The British Empire Library

Zambia: The First 50 Years (International Library of African Studies)

by Andrew Sardanis

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by David Salmon (Northern Rhodesia 1959-69)
Andrew Sardanis, a Greek Cypriot born in 1930 and holding strong anticolonialist views, migrated to Northern Rhodesia in 1950. For the next seven years he worked mainly in the North West Province buying produce from the villagers and finally settled in Chingola on the Copperbelt in 1957. There he came into contact with African politicians and civil servants and became involved with Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party. He stood as a candidate for UNIP in the 1962 election which produced the first African dominated government. After independence he was appointed Chairman of the Industrial Development Corporation and subsequently Permanent Secretary, first of the Ministry of Commerce and later of the Ministry of Finance. He left Government in 1971 and became involved in a multinational business group whose interests extended to thirtyone African countries. He still lives in Zambia and has maintained close contact with Zambian politicians over the years.

Zambia: The First Fifty Years is the third in a series of books by Sardanis. Africa: Another side of the Coin is described as "a memoir that covers the expiring years of Northern Rhodesia and the birth and travails of Zambia in the early years of independence". A Venture in Africa describes Sardanis's business career. The new volume sets out to be "a detailed examination of most major events in our history since independence". Sardanis was unhappy at the creation of the one party state and refers to his advice to Kaunda on this and other topics as being generally disregarded. He deals with the return to democratic government with the election of 1991 and reviews the Presidencies of Chiluba, Mwanawasa, Rupia Banda and Sata.

There is an element of autobiography to the book but essentially it is intended to be a history of the first half-century of Zambia's existence. Sardanis does not claim to be a historian. The non-judgmental approach of modern colonial historians such as Paxman, Tristram Hunt and Kwarteng is not for him. He has strong views on every issue and expresses them forcefully. Very few escape his criticisms - and certainly none of Zambia's presidents. Perhaps unsurprisingly Kaunda receives the most praise. Criticisms of him are made somewhat reluctantly although Sardanis makes it plain that he would have been a far better president and Zambia a far happier country if he had listened more carefully to and acted on Sardanis's advice.

Overseas advisers brought in to assist the Zambian government are described as unrealistic and he is scathing about all those involved in the civil proceedings against ex-president Chiluba in London and about the British High Commissioner in Zambia. In particular however he is critical of the pre- Independence government. His strong anti-colonialist views are more forcefully expressed in Africa: Another Side of the Coin than in the present book but even here he refers to the total lack of development before independence in contrast to the money spent in particular on education post- 1964. His views on expatriate civil servants are given in a throwaway remark on the Barotse issue - "the provincial administration of Northern Rhodesia being out of touch as usual".

The pre-independence roles of some Europeans are perhaps viewed more generously by other present day Zambians. Hugh Bown has written a report of the visit of a group of expatriates last autumn to the fiftieth anniversary of independence celebrations. He comments that the Association of Freedom Fighters came to him with a proposal to raise a monument to the European Freedom fighters. He ends "Meeting with so many people who viewed the road to Independence as a struggle and even as a fight must prompt thoughts on the virtues or shortcomings of the government which ruled for forty years from 1924. However Peter Kasanda who did so much to organise this trip for us has written to say that our visit was appreciated. Shakespeare may have said that the evil which men do lives after them but in this case it seems that by and large it is the good that is being remembered and built upon."

Sardanis also comments in some detail on other writers on Zambia with whose views he does not agree. Hugh Macmillan's book An African Trading Empire: The Story of Susman Brothers and Wulfsohn comes in for particularly rough treatment as does his contribution to One Zambia, Many Histories. The four Zambian contributors to this get a nod of approval but the eight "foreigners, like Macmillan, stretch facts to suit their arguments to prove their predetermined conclusions".

It could be argued that this comment would not be inappropriate for parts of this book. It is likely that any reader with an interest in Zambia is going to be irritated by it at some stage. It is nevertheless a fascinating read. There is a wealth of interesting information and while his criticisms are unrestrained and plainly biased they do give considerable scope for thought.

British Empire Book
Andrew Sardanis
I.B. Tauris and Co


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