Tribalism is not as simple as pointing the finger

By Maurice Makalu

This is the first of four articles on tribalism. Part two will be on Thursday Dec 1.

There is growing sentiment and resentment of tribalism in Zambian politics. The ‘hottest beef’ seems to be between Bembas andTongas, each accusing the other of being tribalistic.

It is important to acknowledge that tribalism or any other form of social discrimination is not as simple as being the first to point a finger. As already seen betweenTongasand Bembas, accusations of discrimination or hatred between social groups are always mutual.  Hence, UPND and PF are both tribal parties, unofficially that is.

As a black man, you will say whites are racists; whites will say the same about you. You will respond to whites racism by resenting and hating them to the extent of harm; they will respond to your racism by denying you empowerment in terms of education, economy and political power for fear that you would annihilate them if you had the power. The youth will accuse elders of discriminating against them by leaving them out of positions of power; the elders will say the youth think they are ‘all that’ and want to change the way we have always done things, keep them out of power to avoid confusion.

You notice the same finger pointing in religious discrimination.

So social discrimination that is based on mere perceptions is difficult to objectively ‘put a finger on,’ ‘nail down’ and eliminate. It is much different from discrimination written into statues, where a certain social group is denied certain rights: e.g. women should not vote or become directors; there shall be separate schools and churches for each tribe; Kachokwes cannot stand for presidency; etc. These are easily rectified by removing discriminating clauses from the law and thus making everybody equal.

For this reason, it is wise and constructive forTongasand Bembas and their related tribes to show restraint and ‘cool off’ their counter-accusations of tribalism; they are both guilty and innocent.

Difficulties In Identifying Tribalism

The difficulty in ‘nailing down’ tribalism is well illustrated in a well written article by Austin Mbozi, titled, Bemba-speaking People: The best ‘tribal’ voters.

Anybody who has carefully analyzed election results in Zambia, which I have, will clearly see the difficulties scattered all over the article. (Read full article here

Here are several of them:

  1. a.     What Constitutes ‘Tribalism’

Mbozi describes Bemba speaking people residing in ‘traditionally non-Bemba speaking regions likeLusaka’ as being ‘less tribal.’ He justifies this argument by saying, “They (Lusaka Bemba speakers) in fact joined, campaigned for and voted for Anderson Mazoka, aTonga, in 2001.”

In 2001,Lusakaprovince voted: Mazoka 30.72%, C. Tembo 23.57%, Mwanawasa 15.56%. In 2011,Lusakavoted: Sata 55.94%, Banda 30.76%, HH 11.29%.

The questions are: What constitutes Bemba tribalism: is it voting againstTongas? What does Mbozi say about 2011 results: Did ‘less tribal’Lusakasuddenly become tribal in 2011? Is it REALLY tribalism or it is just the candidates themselves and how they market themselves?

  1. b.     Tribalism Doesn’t Really Explain Defeat/Success

Mbozi continues to argue that in 2001, Bembas rejected Mazoka and voted for Mwanawasa because, “They (Bembas) were not voting for Mwanawasa per say, but Chiluba (a fellow Bemba and leader of MMD).”

He uses this argument to dismantle the argument that Bembas are not tribalistic because they voted for Mwanawasa, a non-Bemba.

He strengthens his argument by saying, “And so Sata (a Bemba) who had barely joined politics three months before elections (in 2001) got more votes than Mazoka in Kasama.” Indeed this is true. Sata polled 15,781 (8%) while Mazoka polled 8,888 (4.51%) inNorthern Province.

In the same year however, Mazoka got more votes 5,674 (4.23%) than Sata’s 4,832 (3.61%) in Luapula and 39,329 (11.95%) for Mazoka and 23,619 (7.18%) for Sata on the Copperbelt.

If Mazoka’s defeat to ‘three months old’ Sata in Northern was due to Bemba’s tribalism; what do we attribute his victory over Sata to in Luapula and Copperbelt, also Bemba regions?

  1. c.     Where do we draw the tribalism line?

Do we say Bembas inNorthern Provinceare hardcore tribalists for voting for three months old Sata while those in Luapula and Copperbelt are a little ‘mild’? Where do we draw the line?

In 2001, Mwanawasa won Copperbelt by 38.01% followed by Miyanda at 19.34%; Mazoka third at 11.95%. There were Bembas like Nevers and Sata; how is it Bemba tribalism that Miyanda and Mazoka, both non-Bembas, did better than both Bembas?

Furthermore, if indeed Mazoka’s defeat to Sata inNorthern Provincewas due to Bemba tribalism, Mazoka was also defeated by Tembo, a non-Bemba, in both Luapula (Mazoka – 4.23%; Tembo – 8.33%) and Northern (Mazoka – 4.51%; Tembo – 12.58%) Provinces. How do we explain that?

Or is tribalism only when Bembas vote againstTongas?


  1. d.     Personal Perceptions Play A Role

Miyanda, Tembo, etc did not describe their defeat to Mwanawasa on the Copperbelt (Luapula or Northern) as Lamba or Bemba tribalism, why should Mazoka describe his as such?

If we say it is because Sata had just formed his Patriotic Front (PF) three months before elections, so there is no other way he could have done better than Mazoka other than tribalism: Doesn’t experience and the time somebody has been in politics count for something?

Mazoka, despite his impressive academic and business CV, was a new kid on the political block while Sata was a veteran who had held several top positions and had wide campaigning and mobilization experience in the MMD. Were there no ‘Sata loyalists’ while he was in MMD? Could that surely not have some effect?

  1. e.     ‘Accusing Fingers’ Isn’t Tribalism

Mbozi continues to say, “This (Bemba tribalism) explains why as soon as Mwanawasa and Chiluba differed  and Mwanawasa became  MMD leader himself the Bemba speakers, incited by Sata, virtually abandoned Mwanawasa and vowed to remove him for prosecuting Chiluba and other Bemba leaders and accused him of insulting them as ‘stinking and dirty’. This explains why even when by 2006, other regions like Eastern, Western and Northwestern andCentral provinces accepted Mwanwasa as a good leader and voted for him, the Bemba speaking regions rejected him.”

In 2006, Luapula gave Mwanawasa 64,936 (33.81%) and Sata 118,901 (61.90%); Copperbelt 169,870 (38.92%) for Mwanawasa and 233,600 (53.52%) for Sata. So we can agree with Mbozi and say, “Bemba speaking regions rejected good Mwanawasa.”

What do we then say aboutNorthern Province? Mwanawasa polled 163,663 (50.83%) beating Sata who polled 139,953 (43.46%).

If Mazoka’s loss to Sata in 2001 was due to Bemba tribalism, and yet Mwanawasa won in Northern over Sata in 2006, but we still describe Bembas as having tribally ‘rejected’ Mwanawasa, are we not just pointing accusing fingers?

In 2001, the Copperbelt voted for Miyanda and Mazoka ahead of Bembas Nevers and Sata. If we say Mwanawasa won Copperbelt in the name of Chiluba, a Bemba and in the name of himself, a Lamba, which justifies Bemba (Lamba) tribalism, what shall we say about Miyanda’s and Mazoka’s good performances ahead of Bembas?

Are we really not just pointing accusing fingers at Lambas and Bembas when we describe Mwanawasa’ success as Bemba (Lamba) tribalism?

  1. f.        Propaganda Isn’t Tribalism

Mbozi then turns to Eastern province attempting to prove tribalism there too. His analysis here, I am sorry to say, is just lies and propaganda intended to brand easterners as tribal so as to consolidate his self-righteous belief that Bembas’ are indeed tribal, even Easterners say so.

He begins his eastern analysis by stating, “And it is not only the Tongaspeakers who are asking these questions (about Bemba tribalism).  In the 2008 elections, Ngoni Paramount Chief Mpezeni urged Easterners to vote for Akulu Mpuno Rupiah Banda who was an Easterner because ‘we have always been voting for Bembas’.”

He then puts a disclaimer that Easterners’ voting pattern cannot be easily described as ‘tribal’ because ‘it is not normally too uniform.’ In 1962 they (Easterners) voted for UNIP. In 1964, they voted UNIP, in 1991 every other province voted for MMD they alone again voted for UNIP.  But in 2001 they voted for FDD mainly because its President Christon Tembo came from there.” Mbozi emphatically asserts, “The 2001 vote for FDD was tribal.”

The truth is: Mbozi did not analyse 2001 election results. If he did he could have noticed that in 2001, Eastern province still voted UNIP: Kaunda (35.80%), Tembo (28.27%) and Mwanawasa (16.19%). So he is just peddling propaganda to label Easterners tribal and blame Bembas for it.

(SeeProvince3 – Eastern, here:

  1. g.     Oversimplification Isn’t Tribalism

Mbozi further alleges that Easterners’ vote for Mwanawasa in 2006 was tribal as well because ‘they demanded the Vice Presidency, which was given to Rupiah Banda in exchange for their vote.’ “Then in 2008 and 2011 they gave a tribal vote to Rupiah Banda. But still, we can say that at least in 2008 (read as 2006) they voted for a non-Easterner.”

Yet earlier, Mbozi said, “By 2006, other regions like Eastern, Western and Northwestern and Central provinces accepted Mwanawasa as a good leader and voted for him.” (while Bembas rejected him because he turned against chiluba).

So did Easterners vote for Mwanawasa because of RB’s vice presidency or because they had ‘accepted Mwanawasa as a good leader’?

Mbozi cannot figure out which is which.

He faced the same problem on Bemba speakers, if at all he analysed election results.

According to him, Mwanawasa lost to Sata in 2006 on the Copperbelt and Luapula because, ‘Sata turned Bembas against him for persecuting Chiluba.” How then did Mwanawasa win inNorthern Province?

Mbozi has no answer; so he decides to keep quiet and mislead people into believing that Bemba speakers turned against a good Mwanawasa. I am sure, if the vice president had been a Bemba, Mbozi could have used the ‘exchange’ argument he used on Eastern province.

This is oversimplification on Mbozi’s part not tribalism in Easterners and Bemba speakers.

Others have explained Mwanawasa’s victory inNorthern Provincebeing due to Nevers Mumba’s campaigns for him there, therefore, concluding that this suits the tribal tendency. But Sata a Northerner, campaigned there too.

Others yet again, have said, it was a ‘compassionate’ vote to Nevers. His mother had just died and Northerners decided to mourn with him.

This is just over simplification. If Northerners loved Nevers that much, why did they reject him with a paltry 2.24% (4,423) vote in 2001 out 296,811 registered voters? Behind non-Northerners like Tembo (12.58%), Miyanda (4.26%) and Mazoka (4.51%) who were also contesting for the first time. How loving of ‘your own’ is that!


  1. h.     Prejudice In The ‘Accusing Finger.’

While Mbozi describes Easterners’ voting for a non-Easterner in 2006 as non-tribal, he does not do the same to Northerners, who also voted a non-Northerner in 2006. Instead he lumps Northerners with Copperbelt and Luapula Bembas so as to label ALL Bemba speakers tribal.

So is Mbozi really proving any Eastern or Bemba tribalism or he is just showing his own?

Mbozi goes to great lengths to justify the Eastern addiction to UNIP as tribal by alleging that Easterners see the Kaundas as their own because Easterners have “tribal relatives and linguistic attachments inMalawi, where Kaunda’s father originated from.”

If this is the case, did Easterners ‘always vote for Bembas’ as Mpezeni said and are therefore non-tribal; or they always voted for their Malawi-originated-own and are therefore tribal?

We cannot tell. So is Mbozi proving any tribalism in Eastern province or he is just showing his own?

Mbozi then turns to Lozis and alleges that they too ‘have tribal grievances with the Bembas.’ He quotes a booklet of the Barotse Patriotic Front, which says, “The majority of Zambians (including Bembas) can never vote for a Lozi leader because of prejudices.”

Clearly, Lozis are saying ‘majority of Zambians;’ Mbozi gets the message ‘grievance against Bembas.’ So is he proving Lozi grievance against Bembas or he is showing his own?



Mbozi started by asking, “Which tribal grouping has began this trend of tribal voting?”

He concluded with, “Our Bemba speaking fellow Zambians you are generally socially not tribal. But politically awe mwandi!  Could you please tell us why your regions vote this way so that we consider your grievance and we reach a compromise? Otherwise other regions will have some justification to refuse to vote for you as well.”

I applaud his non-acrimoniousness in his approach. In matters of perception, which are bound to be filled with self-righteousness, that is key.

And from the foregoing, it is clear that tribalism is not easy to confine to any specific social group. When you point your finger at the another, three fingers point back at you. Bembas,Tongasand all other tribes must therefore heed Jesus’ words, “See the log in your own eye, not the speck in your brother’s.” That will be a good first step for a better oneZambiaone Nation for all.

In my next article, we will look at why everybody,Tongasand Bembas included, stands to lose in a tribally polarized democracy. Look out for the article on Thursday, Dec 1 2011.

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