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Zambia: Tribalism Versus Class

In 1994, in one hundred days only, about one million people were killed in Rwanda by members of another tribe in what appeared to be a well-calculated and planned genocide. More or less, the genocide in Rwanda was instigated by men of the collar – men who prior to the genocide were preaching against such conduct.

When one human being or group views another as the reason for their poverty the persons in the other group become a target for elimination or intimidation as the case may be. In the midst of squalor and poverty people start to agitate for a change of government. The workers start to agitate for an improvement in their living conditions and often with surprising fervour, as if possessed. During such times they exhibit an urgency for change – that can easily take a violent form.

It is during such times that some populist and charismatic politicians emerge and take advantage of the situation – telling one group of workers that their lack of prosperity is the result of selfishness of another group or tribe. What follows then is not class action – but genocide.

In Zambia today there is real and perceived class discontent among the urbanised populations. Because of widespread unemployment and shoddy working conditions many workers tend to look at Chinese and Indian investors (employers) with suspicion. There is a growing perception or feeling among the urbanised workers that the Chinese investors are the cause of their poverty. It has been alleged before by Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata that the Chinese are prospering at the expense of Zambian workers. Before he became President he had even threatened to expel them.

Sadly in Zambia today there is a growing feeling among the opposition that the PF government is being tribalistic in the sense that PF leader Michael Sata has appointed Bemba-speaking politicians to ministerial positions regardless of their political affiliations. It is alleged that the Ministry of Finance is now controlled by members of Sata’s family. The finance minister Alexander Chikwanda (Sata’s uncle), his deputy Miles Sampa (Sata’s nephew) and secretary to the treasury Fredson Yamba (Sata’s brother in marriage) all belong to one family – that of President Michael Sata. Accusations of nepotism are difficult to dispel when such instances are cited.

Thus we can conclude that in Zambia, too, working class economic and political grievances are being hijacked by politicians who take advantage of social inequalities to instigate tribal and racial identities. The Chinese and Indian communities are walking a tight rope in Zambia today. These communities clearly keep themselves apart from indigenous Zambians. This can easily be inflamed into racial hatred and antagonism.

One other incident that exemplifies tribalism in Zambia today was the recently inaugurated Barotse Kingdom by some fanatical members of the Barotse Royal Establishment. This was a fatuous proclamation of an independent Barotse political state with Zambia – but the ruling PF government has lent a deaf ear.

The first republican president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, had a better understanding of ethnic and tribal political loyalties that exist in Zambia. Kaunda was not in error to openly practice tribal balancing when appointing politicians to high offices of the one-party UNIP.

We can conclude that in many poor and less developed nations, working class political consciousness as a precondition for social change does not exist and that politicians can easily take advantage of working class social grievances to lure them into ethnic and tribal animosities.

This remains the case in Zambia today. Log on to Socialism to understand how we live and how we can change the way we live.

KEPHAS MULENGA, KITWE, ZAMBIA