May 16, 2010

Our Legacy

My grandparents’ generation fought against colonial rule and led Zambia to Independence. The native became the ruling class.

My parents’ generation basked in the wealth of a newly independent Zambia. Copper prices were high as was the standard of living. Free education, free health care, food subsidies were the order of the day.

My generation came up during the time of food shortages, constant states of emergency, and an ailing Zambia.

I remember watching the emergence of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) led by the charismatic Frederick Chiluba. He declared “the hour has come for change” – no more dictatorial one party rule by the old guard. And change did come. The ruling party was swept out of office in our first multi-party elections and the people cheered.

Trade barriers were lifted and commodities from South Africa flooded the country. Food stuffs re-appeared on shelves, fresh bread was readily available, fancy water fountains were built in Lusaka – Zambians could finally spend money without traveling to Malawi, Zimbabwe or Botswana!

After years of inefficiency many parastatals were liquidated or privatised. The government wasn’t going to throw good money after bad into these money pits. Private ownership would sort out efficiencies and competition would make them more lean and robust. Alas, this was not to be.

Privatisation of the copper mines, our life blood, was pushed with the expectation that investment and profitability would return. However, this was fraught with controversy and was poorly executed. Thousands lost their livelihoods, and were pushed into poverty. SAP (Structural Adjustment Program) and privatisation became dirty words even when I had little understanding of what they truly meant.

Allegations of corruption, drug trafficking, gun running for UNITA, dogged our new political elite, and the lustre of democracy dimmed. There were widespread retrenchments, food costs were high and wages remained low – the promises we were oversold did not come to fruition for many.
As my generation comes to full maturation in our mid to late twenties and early thirties, we are becoming decision makers. With the Zambia we are slowly inheriting for our parents what will be our legacy?

Will we be the generation that takes our democratic processes into maturation with intelligent and meaningful discourse? Will we be the ones to help slow the tide of HIV/AIDS by not only having a healthy fear of it but also by adopting responsible lifestyle changes and passing those on to our children? Will we learn the lessons from our grandparents’ generation and start taking care of our own – the street children, the orphaned, and the oppressed? Will we harness the knowledge and experience gained through our education to make Zambia competitive and productive once again?

Or will we be just a lost generation, floating aimlessly, licking our pitiful wounds and bemoaning how those that came before us robbed us of our inheritance and respectability as Zambians?

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