Tribalism and the Tonga people: A curse or a natural phenomenon?

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FB_IMG_1471759946047By Toshiki Kucheba

11th August 2016, Zambians were exercising a democratic right enshrined in our constitution, the right for the led to choose who should lead. The hallmark of any democracy is the free will an individual possess in selecting that said leader.

Unfortunately, the ripple effects of a strongly contested election between the Patriotic Front’s Edgar Chagwa Lungu and the United Party for National Development’s Hakainde Hichilema left a dark cloud hovering over Zambia. The 2016 presidential elections left in their wake a deeply divided country, not on political or economic grounds but on a facet that has plagued African countries all over, Tribe. Voting patterns revealed a correlation between the party leader and the prevailing tribe in that constituency, was this Tribalism at work?

Let’s get rid of the science stuff first. Psychology and its cousins, Anthropology and Sociology provide a scientific perspective to the debate, a phenomenon known along University halls as The Familiarity Effect or in the cut throat business of advertising, the Mere Exposure Effect. In a nutshell, the Familiarity Effect is a mental shortcut our minds make use of when evaluating arguments, Humans tend to accept persuasions or arguments from an individual they feel is similar in background, beliefs, tribe or economic conditions to them.

What is science if it can not be practical? 2008 USA Presidential Elections that ushered in the first black president had a statistical increase in young black voters and minority groups like Hispanics and Asians also reported a sharp increase in voters, this was coupled by a drop in voters with white and non-Hispanic origin. Humans beings are social beings and since time immemorial have been separating each other along different lines, ethnicity, race, nationality etc. members of any of these groupings have been known to subjectively provide loyalty and support to members of their group as is believed that an advancement of one member is of benefit to the whole.

Leaders particularly make use of this shortcut, they board busses and appear at filling stations with empty containers during a fuel shortage to attract the common man as did Sata, they conspicuously appear on the front page of print media reading a bible or invite ZNBC to church as does ECL to attract the Christian community and some even feebly spell it out like Daniel Munkombwe, all this is done in an effort to garner loyalty from people who will view them as one of their own. The “buy Zambian”, “local is laka” or the more malign “wako ni wako” slogan is the familiarity principle at work, on a whimsical note, we see this loyalty in football games where supporters of the Zambian National team are predictably Zambian, even when the odds are stacked against our Sunzu we paint our faces in green, black, orange and red while letting our eagle soar to prove our loyalty to our boys. When it manifests in loyalty to a country, we call it Patriotism, loyalty to one’s family, we term them as family values, when it manifests as loyalty to a tribe, we call it Tribalism.

Democracy is a system of political organisation whose underlying principle is the right accorded to the led in choosing who should lead. The world has become a complex system whose facets include Economics, Law, Politics, Health, Technology, Finance, International Treaties etc. and whoever wishes to lead must either be fully conversant with the aforementioned or have under his belt a qualified team that does.

In a good democracy, the led must be literate enough or have at least a rudiment understanding of the above coalesced with an unbiased media supported by intellectual input from universities and think tanks so as to effectively scrutinise political parties that wish to lead. That joylessly is not the case with mother Zambia, illiteracy levels in Zambia stand at an alarming 70.6%, 25th in Africa and 142nd in the world (as of 2013). People in our country are unable to read or write, I doubt the average cadre dressed in political regalia could understand let alone read the words written on their T-Shirt or Chitenge. The majority of Zambians are illiterate; it is impossible to expect them to understand party manifestos or fully appreciate Government policy, this curse is exacerbated by a poor reading culture among the literate, half of college students up to now still don’t know what they voted ‘Yes’ to and these are people that can read, write and understand complex mathematics like the Fourier series.

Illiteracy levels in Zambia are so bad that when the Government calls for a referendum to vote in basic human rights, they have to be parental and tell the people how to vote, so bad that the number of rejected votes outnumber the votes of most political parties. So what happens when you take a political system that depends on information seeking and understanding literate individuals and place it in a society where the majority lack those basic skills? You have a political dispensation no different from Zambia’s that lacks objectivity but thrives on subjectivity, lacks impartiality but full of ipse dixit, favours political handouts and stunts intelligent but economically humble individuals and a seemingly divisive cancer, where electorates no longer see a candidate for his ability, skills and intellect but for evidently non-essential traits such as tribe, faith and history, the familiarity principle kicks in.

1991 was the year Zambia laid to rest the one-party rule and in a move to oust the sitting President at the time KK, Zambia rallied behind a short, charismatic and tough man, Fredrick Chiluba. At the time Zambians were not largely concerned with tribe and in the who’s who of Zambian politics but they all shared one common goal, a change of leadership. Titus ruled the country for 10 years under a constitution that allowed two 5-year terms, but after tasting the sweet nectar of Presidency, Titus couldn’t resist the urge that swallowed his predecessor and bid for a third term but after facing tough resistance from within and outside the MMD, he handpicked a successor, a former politician at the time and a Ndola lawyer born in Mufrila, Levy Mwanawasa. This defiance of the MMD’s constitution angered a lot of vying candidates within the party, this junction in time led to the birth of the Patriotic Front (PF).

Zambia arguably held its first veritable multiparty elections in 2001, the candidates were as follows; Levy Mwanawasa (MMD), Anderson Mazoka (UPND), Tilyenji Kaunda (UNIP), Christon Tembo (FDD), Godfrey Miyanda (HP), Benjamin Mwila (ZRP), Nevers Mumba (NCC), Gwendoline Konie (SDP), Yobert Shamapande (NLD), Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika (AZ) and Michael Sata (PF). Top contenders were Mwanawasa, a Lenje, Mazoka, a Tonga, Tembo and Kaunda of the Nsenga or Nyanja and Mwila seemingly, a Bemba. The results were as follows:
2001 Election Results
Candidate Central Copperbelt Luapula Lusaka Northern North-western Southern Western Eastern
Mwila 4.35% 6.00% 15.67% 2.74% 9.34% 1.42% 1.15% 2.00% 2.82%
Mwanawasa 31.26% 38.01% 53.37% 15.56% 42.01% 32.25% 14.85% 34.55% 16.19%
Miyanda 11.17% 19.34% 2.34% 8.52% 4.26% 4.39% 2.18% 2.47% 6.72%
Mazoka 28.31% 11.95% 4.23% 30.72% 4.51% 48.22% 70.93% 48.96% 4.21%
Tembo 9.14% 8.45% 8.33% 23.57% 12.58% 5.74% 4.41% 3.49% 28.27%
Kaunda 8.72% 4.29% 7.83% 6.49% 13.16% 3.87% 1.89% 3.66% 35.80%

As seen in the above results from 2001 each candidate dominated in provinces where he was seen as familiar, Mazoka dominated in Southern, North-Western and Western and Lusaka, Tembo and Kaunda who were doing badly in other provinces somehow dominated Eastern province, Mwila a shoe in for last place somehow got 15% of the votes in Luapula province and Mwanawasa without a surprise took Northern, Luapula and Copperbelt, the election was won by MMD’s Mwanawasa after managing to secure 28.69% of the votes with UPND’s Mazoka coming in a close second with 26.76%. The legality of the elections was however questioned by both international and local observers citing rigging as the driving force behind MMD’s victory. 2006, Zambia again went to the polls, UPND had a new leader HH after the death of Mazoka and contested the election under a political pact constituting UPND, FDD and UNIP forming the UDA. The provincial voting patterns didn’t show any major disparity from the 2001 elections. After the death of Levy Mwanawasa, Zambia held its first by-election contested primarily by V Pres. Banda of MMD an Easterner, HH of the UPND a Tonga, Michael Sata, a Bisa of PF and Miyanda of Heritage Party.
Rupiah Banda dominated Central, Western and decimated his opponents in Eastern Province, not a single constituency was won by any opposition leader e.g. Sinda Constituency in Katete District of the Eastern Province awarded RB 10,271 votes while PF’s Sata came in second with 753 ballots. Michael Sata dominated Copperbelt and decimated his opponents in Luapula, every constituency was won by the PF. Hakainde decimated his opponents in Southern Province with the exception of Livingstone e.g. Dundumwezi Constituency in Kalomo District, HH outrivalled with 9,036 votes followed by Rupiah with 584 votes, needless to say, Sata had 57.

Lusaka and Northern was a co-dominance with the MMD in favour of PF. North-Western was co-dominated by Rupiah Banda and Hakainde Hichilema in favour of RB. 2011 was the year that young party founded by that disillusioned former MMD presidential hopeful who only managed to rake in 3.35% of national votes in 2001 finally ascended to power, talk about “started from the bottom now we here”, pop cultural references aside, let’s examine the voting patterns once again, this time ignoring the ‘I also ran for President’ candidates.

2011 Election Results

Candidate Central Copperbelt Eastern Luapula Lusaka Northern North-Western Southern Western
Sata 28.28% 67.88% 18.46% 73.54% 55.94% 64.18% 10.85% 6.59% 23.12%
Banda 48.21% 26.22% 72.60% 22.90% 30.76% 32.16% 50.21% 19.15% 33.20%
Hichilema 20.82% 3.57% 3.33% 0.85% 11.29% 0.78% 35.24% 71.41% 28.21%

Tribalism at play? Of course, the familiarity principle strikes again. Each candidate got at least 70% in their provinces of origin or where their tribesmen are dominant, the candidate who seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum is one whose tribe seemed to be a classical ethnic competitor. One striking fact about the voting pattern since 2001 is the discrepancy associated with Copperbelt and Lusaka, this can be attributed to the fact that in Urban Industrialised areas exists a diverse, educated (however variant) and informed population, not only that but there exists a prevalence of inter-marriages and tribes co-exist peacefully. The voting pattern is reflective of many angles that include Tribe, Policies, Personality, History, Political Rhetoric and Demographic Blueprint and this in turn produces a ballot that cannot exactly be pin-pointed as being tribal. The further we move away from industrialised districts, we encounter rural areas where the majority are illiterate, base most of their knowledge on tradition, lack proper information flow and to an extent are governed by tradition leaders like Chiefs who are still trying to hold on to an outdated culture that influences a tribal voting pattern in their subjects. 2015 and 2016 election results are of little variation to the Zambian norm of tribal voting. But why are the Tonga people singled out and called names for a voting pattern that is clearly country wide and only natural in such a jejune democracy?

2016 Presidential elections were too victims of this tribal voting pattern but all hell rained down on the Tonga people, subjected to insults, laughs and pure hate. Granted of course the votes were polarised to a greater reach in southern province as compared to other provinces and previous years, but that could not be the only reason. It all boils down to Politics, Davies Chama, General secretary of Patriotic Front at one point blatantly insulted the Tonga people, Mumbi Phiri also of the PF called the Tonga people names, Chishimba Kambwili of course cannot go without mention on a list of politicians who insult, Jesus would lose if he stood against HH in southern province, he said, it had to take the mother of the nation, Vice President Inonge Wina, to apologise for the sentiments of her party members in parliament. Chiefs too were outraged.

Indulge me as we go down this path of logic, 1. Imagine you are a politician in a third world country 2. Voting patterns are based on Personality and not on ideas 3. You insult a group of people based on their preferred candidate 4. You antagonise that group even further by calling their candidates’ names and insinuating they will never rule 5. Being in a position of authority your sentiments about that group spread into an uneducated society 6. That group you just insulted chooses to give your Party little to no votes 7. You turn around and call that group Tribal. Do you the reader see any logic in this? Let’s not be a country that falls prey to cheap political theatrics which in turn spread hate and further divide our country. Not until we have an educated nation that understands and lends an ear to policies and developmental plans, we will have to deal with Politicians who run around on stage claiming it’s our Tribe’s turn to rule, Politicians who avoid crucial political debates that afford them a chance to defend their policies but still win an election, Political campaigns not characterized by excessive alcohol consumption, music concerts, kickbacks and footballers kicking a ball on stage.

I pray for the day our national politics will be characterized by town hall meeting, political debates, clear manifestos and intellectuals at the helm of power, yes we will every now and then trip and fall over the familiarity principle but at least then it will be with candidates that have presented a clear vision for this country, candidates that do not seek to divide this nation for their own personal benefit and a nation that will rally behind leaders not for their tribe, gender, race, past drinking habits, economic stature or their ability as a “buyers” but by their dedication to the people and their delivery, a time where it is the norm for a Government to be unseated after 5 years if it has failed to deliver, a time when development with be equally distributed around the nation despite voting patterns, a time when democracy will be of ideas and not personalities.

But until our literacy levels fly as high as the eagle on our flag, I urge all our citizens to stand together as one and move this nation forward. We are still lacking in so much as a nation and this should not be the time we judge our neighbours on tribe but by the content of their mind and soul. Nelson Mandela once said that people are born not hating anyone based on superficial qualities like tribe but learn that from the environment they are born into, if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. Let’s be a nation of lovers.

Toshiki Kucheba
BSc Non Quota
The Copperbelt University
Contact Details; +260964541734, +260954352514,


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