Months of Sunshine
average altitude of Zambia is four thousand feet above the
sea level, giving it a pleasant climate throughout the year.
It has plenty of sunshine year-long and perhaps with some
exaggeration, even beyond, giving the country the reputation
of having thirteen months of sunshine. Its Flame Trees are
legendary with large crimson flowers, very similar to the
lost and lamented Krishnachuras of Dhaka's Ramna
Roads. Bougainvillaea bloom in a variety of colours for
most of the year.
is situated in south-central Africa and is a small landlocked
country. It was a former British protectorate called Northern
Rhodesia and therefore, English speaking. It gained independence
in 1964. During my time there, Kenneth Kaunda was the President.
Because the country did not have enough educated manpower,
it was dependent on foreign personnel from all over the
world including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Private
businesses and trade were mostly in the hands of traders
of Indian origin. To the north were the copper mines giving
the country its main source of income and foreign exchange.
Modern large-scale agricultural farming in about 800 farms
was in the hands of foreigners, mainly Rhodesians and South
Africans, who realocated after Zambia's independence. Peasant
cultivation, with a few exceptions, was rudimentary and
the country was dependent on external sources for food staff
and most other things. Copper prices were on a decline,
there were foreign exchange shortages and the country was
in deep economic crisis in mid-1977 when I arrived there
as the World Bank's Resident Representative in Lusaka, the
capital, to live with my family for the next three years.
Kaunda, a humanist and a modest man of great humility, was
a follower of Gandhi and admirer of Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry.
Their pictures were seen almost everywhere in the President's
House. When I first went to see the President to request
his support and guidance for my mission, he told me that
I would have God's blessings. Kaunda, ran almost a one-party
state and sycophancy towards him by the ministers and civil
servants was the order of the day. During better times and
in the euphoria of independence, the Government had granted
lots of rights and privileges to the citizens, including
free education, health and liberal employment conditions.
But as the copper prices fell, it created an unsustainable
economic situation. The unemployment rate rose and along
with it increased crime. The situation was further exacerbated
by the war across the border to the south in Rhodesia and
the presence of refugees and freedom fighters from that
country. Zambia was a frontline state and both the government
and the people were assisting the black Rhodesians in their
freedom struggle by dipping (contributing) from their own
the shortage of most essentials and the bad security situation,
living and working in Zambia were difficult. One evening,
in the house next-door, there were sounds of rifle fire
and commotion. Later we learnt that terrorists/criminals
had entered the house, robbed it and took away a car after
killing one person. In 1978, the Rhodesian army came at
night on helicopters from across the border and bombed the
house of Nkomo, the Black Rhodesian leader only a few blocks
away from our residence.
country was beautiful, particularly the area around the
Zambezi River in the south and the forests in the north
near Ndola. The Bank had financed a large number of infrastructure
projects in Zambia like the roads and hydroelectric projects
and some other similar projects. During my time, attention
shifted to education, agriculture and forestry. We visited
the giant Kariba Dam, built partly with World Bank assistance
and the world's biggest waterfalls, the Victoria Falls at
Livingstone, just at the border between Zambia and Rhodesia
(now Zimbabwe). In local language, it was referred to as
"Mosi oa Tunya", meaning "the smoke
that thunders". It was a breathtaking sight. We could
hear the thunder from a long distance. When we came closer,
we saw a large area over which huge volumes of water from
the Zambezi River was falling vertically to a depth of about
100 meters. Around it was a huge cloud of fine watery spray
as if spreading its wings. This was visible from a distance
of 30 kilometres. The Scottish missionary David Livingstone
was the first westerner to visit the Victoria Falls in 1855.
Upon seeing the Falls, he wrote, "scenes so lovely
must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight".
to the north had the copper mines and the Forests. We visited
both. It was an experience to see greenish copper ore being
smelted and gold coloured copper ingots coming out in the
end. Making of copper pipes and wire were also amazing.
The World Bank assisted forestry project had afforested
a large area with Eucalyptus and other plants. Nearby we
visited the site of the plane crash, where, during the civil
wars in Congo, the UN secretary general, Dag Hammarshold
of Sweden had died under suspicious circumstances. According
to rumours, it was a case of deliberate sabotage or shooting
down by the Congolese government.
the Luangua Game Park in eastern Zambia for two days. The
sight of large herds of deer, buffaloes, zebra, giraffes
and elephants in the wilderness, and hippopotamuses in the
lakes and swamps was spectacular. One early morning, we
ventured into the forest on a jeep, led by our guide who
was armed with a rifle. At one stage, we got very close
to a lion family. I had three of my children with me who
were very excited. The guide calmly assured us that the
lions (the lion, lioness and their three cubs), who were
basking in the morning sun, would not harm us. In any case,
lions seemed to prefer buffalos to humans.
was a small Bangali community in Lusaka and elsewhere in
Zambia. They were mostly professionals- teachers, professors,
doctors, pharmacists, accountants and engineers.
to meet many of them and attend their functions.
the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting took place in Lusaka.
Queen Elizabeth came as the Head of the Commonwealth. At
a dinner for her at the Intercontinental Hotel, the Queen
graciously stated that Britain was also once a Roman Colony
as Zambia was now a British colony. President Ziaur Rahman
had also come and I had an opportunity to meet him in his
cottage. He asked me to discuss the scope of Bangladesh's
technical assistance to Zambia and opportunities for increasing
trade. Interestingly, the President himself enquired whether
Bangladesh could help in setting up an Agricultural College
in Zambia. The Rhodesian freedom fighters had come to a
delegation to meet President Zia while I was there. Ziaur
Rahman told me that being a freedom fighter himself, he
was sympathetic and was ready to offer medical and other
assistance to the Rhodesians. As a Bangladeshi, I felt very
happy and proud!
Jalil, a former civil servant and a retired World Bank staff
member, writes from Washington.)
(R) thedailystar.net 2005