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Saturday, 8 November 2008

The rise of tribal politics?

Gershom Ndluvo on the recent elections writes :

What is clear though is that this election has given the nation a glimpse of the regionalism that is slowly but surely creeping into the nation’s body politic. It was not difficult to see that MMD’s Rupiah Banda, PF’s Michael Sata and UPND’s Hakainde Hichilema did particularly well from their regions although a simplistic argument would state that the particular political parties are not strong in some of those areas...But whatever the case, if voting will be regionally determined in future elections, Zambia risks serious fragmentation along regional lines which will ultimately mean that regions with lesser populations than others many never provide a president.

Not sure about "slowly creeping in". This pattern has been known for a while - see Tribal Zambians? That said, I am interested to hear what others think on the "roots" of this tribal fragmentation. Is there underseated regionalism or tribalism to our politics ? If so what is the cause? More importantly what can be down to unseat it, if indeed it does exist?

11 comments:

  1. Zambia risks serious fragmentation along regional lines which will ultimately mean that regions with lesser populations than others many never provide a president.

    Here's a (scary?) idea, and I'm just throwing it up get get some input and reactions.

    What if Zambia/the DRC/etc. were made up of provinces that would coincide with the old kingdoms?

    Bemba Province, Luba/Lunda Province, etc? :)

    They would unite areas across the present national borders.

    They could each be constitutional monarchies (like Denmark, Sweden, etc.), with their own king/queen, and a Prime Minister as head of the government.

    These provinces would exist within a federal/confedarated state, which would have the task of providing collective defense, a common currency, and foreign relations on behalf of the region, and enforce a bill of rights and a constitution.

    I'm just saying, that the present borders are pretty arbitrary to begin with. If not for an act of historic fate, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe would have been one country.

    Just throwing it out there.

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  2. Those old Kingdoms never had fixed borders either. Also, sub-Saharan African empires never had a strong centralised rule.

    On the subject of the article. We are overstating the importance tribalism in Zambia.

    Yes Zambians vote partly tribal but the reality of our country requires a politician to form a broader coalition to get elected. There's no ethnic group big enough to give someone the presidency (at least some 30% of the votes).

    This tribalism wont go away anytime soon. In Zambia the notion of personal responsibility is not so widely accepted. This creates both positive and negative bonds of reciprocity but that's a different discussion.

    The biggest challange Zambia faces is the formation of real political parties, based on ideology. Urbanisation then will desintegrate the tribal solidarity over the next few generations in which a democracy close to the true sense of the word can emerge.

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  3. CF,

    This tribalism wont go away anytime soon. In Zambia the notion of personal responsibility is not so widely accepted. This creates both positive and negative bonds of reciprocity but that's a different discussion.

    But doesn't that also have to do with the literal remoteness of the central government? And are these bonds of reciprosicy not also caused by the underfunding of local government and it's functions?

    The biggest challange Zambia faces is the formation of real political parties, based on ideology. Urbanisation then will desintegrate the tribal solidarity over the next few generations in which a democracy close to the true sense of the word can emerge.

    80% of the people still live in rural areas. I don't think that is going to change any time soon.

    In my manifesto, I have suggested a decentralisation that depends on decentralisation of legal rigths/obligations and budgets to a local government level so small (units of 30,000 people) that most people at that level would belong to the same tribe, hopefully taking tribe out of local government as an issue.

    If power was decentralized to the provinces, you would have more power for Southern Province, which would in effect be the Tonga Province, for instance. What would the effect of that be compared to today?

    If power was decentralized to district level (all 72), you could have still a different dynamic.

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  4. Mr K,
    The issue of national boundaries is irreversible, because there're various political interests, especially on natural resources. However, if anyone was to entertain your idea, perhaps one of the best places to try it would be Rwanda and Burundi.

    Zambia is way too complex to even begin contemplating that idea.

    Back to the issue of tribalism in Zambia, it is quite clear that it is real and is now threatening what our moto "One Zambia, One Nation", stands for.

    Tribal identities have always been there and KK knew that. So he did his part in trying to prevent that wrecking his early years in power and actually managed quite well throughout his tenure. He created the House of Chiefs through which regions were represented, or at least felt so. FTJ came along and dismantled the whole thing and here we are 2 decades later.

    So in my opinion regional representation could be the practical answer.

    Having said that, there's another ideal side to this. I grew up on the Copperbelt (as did Gershom) which was a melting pot of tribes. Each and every tribe within Zambia, and sometimes beyond, was represented. People had their own languages which they spoke in their homes, but out on the street we all belonged to one 'tribe' and spoke one language. I wouldn't say it was exactly Bemba, but a dialect of it, created on the streets and for the streets. I think that in itself diffused any cause of tribal tensions.

    A similar trend happened in Lusaka.

    Hence people of that generation are far less likely to identify one another by tribe. Our parents probably saw things a little different, but certainly people of my generation never saw tribe as an issue.

    The worrying trend now is that people who themselves have probably never exhibited tribal tendencies, are now calling on tribal roots, if it gains them votes.

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  5. Zedian,

    My core question is this: How do you take tribalism out of politics?

    How do you ensure that not scheming politician pits one group against another for political gain?

    From that point of view, it is interesting to look at the effects of various forms of decentralisation.

    The issue of national boundaries is irreversible, because there're various political interests, especially on natural resources.

    I disagree. Less than 20 years ago, we saw the reunification of East and West Germany. We have seen the reincorporation of Hong Kong into the People's Republic of China.

    And we have seen the unification of European countries who have been at war with eachother for much of their histories.

    For a few brief years, there was the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which included Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

    All I am saying is that with regional integration, national borders can easily disappear.

    So what form of government would be the best?

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  6. The issue of national boundaries is irreversible, because there're various political interests, especially on natural resources.

    Also, most national boundaries in Africa are not natural or rational. They cut through entire peoples, and often don't even coincide with geographic features like rivers or mountains.

    By definition, these borders are going to be porous, which means they're basically just lines on a map. Which means that policing them is extremely expensive, even impossible.

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  7. Mr K,
    The circumstances that led to the split and eventual re-unification of East and West Germany are very different to what we have in the case of Zambia and it's neighbours. You cannot compare the two!

    We all know how arbitrary borders are and what problems this has caused, but claiming a part of another country just because you have people who speak your language there is a practical way forward. If it were that simple Congo DR would simply give up the troubled eastern side of the country to Rwanda or something, because there're Tutsis there.

    The issue at hand is how tribes can live side by side as one country. Following your argument, we may as well create a country for each of the tribes on the continent!

    By definition, these borders are going to be porous, which means they're basically just lines on a map. Which means that policing them is extremely expensive, even impossible.

    Yes they are. Europe has solved this problem by creating the EU. That may well be the answer to our problem too.

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  8. Previous post should have read in part "...but claiming a part of another country just because you have people who speak your language there is NOT a practical way forward."

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  9. We all know how arbitrary borders are and what problems this has caused, but claiming a part of another country just because you have people who speak your language there is a practical way forward.

    And I wouldn't suggest that Zambia just claims parts of the DRC, for instance. :)

    But let's say that at some point, SADC, COMESA, etc. become not only unions for trade, but follow in the footsteps of the EU.

    Within a federal framework, you could create provinces that were along the lines of traditional kingdoms. Those provincial governments could have largely ceremonial, traditional heads of state, with elected provincial prime ministers who would be the head of the provincial government.

    What would be the downside of that?

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  10. Mr K,
    I think tribalism in politics is more of an immediate problem for us than the wider border issues. I would prefer a national working solution or model to the tribal question which we can then transpose to the wider SADC/COMESA.

    I would suggest a couple of things:

    1) Decentralise and create local/provincial governments within current international boundaries. ( I just think redrawing borders is a political hot potato). In other words, we'd create a federated union at national level, not international, with regional representatives to central govt.


    2) Restrict persons wishing to be MPs to stand only in areas of their residence and/or other strong local connection. That would prevent people going back to the land and calling on their tribesmen for votes.

    3) In a much larger EU type union, allow ceremonial chiefdoms to exist across borders. In a way that already exists to some extent, e.g Mwata Kazembe has Bemba speaking sujects in Congo DR's Shaba Province, and Chieftainess NaWaitwika of the Namwanga has subjects in three countries.

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  11. Zedian,

    I think tribalism in politics is more of an immediate problem for us than the wider border issues.

    They could be connected though.

    If someone wants to play the tribal card or the regional card, they ususally do that in two ways:

    1) I will bring national resources to our region
    2) Our region needs to be independent (Katanga Province) so our resources don't subsidize the rest of the country

    The way to take those two weapons away from tribalists/regionalists, would be to create a form of government that already does that.

    1a) There should be a way to make sure the resources are spread evenly across the country, by population. Redistributing national resources to the local level would be one way of doing that.

    2a) If you look at the Nigerian Delta for instance, this is where 10% of the world's oil is produced, and yet the people are only experiencing the downside - pollution and no investment of profits. You could legislate that (for instance) 25% of all profits from natural resources would have to remain with the local (or District or Provincial) authority, so the region where natural resources are exploited is the first to benefit.

    I would prefer a national working solution or model to the tribal question which we can then transpose to the wider SADC/COMESA.

    I think my model of decentralisation to a council/municipal level would be extremely modular and could be applied to any country.

    Generally speaking, if you decentralize, you also shift power (which is why central government is usually so opposed to it), so we should look at what and who we are moving power towards.

    I would suggest a couple of things:

    1) Decentralise and create local/provincial governments within current international boundaries. ( I just think redrawing borders is a political hot potato). In other words, we'd create a federated union at national level, not international, with regional representatives to central govt.


    2) Restrict persons wishing to be MPs to stand only in areas of their residence and/or other strong local connection. That would prevent people going back to the land and calling on their tribesmen for votes.

    MPs are of course very much the local representatives of central government (at least in the present incarnation where national parties can impose MPs on local constituencies).

    You could restrict the recruitment of MPs to the ranks of municipal council leaders.

    I think this could be more practical in a strictly two-party system, where everyone has to join one or the other parties. These parties would have internal factions, instead of being having lots of small independent parties.

    The benefit of recruiting MPs from local council leaders would be that they have experience with administration and have gone through local politics. As such, their contributions in parliament could be much more substantive.

    3) In a much larger EU type union, allow ceremonial chiefdoms to exist across borders. In a way that already exists to some extent, e.g Mwata Kazembe has Bemba speaking sujects in Congo DR's Shaba Province, and Chieftainess NaWaitwika of the Namwanga has subjects in three countries.

    I think that there is no traditional authority that doesn't have people living across national borders. Chief Gawa Undi of the Chewa people has subjects in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. :)

    Colonial era boundaries took into account neither traditional authorities or geographic features (rivers, mountains, deserts) as boundaries. So if traditional authorities are going to be part of a new system, that would make sense to look at (completely peacefully, with the cooperation of all sides involved and with lots of consultation, of course).

    What I guess I'm saying, is that my model, whith decentralisation to the council level, would be the most non-regional, non-tribal version of decentralisation. In itself, it would also have much less or no emphasis on traditional authorities as part of the government structure itself.

    The question is: is that desirable, and is it supported by everyone?

    ReplyDelete

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