At the dawn of the independence for the first independent African Nation of Ghana, the then president of this nation made it explicitly clear that he would not rest until the whole continent of Africa was liberated from colonial rule. In fact, in his own words, president Kwame Nkrumah said, “We have awakened. We will not sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new African in the world! Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.”
There is no doubt that these words of profound significance influenced and changed the lives of many people across the African continent. This bold and courageous leader, being the first President of an independent African country, had many followers and students, e.g. the late Robert G. Mugabe, who would later be president of Zimbabwe and not forgetting our very own Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of Zambia. Many people followed Kwame Nkrumah not because of his charisma or intellect, but rather because of his principles and political philosophy of Pan-Africanism. To put it in plain terms, the independence speech of 1957 given by president Nkrumah laid down the foundation for the struggle of independence for African nations throughout the late 50s right up to the defeat of the apartheid regime in South Africa mid 90s.
It was this spirit of Pan-Africanism that achieved many victories for our people, and according to Kwame Nkrumah and our fore bearers, Pan-Africanism entitled the unification of all indigenous and diaspora ethnic groups of African descent to achieve viable economic, social and political progress for our people. To me this is the noblest cause to which every African should aspire for in all that we do. This is why I believe that Dr Kaunda is one of the greatest and most significant African alive because his life is an embodiment of a true Pan-Africanist. I say this because no one can dispute the fact that during the reign of KK as president of Zambia, our country paid a huge price in supporting, aiding and helping other countries gain their independence. We housed freedom fighters from South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe etc. We should never forget that Zambia championed the fight against apartheid in South Africa vigorously, calling for the release of all political prisoners at the time, including Nelson Mandela. Even though there were many forces at play during the struggle for independence in South Africa, we employed all sorts of tactics to help our brothers and sisters in the region to become independent. For example, the young Vernon Mwaanga in the early 1970s, then as Zambian ambassador to the United Nations, presided over an emergency UN Security Council meeting where he raised the issue of apartheid in South Africa and the need for Nelson Mandela to be released. It is no wonder why the first country Nelson Mandela visited upon his release from prison was Zambia. He even requested to see Vernon Mwaanga during this visit so that he could thank him in person for his efforts. Therefore, as we look to history for all the lessons we ought to learn, I would encourage all of us to listen when THE PAST SPEAKS TO US.
In the light of all these reflections, we as Zambians should be proud of the role that we have played collectively in liberating other African nations. We should not take these achievements lightly nor treat them as just mere events in history, but always remember that with decisive leadership, our men and women of this great country have stood up and summoned the spirit of Pan-Africanism when called upon to do so and that we are capable of doing that over and over again. However, it seems like today we have lost the soul of our nation, we have neglected brothers and sisters in our region when they needed us the most. Let us examine the case of Zimbabwe for instance, a country we share a boarder with and even have a common heritage. Zimbabwe is faced with a humanitarian crisis, brought about by the illegal United States sanctions only because of political differences. Hence, the question that begs an answer is: what is Zambia doing about the situation in Zimbabwe? Where are the young Vernon Mwaangas of our time, with the courage to petition the US government in the world court over Zimbabwe? The PF regime has done nothing to reach out to our neighbouring country and offer tangible help in any form. At least during the MMD regime under Levy Mwanawasa, the government then showed somewhat a concern for Zimbabwe.
To understand the Zimbabwean crisis, one should take a step back in history and try to understand the illegal US sanctions on a country that was once considered the breadbasket of Africa. In 2001, the US congress passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), which was later amended in 2018. In essence, this Act restricted US support for multilateral financing to Zimbabwe until the government of this “poor” nation makes specific political and economic reforms. However, does it surprise anyone that this so-called Act of the US congress was passed in 2001, just a year after the land reform programme in Zimbabwe? Nonetheless, in 2003 the US department of Treasury doubled down the sanctions by enacting targeted financial sanctions against individuals and entities in response to what the US calls undemocratic practices, human rights abuses relating to political repression and public corruption. So when we look at Zimbabwe today, everyone sees that the country’s economy is completely collapsed and non-functional, but no one should make a mistake in thinking that this is the doing of the Zimbabwean people but rather this is a direct result of the harsh US economic sanctions on this “poor” nation. If the situation in Zimbabwe is to be resolved, people should never make excuses for anything but confront the illegal sanctions head on. And Zambia with other Southern African Developing Countries (SADC) and the African Union (AU) should lead the charge. We have been told for long that these sanctions were not meant to harm the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, but they were sanctions on the Mugabe regime and targeted individuals. Today, Mugabe is no more and so why has the US not lifted sanctions on the new Zimbabwe? In fact, the US has in the past supported undemocratic and dictatorial regimes such as Mubarak of Egypt etc. So the excuse or argument of Zimbabwe being sanctioned because of the so-called undemocratic tendencies cannot hold.
Any Pan-Africanist today understands that there is more to the US sanctions on Zimbabwe than what meets the eye. I was in Zimbabwe December of last year (2019), I was in Gweru but also spent few days in Harare. I saw nothing but massive poverty and suffering on the faces of many ordinary Zimbabweans due to these illegal US sanctions. Actually, the United States itself recognises that the sanctions are unfair and counter-productive, because according to the US State Department website, in 2019 America gave Zimbabwe $318 million in foreign assistance but has not lifted the sanctions. It will only be logical that the US sanctions on Zimbabwe be lifted especially that the country which implemented these sanctions has now seen the damaging effects of the sanctions. The Zambian government should summon the spirit of Pan-Africanism, we need to step up to the plate and do the right thing for our neighbour. We should condemn the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe, in the walls of the United Nations and at any platform available. We should advocate for SADC and the AU to put pressure on the US government to reconsider its position on Zimbabwe because innocent people in Zimbabwe are paying the price for no reason at all.