Tribal Politics in Africa

IN AFRICA every political leader that comes into power starts to consolidate himself  through stamping out political turncoats and the opposition. This easily gives rise to ethnic suspicions. Thus politicians take advantage of ethnic and tribal prejudices in order to win a political following. This is what took place in Kenya when Odinga lost the  elections to Uhuru Kenyatta. The Luos and Kikuyu tribes started to butcher each other.

This also took place in Zimbabwe when Joshua Nkomo lost to Robert Mugabe in 1979 –  Nkomo invited the Ndebeli to rise against the Shona – there was violence in Matebeleland and hundreds of civilians were killed.

Under the leadership of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, the slogan ‘Zambia One Nation’ came to emphasise unity between tribes. Political reputations based on tribal loyalties did not exist under UNIP. Dr. Kaunda preached tribal balancing by appointing cabinet ministers from majority tribes – there was always a Lozi and Tonga as prime minister.

If there was any semblance to tribalism in Zambia under UNIP it only came from the Lozi royal establishment that had grievances with the Barotse government of 1964. The British Crown had given the protectorate to Barotseland in 1889 – but that lapsed when the governor of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Sir Evelyn Horn handed over self government to Dr. Kaunda in 1964.

Kaunda emulated the ‘communist’ bloc and played a part in sponsoring the political rebels agitating for political independence in Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa. The incidence of military coups in West Africa – in Ghana and Nigeria both civilian governments were overthrown – made Kaunda promulgate a one-party state in 1973. He became commander-in-chief of the Zambian armed forces, and virtual dictator.

Kaunda threw himself wholeheartedly into the liberation struggle taking place in southern Africa and on this count alone his political reputation rests. The onset of a trade inflation in Western and Eastern countries from 1980 onwards posed economic problems in African countries – in Zambia queues for essential commodities and fuel became a recurring feature.

The promulgation of Perestroika by Gorbachev in Russia led to the fall of ‘communism’ (state capitalism) in eastern Europe and Africa. This gave rise to demands for political pluralism in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. It took the intervention of Tanzanian soldiers to evict the dictator Idi Amin from Uganda. President Mobutu was made to flee Kinshasa when the Rwandan army used the Banyamulenge to attack his army. Kaunda himself was voted out of office in 1991.

The one-party states there were ended but replaced by tribal-based politics.


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