Is Tribalism Threatening One Zambia One Nation?


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology

“And Chama said the UPND in Southern Province were polygamous by nature and “may be by having so many children, one day after 100 years, they may lead the country, but not under Hichilema.

If at all they will ever be in power, may be a hundred years from now, they are polygamous by nature so may be as they have more children they can be in power. But under the leadership of Hichilema. I don’t think it will happen,” he said. (The Post, June 9, 2015, p.8)

These are the incendiary offending remarks that have apparently stirred passions of tribalism so much among some Zambians today that there are even reports of a small group of  the Tonga in Southern Province defiantly talking about secession. The purpose of this article is to provide some advice and perspective in the form of the Zambian tradition of mphala, insaka, or indaba on the bigger picture about our beloved Zambian nation. First, I will briefly discuss the offending remarks by the PF Secretary General Davies Chama. Second, I will discuss why Zambian politics may be reaching a dangerous stage. Third, I will discuss the bad news or even potentially tragic news for those all over Zambia who have contemplated secession in the past, the present and in the future. Fourth, I will discuss the great news about our beloved country of Zambia and how anyone can be elected the President of Zambia from whatever tribe they belong. Last, I will mention a few Kaundaisms that all political leaders including the current and future Presidents of Zambia will find very useful in leading the great nation of Zambia.

Mr. Davies Chama’s Tribal Remarks.

Mr. Chama’s remarks were offensive not just to Tongas but may be to Zambians all over the country and the world. The best thing would have been for Mr. Chama to issue an apology but he has vehemently refused. What I found surprising was that the offending remarks were buried deep into his long statement about the PF swallowing MMD and the UPND. This suggests to me that he may not have fully meant the remarks to be harmful. His remarks were actually a form of taunting after someone has won a contest. He may have been carried away in the moment of exuberance and PF party chauvinism after electoral triumphs. This does not excuse Mr. Chama’s remarks. Taunting is unprofessional and is poor sportsmanship. In recent Zambian elections, whenever a particular party has won, the cadres of the winning party afterwards taunt the ones from the losing party sometimes resulting in violence. Taunting after winning elections has to stop. May be one of the reasons we are having so many problems with cadres, some political violence, and talk of secession is that we have too many young people in Zambia and too few elders like veteran politician like Mr. Vernon Mwaanga.

Zambian Population

The population of Zambia is 13 million. The proportion of the country that is under 14 years old is 46.7%, those between 15 and 24 years old are 20%, those between 25 to 54 years old are 28.4% and but those between 55 and 64 years old are only 2.9% and those above 65 years old are even smaller at 2.4%. The age statistics that are the most important in explaining both Mr. Chama’s remarks and how Zambian politics may be in danger of becoming dangerous is that Zambians that are younger than 30 years old may be about 70% of the population which is about 9 million young girls, boys, women and men. And yet those who are over 55 years old are only 2.9% which is only 377,000. Therefore, there are fewer elders to day in Zambia to teach younger people about our political history, customs, and our culture perhaps due to the high death rate of older Zambians who are over 55 years old because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic since the 1980s. Urbanization also takes its toll as the 36% of the urban population is rising. This means increasing numbers of Zambians lose their connection to elders,  rural areas where the source, strength and origin of our Zambian traditions are the strongest.

The Bad News about Political Future

When there is political frustration in a young population, certain people in Zambia who might feel they are not getting a fair share of the resources might contemplate revolution and violence as the sure and quickest way to getting what they want. This will not work in Zambia and may not be working very well in many countries where people have tried revolutionary violence. Peaceful secession is very rare. The vast majority of Zambians today have access to the internet through cell phones. There is Facebook, email, twitter, web pages, blogs, and Instagram. We read and see exciting images of the Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and many other places.

It is tempting for many younger Zambian leaders to assume we will just import whatever is abroad to solve our problems. While some of the information is good, some or much of it may be unrealistic and just plain dangerous and destructive for the nation. This author is advocating peaceful solutions for the Zambian nation not because he is a coward, scared and deathly afraid of revolutions but because I know we have a very peaceful country. We do not need revolutionary violence. I just love and cherish the peace that we enjoy and I am sure many Zambians would like to maintain it too. Many younger Zambians may have no idea how badly people are suffering with violence and chaos in the Eastern Congo, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Iraq, Central African Republic, and many other places. I will discuss more of this later about Kaundaisms.

The Great News about Our Country

The greatest news about our country is that we are probably the most integrated in the world. Our founders were intelligent enough to create the foundation. This is our greatest strength that very few countries in Africa and the world have. Even some of the most powerful countries such as the United States, the oldest European and other countries are not as integrated as Zambians. We Zambians do not have the deeply entrenched deadly hatred and segregation of one tribe against another of  the 72 tribes. Our founders made sure that we loved each other. This does not mean we have no problems or internal political differences. I had to laugh when there was news about Tonga secession. I was thinking if Southern Province seceded, I would need a passport to go to Mwanamayinda on the Kafue Road on the Mazabuka road. I am a Tumbuka from the Eastern Province. I have a sister who is married to a Tonga man who is my mulamu (brother-in-law) and I have more than 8 nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews in Southern Province. Would they suddenly be in another country? All of us Zambians have close friends, blood and marriage relatives in regions and provinces all over Zambia in the 72 tribes.

Any Zambian Can be Elected President

Because we are so integrated, that’s why anyone in Zambia from any tribe can be elected President. The talk that a Tonga, Lozi, Kaonde, Namwanga, Chokwe and any member of the 72 tribes cannot be elected President is just not true. Who would have thought President Obama, a black American, would become the President of the United States which has deeply entrenched racism against African-Americans? This is the advice that every political party and individuals who aspire to be elected President of Zambia should know. If you are a Presidential candidate who is Bemba, Lozi, Ngoni, Chokwe, Nkoya. Lozi, Tonga, Soli, Lenje, Lamba, and many others, don’t waste your time campaigning in your province or region. You already have that vote in your pocket. You need to have a good manifesto, organization on the ground, and then travel to all the other provinces to personally appeal for their votes. If you are genuine, Zambians can see you are  serious, fair, determined, you have a vision for all Zambians and you are genuinely non-tribal, Zambians will vote for you irrespective of your race, ethnicity, tribe, man or woman. This is why any Zambian man or woman can be elected President of Zambia.

Kaundaisms and One Zambia One Nation.

The younger generation of political leaders today in Zambia might take the peace, tranquility, the One Zambia One Nation we enjoy for granted. That is the most dangerous attitude. There are two of the many Kaundaisms that might help all of us Zambians which we should always remember.  First, if you advocate revolutionary violence, when the country of Zambia is up in flames, you won’t enjoy whatever you thought you will achieve. President Kaunda addressing a rally in the 1970s even said that once the whole country is engulfed in violence, thieves, saboteurs, those who are holding dark corner meetings, political opportunists, tribalists, racists, and even those engaging in corruption will not be able to enjoy their spoils. Second, if you as a President unjustly politically verbally or physically attack or imprison a particular opposition group leader(s) or political party leaders, the supporters of that party or group will hold a grudge against you and you will be creating more martyrs and enemies as a political leader or President. His advice was that it was best as a political leader to be fair minded, make just decisions, follow the law, be reconciliatory, be kind, and respect others including the opposition because you yourself as a leader might be out of power one day.