Home Columns Why Tribalphobia is Zambia’s biggest threat?

Why Tribalphobia is Zambia’s biggest threat?

A Tonga warrior welcoming the president.
File:A Tonga warrior welcoming the president.
A Tonga warrior welcoming the president.
File:A Tonga warrior welcoming the president.

By Chimwemwe Mwanza

Whip-up a lie so hard, it will turn into truth. Propagandist, Joseph Goebbels of the Nazis and his master Adolph Hitler adopted this maxim to greater efficiency leaving in their trail, a wrought of historic devastation.

Across the Great Lakes region, the Hutu’s decades – long hate filled propaganda premised on creating an ethnic inspired political hegemony, nearly succeeded in wiping out Tutsis from the face of Rwanda. Kenya, has had a fair share of ethnic violence as well – except this was disguised as protests resulting from a disputed election. Fact is, this violence pit losing Presidential candidate, Raila Odinga’s Luo tribe against then President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyus.

The irony in these tragedies is that, the perpetrators of genocidal acts took advantage of an uncritical backing from a society that seemed all too pedestrian but cheered these despicable acts at every whim. It’s a fact that tribal skirmishes don’t spring from nowhere. They are crafted in the comfort of boardrooms, beer parties and most of all, in various political platforms to achieve a specific outcome.

Which brings us to this conversation. The inflammatory language characterising our political discourse is toxic. Heading into the 2021 Presidential and Parliamentary elections, rhetoric about competing candidate’s ethnicity or tribal background is likely to worsen. In fact, it has already kicked – up a notch raising the possibility that the build up to the polls will transcend into an ugly specter of violence, politics of personality and by extention tribalism.

In this era of social media, masters of bluster are taking to this platform to peddle conspiracy theories inspired by tribalism in manner that has far-reaching ramifications on our social fabric. Never mind the reasons, but the fact that the Lundas and Luvales, including the Ngonis and Chewas are engaged in tribal clashes, is an apt reminder of what could become of Zambia if a people’s tribal conscience is consistently stirred for political mileage.
Any notion therefore that we could be sitting on a precipice fueled by our politician’s reckless gambit on tribal politics, couldn’t be further from the truth. Against this background, is there a reason then for this desperation to ethnicise our political terrain or even worse, politicise ethnicity?
To re-phrase the question, should it even matter that the PF’s Presidential candidate is Nsenga or that the UPND leader is Tonga. Put differently, should the electorate even care that the NDC’s Chishimba Kambwili is of Bisa ancestry?

Why the tribal card?

It’s a fact that our politicians as a collective, have long abdicated responsibility for the country’s economic malaise. This is mostly evident in the alacrity with which they blame everyone but themselves for Zambia’s multiple social failures including, the ballooning debt crisis, the unabating load and now water shedding, wide-spread and rising taxes and most notably the escalating cost of living.

One might argue – off course depending on their objectivity – but truth is that the current state of economic paralysis is weighing heavily on the minds of the electorate. Tribalism is now being used to steer the electorate towards a very narrow type of conversation on why enthroning a certain tribe to the Presidency could prove detrimental to Zambia – in a way instilling a phobia or resentment of a certain people that are meant to be our kith and kin.
For the crafty, the way to win the polls will be to fight hard and demonise their opponents in the hope that, scare-mongering will ultimately discourage voters from carefully interrogating what is at stake. Therefore, diversion from reality and the tribalism mantra has somewhat become another default explanation for the country’s ills. The tragedy though with manipulating reality is that those who are doing it, have ultimately started believing their own lies.

Stigmatising Tribe

It’s debatable but could well be true that Easterners are Zambia’s worst tribalists. In fact, tribal aligned slogans such as “Umozi Kumawa, Mwana Wakwitu and Wako ni Wako,” were specifically coined by Easterners to reinforce the notion of tribal unity – which at best, attests to a tribal superiority complex that Easterners sought and still seek over other tribes.

Yet, it’s the Tonga tribe who have largely borne the most brunt of resentment and this problem is emblematic of our obsession with tribalism. What is even more worrying is that this resentment has become all too naked to the eye. Failure to acknowledge this problem won’t make tribalism go away and neither will it help to bury our heads in sand. We‘ve got to start talking about this by asking the most obvious but tough questions.

Is it a crime to be born Tonga? If true, why is Southern Province – which is the heartland for Tongas – one of the least developed regions in the country? And, as the Ministry of health continues to build new healthcare facilities, are there any such infrastructure projects lined up in Southern Province? Is it possible for a Tonga speaking person to hold a dissenting view to that of government without being branded an agent of regime – change or a pariah of the state?

Rewriting history

As propagandists continue in their daily quest to rewrite history, the biggest casualty of this false narrative being perpetrated against the Tonga tribe is truth. What the millennials are not being told is that the Tonga are a good nurtured people and like any other tribe, played a huge role in the liberation of this country.

It was that selfless but great son of the soil Mainza Chona who relinquished his leadership position to pave way for Kenneth Kaunda’s subsequent ascent to the highest political office of the land. What of the role that the old lion of Zambian politics, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula played in the fight against colonial rule? Are we to simply discard his role and service to the scrapheap of political history?
Further to this, are we being asked to conveniently ignore the selfless contribution that the likes of Robinson Nabulyato, Mungoni Liso, Daniel Munkombwe, Elijah Mudenda and Kebby Musokotwane made towards the unity and economic development of this country?

In the early 90’s, it’s gallants such as Benny Mwinga, Joshua Lumina, Dr Luminzu Shimaponda, Fitzpatrick Chula, Baldwin Mwanakumabu Nkumbula and Vernon Mwaanga, among others that stood up to power and helped curve a new path to multi-party democracy.

But herein lies another caveat: This strategy of burning to ashes, an entire house to supposedly kill one rat might be working but at what cost to unity given Zambia’s well documented ethnical diversity and intolerance to tribalism. Are we sacrificing the slogan “One Zambia, One Nation,” to the altar of political expediency?

Mwanza is an avid reader of political history and philosophy. A lifelong supporter of Liverpool FC and Kabwe Warriors, he enjoys his Nshima with game meat. *Disclaimer, he is of Ngoni and Namwanga ancestry.


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    • Styupidy at its best, why even publish these crap?
      I be arresting these kind of bustards who understands what tribalism is.
      I like tribes.

    • The writer isn’t as informed as he ought to be. I always disagree wth statements like “esterners are the worst tribalists”. It’s too strong and misleading. Chimwemwe Mwanza would do well to read about nation-building especially post-colonial nation building. Fact is modern nations are artificial creations and there’s nowhere in this world where it was easy to build a nation out of previously autonomous or discrete communities, Europe included, that spoke different languages and in some cases with different phsical features and different religions. Mwanza would do well to confer with informed minds that could show him relevant research papers.

    • What Chimwemwe Mwanza has written is one of the reasons why in most Western countries, journalists come to the profession from different disciplines such as anthropology (Gillian Tett @ the Financial Times), Mathematics (Simon Calder @ the BBC) , Economics ( Frances Cairncross formerly @ The Economist and Linda Yew formerly @ the BBC) etc. It’s risky to try and explain a social phenomenon when you hv no appropriate training in social science.

    • You are mixing politics with reality. Look on the ground, intermarriages and mingling. Partisan politics should not be used to judge a nation. Zambians are a peace loving family that merely loves and upholds diversity.

    • Well written and I truly appreciate talent. The author is well ready and he is fair in his approach. Facts are always hard hitting. Thank you very much and lets confront the real enemy which is tribal phobia.

    • Don’t you want to say tribephobia? If you want to coin a phrase for the fear of tribes. Fear of those who are tribal might be tribal phobia but then again why not just plain old tribalism. Correction Southern province isn’t one of the least developed provinces. It’s got a rail line tarmac and electricity in many areas. Western Luapula North West don’t have all these

  1. With the PF in power, we are truly in trouble as a nation. By the time they are removed by force there maybe no country to talk about.

  2. If they run on merit based politics they know they will lose! No wonder lungu can’t face the press because he knows they will scrutinize everything he has ever said and done……come 2021 lungu wino even debate anyone his government has had too many scandals

  3. Their only option is to run emotion filled politics, and with the majority of Zambians uneducated it’s working #dununareverse #humbleleader

  4. “Is it a crime to be Tonga?If true,why is Southern Province – the heartland for Tonga Speaking people – one of the least developed regions in the country?”

    Good observation Chimwemwe.However,its not just Southern Province.I was in North Western Province,Solwezi in particular and was shocked at the levels of lack of development despite being host to major mining companies and thus major export income earner for the country.
    Iam a number one advocate of decentralised political,economic and social planning as well as taxation.Let the budgetary process be bottom up to include constutuents at constituency and ward level.Let the City,Municipal and Town/District Councils draw up their own budgets and collect certain taxes like property taxes etc.However,there must be law to make sure the…

    • However there must be a law to make sure they have balanced budgets (zero deficit).The current set up gives too much discretion to one person i e the Minister of Finance to run the show.

    • @7.1 Shooter,That is where the Author has failed.Southern Province is relatively more developed than all other rural provinces.Its development started in colonial times and has continued but the author chose to lie. HE EVEN GOES TO THE EXTENT OF TELLING US ABOUT HIS PARENTAGE AS IF THAT HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH HIS ARTICLE.

  5. If you want to write on a topical issue such as this you need to research widely and take your time. It’s even wrong to list names of individuals in comparison to others. Vernon Mwaanga isn’t a tribalist, his still handicapped because of the beating he received from Tonga tribalists for refusing to toll the Tonga tribal line when Mazoka died. Harry Nkumbula wasn’t a tribalist, in fact the first person Kapwepwe consulted before he founded UPP after falling out with KK was Nkumbula. Mainza Chona was fired and replaced by Humphrey Mulemba because of tribalism, among other reasons like poor performance and corruption. According to official statistics the least developed province still remains Luapula and it has been consistently so. All tribes have had tribalistic individuals although they…

    • never faced any inquiry. It was a finding of fact by the Joshua Mumpanshya commission that the UPND founder ran a tribal dynasty and Zambia Railways, even when he died his successor and current leader ascended through tribal hegemony. UPND is the only political Party that requested members of the same tribe as its to donate everything they had including animals so that they can defeat the Bemba in 2015. Indeed when he lost non Tongas were beaten and killed in his stronghold. In 2008, he declared that he was going to divide the vote because he couldn’t allow Sata a Bemba to be President. In short UPND is tribal project that has failed to attract genuine support from other regions. If you remove UPND from Southern province politics you won’t see any tribalism

    • UPND is the only political Party that composed and played a tribal campaign song mu Bemba ngu satana. So the UPND is an axis of evil. If you don’t speak Tonga you’re not safe in remote Southern province because of UPND tribal politics. Although all Parties may have some tribal leanings in the UPND it’s very wide spread. Hichilema shouldn’t hold such a once vibrant Party to ransom. He doesn’t see politics beyond his tribe. The onus is on senior members to show that they don’t with him. Otherwise UPND will continue not be a Party of choice. Tribalism is now spreading even to North Western province especially among the youths

    • Ayatollah: The mines in Zambia hv always been Bemba-dominated. Can u tell readers why no commission of inquiry into that was appointed by Kaunda and why there were no complaints about this domination?

    • @nemwine there was no need for KK to appoint a commission of inquiry on the basis of your lame assertion. if the C’belt is Bemba dominated then it should be too historic to warrant any worthwhile artificial interventions.An African’s past has been characterized by migration and nomadism motivated by a continual search for greener pastures and the scenario hasn’t changed much unto day.Bembas like Masai ,Yoruba, etc have never been an exception.

    • Chabala: I’ m conversant with the history of mining on the Copperbelt and its recruitment of African labour. I am also conversant with construction of the first railway in Zambia. Tongas were the first railway workers having started as labourers during construction of the line as it first entered the country in their part of Northern Rhodesia. It was the first industry to teach them hw to work for money and they had early attraction to it. The Mumpanhsya commission never invited Mazoka to appear before it. Why?

    • Chabala: The writer Chimwemwe Mwanza doesn’t understand wht he’s trying to explain. No suitably trained person in social science would be comfortable wth condemning a whole tribe with sentences like “Easterners are the worst tribalists”. I always disagree with such statements whether it says something favourable on negative about target people.Such should be left to the great unwashed.

  6. Rightly so, Ayatollah. You’ve hit the nail dead centre on its head. Mwanza is trying to sugar coat a real problem, a ticking time bomb. We need to face and talk about this problem. Besides, no one can tell me about tribalism because I see it everyday from the people we interact with. The recent voting pattern is evidence of tribalism. What is required is tolerance but like when reforming a drug addict, we need to all accept the truth.

  7. The biggest threat in Zambia is not tribalism, actually its the ability of some citizens to constantly show an unwavering skill of putting their brains on prolonged holidays, its astonishing how when they actually try to use them, the product that comes out makes one wonder if truly that head contains a brain or some material that just mimics a brain…Zambia we need to introduce an exam before getting a voters card. Too many dangerous voters out there

  8. Tribalism started with Nkumbula and KK .For decades people from Southern Province have been fighting with Northerners since KK era.This modern tribalism has a long but amazing history.UPND’s inner circle knows that facts.KK had tough time to assemble distinct tribal ethnic politics until he formed one Zambia one Nation with his heavy heart especially on the hand of southerners.Southerners have had different political intolerance even before independents.Its this breeding of tribalism that saw KK face political turmoil since 1974 to 1988.Although now is crystal white.The battle is between Bembas and Tongas.

  9. @7.1 Shooter,That is where the Author has failed.Southern Province is relatively more developed than all other rural provinces.Its development started in colonial times and has continued but the author chose to lie. HE EVEN GOES TO THE EXTENT OF TELLING US ABOUT HIS PARENTAGE AS IF THAT HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH HIS ARTICLE.

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