Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For Your Country

By Dr Munyonzwe Hamalengwa

US President John F. Kennedy said it decades ago, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Memorable.

Now can you remember when you said to yourself, without prompting and not in the course of your employment requiring you to do certain things for Zambia, “I think Zambia can benefit if I did this and that” and you went about doing it or trying to do it, finally succeeding or not succeeding but having given the effort maximum push? Here I am not envisaging big things or lasting legacies, I am thinking of ordinary things which you are capable of doing or trying to do for the benefit of Zambia, on your own, something bigger than yourself interest, within the circumstances of your life parameters. This is not in the category of ” If you were President, Chief Justice, Member of Parliament, etc of Zambia, what would you do for Zambia”? This is being prompted.

Many people have done selfless things for Zambia but we never hear their stories. These people do different things than parents and guardians do for their children. The parents have immediate obligations to do those things for those they care for and they will be asked as to whether for example they have brought food from the initiation ceremony that they attended. Those in government will be asked to account for what they have done for the electorate.

The “Ask not what Zambia can do for you but what you can do for Zambia” is when any Zambian decides to do or tries to do something by themselves beyond their duties.

Let’s begin with what I tried to do for Zambia unprompted but which arose out of self-imposed duty as a citizen of Zambia. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate that each individual can do something for Zambia, outside the box of always looking to Government to do everything for the Zambians. Zambia could develop astronomically if Zambians asked themselves, “what can I do for Zambia”? There are streets in many parts of Lusaka where the rich live but the roads passing through these neighbourhoods are not paved and are full of treacherous ponds and are now not passable but the rich are waiting for government to pave and tar them. The rich can’t even call a meeting to organize how to contribute to pave and tar that road. The attitude is: It is not their road and why must they bother.

If Zambians are employed, I can’t resist saying this, can I? It is “Uubomba Mwiibala…” and whatever remains after the self-help, it is incidental, collateral or an appendage.

But back to an example of doing or trying to do things bigger for Zambia by my call to the obligations of citizenship. My interests have been mainly in Education, Agriculture and Tourism. These are the areas in which I have tried to assist Zambia without my benefitting directly from my efforts. Let’s briefly talk about each.


When I lived in Washington, DC years ago, in my travels in the US, I became aware of a company in California that had surplus tractors, hundreds of them which they were giving for free. I contacted that company and they agreed that if I could take the tractors, all of them for free, they would be happy. I was born East of Monze in a purely agricultural territory. No one was using tractors in the area. I imagined how those tractors would be useful to those farmers there and throughout Zambia.

I contacted the Zambian Embassy which was just about ten blocks or so from where I was living on Harvard Street, North East DC. The Ambassador then was Ngonda. Ambassador Ngonda told me that the Embassy had no money to transport those tractors and could I myself send them over? Obviously that is not a mere student’s job to transport free tractors from America to Zambia for the benefit of Zambia. I found it hard to even curse under my breath. At the time, First Lady Esther Lungu was not around to personally travel to California to go and receive those tractors. Those tractors looked amazing in pictures. I have never forgotten about them these many years. Can you imagine how endowed Zambia would be if every Zambian traveller caused some gifts abroad to be brought to Zambia for the benefit of Zambians! Transportation costs would constitute another discussion altogether, for another day.


While living in Washington, I came in possession of thousands of free books on many topics from government agencies and scholars. I also became friends with an American called Bakari Johnson who owned a bookstore. Bakari had lived in Dar es Salaam as a draft dogger. That is where he got the name Bakari. I lived in Dar es Salaam too for one year after I left Zambia. In Dar es Salaam I worked in the accounting Department in the University Bookstore, and guess what, my local name in Dar es Salaam was Hab Bakari, given to me by the Tanzanians. You know where this is leading to: Bakari Johnson lived in Dar es Salaam to avoid the draft in the US, came back to the US and opened a bookstore near his house in North East DC. Hab Bakari also lived in Dar es Salaam after being expelled from the University of Zambia and as a lover of books, he worked in the bookstore at the University of Dar Es Salaam. These two Bakaris meet in Bakari’s bookstore in DC while the new Bakari is looking for accommodation after recently arriving in DC. Can you think of a better omen than that? Bakari had accommodation in his house so the new Bakari moved into Bakari’s house. Bakari and Bakari were destined to meet. And the new Bakari accumulated hundreds of free books through that connection.

Again Ambassador Ngonda said that he had no money to ship those books. The University of Zambia library upon being informed that they were recipients of thousands of free books asked me to use my own money to ship them to UNZA. I had done my job to accumulate those books which would have benefitted a lot of Zambians, but I didn’t have money to ship them to Zambia. I still think about those books and those tractors. Knowledge in books is priceless and eternal.

Educational Tablets.

I became aware of a manufacturer of new educational tablets which were named UBslate in the Toronto area. Mr. Suneet Tuli was of Indian origin and he had convinced the Indian government to purchase millions of these tablets for free distribution to high school students in India, especially to poor students. The government supplied free wifi. I was fascinated by the educational potential to Zambian students if that technology was introduced in Zambia. That technology could bridge the gap between rural and urban students as both of them would be learning the same lessons at the same pace in real time. I recruited my colleague Charles Mwewa to come on board to try to convince the Zambian government to purchase these tablets in millions for educational purposes. Mr. Tuli agreed to sell the tablets at $50 at the 2012 exchange rate which was less than K360 per tablet.

I arranged with the then Chief Justice of Zambia His Lordship Ernest Sakala to introduce Charles Mwewa to President Michael Sata. In April 2012, Sata and Mwewa met and Mwewa showed Sata the miracles this tablet would do for Zambian education. Of all the Presidents Zambia has had, only Kenneth Kaunda significantly appreciated the game-changing nature education brings. Sata failed to grasp the concept and the Government failed to commit. Tuli had promised that if the Zambian government purchased two million tablets, he would build an assembling plant in Zambia that would train and employ local personnel. Zambia would by now be a hub of educational tablets manufacturing. I was pretty excited at the prospect.

After Sata refused to bite, Mwewa convinced Mr. Friday, owner of Mr. Phone to invest in the Tablet. Mr. Friday bought 1 million pieces and the tablet was launched in Lusaka in December 2012. Tuli and his team flew from Toronto to the launch. Unfortunately the state of wifi was in its infancy and then out of the blue, came stiff competition from the Chinese and the Koreans and others and the landscape keeps changing. Tuli, myself and Charles Mwewa were too far ahead of the competition but were consumed by it and the tablet never hit the market running. I still have my Ubslate Tablet and it still works after all these years.

Charles Mwewa in his book, ” Zambia Struggles of My People” has a chapter entiltled, “technology nation” about the benefits of technology in advancing education in Zambia. I still believe in the power of education in the advancement of society. That would have been my greatest contribution in the mantra of “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.


Unlike governmental official visits which are generally regimented, I have travelled the world over unrestricted as to which places I entered or who I visited or talked to. And I have travelled using my own money and not government or tax payers money. I have explored the world with a view to making recommendations as to how Zambia could improve its tourism. To do that I have talked to tourism operators on the ground in Japan, Kenya, South Africa, Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil, Nigeria, Most European Countries, China, Hong Kong, Australia, US, Canada, Namibia, Cayman Islands to name just a few places that I have been to. There was a time when my library was teaming with hundreds of books and pamphlets on tourism from different countries and cities around the world.

I sat down and wrote a comprehensive analysis of how Zambia could benefit from other countries’ tourism practices and gave the report to Lombe Chikangala to give to President Mwanawasa. Lombe and Mwanawasa were close friends as Mwanawasa had represented Lombe when Lombe was President Kaunda’s detainee for years and years. Lombe ended up in Canada where I met him but was eventually called back by President Mwanawasa and appointed to be on the Constitutional Review Commission. I don’t know whether my report was the basis upon which Mwanawasa shortly after the report landed on his desk, appointed Chasaya Sichilima, a Canada- based Zambian Musician as Zambia’s tourism Ambassador in Canada and also mooted the idea of establishing a Diaspora Desk at State House which President Banda maintained for a while. Unfortunately both Mwanawasa and Lombe died in August 2008 within a week of each other, Lombe going first. That was a great loss for Zambia.

The Diaspora can be used to promote tourism abroad. Charles Mwewa and I have shared a lot of ideas on this and Mwewa has written a Chapter on the Diaspora in his book, “Zambia, Struggles of My People”.

Zambia’s tourism potential is vast but it is not ably promoted. I was happy to attend the UNWTO Congress in 2013 in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Livingstone but tourism promotion and capacity never improved despite that Congress. Victoria Falls is still being promoted abroad as part of South Africa. I cringe when I see this.

Years ago, I discussed with the Managers of Avani and Royal Livingstone Hotels to go after huge professional organizations in the West, to hold their annual congresses in Zambia at those hotels. The American Bar Association, the Canadian Bar Association, the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law and others always look for remote locations to hold their annual congresses. It is by belonging to some of these organizations and others that has taken me to many parts of the world killing two birds with one stone. I was impressed that the Commonwealth Lawyers Association held their congress in Livingstone this year. That is one way of promoting tourism. Hopefully many more Western professional associations will come and individual members will be repeat “offenders” visiting Zambia. Or promoting Zambia abroad.

Let’s hear from everybody what they have done or tried to do for their country without expecting anything in return. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. I have been peddling intangibles for Zambia whose benefits may never be visible but that is all I can do for Zambia situationally. Wherever you are located within the Zambian Brand, you can do something or try to do something without ever expecting a return or reward. Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa teaches Law in Zambia.

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