Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Zambia Through the Pages of History

My internal clock is telling me that I should be in Zambia this time of year, toiling happily away at the National Archives in Lusaka, one of the more pleasant places I’ve done historical research.

Because for a variety of reasons I am not in Lusaka, I am having to content myself by skimming through some files about the decolonization process in Zambia and reading a few books about the country’s history.  There are three on my desk at the moment.  One is something of a classic, and the other two are more recent works of historical scholarship.
Robert Rotberg’s The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa: the Making of Malawi and Zambia, 1873-1964 is one of the earlier texts out there on nationalism in African history.  Published just a year after Zambia won its independence, the book argues for early origins to what would only later emerge as full-blown nationalism in the sense that we know it.
The next is Susan Williams’ Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa.  Williams’ investigations into the plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (then Zambia) which killed Dag Hammarskjöld as the UN Secretary-General sought to mediate a war in the Congo brings to light a number of troubling inconsistencies surrounding earlier narratives of and investigations into the ‘accident’.  Enough so that readers are left with little opportunity but to believe that some group of individuals committed murder in Northern Zambia.  Williams’ archival travails further suggest that even if the United States and Britain did not connive in Hammarskjöld’s death, they have likely been complicit in hiding evidence that would shed light on the mystery. 
That this drama played out in Zambia, then still a British colony, is a reminder of the lengths to which opponents of liberation movements were prepared to go to ensure the maintenance of colonial and corporate power (often twinned) on the continent in the face of demands for independence, democracy, and majority rule.
Hugh Macmillan’s The Lusaka Years: The ANC in Exile in Zambia takes this narrative past Zambian independence to the formative years during which South Africa’s primary liberation group, the African National Congress, used the Zambian capital as its headquarters in exile. 
I’m only just beginning this book, but I look forward to reading about how the highways and byways of Lusaka, a city I’ve grown to enjoy during my stays there, moulded and were themselves shaped by the continent’s most fabled liberation organization.  Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, who is today one of very few living leaders from the immediate years after independence, was of the view that his own country could never be truly free so long as it was threatened by the Rhodesian regime which had illegally declared its independence from Britain, and by the apartheid government in South Africa which pursued an aggressive policy of social, economic, and political destabilization against countries on its border as it sought to sustain its brand of colonialism in a world which was increasingly rejecting colonialism as a model of social organization. 
It was against this backdrop that the ANC set up shop in Lusaka, alongside groups from Southwest Africa, Rhodesia, and Mozambique.  Macmillan is not simply describing what the ANC did in Lusaka, but contributing to debates about how the experience of exile shaped the ANC, the governing party in South Africa since 1994.
I’ll list a few other summer reads I’ve enjoyed (sadly only non-fiction to this point), and hope that you’ll add some recommendations of your own:
David Unger, The Emergency State: America’s Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs.
Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man.
Raymond Jonas, The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire.
Elizabeth Warren,  A Fighting Chance.


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