Have Tongas decided to be resistant too?

Editor, please publish

It is interesting to note that following the popular change of government on September 20 2011, Zambia is once more led by one originating from the ‘north’ and not one originating from elsewhere within the country. It is interesting in the sense that one can say that leaders with merit enough to be state presidents in Zambia can only originate from one region – the ‘north’.

From 1964 the people of Zambia have had three major celebrations following major political victories against some unwanted governments. That was in 1964, 1991 and now in 2011. But when the people of Zambia celebrated in 1964 after winning the struggle against colonial rule, the man at the top was from the ‘north’ – Kenneth Kaunda; and when the people of Zambia celebrated in 1991 after winning the struggle against the increasingly unwanted Kaunda rule the man at the top was from the ‘north’ – Titus Jacob Chiluba. Now, again, when for a third time the people of Zambia celebrated in 2011 after defeating the corrupt MMD government, again the man at the top was from the north. Again! This is Michael Chilufya Sata. The question that naturally arises is can this really be justified by merit?

When in 2001 the people of Zambia almost celebrated for defeating the MMD with the man at the top being from the ‘south’, the celebrations never became. Alas! Many today believe the chief suspect in stopping those likely celebrations is one from the ‘north’!

The dominance of the rule of the people from the ‘north’ is clear from our history; at the same time one can see an unfolding scenario – a justifiable rise to ‘Politics of Resistance from the ‘south’ against this One-Tribal Rule’.

Another quite very interesting picture is the fact that from 1964 almost every strong political party that we have seen has been originated and/or led by someone from either the ‘north’ (Bemba speaking) or from the ‘south’ (Tonga speaking), two major political blocks into which Zambian politics appear to be divided.

Alongside this reality we also observe that since independence politicians who have had no tribal backing from their backyards have failed to get anywhere with the parties they formed and tried to run. The well articulated Godfrey Miyanda and his Heritage Party can be given as a classic example. On the other hand politicians who have had this tribal backing from their backyards like the late Harry Nkumbula, the late Andy Mazoka and MC Sata, seem to have had it easy to get going even in the toughest of times.

From the above one can draw the following facts from our political history to date:

(1) Topmost politicians in Zambia have been either Bemba speaking or Tonga speaking; clearly the size of one’s tribe matters; together with the Ngonis to the east, the Bembas and the Tongas make the top three tribes by size.

(2) Tribal Backing has been playing the front role in Zambian politics, politicians without a tribal backing have failed before and are still bound to fail when it comes to aspiring for the presidency unless we change the trend.

(3) The Bemba speaking people have dominated the presidency in Zambia and therefore political power.

(4) Merit plays a very distant second position to tribe in Zambian politics; as things are it is as hard as trying to go through the eye of a needle for an individual from a small tribe, let alone an inactive tribe, to form a vibrant political party and vie for the presidency in Zambia.

(5) Although the PF politics have been portrayed as none tribal they are nothing but tribal; they are not alien to Zambia, they are indigenous politics by indigenous Zambians. As such they cannot escape being tribal and regional in nature, this being the character of Zambian politics. The PF represents the ‘northern voice’, is largely the voice of the Bemba speaking people and their sympathizers elsewhere within our national boundaries. The difference with the UPND which itself represents the voice of the ‘south’ – largely of the Tonga speaking people and their sympathizers elsewhere within our national boundaries – is that for now and only for now, the PF happens to command the cosmopolitan vote along the line of rail, a secondary vote in Zambian politics and which can swing either way. That however does not change the truth that the PF is a Bemba oriented political platform.


Despite being the second biggest tribe, the Ngonis don’t seem to be so active politically but we notice that they are tribal cousins to the Bembas; they may just be content ‘working’ with their Mbuyas after all as their voting pattern can prove.


On the other hand the Lozi, Lunda, Luvale and the Kaonde speaking people of the western and the n/western regions of the country are the next big tribes after which a whole range of smaller tribes follow. Like the Ngonis they equally do not seem to be so active politically but these are tribal cousins to the Tonga speaking people of the ‘southern region’; they may just be somehow also content ‘working’ with their Mbuyas.


And so if this is the case with the not-so active tribes in Zambia politically, then we can easily see how the two ‘Political Blocks’ Zambia is divided into comes about – the Northern Block and the Southern Block – which have largely characterized our national politics to date. It is a real situation, our politics are highly polarized today.


In a situation where merit is not a big player but the tribe, a question then arises regarding access to political power by the various peoples of Zambia across our diversity in region, language and culture, all of whom are aware they have a right to it. We are 73 ethnic groups making Zambia! Although we differ by size, truth is that the individual Zambian bears equal constitutional rights irrespective of which ethnicity s/he is. This includes the constitutional right to aspire to the highest position in the country – the state presidency.

However what are the chances that an individual from a small ethnic group can successfully aspire to the presidency in Zambia when nature has it that the big tribes dominate the political power play, when one biggest tribe dominates and wants to continue to dominate the presidency, when merit cannot help them? Small tribes will remain small and if the size of tribe will continue to play the front roll, individuals from smaller tribes will never rule!  Worse still if one big tribe wants to continue to dominate all others, then individuals from all other tribes will never rule in Zambia without putting up a spirited fight, save for some fluke happenings like what brought Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda to power. Shall we then let the situation remain like this?

A progressive nation must always work to find answers to its problems, not to create problems. One of the biggest retrogressive problems we have in Zambia and in which the PF government is entangled is the syndrome of looking at each other through the tribal spectrum when it comes to national politics. Of course we marry each other across the tribal boundaries but marriage is not where power lies. Power lies in politics, in the governments that we form. By viewing each other through the tribal spectrum, a negative situation arises where we tend to strengthen our own by tribe, relatives or friends instead of working to strengthen our own by nation. By that alone we create an atmosphere where both personal and institutional pride is by tribe instead of being national. Those who do not belong to the tribe in power are forced to view the ruling class as the ‘Ruling Tribe’ or the ‘Ruling Family’ instead of ‘our government in place’. How then can we galvanize all the human resources we have towards national development? How can we develop when national values are negated in preference for tribal values?

The current scenario in our country, in which individuals from the same region alone seem to have more rights than others for ascending to the presidency cannot pass the test of merit, it is greediness and oppression of others and a sign of a sick society.  It spoils development opportunities, kills individual energies and works against the very reason we put up a government in the first place.

In such a situation opposition politics, especially those in which the other bigger tribes participate will tend to be ‘politics of resistance’ instead of being politics for merely providing checks and balances. And if we allow our emotions to get the better of us and fail to analyze issues pragmatically we may find ourselves calling others Bantustans, others Separatists when they are in fact the very forces we need to move forward together, when we have simply failed to manage our diversity by ethnicity within our national boundaries.

The presidency of Michael Sata is nothing but the presidency of one region, the ‘Northern Block’ and particularly of the Bemba speaking people in so far as we already have had Bemba presidents before and as can be verified from his appointments. The talk about merit is neither here nor there because meritorious people come from every region of the country and not just one; it is a cover up meant to foster the Bemba Tribal Hegemony in Zambia and must be fought against tooth and nail, because it is leading Zambia nowhere other than into poverty, social strife and economic quagmire. Most likely this presidency will simply make Zambia even more and more polarized politically.

Sata and his ‘north’ oriented party, the PF may try their best to go national but their real difficulty will be the rising Politics of Resistance from the ‘Southern Block’ whose aim is clear:  ‘the north must learn to live with others’. The southern region is simply saying, ‘the north ‘‘ruled us last time, and last of last time, and last time again, and all the last times before, and again it is the one ruling us!?’’ They are saying, ‘we also want to rule, others also want to rule’.

 It is a logical complaint, it makes sense. The wrong simply must be corrected.

Author’ s Name withheld

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