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.
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?
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.