World View: ‘Zambia’s tribalist politics’ and ‘Election fever grips Zimbabwe’

Zambia’s tribalist politics

The results of the presidential and parliamentary elections that took place in Zambia on 27 December can only be analysed in terms of the prevailing ethnic and tribal prejudices that came to translate themselves in the voting pattern.

The heavily contested elections took place over four days instead of the stipulated one day. This was partly due to the large number of voters who had turned up to vote. The elections took place in the rain season and many roads and bridges were rendered inoperative and thus caused delays in the transportation of ballot boxes and personnel.

This time more than ever before the Zambian electorate was subjected to intense political propaganda coming from no less than twelve political parties, but the elections were held under a mood of cynicism consequent upon the nullification of the constitutional referendum that would have paved the way for a third term for outgoing President Frederick Chiluba.

Voting was heavily determined by ethnic and tribal loyalties rather than the intellectual and political integrity of the presidential aspirants. The strength of political parties has come to depend upon the degree of ethnic and tribal loyalties they can command. Tribalism in Zambia is politically motivated – a political contest among the Tonga, Lozi and Bemba for ethnic domination.

A brief resumé of Zambia’s political history may help to clarify this predominance and the pattern of ethnic and tribal loyalties. The beginning of political agitation that paved the way to the achievement of Zambia’s independence saw the emergence on the political scene of the most assertive tribes. Disenchanted with racial segregation, the nationalist movements manipulated the entrenched ethnic and tribal prejudices to win political loyalty.

Historically the Bemba tribe is regarded as being the most culturally and politically assertive in Zambia. The Bemba originated from the Lunda-Luba multi-ethnic empire that had once flourished in the 7th century in the Congo bassin. Demographically Zambia is heavily populated by the Lunda-Luba tribal offshoots, scattered across Luapula, Northern and Central Provinces. There still exist cultural and linguistic affinities among the diverse tribes found in these regions. In terms of lingua franca the Bemba vernacular has come to supplement English as Zambia’s second language, showing that language itself can be used as a vehicle of tribal domination

The first nationalist party in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) was formed by Godwin Mbikusita Lewanika, a Lozi tribesman, in 1948, the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress. Later, in 1951, the party was re-named the African National Congress under the charismatic leadership of Harry Nkumbula, a Tonga by tribe.

Historically the Lozi and Tonga are not related. The Lozi were an offshoot of the Makololo invaders who came from Basutoland (Botswana) and settled in Western Province around 1800. The Tonga have a long ancestral record compared to other Zambian tribes. Traditionally, they are politically non-militant, with political leadership being restricted within clans and village headmen. Tonga and Lozi politicians come into open alliances whenever there is a presidential election.

It can now be vindicated that Kenneth Kaunda’s resignation from the ANC in 1962 was mainly motivated by the entrenched ethnic and tribal loyalties, less so than on the alleged corrupt leadership of Harry Nkumbula. Kaunda himself is not a Zambian. His parents came from Malawi (Nyasaland) with a white missionary society. But it was his early upbringing under a Bemba traditional society that came to play a major role in his political career. The emergence of the UNIP in 1962 under his leadership witnessed the growth of militant political demonstrations in Luapula, Copperbelt and Northern Provinces where the Bemba are concentrated.

In 1963 Nalumino Mundia, a prominent Lozi politician, resigned from ANC and formed his own political party, the United Party. This was essentially Lozi in outlook and derived a mass following in Western Province. The United Party formed a coalition with Nkumbula’s ANC during the 1968 general elections and managed to win 34 percent of the votes.

This voting pattern that emerged from the 1968 general elections emphasised the presence of ethnic and tribal loyalties that have continued to this day.

The inauguration of a one-party (UNIP) state by Kaunda in 1972 was made in order to arrest the trends perceived towards ethnic and provincial parochialism. The UNIP government under Kaunda believed that it had succeeded in containing ethnic and tribal parochialism in Zambia by fabricating the philosophy of Humanism, duly implemented in 1974 as the official political ideology of the party and government. The philosophy of Humanism was spasmodically enunciated by Kaunda in order to enhance the false image of tribal homogeneity under a single party dictatorship.

Throughout his beleaguered political career Kaunda, took account of the prevalence of ethnic and tribal allegiances and allocated political portfolios according to the relative strengths of tribal and ethnic loyalties. The rank of Prime Minister was always reserved to a Lozi tribesman. Thus it can be inferred that the defeat of the UNIP government in 1991 by Chiluba’s MMD was a defeat for the Lozi who had come to comprise the majority in the civil service.

The election victory achieved in December by the ruling MMD presidential aspirant, Levy Mwanawasa, can only be attributed to the large number of votes received from the Bemba-speaking tribes in Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern Provinces. In terms of tribal and ethnic groupings, we can see that the Bemba-speaking areas voted for the ruling MMD whereas the Tonga and Lozi speaking areas voted for the UPND leader, Anderson Mazoka (a Tonga tribesman). Mazoka’s routing in the Copperbelt, Luapala and Northern provinces was compensated by the huge victories scored by the UPND in Lusaka, Southern and Western Provinces. The UPND lost to the ruling MMD by a margin of 30,000 votes but increased its seats in parliament to 44 compared to the MMD’s 68. The UPND’s dissatisfaction with the election results reflects the ingrained ethnic and tribal allegiances that underlies multi-party politics in Zambia.

Our message to the people of Zambia remains the same. The real cause behind unemployment, inflation and poverty is capitalism, the social system based on class domination, competition and selfishness. We repeat: in countries subjected to foreign domination and wage-slavery capitalism feeds and grows by enabling ethnic and tribal prejudices. It encourages voter apathy in societies where political patronage is based on tribal identities. It bedevils political stability through encouraging expediency based upon strengthening tribal domination and ill-feeling.

Socialism can bring to an end all this rot. A classless, moneyless and stateless society will end the ethnic, racial and sectarian antagonisms. The struggle before you remains the same – a class struggle on an international scale

Election fever grips Zimbabwe

Count down to 9 and 10 March. This is when the poverty-stricken and battling Zimbabweans will bravely trudge to the polling booths to cast their votes for whoever they think is the best candidate. To most, this will mean having the required capabilities to deal with the current political and economic crisis engulfing the country. Who is likely to scoop this crown of presidency is hard to predict, however, for the current campaign is the oughest in two decades.

Its now “all systems go” for these elections. Five candidates have entered the presidential race having recently submitted their nomination papers. These are: Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF; Shakespear Mayo of the National Alliance of Good Governance; Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change and two independents Paul Siwela and Wilson Kumbula. But among these, the NAAG chief and two independents are regarded as largely irrelevant enthusiasts. The real locking of horns is expected to be between Mugabe with his fading Zanu PF Party and the former trade unionist, Morgan Tsvangirai. There is now a tense atmosphere building up as the campaigns get into in full swing.

The beehive known as parliament has been closed for the duration because the club members were asked to take a break from debating monotonous bills and ordered to return to their constituencies and drum up support for their respective masters. Though the two leading competitors are rushing to opportunistically lure the voters, it is truly imperative that Zimbabwe stage an open and democratic election.

Robert Mugabe has already kicked off his partys’ presidential campaign with a rally in Mashonaland East which will be followed by numerous other rallies elsewhere in all his stronghold provinces. He is exploiting the land issue as well as the controversy surrounding the intervention of British PM Tony Blair and the role of foreign journalists who he is accusing of backing the opposition. But all this is just a political gimmick. Remember Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe attained its independence from its colonial master Britain. Why then should the land issue have become such an important matter now after all this time – or is it just a case of political expediency?

Not wanting to be left out, MDC leader Tsvangirai is also on his party’s campaign trail. He held his first campaign rally in February in Mutare, Manicaland. The opposition leader has sought to highlight the continuing economic deterioration and mismanagement of the country. Tsvangirai is also insisting that Mugabe should not use the land issue as his party’s preserve simply to gain more political support. Instead the issue should be resolved by everybody making a contribution.

Arguably this could have been taken as a matter of priority way back in 1980 in line with the general understanding reached by all concerned at the pre-independence Lancaster House Conference. However if Tsvangirai himself comes to power and neglects the question of land distribution, it is likely that he will pay a heavy price. People in Zimbabwe recognise that the land imbalance needs to be corrected – but without any element of dictatorship, racial discrimination or harasssment – and that dialogue and proper mediation is crucial.

However, as socialists we do not take sides in such issues; we do not go along with what the law enforcement agents, churches, chiefs, NGOs, etc appear to be after. For instance, consider the recent statement from the Defence Forces Chief Whip, Zvinavashe that the army will not salute any leader without “liberation” credentials. Was this a veiled threat to the opposition or did Zvinavashe just want to protect his rank?

As far as the opposition is concerned, the truth is that they are finding it too difficult to organise effectively. But that the MDC itself has urged capitalists to use the threat of sanctions against this poor nation says something too. It means that either side in the electoral contest can file a complaint that its opponents supported the use of intimidation to persuade voters to their cause. This is particularly true of the rural areas. Hence there is a possibility for the elections to be regarded as not being free and fair.

It’s time for the people of Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole to discover the truth, that they need to unite and fight for socialism.They should stop being used in exchange of terrorism. Go back down memory lane and see what happened in countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia and Yugoslavia.

These bourgeois leaders are after nothing but power. They are not really concerned about the Aids pandemic; looming drought; brutality; violence; rife sexual abuses; the unemployment crisis; shortage of food, clean water and shelter – issues that are affecting ordinary people. All they are after is their own self-aggrandisement.

What the outcome of the March election will be is hard to tell. But it has generated much interest abroad with invited regional and international observers now pouring into the country. Maybe they will play a vital role in reducing the already planned bloodshed by the main culprits: MDC and Zanu PF.

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