I was seated at the back of the pew in St Ignatius Catholic Church when parish priest Fr Charles Chilinda’s voice boomed in the microphone before a silent 7am congregation.
“If you invest in hate, you will reap nothing but hate,” Fr Chilinda said, “if you invest in hate you are expected to get the same emotion back so my suggestion is that you invest in love and get lots of love back.”
This is conventional wisdom but words assume a different meaning depending on where and when they are spoken.
Fr Chilinda was speaking a day after Zambia’s Chipolopolo conceded a 1-nil defeat to Nigerian Eagles therefore kissing their Russia 2018 dreams good bye.
“I heard some people even say Nigeria as a country is better than Zambia,” Fr Chilinda said, “how can Nigeria be better than Zambia? It’s just a game- you win some and lose some definitely there is no way you can say another country is better than your own country. Zambia is a better country, it’s your country.”
You may wonder why I am starting an independence analysis with a church sermon from a simpleton parish priest, high on God on a Sunday morning but the reason is simple.
Priests by occupation coach us to love thy neighbours and our country.
For this reason, I reckon Zambia, 53 years as an independent state is better than in was yester years. This is not simply because children are no longer dying from small pox and measles anymore.
There are several factors scholars consider when arguing what is best and what is not, these factors often range from access to education, health care, mortality rate, free expression and the ease of doing business to mention but a few.
Forty years ago, thousands of mothers and babies under the age of five died needlessly due to poor health care at both prevention and treatment stage during birth.
Today, studies from the Ministry of Health show that Zambia’s under-5 mortality rate has drastically fallen by over 30 percent since 2001, from 168 babies dying at birth per 1,000 live births to just about 119.
No life is worth losing according to experts but what is significant is that successive Zambian governments from post-independence Dr Kenneth Kaunda to present day President Edgar Lungu have contributed their bit to reduce the number of losses of good lives.
But this optimistic picture is often ignored as critics of government often look at sore points of governance, therefore making Zambia appear as if it has achieved nothing since independence.
Those that bother to expose these good stats on the other hand are branded ‘boot-lickers’ and ‘sooth-sayers’ because it has become fashionable to criticise and condemn rather than commend and advice in the Zambian discourse.
At independence, Zambia’s founding fathers led by Dr Kaunda were quick to realise that economic and national development would remain elusive as long as there was a dearth in education.
They built one University or UNZA Great East Road Campus that has seen some of the best graduates today govern Zambia including current President Edgar Lungu and predecessors such as Levy Patrick Mwanawasa.
From the day of independence, especially since the return to multi-party politics after 1991, Zambia saw an accelerated growth in education with government planning to build one university in all ten provinces.
This is in addition to dozens more universities that are private sector driven, once a pipe-dream at independence when UNZA was the most coveted education ticket in town.
It’s hard to throw a stone in urban Zambia today without hitting a graduate with at least a basic first degree.
There has been a down side to this; too many graduates chasing few jobs but others argue that instead of looking for jobs, perhaps the graduates must start creating jobs.
The education bubble is not a stand-alone at university level alone. Hundreds of private primary and secondary schools offering employment and quality education have also been built.
People in the SADC region now send their children to schools in Zambia apart from Mulungushi, Chalimbana and UNZA universities.
Access to health has been a problem for Zambia for a while since independence but President Lungu’s government under a programme commenced by President Michael Sata seems to have a panacea to that.
About 650 health posts that will reduce the distance women and children will walk once complete is under construction, the most radical health roll out since independence.
With the project also comes job creation for nurses, doctors and auxiliary health staff as well as gives an incentive for rural people to remain rural and not chase few facilities in the city.
Existing facilities such as UTH and Ndola Central Hospital need continuous attention needless to say as Zambia’s population grows beyond 15 million from a mere 3 at independence.
Bad weather compounded by floods and droughts have been the norm in recent five years as el nino peaks, meaning crop failure has also take an upward spike.
Experts say the reason for the stellar harvest is directly attributable to the fact that agriculture economics and science in Zambia as well as financing has increased since independence.
There is even positive talk about Zambia become the future grain basket of the sub Saharan region as President Lungu expands production subsidies including increasing the land mass cultivated under irrigation throughout the year.
After the fall of one the one party democratic state, international experts have hailed Zambia for being a leader in good governance and democracy including free expression.
The salutations have been largely based on the government allowing more than 100 radio stations and scores of newspapers including blogs, some of the hurtful to exist.
Isolated incidents of heavy handedness have been exposed and the government has accepted blame and taken corrective measures to ensure Zambia remained the last bastion of peace in the region.
The country has been commended for holding six elections without shading blood and remaining stable and not sick at sea when it has mattered the most.
Tensions like in any family set up have existed in the past 53 years but yet again Zambia being a country, a Christian nation espousing Christian values has risen above the tensions and moved on, some major milestone 53 years after independence.
In local parlance; Zambia is aging gracefully with its heart in the right place as it peace gift keeps on giving.
Zambia has continued to be graded as one of the most stable and advancing economies in Africa alongside buoyant economies such as South Africa and Botswana to mention but a few.
Zambia celebrates its 53 years on 24th October with some optimistic economic stats shown below.
Given the fact that less and less mothers and children under five are dying, more Zambians are accessing schools and have access to clean water, one can argue that Zambia is better today than in was 53 years ago.
Compared to other countries pitted with the same circumstances, experts believe that with a little more finesse in economic management as seen under President Lungu, things could only look up economically. This independence commemoration could be a start to improving on the good economic blocks built over 50 years ago. It’s also a good time as my parish priest said to invest in love and exude love. Hate begets hate.