Zambian culture cannot solve our problems

[By Janny Nyendwa]

I always asked myself why Africa is behind in every aspect compared to the rest of the world although we live in a more globalised society.

I couldn’t get the fact that almost everyone is richer than in Africa. The answer lies in the way we respond to problems. I noticed that we are so quick to conform to problems in the name of culture that we can hardly define. We are so quick to denounce western culture but deeply rooted in their western religion, entertainment, sports, medicine, fashion, education system, among many others. Yet, we refuse to uptake western solutions towards emerging world problems, some of which have already solved problems that we are still grappling with.

I came across an article from one of our emerging young politicians backlashing sex education. In his wisdom (ignorance), sex education can lead to young people become gay and start practicing sex at a young age, is that so?

See, my problem with young educated Africans is that maybe our education system is broken to an extent where critical thinking is usually absent to separate our convictions, opinions, beliefs from facts. To some extent, we do not seem to understand paradigms that get misconstrued for facts. Paradigms are broad assumptions about how society works, like the time when we said women shouldn’t wear a pair of trousers because it’s against our culture (mukazi sangavale toloshi, nimaloza). Society is changing and brings a new whole set of problems and challenges that we may not recognise. Remember how we questioned Asians wearing masks in 2002 on a TV programme called Tokyo Today, a TV show that showed the lifestyle of people in Tokyo.

The fallacy that sex education is against the Zambian culture puts a blind eye on facts about young people engaging in sexual relationships. It claims sex education will teach our children sex at a younger age including homosexuality. But the question that begs answers is, is sex taught? I don’t remember anyone sitting me down and telling me how to go about getting laid. I think sex, both for pleasure and procreation, is engrained in all animals’ DNA. So, sex education has nothing to do with what Mr Jackson Silavwe, GPZ president claimed it does in his article dated 18th February 2021. The gentleman further went on to say we should never advertise or talk about contraceptives because they act as driving factors for young people to engage in pre-marital sex that further decay our Zambian culture. This sounds good but the statement isn’t a fact, it’s a baseless opinion. The Zambian culture isn’t well defined. Perhaps we should answer another question, what is our Zambian culture? Is it going to church every Saturday/Sunday? Is it polygamy? Is it masculinity where men get away with almost anything including cheating? Is it Nc’wala, Umutomboko, Ukusefya pa ng’wena or Kuomboka ceremony? Is it worshipping of our ancestors, is it witchcraft? Is it marrying off young virgin girls to men as a gift? So, what is it exactly? I honestly don’t know what the Zambian culture is because if I look deep within the Zambian culture, it’s engrained with many foreign elements including the food we eat; our political, educational, marital and justice system, maize for example was brought by Americans as a substitute for millet and sorghum. Maize is originally from Mexico even though we Zambianised it; again, what is the Zambian culture? When Americans brought maize to the continent, they aimed at solving a specific problem at the time as millet and sorghum couldn’t meet food demands amidst growing population needs. Were we not walking naked or half-naked not so many decades ago? Yet we awarded ourselves as champions of dress code decency after we picked up a certain western religion we are canonising. I remember a few years ago when there was a discussion in the media as to whether we should introduce condoms in prison to arrest the spread of HIV/AIDS. The move was resisted by many sections of society even though the resistance did not take away the problem the act was trying to arrest, by so doing, are we saying same-sex act does not take place in prisons? What should we do about this, are there better immediate, medium- and long-term solutions apart from what someone suggested we do to alleviate rising HIV infections in our correctional institutions? I don’t want to claim to have solutions to some of these difficult questions. I am not even better placed because I am not a health specialist. But if a health specialist provides solutions based on evidence and facts, as a patriotic citizen, my role is to support such propositions that make Zambia a better place.

In as much as we must remain true to ourselves as a people, we need to acknowledge certain problems that live amongst us. For example, these are statistics of what our women/girls are going through; these are our mothers, sisters, nieces, daughters, people so close to us.

*Here are some facts, about 43 per cent of women aged between 15-49 have been sexually or physically abused in their lifetime in Zambia.

*In 2020 Zambia recorded 2,545 child defilement cases, that’s seven children per day or one child every three hours countrywide.

*One-third of Zambian women have given birth by the age of 18 and more than half by the age of 20.

Factors associated with teen pregnancy are not straightforward and often interwoven and driven by different social, economic, and sexual-relations patterns that are further influenced by other underlying social issues like age, peer-group experiences, gender dynamics, and vulnerabilities created by various circumstances in which adolescents find themselves.

Overall determinants of adolescent pregnancy from the study were classified into five categories:

(1) lack of access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services, particularly contraceptives;

(2) poverty, which leads some girls to offer sex in exchange for money, goods, and services;

(3) social and cultural determinants, such as gender inequality (women and girls perceived as the weaker sex), child marriage, and peer pressure;

(4) lack of information and education on sex and sexuality; and

(5) lack of opportunities for adolescents, particularly for those living in rural areas, such as school boarding facilities and social services (long distances to schools, health facilities, and entertainment) according to UNFPA (2017).

As a progressive society, upon realising these challenges, we go about to formulate workable solutions towards real problems and then you hear something like nah, we don’t need contraceptives, we don’t need sex education because it goes in conflict with our imaginary Zambian culture! If you support this notion, you are simply agreeing with the rape, defilement and socioeconomic inequalities that exist between males and females. You are undermining the very belief that women and men are equal, you have refused and denied a girl child an equal and fair platform a boy child never fought for. I find that very disgusting, women do not have the same voice as men and this is the culture that Zambians say we should uphold.

To conclude, religion and morality do not mean the same thing. Though religion may depend on morality, and even develop alongside morality, morality does not necessarily depend upon religion, despite some making “an almost automatic assumption” to this effect.

The notion that religion is a pre-condition for morality is widespread and deeply ingrained. More than half of Americans share Laura Schlessinger’s belief that morality is impossible without belief in God (Pew Research Center, 2007), and in many countries, this attitude is far more prevalent, in South Africa. For example, at least 73 per cent of South Africans believe one cannot be moral without God, 91 per cent of Senegalese agree to this notion.

Other non-theists (unbelievers) have taken a softer line, arguing that moral inclinations are deeply embedded in our evolved psychology, flourishing quite naturally in the absence of religious indoctrination (Pyysiäinen & Hauser, 2010).

As you pick sides, take an independent view of the topic, get the challenges and argument being raised and make an informed point of view. I don’t agree that our Zambian culture is offering solutions to the emerging problems we are facing as a society, it worsens them. I am of the view that research and science in what many perceive as western culture is the right way to go.

The author is a researcher and process engineer. Email: jannynyendwa@gmail.com.

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