Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book 65, Zambia: "With Sword and Chain in Lusaka" by Richard Sampson

Given that I was actually travelling to Zambia and was not having that great a time with Malama Katulwende's Bitterness, I decided to switch to another work: something shorter and more informative, though not actually better written.

Richard Sampson was born in London in 1922, served in the British Navy in the Second World War, migrated to Zambia in 1948, and emigrated to California in 1972; specifically to La Jolla, which he claims has a similar climate.

In between, he was an entrepreneur in multiple fields, served as deputy mayor, and later mayor of the capital city, Lusaka, stood as a candidate for the UNIP - a party which was mostly African, because remember, this was before independence, when the country was called Northern Rhodesia.

Sounds like it should be rather good reading, no? Sadly, the most interesting bits are either previewed in the introduction (e.g. Sampson's negotiations to end the system where butchers could only sell meat to blacks through hatches in the wall rather than allowing them into the shop) or delivered in throwaway fashion (e.g. the sensational tales of local characters, or Indira Gandhi's lecturing to the Indian community that they treated their womenfolk in antediluvian style).

There's no real urgency, nothing to invite emotional investment in the narrative. He wasn't a freedom fighter; he was a responsible Brit who happened to think that his fellow whites were being irresponsible by not allowing more African involvement in politics in the run-up before independence. There's a lot of damning evidence against Roy Welensky, the last Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia, who clung to the idea of a British presence despite the fact that he knew London wouldn't support it. But is there real, virulent, eloquent scorn? Not even that. Ho-hum.

Oh, and every now and then Sampson tries to make his story more dramatic by beginning a chapter in media res. What actually happens is that the reader just gets confused.

But the book's informative, yes indeed. Eye-opening to see what was happening at the time of African decolonisation: how various powers sabotaged the possibility of a more stable, more prosperous Zambia (though the drama's killed a little when Sampson congratulates the nation on not having any bloody civil wars since independence). Interesting too to realise that Zambia was richer than Zimbabwe, though right now the case is reversed: in spite of Mugabe's bad press, Zim is recovering and Zam's still in the slumps (as gathered unprofessionally from Wikipedia and my inquiries with tour guides on both sides of Victoria Falls.)

Also cool was my experience of reading this book concurrently with Long Walk to Freedom (which is actually turning into a good read), as the geographies and personalities overlap: Kenneth Kaunda, Haile Selassie, and of course the spectres of South African apartheid and the Zimbabwean civil war that Zambia actually managed to escape.

So basically, this book isn't recommended, unless you're going to Zambia and would like some background. The guy's evidently written other books, which I dare say may be better. Otherwise, go read some Archie comics instead.

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Representative quote:
"For those interested in the subject, African beer is made from fermented corn and is very potent. To me it always had the colour of dirty milk and I never did try it."

Next book: Jack Mapanje's Beasts of Nalunga, from Malawi.

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