Zambian Filmmaker Says Democracy in Africa Is Constantly Evolving
(Democracy Video Challenge winner Chansa Tembo talks to America.gov)
By Charles W. Corey and Jane Morse
Washington — Democracy is not a foreign concept to Africa, but it is a very important concept that is “constantly evolving,” says Chansa Tembo, the U.S. Department of State’s 2009 Democracy Video Challenge winner for Africa.
Tembo’s video was chosen as the African winner in the contest from about 100 entries from Africa. It shows a smoothie fruit drink being blended from a variety of fruits and vegetables.
As a prize, Tembo and his fellow winners — who represented five other major regions of the world — were flown to Washington, New York and Hollywood. Tembo spoke with America.gov midway through his tour in Washington, shortly after meeting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department and touring New York and just prior to leaving for Hollywood — home of the U.S. film industry — to tour Universal Studios, attend galas and meet with the Directors Guild of America.
Speaking of his experience, Tembo said: “It has been amazing. Everything has not yet registered in my head. I think I will be on the plane back [to Zambia] and then it will click. I will be like, ‘Wow, I came to the United States; I met so many wonderful people who put in so much effort.’ It is still a dream to me.”
While in New York, Tembo and others appeared on the U.S. television show Today, toured the United Nations and were feted at a gala dinner. “There is so much going on in New York — so many different cultures, so many people from so many walks of life. It is an amazing culture, and being at the U.N. was amazing. We got a tour of the U.N. We went to the Security Council and saw what was going on over there. We had a meeting with the head of the U.N. Democracy Fund and that was a very good meeting.”
Tembo explained that he came up with his winning video idea while walking through the farm where he lives. “I was thinking about what I was going to do and what kind of video I was going to create.
“I have oranges, lemons, bananas, tomatoes. I was looking at the shapes, the sizes and the different attributes of the fruits, the different colors. They all have unique tastes: some are bitter, some are sweet, some flavors I don’t even want to try. … So when I thought about that, it made me think that people on this planet are just like fruits. We come from different tribes. We come from different cultures. We have different beliefs. We have different colors. We follow different faiths. I thought about us coming together as people and how fruits can be brought together as well.
“Even though you might not be able to appreciate one fruit for its taste, or you might not like the shape or the size or something, when everything comes together or is blended together, perhaps then we can create something that comes together as one that can be consumed by the entire society or at the very least can be tolerated by that particular society,” he said.
Peace and tolerance are two qualities often found in democratic societies, he said, and that is why democracy is so important. “I view democracy as a template or a model. I don’t view democracy as a destination and say, ‘OK, we have gotten here and people now have automatic freedoms and automatic rights.’
“I think it is something that evolves. It is a unique template and something that when it is utilized will evolve and enable people to realize their rights, realize their freedoms. We have seen great success in the United States. It is the greatest democracy in the world. I hope a lot more countries can actually adopt this kind of model and system of governance.”
Democracy is not foreign to Africa, Tembo said. “We have had four presidents in Zambia. Our newest president came into power this year. We lost a president last year. … The very first time multiparty democracy existed in Zambia is 1991, when President [Frederick] Chiluba came into power.”
Democracy in the form of freedom of expression is not a new concept to Africa, he added. “We have different cultures and different tribes and different traditions who express things in different ways.
“We have chiefs in some cultures … [and a chief uses] concepts and ways in which he can express how he feels society should actually govern itself. For example, if people are drinking too much in a society and messing up,” he said, ”… in one of the tribes … the king will meet with his advisers and ask, ‘How can we come together and talk about this?’ … Then they have dancers dance in a certain way to convey a message so that people think about what they are doing consciously and make their own decisions.” So it is a different form of democracy, he explained.
Tembo said he hopes to see more multiparty and other forms of democracy in Africa. “I think Africa is slowly realizing democracy. It is not something that will happen overnight. It is a process. It will evolve. It will take some time.
“Even in the United States of America, democracy has been here for a very long time, but then you have the civil rights movements which came a lot later. When you talk about gender equality, you had women who were unable to vote, but after a while, democracy enabled women to vote, and then [Barack] Obama became the first African- American president, number 44. It took 44 presidents for America to realize their first black president. So we can see that democracy is working and evolving.”
Tembo called the election of President Obama “very significant.”
“America plays a very big role, not only in Africa but across the whole world. People look up to America for the decisions they make. Many countries around the world and in Africa in particular idolize the achievements America has gone through, the governance America has, the freedom which America exhibits. I think people admire those qualities because people want to see it in their own societies and they want to realize those freedoms and rights, so America is very significant in Africa and having an African-American president in America for Africa is very important because African Americans are native to Africa. … It makes us feel closer and more in touch.”
The Democracy Video Challenge is a unique partnership comprising democracy and youth organizations, the film and entertainment industry, academia and the U.S. government. In its inaugural year, the challenge attracted more than 900 video entries from 95 countries. The 2009 winners were selected (as those for 2010 will be) from every region of the world: sub-Saharan Africa; East Asia and the Pacific; Europe; the Near East and North Africa; South and Central Asia; and the Western Hemisphere.
The video platform for the Democracy Video Challenge is provided by YouTube, and the winning videos are selected by a panel of film industry professionals and global online voting. The videos, which complete the phrase “Democracy is…,” and biographies of the 2009 winners ( http://www.videochallenge.america.gov/video.html ) can be seen at America.gov.
Competition for the 2010 Democracy Video Challenge is now under way.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)