When I was a mere youth in Senior Secondary School many moons ago, I took Literature in English as one of my optional courses. This was of course quite natural considering my love of the Queen’s language that led me to be reading entire novels by the time I was eleven. Novels from the likes of Charlotte Brontë and Agatha Christie were already in the bag by grade six.
Yet owing to the sheer lack of intellectual stimulation from my Literature in English teacher (among other reasons), I lost interest in the formal course and spent a good chunk of my time engrossed in the likes of Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, Tom Clancy and other more engaging authors.
The years went by like a blur and before I knew it, the grade 12 exams were two months away and I had not read a single book in the Literature in English syllabus. I quickly found the syllabus with the goal of playing catch-up as I was too afraid of getting an F in the subject and causing grief to my dear mother who had invested quite a bit of dosh in my reading pursuits.
You see, from the time I was in nursery school, she faithfully took me by the hand every so often into Kingston’s, the leading book shop of the day in Lusaka. It was located where the current Cavmont Bank branch is in Anchor House next to Shoprite Cairo Road. Sometimes when I have walked into the branch, I can still “see” books displayed all over the banking hall.
The Ladybird classics on the English monarchs were my favourite. I knew English history like the back of my hand by the time I was in grade seven. The story of King Alfred the Great and Richard II, aka “The Lion heart” were among my favourites, not to mention all the various detective series like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries.
So there I was in grade 12, about to fail the Literature in English exam. I then spent the next 30 days or so studying the recommended books in the syllabus for our school (Kabulonga Boys) plus another book that was in the syllabus for other schools. It was “Animal Farm” by George Orwell and I really enjoyed reading it. The book fascinated me greatly because of the great story and I had seen the cartoon on ZNBC TV earlier. (By the way I passed my Literature exam with flying colours).
About five years later, I got a deeper understanding of the political message in Animal Farm. It was a satirical piece meant to expose the hypocrisy and gross contradictions of the Soviet Union’s evil Communist regime that literally turned every one into slaves while the corrupt ruling elite lived like kings and queens. They privatized wealth and nationalized poverty and the pattern repeated itself in China, Cuba and most African countries including our very own Zambia.
For me, the biggest lesson of Animal Farm is the fascinating situation where in most African countries, the racist white colonialists (represented by farmer Jones in the novel) are often replaced by even worse evil despotic regimes as typified by the pigs in the story. At the end of the Animal Farm story, we find the animals regretting getting rid of farmer Jones and longing for his return.
In countries like Zambia, it seems this kind of pattern keeps repeating itself. The colonialists were removed by UNIP but Zambians became poorer and many began complaining. Then UNIP was removed by MMD and again there were many complaints as companies were privatized with job losses and corruption becoming endemic. Then MMD was removed by PF and people are again complaining about how bad the economy is at the moment and the culture of theft and corruption in government has now added incompetence to it.
I have had many a conversation with some oldies who tell me in Bemba that “Ifintu fyaliko bwino mu fedro [things were better in colonial times].” And similar conversations with people who rail against MMD and PF. So it seems that we cannot get to a point where Zambians can say that we are now better off than we were under a previous regime, especially when you consider that it took 46 years for Zambia to regain Middle income status and our GDP per capita adjusted for inflation is still lower today than at its 1965 peak.
We are about to elect the seventh president in about six and a half months and we are in for a roller-coaster ride, if recent political events are anything to go by. We shall all need sackfuls of popcorn as the political drama unfolds with new parties being formed, alliances being forged, defections and counter-defections accompanied by endless media statements about how so and so is not a factor.
Whoever wins, I hope and pray that we don’t end up with Animal Farm Part 4, five years later. Or is it Animal Farm Part 7?