Peter Jones of the Zambia Tourism Agency take us back in time to revisit the rich history between the African nation and the United Kingdom, reminding readers of the important role that what is now Zambia played in World War One. With the centenery of the war’s conclusion approaching this year, Jones intends to anchor his strategy for Zambian tourism around the landmark date, drawing on the shared history between Europe and Zambia to bring a new type of historical tourism into the country
What moments in the shared history between Zambia and the UK are most significant?
The most significant shared historical moment between Zambia and the UK is World War One, and this year marks the centennial of the end of the war. There will be a massive commemoration in Europe, naturally, but I want Europe to remember that the war actually finished here. Too often we forget the role of Africa in this. The centennial will be an occasion to bring the focus to Zambia.
Why did World War One end here?
It was largely the result of bad communication. In fact, the first shot fired in WWI wasn’t in Europe either; it was off the coast of Australia. Various activities took place in Africa, such as the first naval skirmishes of the war, which took place on Lake Malawi. The first completed military campaign of the war took place in Africa, in what is now known as Namibia. Rhodesian and South African troops were deployed to take German South West Africa. They did so quickly and then returned to their domestic work. Soon, they were called to serve again when full-scale war broke out in Europe. We know the war eventually finished in Europe on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month; however, in reality, news of the armistice took time to reach the rest of the world. The news eventually reached the African front by November 14th and the Germans laid down their arms. That’s when the war was truly finished.
Pre-independence, the people here would have celebrated Armistice Day, but in the early days of independence, their colonial history would have no meaning to the new country called Zambia. It may have been commemorated by Europeans who still lived there and some of the African soldiers who had fought in the war. Over generations, it was even further forgotten. Now, with the centennial approaching, there is an opportunity to revive it. It is a time to remind Europe of the great sacrifices that Africa made and this history that continues to link Britain with Zambia. Particularly with Brexit, these relationships are crucial as the UK is trying to revitalise trade links with its old partners in the Commonwealth.
How does remembering Zambia and Great Britain’s history impact the tourism industry today?
We can re-expose a lot of the history between Great Britain and the Zambian people, and this will have very positive impacts on tourism. Domestically, we are trying to attract interest in our northern tourism circuit. Our competition in terms of tourism has always been Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is similar to Canada for us – they are a big country with a small population neighbouring a smaller country with a bigger population. In terms of tourism and Niagara Falls, it’s the Canadian side that has gotten the tourism piece right. You can see a similarity there between us with the Victoria Falls.
We need to do more to showcase Zambia’s history. For example, whilst highlighting the railway infrastructural project here, we hosted a World Cup in 1910. Sculling and boxing were the two major sports. In 1905 a rowing club was set up here in Livingstone because they wanted to host the World Cup here. People travelled the new railway to attend a major world sporting event here. We keep that tradition going on to this day, with regattas between local Zambian teams and the Cambridge and Oxford rowing teams on traditional Zambian rafts. We’re trying to capture the younger generations’ attention when it comes to our history. We have this history and we are hoping that the northern tourism circuit will ignite that interest in a way that’s totally unique. The WWI centennial is the big moment for that—you only get to celebrate a centennial once. Every year, some sort of Remembrance Sunday occurs. Now, we have the chance to do it in style, and also to encourage people to experience Zambia’s culture and history.
What is the history of Livingstone and the Victoria Falls as tourism hubs?
When the Victoria Falls project commenced in 1975, Livingstone was the famous nearby town, named after the British explorer David Livingstone. Six years after the town was formed, it became the capital of the new area of Northern Rhodesia, which is bigger than France. Everyone knew about it, and Africa was very much the focus of attention in Great Britain. After WWI it became a very popular destination. Following World War Two, there was the idea being discussed of a Federation of Rhodesia, and Livingstone was considered the capital of that federation. This country, now called Zambia, was powerful because it had significant copper mines and a great railway line. It was still a focus of wealth creation in Africa and Livingstone was its focal point. The city was also a hub for tourism.
What kind of destination was Zambia in that time period?
Safariing was the big buzzword in those days. Going on safari was the height of luxury. Only two places have ever remained on the Natural Seven World Wonders, a list of sites created by the Americans after WWII. One of the remaining sites is the Grand Canyon, and the other is Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls still remains the world beater when it comes to falls. This has helped keep Zambia, on the map. After independence, the Rhodesian Bush War did shift tourism away from Zambia towards Kenya. The Kenyans are amazing tourism marketers. The Southern Rhodesians had also created their own domestic tourism market. In Zambia, a lot of the Europeans left, and tourist sites were spread too far apart. But now we have this opportunity to help the Zambian government develop the northern tourism circuit. We have to think more regionally.
What is completely unmissable about a trip to Zambia?
As a tourist, you’ve got to come see Victoria Falls at least three times. Once when it’s full, once when it’s half full, and once when it’s empty. There are three definite times to come, each with a corresponding circuit. Rafting is fantastic here – it’s some of the best rafting in the world. We have to build on this and get the word out. We also have got to develop the domestic tourism market. The middle class here is getting bigger all the time. With regards to Livingstone, there are three ways for tourists to get there. We need to improve the roads leading to Livingstone to make it easier for people to road trip. Flights have to be made more affordable. Finally, we need to revitalise the railways. That famous Zambian railway must be restored. It’s like in Europe — if you want to go somewhere, you jump on a train for the weekend. It can be done. Additionally, when we think of our domestic tourism market, we must look beyond just Zambia. When I think of our domestic market, that includes Zambia’s neighbours. All lodges here in Zambia have a local Zambian rate, about half the international tourist rate, and I consider our neighbours to be eligible for the Zambian rate. We have to do it. It’s a new era. Every 50 years there is a big shift. Northern Rhodesia was created in 1911. Fifty years later we became Zambia, and 50 years later became the first country in Africa to peacefully change presidents three times. Every 50 years, we are on the cusp of a new era. The next 50 years is about celebrating and bringing our history to life.
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