way Africa is perceived by both the world and ourselves dictates how Africa performs in the next number of years. My assignment today is to highlight the effect of perception on the development of a people. We need to ask the necessary questions. Who painted the current picture of Africa and what was the intent of the resultant piece of art? In whose interest is this picture?
Today’s picture of Africa demands that we depend on foreign powers to live our lives. We depend on Europe, America, China, India and other developed nations to do for us things we can do for ourselves. My message has nothing to do with minimizing our role in the global community. Indeed we must participate in the global debate and economy but not at the expense of our local debate and economy. We should never only take from the Global debate and economy but we must contribute to it in real terms.
Not too long ago, the African Union in Addis Ababa received help from China to build the $200million headquarters for us. A commendable contribution, but I believe that if all the 54 OAU member states contributed only $3.7million each, we could have done it ourselves using African material, builders and engineers.
The Bible in John 19:17-22 clarifies my point.
“… And Pilate wrote a title (introduction) also, and put it on the cross. And there was written, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Whosoever writes your introduction defines you and limits you according to the introduction as authored by them. Africa has been introduced by others and is therefore seen through their eyes.
It is time that Africa printed her own business cards. It is time Africa wrote her own books. It is time for Africa to sing her own songs. The Jews did not like the inscription on the cross but Pilate had written it and they could not take it down. Two thousand years later, we still declare that, not only is Jesus the King of the Jews, but he is also the King of Kings. This is the power of introduction.
To subjugate a people, you first have to distort or steal their identity. You have to mess with their introduction. The type of education you are given determines your ultimate identity and destiny. To introduce apartheid here in South Africa and to sustain it for as long as it was, the focus of the perpetrators was to dictate the type of education a black man could get and therefore limit his participation in the affairs of his nation. They brought an educational system which was designed to produce a disadvantaged African population.
The Minister of Native affairs at the time, the architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd stated that:
“There is no place for the Bantu in the European Community above the level of certain forms of labour… What is the use of teaching the Bantu Child Mathematics when he cannot use it in practice?”
They have used camera and film to repeatedly brain-wash our view of ourselves. They allowed a few amongst us to stick out like middle fingers in order to divide us into thinking those who have failed to attain those heights are just lazy.
Our challenge is that someone has written our introduction and made us buy into it and has limited us for generations. We have been conformed to the vision our “masters” have carved out for us.
How do we correct this?
Re-orient ourselves. Re-educate ourselves. Re-write our educational books. Re-think our theology. Take responsibility for our future. We must be free to make our mistakes as we work our way up. We cannot be free until we can experiment ourselves out of this trap.
This is time to initiate Africa’s most ambitious educational project which should include up-skilling entire communities, all villages, compounds, shanties, suburbs and entire nation states in computer skills for instance. An educational system which highlights our values as a people.
An education which is original; An education which does not exhort the Queen of England above our own Zulu King. An Education which does not glorify everything done by Western powers and rubbishes the efforts being made by our people. An education which does not segregate based on who has an American accent and who does not. We must deliberately work towards these goals.
We must change our curricula and teach more about the Chirundu and Beit Bridges than the famous London Bridge. This project is long term, but must start now. The strategy must be clear and the African Union must incorporate this aspect in their 50 year strategic plan. We must scientifically strategize that the type of education we offer, the type of religion we teach, the type of films we watch and make about ourselves which should shape a new, positive mindset to effectively restore our dignity as a people. Money poured on paralyzed minds will continue to be wasted in Africa.
We must repaint Africa. We must introduce ourselves to ourselves and to the world. We must have a goal to score. We may have some of the best players on the pitch, but without a goal we shall not record any victory. When students go to a medical school, we expect to produce Doctors. This is because the studies are specially designed to produce a pre-determined product.
It is time for Africa to package for herself an educational culture that shall ultimately produce an enviable African, an African of our corporate dream, standing confidently, shoulder-to-shoulder with the best brains in the world.
The long term benefits of a massive education project cannot be overstated as a large chunk of perennial problems in Africa shall be solved. An educated population is more productive; investors are attracted by the availability of a large skilled workforce; Democracy flourishes and matures as citizens are better able to understand national issues and not be easily manipulated by corrupt leaders.
Civil wars are diminished because people have better things to do with their educated minds than take up arms. Crime reduces as people engage in productive activities. Wealth increases as Africans invent new ways to make money with their knowledge. Even the health of a nation improves as people get educated in hygiene and basic cleanliness. The positive benefits are incalculable.
We must not shrink from this project due to concerns on the high costs it shall impose on us. No matter how expensive, we must find the money to create relevant localized education in order to give Africa a massive leg up which will be good in long run. We must not just copy and paste foreign education systems. We must edit first and tailor-make our own by a process of amalgamation and experimentation according to our unique circumstances.
As we educate the African populace, we must simultaneously create enabling business environments within our individual countries. The time for Socialist centrally controlled economies has long past. We must embrace free markets and the private sector because they ultimately are the drivers of significant economic growth. Fast growing economies shall absorb into a productive workforce the millions of newly educated Africans we shall be churning out of our universities and colleges.
Each one of us in this room today, in this generation, have been handed a paint brush and paint, an opportunity to repaint the pictures of our individual countries to make up the full piece of art of a new Africa. An Africa which shall be the envy of the world; an Africa free from the stereo-typical image of violent ethnic and political conflict, poverty, AIDS and now Ebola, hunger, corruption, bad governance and under-development. An Africa that has left behind Stone Age Politics and modernized its political and economic structures.
We must repaint Africa.
We should each ask ourselves the question, now that I have an opportunity in my generation, what picture shall I paint of my country? What shall I do to help birth this new image of my country and contribute to the full beautiful art piece of a new Africa?
In these last few moments, kindly allow me now to paint the picture I have of my own nation of Zambia.
For the investor who is searching for high returns, Zambia offers one of the most liberal economic policies in the SADC region. Zambia offers a 50 year culture of political and social stability.
It is a nation whose borders could only have been designed by a supreme being as the bible says. A nation with only 14.5 million people, known the world over for their warmth; a country carved out from the centre of the Southern African region, a natural hub land-linked by eight sovereign nations with their combined populations presenting a huge market for any business, such as motor assembly plants, to set up its headquarters in Zambia.
It is a country of rare beauty, perched on a high plateau of moderate average annual temperatures of 21 Degrees Celsius and annual average rainfall of 1,270 millimeters and one of the most beautiful country-sides of a typical savanna country with breath-taking rivers and waterfalls like the Victoria Falls and abundant unspoilt wildlife.
It is a country with an abundance of most known mineral resources, the world’s fourth largest producer of copper and holds six percent of the world’s known reserves thereof. It is also the world’s second largest producer of cobalt and holds reserves of about 350,000 tonnes. Furthermore, Zambia is also famous for the abundance of other mineral deposits, including lead, zinc and gemstones such as emeralds, aquamarine, topaz, opal, agate and amethysts.
It is a country of abundant water resources, hosting 40% of the total water systems of the entire southern African sub-region with four major lakes and four major rivers plus numerous tributaries. It is a country of large expanses of fertile uncultivated land, a potential bread-basket to feed the entire Southern African region and beyond. We still have over 80% of our arable land unused and waiting to be exploited fully.
Zambia is a country waiting to be repainted into one of the most developed nations not only in Africa but in the world, currently undergoing massive transformation ignited by major infrastructure investment into the roads and bridges to unlock the massive potential of this great Central Southern African country.
I ask the question; what picture do you have of your country, of Africa? The brush and paint are now in your hands.
I thank you.
Dr Nevers Sekwila Mumba