THE often told story of many African countries is how they have descended into chaos and civil war shortly after gaining their independence.
That is why Zambia, five decades after gaining its independence, is proud of its peace and tranquillity – a rare commodity on the continent.
This is a commodity Zambia, as well as Africa, should use to lure foreign direct investment to drive its ambitious infrastructure and poverty reduction drive.
Granted, Zambia’s fight for independence was not as bloody as some of its African counterparts, but it has nonetheless placed promotion of unity and oneness at the centre of its nation-building.
Many people may regard ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ as a mere slogan, but this is what Zambia as a country is all about.
In 2014, the country celebrated its golden jubilee, and one of the things that it celebrated was its uninterrupted peace and unity for 50 years.
Of course there have been challenges along the way, but these have largely been overcome by the nation.
In its early days, Zambia was surrounded by hostile regimes; the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique, the Ian Smith minority regime in then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the apartheid regime in then South West Africa (now Namibia) and South Africa.
Largely, as a result of its unflinching support to the liberation movements in these countries, Zambia was a target of hostilities from these regimes.
However, through-out, it remained united and peaceful.
Zambia was a multi-party democracy from independence in 1964 to 1973 when it turned into a one-party participatory democracy following the signing of the Choma Declaration, which saw the main opposition party, the African National Congress, agree to dissolve and join the then ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP).
Perhaps, no one can explain better the unity and peace that Zambia has enjoyed than first President Kenneth Kaunda.
He says the Choma Declaration of June 1973 is not only an important event in terms of the unity of the Zambian people; its importance goes beyond Zambia’s borders.
“It is of importance to the entire continent of Africa. We often talk about the 74 tribes of Zambia. I refer to new tribes, tribes of colour for that matter.
“This is an acknowledgement that we received, and accepted, people of various colours, people from other continents as fellow human beings. We saw them in the same way we considered ourselves in the group of 73,” Dr Kaunda says.
“With apartheid in South Africa as strong as it was, it was important for us, if we were to develop the philosophy of Zambian Humanism in its true form, to show by example what we were talking about. Zambian Humanism was to do with acceptance of the human being wherever they may be or have come from, the human being from east, west, north, and south. All these we accepted as God’s children.
“It is this approach to appreciating human beings as a family of our Creator that led us to invent the motto ‘One Zambia, One Nation’. It had been part of our struggle for independence. Indeed, I wish it were still part of our struggle, as a nation, to build from the 73 plus groups a strong and united nation.
“After seeing what has happened in many parts of our beloved continent, who can fail to feel the importance of this approach? We cannot refer to the important Choma Declaration without first of all thanking all those of our leaders who agreed to be part and parcel of that great development.
“Central in this is Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula. I do not think that without his consent we would have achieved that great national event and what followed.”
Yes, Dr Kaunda may have reserved praise for Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, but he has also been central to the country’s peace and unity.
After 27 years in office as President, he peacefully ceded power in 1991 to Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba after losing the presidential election when the country returned to a multi-party democracy.
Dr Kaunda’s successor, Frederick Chiluba, served for two five-year terms as per Constitution after which he stepped down.
He was succeeded by Levy Patrick Mwanawasa in 2001 following general elections which drew about 12 contestants.
Mr Mwanawasa won a second five year-term in 2006 but died mid-way through the term.
The country held a presidential election that saw Rupiah Bwezani Banda, Mwanawasa’s vice president emerge winner, narrowly beating main opposition leader Michael Chilufya Sata in another largely peaceful election.
In 2011, the country went for the general elections and this time around
Mr Sata came out winner, becoming the country’s fifth president since independence.
Like Dr Kaunda in 1991, Mr Banda also conceded defeat and congratulated the victor. This was another example of a peaceful and democratic handover of power in Africa.
In a speech read on his behalf by then acting President Edgar Lungu on Zambia’s 50th Independence Anniversary, President Sata said when the country looks back, it is proud of its achievements.
“At independence, we created a new country eager to rule itself but challenged in several respects by such constraints as poor human capital attainments inherited from colonialism. We, however, met the challenges of nation-building with single minded determination and enthusiasm,” he said.
“Although we still have some challenges to overcome in our quest to deliver higher levels of prosperity, we are determined to face the future with heightened energy and enthusiasm to consolidate our political, economic and social progress.
“Under the national motto: ‘One Zambia, One nation’, we have enjoyed unity, peace and stability despite our ethnic diversity. We must therefore continue to work together as a united people, for national building.”
Since independence, the will of the people has continued to be the basis of authority of the government.
The success in this endeavour is demonstrated by the country having had six presidents from three political parties through peaceful transfer of power after democratic elections.
Unfortunately, Mr Sata was also unable to finish his first term as he also died mid-way through his rule. The country had to go for another presidential election which saw Edgar Chagwa Lungu become the country’s sixth president.
President Lungu has continued promoting peace and unity.
The country’s stability has continued to serve as the magnet pulling thousands of refugees from restive neighbours and beyond.
Even after the end of the civil strife in their home countries many refugees choose to remain in Zambia. They have applied for integration into the Zambian society.
The recent violence in Burundi saw Zambia open its borders to 300 refugees from that country.
This stability, peace and unity have continued to attract investors in the mining, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and tourism sectors.