Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
It is an open secret that Zambians, despite their protestations, still vote along tribal lines – a fact that was reinforced in 2011 by the election of the Patriotic Front (PF), which won thanks largely to support from the Bemba-speaking north. And while political leaders publicly posture and decry tribalism, they invariably pander to their tribal supporters when they take office and entrench tribal alliances through their appointments.
This reality is by no means confined to Zambia. In many African countries, people who fought together for independence soon grew tired of working together in government and broke into smaller political groups – often based on tribe or ethnicity.
This was the case in Zambia where soon after Independence, the country’s founding father, President Kenneth Kaunda, had to fight off tribally-fuelled opposition from his erstwhile freedom fighter comrades.
Being all too aware of the threats of tribalism to the development of the newly independent Zambia and to his UNIP party’s hegemony, Kaunda endeavoured to manage tribal alliances with his ‘one Zambia, one Nation’ philosophy – an attempt to promote harmony by encouraging the country’s 73 tribes to co-exist and put the interests of the nation before the interests of their ethnic group.
And Kaunda succeeded up to a point because, while tribalism continued to exist, it did not trouble the national psyche as it does – increasingly – today.
There are threats of cessation coming from the Lozis of the Western province, which many of them now refer to by its old name of Barotseland. Meanwhile, the opposition UPND has retained its stranglehold on the Tongas of the Southern Province – an area traditionally hostile to the nation’s post-independence, Bemba-dominated leadership. And the Eastern Province is suffering from renewed isolation and marginalisation following the defeat of former President Rupiah Banda – an easterner who is now firmly out in the cold.
Indeed, the issue of tribalism has recently taken on dangerous overtones with the formation of anonymous shadowy groups – such as Tonga’s on Oath, whose members have vowed to kill Bembas found in the Southern Province, and Northwest Rhodesia, which is specifically seeking a non-Bemba candidate to dislodge President Michael Sata and the PF in the next elections in 2016.
But at the heart of the increasing tribal tensions is President Sata. While he painstakingly and publicly denies being a tribalist and wants to be seen as a president for all the people, he has failed to develop a vision or principle of inclusiveness that will help to secure the ‘oneness’ that existed under Kaunda.
His appointment of numerous northerners to key posts in the government, civil service and parastatals is regarded as a means of solidifying their support for him and as a way to preserve the Bembas’ post-independence political hegemony. The ‘family tree’ that was coined during the reign of the late President Levy Mwanawasa because of his penchant for nepotism has been changed to ‘family forest’ as Sata has appointed more and more Bembas to influential positions.
The PF and Sata have argued that there will inevitably be more northerners in the Cabinet since its members have to come from PF members in parliament – the majority of whom are northerners because of how the election panned out. In addition, there is also the view that people who supported the PF in its decade-long quest for power must be rewarded – and many of these people just happen to be from the north.
But Sata has clearly missed many opportunities to try and unify the nation with a broader range of appointments. He has not – as Kaunda did – used his authority to appoint competent people from other ethnic groups to senior government positions to counterbalance the northern group. He could have appointed eight MPs from outside the PF to broaden parliament’s tribal and regional make-up. But he did not.
Instead, he has recalled all non-Bemba diplomats from Zambian missions and replaced them with his tribesmen. He has surrounded himself with clansmen by choosing aides and special assistants from the north – as well as employing them to head parastatal bodies and to take up other leadership roles.
While Zambians have generally accepted a degree of tribalism in previous regimes, there are indications that patience and tolerance is wearing thin given the scale of Sata’s northernisation of the State. Indeed, there are increasing rumblings of discontent from civil society about the abrogation of provisions of the constitution, which state that people should not be discriminated against based on their tribe.
If Sata really wants to be regarded as a President of all Zambians and to leave a more united country as his legacy, he will have to do more than talk about anti-tribalism. He will need to be far more inclusive in his appointments and commit more effort and resources to the more marginalised, non-northern regions.
Sadly, he has shown few signs of following this path. Like so many other leaders, he seems determined to surround himself with people from his own tribe – sacrificing national unity for the sake of power. Hopefully, he will realise someday soon that he could have both.ShareThis