A couple hours after midnight last Sunday, Lusaka erupted with the sound of vuvuzelas. And then the dancing started, first on the tables and soon in the streets. We ran into a mob of people, and before I knew it, someone had grabbed me around the waist, picked me up, and started running. In that moment, I was completely caught up – in the euphoria of winning the Africa Cup of Nations, defeating the mighty Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, and doing so with the most inspired play and in the most dramatic fashion I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t worried for my safety (everyone was just too happy to be violent), but I scrambled out of my fellow celebrant’s arms and headed home with Graham to take a step back and listen. The uproar in the city was unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
Zambia feels like a very different place these days, but this victory is more an indication of the mood than the direct cause of it. The cause is harder to put my finger on. I think it’s a combination of several factors: consecutive bumper crop seasons; high growth rates buoyed by good copper prices; substantial infrastructural investment from South Africa and China; an amazingly peaceful transition of power from one party to another; and, of course, a unfailingly congenial national temperament.
Admittedly, this is all conjecture. Who knows where this feeling of optimism and energy is coming from. All I know is that it wasn’t too long ago that Zambia only made deadlines for its high rates of poverty and HIV/AIDS. While those problems persist, there is an undeniable feeling of holy-shit-things-are-really-happening here. The expectation of “what’s possible” has dramatically changed, so those big problems suddenly seem less Goliath-like (just as Drogba did when he missed that penalty shot…).
Two days before the Chipolopolo boys brought home the cup, our very own company, Mobile Transactions Zambia, announced that our major round of venture financing – the first of its kind in Zambia – was finally in the bank. Then yesterday, Esther Phiri, Zambia’s female-boxer extraordinaire, successfully defended her world welterweight title. In the supermarket this morning, everyone was smiling, and the teller told Graham, “We are champions.”
All that said, I’m now obliged to put my finger to my lips and say, “Don’t kubeba!” Zambia’s victory at the Africa Cup of Nations was no fluke. Did you see the way Zambia’s players approached their penalty kicks? Though they had very few big game experiences under their belts, they were unbelievably cool and confident. So shhhhh! Zambia might just be the world’s best-kept secret. Don’t tell!