War in a land of peace

Where Most Fight for Food and Health, U.S. Goals in Gulf Seem Foreign

Fellows Spring 2003

By Geraldine Sealey

June 05, 2009

LUSAKA, Zambia, March 29 — Zambians have never known war in their nearly 40-year existence as a people free from colonial rule. That does not mean, of course, that they are not fighters.

Most Zambians wage a daily struggle for food and health. The vast majority — 80 percent — live on less than $1 a day. And the prices of food, gas, housing, and even the daily newspaper at 50 cents a copy, do not reflect the paltry earning power of most here.

More than 3 million people, or about a third of the entire population, suffer from malaria, still Zambia's No. 1 killer. An estimated 20 percent of the population are HIV-positive. Treatment with anti-retrovirals is only for the privileged few.

There is only one machine in Lusaka, the capital, that can measure an HIV patient's "viral load," a critical gauge of the progression of the deadly virus.

Comparing HIV to 9/11 Attacks

Given these grim statistics, then, you could forgive the Zambians if they do not understand why war is so necessary in the Persian Gulf, and why the West does not pay more attention to their pressing needs.

"People are dying of AIDS and hunger. Why doesn't America come here and fight AIDS and hunger?" said Moses Mutale of Kitwe, who was one of scores to gather at an anti-war rally in the nation's economically battered Copperbelt mining region late last week.

Winston Zulu, an AIDS activist in Lusaka who is living with HIV himself, compared the disease's carnage here with the destruction wrought by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"It's really like 9/11 happening every week, you know what I mean? Yeah. Only OK, there's no big bang, there's no dust, there's no fire and all that. But if you go to the burial ground you see a lot of dust because a lot of vehicles are going there."

War Chipping Away at Livelihoods

In Zambia's great tourism hope, the town of Livingstone near Victoria Falls, one of the world's seven natural wonders, some locals suspect the war has already begun to chip away at their already meager livelihoods.

The town's taxi drivers express concern about the already steep price of petrol — nearly $1 a liter in Livingstone — and fear that the war will drive prices even higher.

Many cabbies, unable to keep their tanks full, wait for their next customer before filling up with small amounts of petrol. It is not uncommon for taxis to run out of gas before making it to the filling station, with customers on board, or before making it to the customer's destination.

Some otherwise unemployed local men, seeing a business opportunity in the petrol crisis, travel to nearby Botswana, where petrol is much cheaper, and return to Livingstone to sell fuel out of gallon jugs on street corners — their own one-man filling stations.

Shadrick Luyanga, a Livingstone taxi driver who makes his best money ferrying foreign tourists to and from multi-star hotels near Victoria Falls, fears the war is keeping many visitors away as the busy local tourism season is set to begin.

‘How Would America Feel?’

But Luyanga is irked not just by the trickle-down impact of the war on already poor countries like Zambia. He also cannot grasp the principles behind the fighting.

"How would America feel if another country came in and destroyed one of its cities like that?" he said.

From what Luyanga was reading in the local newspapers, the Pentagon's much-touted "shock and awe" campaign on Baghdad seemed much worse than the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

For the most part, anger here about the war so far away is aimed at the U.S. government and not the American people, and some of the most vitriolic anti-U.S. sentiment has been expressed in the editorial pages of Lusaka's newspapers.

"What we are seeing today is nothing but the development of a whole philosophy aimed at sweeping away the United Nations charter and the principle of national sovereignty," said a recent editorial in The Post newspaper.

"Is this the type of democracy and values the world should adopt, the world should learn from the United States? Bush is more dangerous than Saddam, he has the capacity — and a destructive mind — to destroy the world several times over."