Our first day of “boots on the ground” was an exercise in contrasting experiences and the wide range of attendant emotions. Overall, my first impressions of Zambia are favorable: the people are very friendly and undeterred by the difficult economic conditions; the economy, although poor, seems to have landed a seat on the African Renaissance bus (although the quality of that seat remains tbd); and the government, while overwhelmed at the staggering depth & breadth of welfare issues, sports a number of bright, entrepreneurial leaders who seemed committed to managing the country’s growth in a considerate and transparent fashion.
We started the day by meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs & Tourism, the Hon. Given Lubinda, MP, which had been arranged by our host, the Hon. Harry Kalaba, MP. Minister Lubinda and his staff expressed interest in ways that we might build upon the work of the Thomas & Barbara Hughes Foundation, ACE and CAC-ZED to promote economic development in Zambia. Specifically, he expressed support for the appointment of Mr. Thomas Hughes as a Special Consul for Zambia in Atlanta. If approved by Secretary Clinton, this appointment would provide a great platform for deepening economic ties between Zambia and Georgia (and the broader southeastern region of the U.S.). Finally, we also discussed with Hon. Kalaba – who continues to show his mettle as a dedicated, visionary, next-generation African leader – the conceptual framework of the Georgia International Workforce Initiative, and we will explore in the months ahead facilitating educational and cultural exchanges consistent with the objectives of that program.
Later in the morning we visited a local mall that had sprung up in the past year or so in the heart of Lusaka. The mall was packed with shoppers ranging from folks filling carts with food, clothes, exercise equipment and other ordinary goods at Game (Wal-Mart), to more well-heeled patrons browsing in the Cartier store. I was told that three more malls have opened during the same timeframe, and we passed construction projects that included hotels, restaurants, and other evidence of rapid, cosmopolitan growth. These projects clearly benefitted from infrastructure investments made by the governments of Japan and China (roads, etc.), both of whom also sported large, impressive embassy buildings. None of these, of course, can however outdo the large, spotless UN mission here. 😉
It seems that every street corner contains the local compound of some NGO, all of which are rendered more impressive (imposing?) by their surrounding “wall fences” – built high and topped with shards of broken glass, razor wire and, in some cases, electrified fencing. Closer inspection reveals in fact that pretty much every edifice here that is used by humans is actually a guarded compound. We learned later on that success in Lusaka is dependent upon three things: water, electricity and security – hence the wall fences. At the House of Moses rescue orphanage where we are staying, this means a big cistern, a backup generator, and a wall fence with full-time guards. Just one of the many necessary but curious ironies here.
We completed our day by touring the NGOMBE and Garden Community schools, both of which operate in church buildings in rough parts of Lusaka. Getting to these schools was indescribably tough, both physically (the rocky dirt roads put our Land Cruiser to the test and had us clinging to the “Oh S***” handles) and mentally (these neighborhoods are where all of our mental images of abject African poverty come to life). However, we were well rewarded in our efforts: from touring the school facilities – which have literally risen up from nothing – and meeting the administrators, teachers and students who pursue education fervently despite the austere conditions, we found unequivocal evidence that the Hughes Foundation, ACE and CACZED (totally private) welfare programs are working.
Thanks as always for reading and for your comments. Take care.