…. a personal Berlin story, ´you are what you eat´ Part V

Anthony Mukwita

BERLIN 25 April 2020

Can you believe that sections of science punditry state that bats could be a ´natural reservoir´ or vessels for a range of deadly coronaviruses or CoVs?

I am not a scientist, so I just soak it in and muse.

After the fact, nevertheless, I found surprising, the flying mammal, is a delicacy or ndiyo in some communities beyond Zambia.

Bats are served as soup, stewed or fried for dinner in some parts of the world without batting an eyelid despite the potential of them being breeding vessels for deadly viruses.

What you choose to eat today therefore could seal your fate tomorrow depending on how much you want to experiment in exotic culinary cuisine.

It doesn’t  matter whether you are in Sunningdale or Kanyama, New York,  or Johannesburg.

That’s the reason I have stuck to my Zambian food here in Berlin to avert a metabolism system accident on one flimsy alien cuisine experiment or another.

Its nshima for me with beef, beans or kapenta., just like back home because in a cosmopolitan city and home to millions of diverse people like Berlin, you can access a variety of international foods.

My little man Lushomo, 7 always asks, “Dad why do you always eat nshima?”, nshima is Zambia’s staple food cooked out of ground corn, like grits.

After reading an article entitled, ´Are we prepared for the next epidemic threat,´ (McKenzie, 2018), I wound the time machine back to Zambia, my sweet roots in southern Africa, where like others in the world, we have a craving for crazy ´off menu´ dishes. Exotic!




´Off menu´ Zambian food amid COVID-19

In Western province, my great Lozi ancestors devour zoonotic dishes like Hopani or Water Monitor in English with undisguised relish. Literally, hopani  is an amphibian lizard , serve a river tortoise with it, we will eat it too and ask for more.

In Eastern province, the Ngoni´s and other eastern tribes eat rats or mice, dried, fried stewed or roasted; they call them imbeba while their Bemba ´cousins´ up north call them kapanga. Exotic.

I am neither a scientist nor Dietician, but I ask, “are we even supposed to eat rat’s, monkeys and hopanis? Are they suitable for human consumption?´ Just spit-balling under lock-down.

I am risking a ban to attend  ukusefya pangwena, Nchwala and Kuomboka, all rolled into one, but someone has to ask the tough questions.

The Bembas´ have more queer culinary tastes than I, they can’t keep their teeth off a plateful of man’s closest ‘cousin’; Monkey, known in Bemba’s as Kolwe.

They sing songs about tasty monkey meat. They sing ´ba kolwe ba kolwe ninama nayo,´meaning monkey meat is good meat!

Like Americans would sing bye bye  Mr American Pie or UB 40 would croon ´Red, red wine´!

Stories about Tonga´s in Southern Zambia eating frogs is a story I am not sure I can discuss because wife Elaine is from there am trying to avoid the doghouse.

I Judge not who eats what because, ´one man’s food is another man’s poison´ .

Amidst stark literature and warnings from scientists regarding how our food could be our fate, however, how could exotic dishes such as pangolins, hopanis, bats and rats be useful to us given the COVs?

Back to the food of things

The medical journal article I referenced on food and epidemics was first published back in 2018 in the UK Guardian but still resonates today.

Somewhere out there, a dangerous virus is boiling up in the bloodstream of a bird, bat, monkey or pig, preparing to jump onto a human being,” the ominous warning read in part.

Albeit in my motherland chobenda, imbeba and ba kolwe, game meat aka dingi, inswa and finkubala and muchopo remain a treat.

The science is that these animals remain potential breeding vessels for epidemics.

“It’s hard to comprehend the scope of such a threat (virus found in animals), but it has the potential to wipe out millions of us, including my family and yours, over a matter of weeks or months,” the article warned further.

Changing eating habits post COVID-19

Like international travel, diplomacy and business in general, the bug has changed everything as we knew it, especially given the speed it travels. The monetary and human damage runs into billions and food is written all over it.

I am a sucker for red meat. I can eat it daily, (not monkey, hopani or mbeba mice) but I am rethinking the intake levels after the bug.

Health expert’s advice that we cut down on our meat , like our founding Father of the nation of Zambia Dr Kenneth Kaunda who turns 96 on 28th April has done vegetables for decades.

SARZ outbreak of 2003, the COVID-19 of today are disaster including the Spanish Flu of 1918 that was traced to a pig farm and decimated 40 million people globally.

I know my good folks in Chipata are laughing and saying, “ba Bemba ba chenjele nanyama ya kolwe or ´Bemba´s beware of monkey steak´” their cousins in Kasama and Mansa be saying, “abena Chipata muchenjele sana naba koswe mulya or ´stop eating rats Ngonis´.”

Globalisation and food COVID-19

With the world opening up more daily with technological advancement, transportation, and wealth in some quarters rise, studies  and pushes diseases to travel faster. Zambia is part of the global village.

Last year some 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales were ceased by alert customs officials at an airport in Singapore as it was smuggled in from an African country headed for a lucrative Asian market reported CNN.

That’s 21, 000 pangolins killed worth US$38.1 million product, good for the table and aphrodisiacs. A pangolin is a scaly exotic mammal that eats ants and a potential breeding house for bugs.

Dogs and cats in some cases, best friend of man, are dinner table targets with or without COVID-19. It’s no longer just mbeba and ba kolwe, as borders open wider.

That’s why I thought food in this series of my essays, as the COVID-19 wreaks havoc might be topical.

Time to tighten controls on borders to limit hapless animals that could be smuggled in or out of the country.

COVID-19 Status April 2020

On 25th April when I penned this essay, my great city Berlin recorded 112 deaths and  5, 79 deaths nationwide with 155,000 infections.

The world mourned the death of 198, 000 people with 2,8 million confirmed infections while a fourth death was recorded on Zambian soil where the government seemed to be well in control of testing and treating.

Times are hard but President Edgar Lungu and Zambia pray to a greater power of Jesus Christ and God and the holy spirit more today than ever before, so we have hope.

President Lungu bemoaned the fact that the pandemic had totally ‘thrown into disarray’ the Zambian budget and proscribed a number of measures to caution the economy and hopefully remain sustainable until the bug was gone.

Chancellor Angela Merkel started a calculated ´return to work’  policy over time but remained cautious on the pace.  She asked German residents to be cautious not excited.

This is the same resolute message President Lungu had for Zambia.

Beware of the wet markets

Science says the spread of COVID-19 is partially from the food you buy, especially the fresh and bleeding from “wet markets” common in Africa and Asia. Soweto and Kamwala have had markets like them and in the past.

A BBC report in the wake of the COVID-19 cited experts seeking a blanket ban on wildlife trade on public health grounds, including bans on commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption and closing down live wildlife markets.”



The German COVID-19 remarkable miracle

Germans have recorded lower fatalities than Italy and Spain sparking a constructive debate as to how Deutschland managed this miracle.

DW citing the OECD says one of the reasons, is because Germany has “twice as many intensive care units per capita as France and almost four times as many as Italy or Spain.”

Paradoxically certain health economists in 2019 said Germany had an “oversupply of hospital beds which was expensive and unnecessary,” to maintain.

“There are too many hospitals in Germany,” wrote the authors of a study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation in last year.
They recommended a closure of some hospitals  actually. “The reduction of the number of clinics, which currently lies at 1400 to 600, would improve the quality of patient care and alleviate the shortages of doctors and care workers,” they argued.

Harsh criticism was that the German had an “unnecessarily bloated system with too many hospitals”.
The government didn’t bite and today Germany’s “overcapacity has allowed the country to fare so well” and Chancellor Merkel to shine.

Georg Baum of the German Hospital Federation (DKG) told DW that the situation would be “considerably worse” today if hospitals were closed. “We would have had much fewer clinics at our disposal and definitely not as many ICUs”.

The lesson here is ´you cannot have enough hospitals, schools or universities because one day you may need to fall back on the excess in case of an epidemic emergency.´

Show me your food, and I will tell you who you are, goes the adage.

Optimistically and borrowing from President Lungu’s remarks on COVD-19, out of this epidemic could emerge a new Zambian entrepreneur cluster that may positively contribute to the economy as a foreign import market shuts down due to the bug.

A wise guy once told me ´life is like a sewer…what you get out of it depends on what you put in.´


Mr ANTHONY MUKWITA is a published author, former Editor and current Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany for Zambia. He penned the book ´Against all Odds, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu´s Rough Journey to State House’. This personal essay was first published on his Facebook page.


©Anthony Mukwita 2020






Additional reading

The Covid-19 pandemic shows we must transform the global food system


Evolutionary Relationships between Bat Coronaviruses and Their Hosts


Pangolin smugglers busted


Rat Coronavirus (RCV): A Prevalent, Naturally Occurring Pneumotropie Virus of Rats 1


Coronavirus: WHO developing guidance on wet markets