So…this is me breaking out of poetic character to talk about something that I saw which made me confused, angry, and laugh out loud all at once.
When I first saw Louise Linton’s story on how her dream gap year in Zambia had turned into a nightmare I couldn’t believe what I was reading. She’d described 12-inch spiders, rebels taking over the country and the war in the Congo being between the Hutu and Tutsi people. At first some people thought it was satire (this isn’t a Zambia any of us recognise), but then I found out it was actually far worse – an excerpt to promote the actress’ new memoir.
There are enough untrue, harmful stereotypes out there about Africa in general without her latest contribution, and I’m fed up of seeing Zambia and other African countries misrepresented in the press. Apparently, a lot of other Zambians agree with me.
Now, as a child of the continent, I do understand that many people have not visited Africa, and so what remains is the impression of a war-torn dark continent infested with HIV and Malaria. While HIV rates in Africa remain high, and there is political unrest in some regions, it is not applicable everywhere.
What is wrong with this memoir by Louise Linton? So many things. I will just go on and elaborate a few…
Firstly, while Zambia is close to countries that have faced civil conflict such as Angola and Congo, there has not been one instance of Congolese rebels crossing over into the country’s borders I can think of. In fact, Zambia remains one of the top ten most peaceful countries in Africa and played an important role in offering secure refuge for those that fled the conflict in the above mentioned countries. So I am confused as to which place in Zambia Linton is recalling when she described having to hide to avoid rebel shooting.
Second, she writes that the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo was caused by the Hutu-Tutsi conflict. Wrong. The Hutu-Tutsi conflict happened in Rwanda – an entirely different country, and while the conflict over there did impact the DRC in many ways, it was not the primary cause of a serious struggle that has claimed the lives and homes of hundreds of thousands over the years. The DRC has had a long history of conflict stemming from a painful independence process, to power struggles, to conflicts over resources.
Thirdly, Linton references a little HIV-positive girl in the northern province called Zimba. This character is the only positive thing she highlights in her piece. However, here it does not quite add up either. She mentions that the girl is from the Bemba community, but where Linton slips up is the name. Zimba, as any Zambian knows is an eastern name. It is almost exclusive to the eastern province, and some parts of Malawi. But the Bemba tribe live in the north. It would be like finding a white, French person being called Xin Li in the 19th century. It just doesn’t happen. Zambians, especially rural Zambians, take pride in the tradition of naming and so it is not possible that a little girl would be given a name from another tribe. My deduction is that this character was made up or at least exaggerated for her memoir’s heart-warming factor. It’s sad she didn’t get her facts right but Africa is just Africa… we’re all the same, right?
Lastly, Linton mentions a monsoon and spiders that are 12 inches across. Zambia does not have a monsoon season. We have a rainy season but it’s really not as bad as was described. The spider part just made me laugh out loud. Ms Linton, I believe you were talking about the Heteropoda Maxima, the world’s largest spider. However, those are native to Laos and have never been documented in Africa much less Zambia.
As a Zambian, the whole article just made me cringe. But on a more serious level, it also made me wonder just how many other countries around the world have people like her falsely documented and gained credit for? The book is selling for around £8 and no one ever stopped to check her facts during the publication process, and as a writer, I am sorry to say that is a low point for literature and the industry. I am disappointed that the Telegraph labelled the excerpt, so full of holes, as a true story. I advise anyone that was planning to buy the book “In Congo’s Shadow” not to because it doesn’t give an accurate picture of Zambia…of my Zambia. My advice is that if you want to know about Africa, Asia or any other place you may be interested in but is not that well documented, visit it yourself to find out the truth.
for anyone interested in reading the article, the link is here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/how-my-dream-gap-year-in-africa-turned-into-a-nightmare/
(for more articles like this one, you can check out my other blog; Written Thinks)