MARCH 12, 2021.8 A.M: Words on the calm banner ring out bright and sharp “They said we couldn’t do it,” their cadence meld into lines of optimism. In the speckled light of the Zambia Expo Convention Centeryoung locally-bred Einsteins are putting final touches to their projects.
“We’ve waited for this day,” Musa says. “We’ve been dying to show the world that we are not inferior, that we are not lesser than them, and that we are not far from today’s inventions and innovations. This year or soon, we shall put this car on the world market.”
It is Zambia’s first solar-powered car, the first of its kind in the world. Students call it Dabwa21 after the 20 year-old inventor Musa Dabwa a freshman at the University of Zambia, school of engineering. What had started as an entry to the Junior Scientist Competition at the beginning of 2021 has become the scion of innovation.
It was while at David Kaunda Technical School that Musa designed a wooden solar powered car after interacting, via the Internet, with the US-based Stanford Solar Car Project, a Stanford University student-run organization with a passion for invention.
Musa won himself a full scholarship to UNZA. Utilizing technology typically used in the aerospace, alternative energy and automotive industries, Dr. Kanyanga and Dr. Chisale with the help of engineering students turned Musa’s module into Dabwa21.
In three hours’ time the car and other inventions will be beamed to the world when the president launches the Youth Day invention and innovation.
Musa drives the car on the display turntable.
“Give it the last rave and rest the engine,” Dr. Kanyanga tells him.
As the six-seatsedan, in the Zambian colors of green, black, orange and red begins to rotate on its stand, some students, including Musa, quietly shed tears of joy.
Musa calls his father on his cell.
“Are you coming?” he asks.
His father too is in tears.
“How can I not?” he replies.
Miles away, in the copperbelt city of Kitwe, a young man from Buchi who had been building things his entire life is testing his invention, a 40 kilowatt portable generator. A reporter dressed in a khaki shirt of many pockets is talking to him.
“The end of candles is nearing,” the young man says. “In the next year or two each home, in towns and villages, will have enough power to do virtually anything even light up the front of their yard.”
Yes, it is Youth Day with a difference—a campaign fulfillment by the six-month-old president. He had promised to turn Youth Day into an occasion on which the Zambian youth would showcase their genii in various fields.
“When I am elected president, Youth Day will not be a day of marches with me standing on the podium,” he vouchsafed. “The days of commemorating Youth Day as a protest against imperialism by young intellectuals are over. Imperialism is the reason our dignity has gone indefensibly askew. We must not be reminded of its devastation.
“As president I will sign an executive order to turn Youth Day into an occasion for innovation and invention. It will be a day of turning brilliant ideas into reality, a day on which young intellectuals and talented minds will share a common goal—to prove to the world that Zambia can put originality, ingenuity, and design to the test.
“It will be a day when primary and secondary schools will exhibit their physics and chemistry experiments, a day when the best math students will receive gold, copper, and bronze medals. My government will set aside millions of Kwacha to reward winners of competitions in cities, towns, and villages.”
In his inaugural address the president called for a “bold technological vision.”
“Innovation has come to Zambia,” he declared to the applause of the youth and the intelligentsia. “The supreme tragedy is that throughout our existence as an independent nation we have been carried on the rough back of the West. Our survival has been wholly dependent on them. Our economy has hardly improved partly because of reckless greed on their part and on the part of the privileged few here at home.
“We have and continue to lose our parents, brothers and sisters to diseases like AIDS and malaria because our health facilities are substandard…as we continue to lose our beloved ones and so does our hope and confidence. A nagging fear that we might be extinct is inevitable. Today, I say to you that there is no time for self-pity. We either rise to the challenge or perish… you have chosen me because I promised nothing but optimism, courage, and confidence. Above all, I promised novelty. On this day, I say to you Zambians we shall no longer be fodder for mockery. Let us put our intellectuals and talented people to work so that they can immerse in a spring-well of ideas that will help to keep our country out of poverty and disease. Let’s find a cure for malaria. Let’s find a cure for AIDS. Let’s discover and create…
“Developed countries are where they are due to hard work. They experienced similar problems as ours. They too lived in the dark. In the 1300s Europeans faced the worst human catastrophe in history when the bubonic plague destroyed a third of their population. They were almost wiped out, but their doctors worked hard to develop an antibiotic to fight the disease. Why can’t our doctors do the same with AIDS and malaria? The time has come for us to do just that. The time has come to put our God-given ingenuity to good use…We have been good humans and therefore deserve a good life here on earth.
“No one should tell you we can’t do it. We find ourselves in this position because we have failed to appreciate how intelligent a people we are. We are not a lazy people, and yet that’s what our humanity shows. Every day we work until our hands bleed. It pains me to think that with all the power we possess, our minds remain less inventive and innovative. Poverty remains our identity, our stigma. I am here to tell you that it is time to fight poverty. My government will reward any individual or group that works toward the improvement of our lives. Every Youth Day we shall reward a pantheon of brilliant minds. It will also be a fan-day for families. They will have a range of inventions to look at from challenging robots to flying saucers.”
The president had opened a Pandora’s Box. Patent offices operated by the newly-created Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation throughout the country were inundated with all sorts of people wishing to patent their creations, even the outrageous.
“I want to patent the father of Viagra,” one Tumbuka medicine man boasted.
“What are you calling it?” the registrar asked.
In Mansa, a 26-year-old Mununga man caused a steer at the patent office.
“I can make the president fly to England in five minutes,” he claimed after attempting to register his “plane,” a winnowing basket.
The registrar laughed. “How are you going to make this thing fly?”
The man opened his battered suitcase and pulled out a dead owl.
“This is the pilot,” he said.“And these,” he continued as he pulled out two hyena tails rolled into rings, “are wheels.”
“Can you demonstrate how it works?”
“Sure, tonight I can,” he said. “I can only fly in the dark.”
“So the president will have to fly in the night?”
“Yes, and without clothes on.”
The man told the registrar that he was the grandson of the naked man who crash-landed through the roof of Kanjombe Stores in the early 1990s.
When his application was rejected, he began to hiss like a snake. The registrar quickly signed the papers.
Other innovations were dead serious like the bullet jacket manufacturing equipment invented by Kasoma Kasoma, an engineer who had spent many years abroad. He, together with hundreds of Zambians in the Diaspora had returned home to answer the president’s call.
“We’re Africa’s top copper producer,” he said after demonstrating how the machine worked. “Copper is used in bullet-making by the so-called big powers. There are more than a billion guns in the armies of the world and in private hands, and more are made each day. Why can’t we in Zambia make bullets and sell them to these armies? I had told the president that I would only return if I were given an opportunity to create a factory for this kind of business.It’s far more gainful to turn our copper into products for export than selling it on the metal market, at least most of it. My wish was granted.”
In October 2020, during the opening of parliament, the president read out a letter he had written to all Zambians in the Diaspora.
Over the years our country has seen the emigration of a large scale of our intelligentsia due to our economic malaise. Believe me no one can blame you for seeking greener pastures. But think for a moment of the number of times you have had to board a plane to come and bury a beloved one here at home, or indeed the many times you have failed to come due to your own financial problems there. Think of the siblings you have lost and wish you were here to save them. Think about that for just a moment.
How about the challenges you and your family face in dyspeptic times when your contract is suddenly abrogated or when credit catches up with you; when you lose your home, car or when your family disintegrates, think about that for a moment, or indeed when you fall ill thousands of miles away from caring relatives and friends.
In the past you have had very little choice but to face the consequences. But now I am here to offer you what you have always craved for, a good pay and a happy home in your own country where you will never feel derided and disrespected. I will do so in exchange for your academic input and investment. I grant this much as your president, I will ensure that upon arrival you and your family are taken care of. I need the solidarity and cohesion of all Zambians if we as a nation are to succeed.
By January 2022 half of Zambians abroad had come home and more were in the process of relocating. The government had signed a contract with each one and given them jobs.
I stop here and leave the rest of the story to your great imagination. This is not a fairy tale. It is our future. Do you want it or you want much of the same thing?
Note:All African youth are wearing the T-shirt “Ours is a Future of Innovation.” Make one for yourself.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and an adjunctprofessor (lecturer). ©Ruwe2012