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History answer to Tribal Politics

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1964 Cabinet

1964 Cabinet

By Mwizenge S. Tembo (Ph. D.  Professor of Sociology)

During the night for about 12 hours on 7 February in 1968,  Zambia did not have a President. I was sleeping in my Aggrey House dormitory bed with my school mates as a young Form Two student at Chizongwe Secondary School in Chipata. Over 3 million of my fellow Zambians had no idea what potential danger and catastrophe was brewing in the Capital City of  Lusaka.

Political conflict,  vicious tribal divisions and fights had become so bad at the UNIP’s National Council conference hall in Chilenje in Lusaka that President Kaunda had stormed out of the conference in disgust and disappointment and had resigned as President of Zambia. He had driven to State House to pack his bags to leave. The tribal conflicts all over Zambian had been building up for months. The top leadership at the conference knew what bloody chaos would fall on the entire nation if President Kaunda resigned. Zambia was only 4 years young and  a very fragile nation.

Tribalism Ugly Head

The top leadership of Vice President Simon Kapwepwe and Grey Zulu told all the leaders not to leave and  to stay in the Conference Hall in Chilenje. They knew the whole nation was tittering on the brink of an unimaginable disaster. The 2 leaders followed President  Kaunda to State House to persuade him to reverse his resignation. Church leaders, representatives of the army, police, and friends went to State House all night. President Kaunda by morning had reversed his decision. Zambia had dodged the ugly scourge and divisive evil that is tribalism.

During the recent Presidential elections, vicious tribalism has reared its ugly head again. There have been charges, counter charges about tribalism, and finger pointing among the two leading political parties; UNDP and the PF. The intellectuals have been in the middle of these verbal tribal fights, dousing the political flames, taking sides and apparently using some of the most hateful language. Why all of a sudden is this tribalism becoming so bad after 50 years of relative peace and harmony? One possible explanation is that we have generations of Zambian leaders and citizens who may be too young to remember how, who, what struggles, what it takes, the leadership, and the sacrifices that brought  Zambians together to be a peaceful nation.

Solutions to Tribalism

The solution to tribalism today is to deeply understand the sacrifices and revisit our national history and how our founding fathers and mothers built a stable Zambian nation to begin with. May be we could learn from our own history. There are those of us who are educated and see other countries that appear to be more democratic. We want our constitution to have articles from the constitutions of those countries and insert them into Zambia’s constitution. This alone cannot solve our apparent national problem of crisis of tribalism. We have to change people’s minds and hearts. That is not easy and hardly happens overnight. The constitution alone, however well written with well-meaning appropriate clauses, cannot solve some of the apparent tribalism problems and the animosity that emerged during this recent election.

Incidentally, the time to implement solutions is now and not when various tribes, stakeholders, and groups are at war and cannot talk to each other any longer. Political leaders ought to visit Rwanda, go to Kenya and see the terrible impact of the recent political violence, visit Somalia, Southern Sudan, understand the history of apartheid South Africa and NAZI Germany periods. Even developed democratic countries are not immune to this racial, ethnic, or tribal hatred. There are plenty of examples of what hate can bring to an otherwise peaceful nation like Zambia. No Zambian from the top leadership to the ordinary citizen, or even the cadres should  take the peace and tranquility for granted.

One Zambia One Nation

At the very beginning of the nation in 1964, the founding Fathers and Mothers of the nation and President Kaunda had decided that Zambia would be a non-racial and non-tribal society. These were not just empty slogans. They put these guiding principles into practice through offering opportunities for leadership, education,  and the economy to every Zambian without taking into consideration race, tribe, region of origin, sex, and other differences. Secondly, they taught and preached those ideologies and  policies of love, unity, Humanism, One Zambia One Nation, tolerance, non-violence,  in every aspect of  life for all Zambians every single moment every day.  I know because I lived through that whole period. I did not have to read about it or listen to rumors or some second hand twisted historical revisionism today. The best life style the leadership encouraged was social intermixing, integration, and the intermarriage that happened among the young generation  as a result. We Zambians may be ethnically the most socially integrated not just in Africa but the entire world. We ought to regard this with pride as a strength although societies which  still practice racial, ethnic, and religious segregation, may regard this as a national weakness.

Tribalism and Presidential Elections

What is the solution to the tribal politics and voting that happened during the recent elections? All Zambian leaders and citizens must go back to history and understand what our founding fathers did to create unity, a non-violent, non-racial and non-tribal society. All the Chiefs who encouraged their subjects recently only to vote for people from their own tribes were wrong. All political parties and their leaders who encouraged people to vote just for the candidate of their tribe were wrong. To say that it is the other tribe or political party who started it or made tribal statements first is not a good excuse. This was not Zambian political behavior. We cannot change or improve something unless first we know and acknowledge what was wrong.

Denounce Tribalism and Violence

During the next 18 months before the next election, all political leaders must make a clear effort to first denounce violence and tribal politics among all Zambians and especially their political supporters and cadres. The Zambian voters must also become better educated about our own political history. Every Zambian reading this should realize that once that peaceful tranquility is perhaps accidentally lost due to careless, irresponsible, and inflammatory tribal statements and actions among leaders, it will be impossible to get back the stable and peaceful Zambia we enjoy and cherish for ourselves and our children in the future. I have a first grandchild who is barely three weeks old. I would like her when she grows up to live in a peaceful Zambia that I as her grandfather has lived in for more than 50 years.

If you would like to know more about how the founders and Zambians fought tribalism in Zambian politics and struggled and sacrificed from 1964 to 1991, you can read Chapter 16: “Evolution of government and multiparty democracy in Zambia from 1964 to 1991” in my book: Satisfying Zambia Hunger for Culture. If you would like to know why and what caused President Kaunda to resign that night 47 years ago, read the book: Night Without a President  by Sikota Wina.

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. | Department of Sociology | Professor

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