It seems Mr Hakainde Hichilema and the UPND are perched on the defensive over accusations of tribalism. Why? Probably it is because of the promises they made to have a tribal and regionally balanced and representative government. Critiques are asking if what they are seeing is equal to what they were promised:
- President (Tonga)
- Vice-President (Bemba married to a Lozi)
- Speaker (Lozi)
- Chief Justice (Lenje)
- Acting President of the Constitutional Court (Lozi)
Attorney General (Lenje)
- Solicitor General (Tonga)
- Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission (Lozi)
- Chairman of the Judicial Complaints Commission (Tonga)
- Commissioner of Lands (Tonga)
- Chief Legal Advisor to the President (Lozi)
Minister of Justice (Tonga).
They are saying the key state institutions and the country’s justice system are basically is the hands of Tongas and Lozis (with very little or no meaningful participation from the rest)
They are saying the same about the key government ministries (Ministries that are not easily done away with by any government):
- Home Affairs (Tonga)
- Local Government (Tonga)
- Education (Tonga)
- Tourism (Tonga)
- Foreign Affairs (Lenje)
- Health (Soli)
- Defence (Luvale)
- Infrastructure (Lozi)
- Finance (Lozi)
- Lands (Lunda)
- Governor of Bank of Zambia (Tonga).
The rest are, in the main, pushed to ministries that can easily be done away and receive very limited budgetary allocations.
They say the picture is the same for key defence and security agencies:
- Zambia Army Commander (Lozi)
- Zambia Air Force Commander (Kaonde)
- ZNS Commandant (Luvale)
- Inspector General of Police (Kaonde)
Director General of Intelligence (Lozi)
- Commissioner General of Correctional Services (Tonga)
- Chief Immigration officer (Lozi)
They are saying in all these key command defence and security positions there’s no one from the East or the North as the political leadership to keep the tribal and regional balance the political leadership had promised.
They are also pointing to the Electoral Commission of Zambia:
- chairperson (Lozi)
- vice-person (Mambwe)
- the other three commissioners are Tonga, Lozi and Lunda
There’s no one from the East or the North proper.
These concerns are raised about lower positions in these and other state, government and quasi government institutions and agencies.
These are the concerns they are raising and the response is to label them tribalists, divisive elements and prosecute or persecute them on charges of tribal hatred.
With these concerns and the debates they are generating our multiparty political dispensation is back on the spot. The concern is no longer the lack of political pluralism or diversity, but the hijacking of the political processes by tribal politics.
The challenge to our multiparty political dispensation is not the prevalence of ethnic diversity, but the use of identity politics to promote narrow tribal interests. It is tribalism.
But the African experience over the last six decades has
shown us the dangers of ethnic competition and underscore the importance of building nations around ideas rather than clan identities.
In the absence of efforts to build genuine political parties with clear ideologies that compete on the basis of ideas, we have reverted to tribal identities as foundations for political competition.
Leaders are often exploiting tribal loyalty to advance personal gain, parochial interests, patronage, and cronyism. How else can one explain the tribal or regional voting that was confirmed by a Commission of Inquiry following the 2016 elections?
We shouldn’t forget the fact that tribes are not built on multiparty democratic ideas but thrive on zero-sum competition. As a result, they are inimical to multiparty democratic advancement.
In essence, tribal practices are occupying a vacuum created by lack of strong multiparty democratic institutions. The political parties are unable to find common ground through coherent party manifestos and ideological positions.
Many members of our political parties often don’t even know that their parties have manifestos.
The manifestos are generally issued just before the elections because much of the effort goes into regional manoeuvring and building tribal alliances.
Tribal politicians are clever and calculating.
They are quick to dress in the latest fashion and co-opt emerging trends to preserve their identities. They buy influence and create convenient alliances.
Their sole mission is self-preservation, with the side effect of subverting multiparty democratic evolution.
For them tribal politics is a zero-sum game.
The way forward for our multiparty democracy lies in concerted efforts to build modern political parties founded on strong ideological foundations, clear development ideas and not tribal bonds.
Such political parties must base their competition for power on ideological and development platforms.
Defining party platforms will need to be supported by the search for ideas – not the appeal to tribal coalitions.
Political parties that create genuine ideological and development platforms will launch initiatives that reflect popular needs.
Those that rely on manipulating ethnic alliances will bring sectarian animosity into government business by appointing to key government positions people from their tribes and allied ethnicities.
Party manifestos should fundamentally be documents in which parties outline their principles and goals in a manner that goes beyond popular rhetoric and cheap promises. They should arise from careful discussion, compromise, and efforts to express the core values and commitments of the party.
But building clear party platforms requires effective intellectual input, usually provided through think-tanks and other research institutions. Most of our political parties lack such support and generally their manifestos are cobbled together with little consultation.
Tribal groupings see themselves as infallible but parties have to be accountable to the people.
By stating a vision for the future, political parties provide voters with ways to measure their performance on all fronts.
Forging platforms fosters debate within parties that transcend tribal differences. Such debates are a central pillar of multiparty democracy. Building modern political parties and associated think-tanks is, therefore, the most urgent way to counter tribal politics. Policy debate is a key element of multiparty democracy.
Specific manifestos would foster healthy political competition that would force parties to distinguish themselves from each other. Conversely, such debates would also help to illustrate areas of common interest.
Indeed, it is becoming clear that issues such as poverty, infrastructure – energy, transportation, agriculture and food, and telecommunication – and youth employment are emerging as common themes in our politics irrespective of ideological differences.
So long as multiparty democracy offers the best chance for sustained growth and prosperity, tribal politics must be replaced by genuine party platforms and modern democratic institutions like think-tanks.
Otherwise our road to doom will continue to be paved by tribal intentions.
President of the Socialist Party