We celebrated Heroes and Unity this past weekend, and in my mind these should be the most important holidays in Zambia.
The reason I say this is because in Zambia, we have few heroes and we are ambivalent about unity.
I shudder to think if we had a personal “Brexit” vote what would happen.
Many would vote to become South African no doubt, if that option existed.
Patriotism is dying a slow, lonely death. You need go no further than the dual citizenship clause and the Barotseland issues to see this.
The focus on national heroes helps to re-invigorate national unity.
Unfortunately, we have few heroes, we idolise our politicians for as long as they are in power, and demonise them immediately they are out.
The usual practice is accuse them of the basest indecencies, take them to court, accuse them of being foreigners, throw them in prison for good measure and acquit them when their reputation is in shreds.
Our excuse is, we will restore them when they are dead.
Unfortunately, we do the same to our senior civil servants, our senior academics, senior military officers, our senior doctors and anybody else of importance.
A medical colleague of mine once told me in jest that the problems you have here is that you have no history.
You value the history and traditions (British and American) of the others above your own. This is not peculiar to Zambians either, as it is an African phenomenon.
When I first read the book Capitalist Nigger by Chika Onyeani, I threw it down. I was so angry!
When my anger had simmered down, I read it again and had to agree that he was right. Africans are unhappy to be African and instead of changing themselves, they simply change their allegiances.
One official hero we have as of October 24, 2015 is the first president Dr Kenneth Kaunda. He is now 92 years old and has outlived three of our own presidents as well as several of his contemporaries.
In reflecting on heroes and health, I thought to ask what can be learnt about health from this national hero.
I will answer three important questions related to this, which are;
1. What lifestyle has given the first president his good health?
2. How does this lifestyle make for a healthy and long life?
3. What can I change in my lifestyle for the better?
Last year on October 24, 2015, the first president was officially declared a national hero.
He was always regarded as such anywhere, but just in case any of us had any doubts, he was rubber stamped with the status.
So we can now at least say we have one official national hero.
The first president has of course many admirable qualities, but for our purposes I would like to consider what we can learn from him, in regard to health and lifestyle.
Unfortunately, information about the first president is becoming less widely available than it used to be in previous years.
However, those of us who lived in the 60s, 70s and 80s probably can recount them from memory.
The first president is now 92 and exceeded the life expectancy of the average male Zambian which is 59 years old by 33 years.
He has outlived three Zambian presidents and most of the first African presidents in the SADC regions as well as Africa.
He has also outlived a number of European, American and Asian presidents who were his contemporaries.
If my recollections serve me right, he has never required medical treatment beyond regular annual checkups at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) presidential suite especially when he was in office, a total period of 27 years.
He has been a vegetarian since he refused to be served meat from a shop window in Mufulira in the 1950s, a period exceeding 60 years.
He had a Christian upbringing from his father David Kaunda, the first African missionary in Zambia at Lubwa Mission, and has been a teetotaller all his life.
He was never known to smoke tobacco, in spite of the glamour it attracted among the politicians who were his peers, such as Sir Seretese Khama.
In spite of a very busy career as a liberation fighter and first President, he has been an avid sportsman.
He had become renowned for his regular rounds of golf at the State House golf course which he helped design.
He is also well known as a musician and ball room dancer.
He composed a couple of songs some of which have become famous national songs such as “Tiyende Pamozdi Ndi Mutima Umo”.
He is well known to have played a number of musical instruments, including the guitar.
He has been a prolific writer and thinker, having written over 10 books which have been printed and reached the book shelves.
He was well known for taking regular annual retreats from work, and made famous the Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa National Game Park as a result.
His personal philosophy of discipline based on self-discipline is something I remember from his many speeches, when he was in office in my growing up years.
There is no doubt that this personal discipline in lifestyle, diet, habits, hobbies and pastimes has yielded this long and healthy life.
2. How does this lifestyle make us healthier?
There are basically two main causes of ill health, which are inborn (congenital causes) and the environmental (acquired).
We have very little control over inborn causes of ill health, but these represent less than 10 per cent of all causes of ill health.
The large proportion of ill health comes from what we do and how we behave.
If we look at the main causes of diseases in Africa in general and Zambia in particular, two main groups come to mind. These are the diseases of lifestyle, such as sugar disease (diabetes), high blood pressure (hypertension), kidney disease, ulcers (peptic ulcer disease) and cancers.
The other set of diseases are due to infections or germs. These include malaria, TB, HIV, and STIs.
All these causes of ill health relate to the lifestyles that we are living.
In short, our health is the outcome of our lifestyle.
When we examine the lifestyle of the first President, we will see that he leads a life of self-discipline. He was strict with his diet and he was a vegetarian.
This is not to say we should all become vegetarians. However, the lesson there is that we should all be disciplined to eat healthy.
We know that the most healthy foods are naturally grown foods, white meat (fish and chicken) and vegetable oils rather than animal oils.
The vegetable oils contain good fats (polyunsaturated fats), which clean the blood vessels. While in contrast, animal fats contain bad oils that clog our blood vessels, and put us at risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Excess salt in our meals is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure in African communities.
There is an African/Zambian epidemic of high blood pressure and its cousin or complication of renal disease.
The first president does not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes.
Two of the leading preventable causes of cancer are alcohol and cigarettes.
The inability to tame or control personal sexual habits. This is the single most important cause of diseases in Zambia.
The leading causes of ill health – HIV, STIs, TB and cancers (cervical cancer, kaposis sarcoma, etc) are most often all related to personal indiscretion.
Many of us will say our lives are very stressful, but I cannot see how much more stress you can get than being the first president of a newly-independent African country for 27 years.
3. How can I change my lifestyle for the better?
When I was a young medical student, we were invited to State House to meet the first president.
It was announced that we would be served the presidential wine. So we were all expecting the fruit of the vine. We were pleasantly surprised to be served freshly squeezed delicious fruit juice.
There is a lot that can be learnt from our national hero about health.
The first and most important is to be moderate and disciplined in our hobbies, habits and lifestyle choices. We can stop smoking, take less salt and spend more time in sport than the sports bar.
The second is in dealing with stress, taking time for sport, and not just to watch sport, but to play it.
Developing some hobbies, whether it is music, poetry, writing, fishing or stamp collecting.
I know so many people who would rather commute their leave days for a little bit of extra cash rather than go on holiday.
This has resulted in many workplaces insisting that holidays be taken otherwise they will be forfeited.
I still recall many pictures of the first president on holiday in Mfuwe, with a guitar in his lap and the family around him.
This is a picture that we need to keep and remember.
We can only serve if we service ourselves well.
I hope we can all remember as the heroes and unity weekend fades way, to learn to be healthy by emulating our national hero for our future health and prosperity.