The future of Africa remains a prisoner of Africa’s past — but not for the reasons usually invoked.
The legacy of colonial rule and the earlier ravages of slave trade forever changed the “trajectory” of African development. That is the biggest cliche of African studies, however axiomatic. What is less appreciated is how “independence” from colonial rule was constructed in order to promote personal rule of a sort that, however unique to the sub-Saharan, exhibited parallels with forms of personal rule elsewhere in the world, notably in China (under Mao) and the Soviet Union (under Stalin).
Zambia provides a lesson in microcosm of the past as prologue for Africa’s future. The country’s independence movement delivered a crypto-Marxist national leader, Kenneth Kuanda, who over the years constructed a form of personal rule that profoundly influenced Zambian society as well as its political culture. In a new essay, Chanda Chisala, one of Africa’s brightest minds on political economy and culture, examines the legacy of Kuanda, who left the presidency nearly years ago — and yet despite the distance of time, Zambians have had great difficulty in escaping the long shadow of his (mental) tyranny. Chisala’s article, published in Zambia Online, has quickly become one of the most read pieces of writing in Zambia’s history.
There’s every reason why Zambians are devouring Chisala’s frank assessment of the long tail of post-colonial history. Writing with a verve and nuance rare in African letters, Chisala delivers a body blow to the standard version of African marginalization and suggests a new vision for integrating the fragmented pieces of Zambia’s national narrative. “Let our history books be reset,” Chisala writes. “The struggle for African independence was not always as hard (or perhaps even as urgent) as our old “freedom fighters” and their “historians” claimed. What has been really hard is the struggle against tyranny – after independence.”
Chisala’s words should leave all friends of Africa speechless, and yet breathless with anticipation. Out of these ashes, what comes? Something better, surely.