Tribalism should be dead by now in Zambia

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By Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, PhD

It was a historic election. The planets had aligned to allow centuries old practices of racism to pave way for the election of a Black man. Racism is more entrenched in the USA than tribalism is in Zambia. If the Americans for one brief historic moment could forget racism and vote for the best candidates, Barack Obama, based on issues, Zambians can overcome tribalism in this election and vote for the best candidate across the country. Is the best candidate Hon. Lungu, Mr. Hichilema, Ms. Nawakwi, General Miyanda or any of the others?

Tribalism should have been dead by now in Zambia. This is Fifty years after independence. The melting pot started when colonialism gathered all the tribes in one territory under one roof so to speak. Secondly the colonialists brought all tribes to work in the mines and farms and other urban centres. On the mines, a house next to a Bemba man belonged to a Tonga man, the next one saw a Lozi man sharing accommodation with a Ngoni man and so on. These people went deep into the belly of the earth together. They shared lunches and dinners together. During the weekends, they drank in pubs together, visited each other and started learning each other’s languages.

In those early days, it was taboo to marry across tribes. The Grand Canyon of prohibition of marrying across tribes would collapse generations later in the eighties and beyond. There is perhaps no person now who does not know a relative or someone who is married to a person from another tribe or race. My uncle married a Mulumbu(foreigner) from Eastern Province in 1975. My older brother married a Namwanga woman in the mid-eighties. Every body knows someone with a Tonga first name and a Bemba or Lozi last name or vice versa, and this applies to all tribes in Zambia. Why should tribalism persist with this kind of mixture? Do we know that when we practise tribalism, we hurt our own relatives who belong to multi heritages? We hurt our own children and their friends. We hurt Zambia and future generations.

Even before the explosion of intermarriages, there was a period of selfless and patriotic nationalism when Mr. Mbikusita Lewanika formed the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress which was an umbrella political organization of all tribes that fought colonial oppression. Before that there were African Welfare associations that acted as nascent political parties against colonialism and they had no regard for tribalism. Mine workers and other workers formed unions without regard to tribalism. Any strong person could be president.

Lewanika was succeeded by Harry Mwanga Nkumbula and whose Secretary General was a dynamic young man Kenneth Kaunda. They belonged to different tribes. When they split, they split not because of tribe but because of issues. Mainza Chona created the United National Independence Party but ceded power to Kaunda when Kaunda came out of jail. These two belonged to different tribes.

Munali secondary school was the United Nations of all tribes and this  was the training ground for the first generation politicians of Zambia. That composition produced almost a tribal-less cadre of Zambian politician, perhaps the best graduates Zambia will ever see if we compare them to the modern politicians who are mired in tribal idiocy that should have melted long ago given that they went through many cycles of purification. That purification  should have weeded away tribalism by now than what the first generation went through. The first generation came straight from Kumunzi (village) and only initially knew and spoke their languages. Many current politicians were born in urban areas which should have been detribalized by now. They grew up going to school with kids from other tribes, they dated girls and boys from other tribes. They began to speak other languages even before they graduated from high school. First generation leaders never had a university which constituted a congress of all tribes when it started in 1966. Lungu, Hichilema, Mwimbu, Mweetwa, Sampa, Scott, Chipimo, etc etc etc went to university.  Why should any of these people be peddling tribalism or racism in the second decade of the twenty first century? Look at Kaunda’s first cabinet! How did we founder from that perfect reflection of a tribal-less and almost paradisic existence?

Racism, tribalism and other isms are activated for political ends and other inhuman purposes. Knowing the destructive nature of these isms, should people of good will allow these vices to be openly propagated? Who benefits from tribalism? Who suffers from the scourge of tribalism? What kind of leaders emerge through the chimney of tribalism? Are these pure leaders or smoke-stained creatures who are up to no good?

Tribalism is a danger to the public. It has caused genocide in Rwanda and Biafra. It has led to deaths or injuries to countless millions all over the world including Zambia. This is the atrocity all Zambians must fight against.

I think of my generation who went to Canisius Secondary School. Wezi Kaunda, Kaunda’s son was ahead. Grey Zulu’s son was ahead of me. In my cohort was Mwansa Kapwepwe, Ignatious Milner and the Wina nephews. There was Fines Bulawayo. Behind me were Mubanga Mwanakatwe, Valentine Musakanya. My house Captain was Emmanuel Mutati. School captain was George Tembo. My dorm captain was Luke Chikwama. My best friend at some point was Brown Lungu. I took a lot of students from all tribes to the surrounding villages to sample gaankata (local brew). Canisius Secondsry School is in deep Tonga country. Many non-Tongas learnt Tonga while at Canisius.  Canisius and most secondary schools in Zambia continued to be melting pots dissolving tribal differentiations into nothingness, so it appeared.

The United Nations of all tribes continued to gather at the University of Zambia.  My best friends at UNZA included Derrick Chitala (as he then was called), Vincent Musakanya, Derrick Mulenga, Samuel Miyanda, Sipula Kabanje, Sibanze Simuchoba, Fanwell Makungu, Mulenga Ng’andu, Gulam Patel, Gilbert Mubita, Tentani Mwanza, Philip Chilomo, in other words students from all tribes and different years at UNZA. UNZA should have eradicated all vestiges of tribalism. At national service at Solwezi Military Camp, I slept in trenches with people from different tribes. With all these intertwined experiences, how could people still be slaves to tribalism and be blinded by it? Is One Zambia One Nation a hollow distant dream? Can it be reclaimed?

Tribalism has no redeeming qualities. It is a destructive force. It is used for base selfish purposes. It is grand corruption. Hate propaganda is a criminal offence in some countries. Tribalism in Zambia must be criminalized


Dr. Hamalengwa is the author of 1.Class Struggles in Zambia, 1889-1989 and the Fall of Kenneth Kaunda, 1989-1991 and 2.Thoughts Are Free: Prison Experience and  Reflections on Law and Politics in General.


3 Responses to Tribalism should be dead by now in Zambia

  1. Excellent article. There is no tribalism in Zambia but selfish brainless politicians use this tag to woo simple minded people instead of voting for credible candidate. I believe if we were voting on quiality. Nawakwi,HH would top the list. Credible Parliamentarians have endorsed HH from other parties and I have no doubt in intelligence of people like Dipack Patel, Mutati,professor lungwagwa from western Province. These are men of very high integret with interest to move Zambia forward. Simple minds unfortunately can vote for someone because of a song of praises. Its time Zambians can unite and vote for H H to really develop the country and reduce poverty

    January 15, 2015 at 4:32 pm

  2. Lovely article indeed! I belong to the UNZA era of the mentioned some of whom were close to me as well. This is nostalgia! Where did we lose it that tribe became so pronounced? I believe it arises from need for self preservation by first generation politicians not wanting to hand over leadership to latter generations.

    January 16, 2015 at 12:00 am

  3. How can it die when Media like Zambian Eye promote it?

    Ba Ntamba Lukuta
    January 16, 2015 at 11:43 am

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31