Something we had been particularly boastful of until recently was that during the first seven months of this trip we had experienced only seven days of rain. However, it seems that the rainy season of central Africa is so called for a very good reason. As a result, our otherwise uneventful kilometres through Zambia have been spent mainly guessing when we’re going to get wet and exactly how wet that might be – it is a game as unpleasant as it sounds and doesn’t seem to improve with frequency.
In addition to some menacing storm clouds, Zambia has also provided us a fairly diverse range of people to share some time with. We have been hosted by Moses, a local padre who is part-way through building his extended family home. We have shared breakfast with the committed owners of Shiwa Ng’andu (or Africa House) who are working to maintain their family legacy in Zambia which dates back two generations to a quite remarkable grandfather – Stewart Gore-Brown – who, among other things, was a key player in the independence movement of this country. We have stayed at some charming (and some not so charming) guesthouses, mixed for an evening with former Zimbabwean – now Zambian – farmers, and even been housed for a night by a foreign missionary and seven of their ten children. We’ve seen a reasonable cross-section of what makes this country tick and one recurring topic of conversation has been the issues that have blighted progress here over the last century, and more crucially, what lies ahead for the country (and for the entire continent).
Where some have absolute optimism that this is indeed Africa’s decade and the tide is turning after what has been a troubled fifty years, others see a much bleaker side and give a rather depressing outlook. An interesting fact which gave us some context to the debate though, was that upon independence in 1964 the new president of Zambia inherited a country of less than 100 university graduates, less than 1,000 high school graduates, and a national debt in the tens-of-millions of dollars, handed down by those gracious British colonialists. That is to say, although the laughable levels of corruption, the rigged elections and the former (and some current) reprehensible leaders make for easy targets in this part of the world, it seems clear that it wasn’t exactly a level playing field to start with. The more we see of this continent, the more outrageously complex the problems (and the conversations) become, but given the hand that many of these countries were dealt in the twentieth century, there has to be at least some recognition of the progress that has been made since then. Particularly in light of what we have witnessed in Zambia.
As for the future, perhaps Bono can help.