How tribalism stunts Zambian democracy


Zambia’s democratic transition is back in the spotlight. The concern is no longer the stranglehold of autocrats, but the hijacking of the democratic process by tribal politics .The challenge to democracy in Zambia is not the prevalence of ethnic diversity, but the use of identity politics to promote narrow tribal interests. It is tribalism.

There are those who argue that tribalism is a result of arbitrary post-colonial boundaries that force different communities to live within artificial borders but this argument suggests that every ethnic community should have its own territory, which reinforces ethnic competition.
But in the absence of efforts to build genuine political parties in Zambia which can compete on the basis of ideas, but many Zambians have reverted to tribal identities as foundations for political competition, and as well Political leaders has been often exploited tribal loyalty to advance personal gain, parochial interests, patronage, and cronyism.
Tribes are not built on democratic ideas but thrive on zero-sum competition, as a result, they are inimical to democratic advancement. In essence, tribal practices in Zambia are occupying a vacuum created by lack of strong democratic institutions.
Tribal interests have played a major role in armed conflict and civil unrest across Africa, where by Political leaders of the different opposition parties particularly in Countries like Zambia are primarily focusing on pursuing their tribal interests rather than uniting the Country under ‘one Zambia one Nation’ manifesto, as a result some Zambians political parties are unable to find common ground through coherent party manifestos. The manifestos are generally issued late because much of the effort goes into building tribal alliances.
In Zambia we needs a new constitution to address the issue of ethnicity by ensuring that a president needs broad geographical support to be elected. A winner must receive more than half of all the votes cast in the election and least 25% of the votes cast in each of more than half of the country’s provinces.
But Zambian tribal leaders are clever in calculating, their sole mission is self-preservation, with the side effect of subverting democratic evolution. For them tribal politics is a zero-sum game, so they are prone to using hate speech and inciting violence.
The way forward for Zambian democracy lies in concerted efforts to build modern political parties founded on development ideas and not tribal bonds, whereby such political parties must base their competition for power on 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 development platforms will launch initiatives that reflect popular needs.
Those Political parties relying on manipulating ethnic alliances only brings sectarian animosity into government business, and whoever is elected as president of Zambia will spend most of his or her time on tribal balancing rather than on economic management.
Political Parties manifestos are fundamentally documents in which parties outline their principles and goals in a manner that goes beyond popular rhetoric .They arise from careful discussion, compromise, and efforts to express the core values and commitments of the party.
Building clear party platforms requires effective intellectual input, usually provided through think-tanks and other research institutions .Most Zambian political parties lack such support and are generally manifestos cobbled together with little consultation although Zambia tribal groupings see themselves as infallible but parties have to be accountable to the people. And by stating a vision for the future, Zambia political parties should provide voters with a ways to measure their performance including forging platforms fosters debate within parties that transcends tribal and religious differences. Such debates are a central pillar of democracy.
Building modern political parties and associated think-tanks is, therefore, the most urgent way to counter tribal politics in Zambia
Policy debate is a key element of democracy, it promotes Specific manifestos to foster healthy political competition that would force parties to distinguish themselves from each other. Conversely, such debates would also help to illustrates areas of common interest.
Indeed, it has becomes clear that issues such as infrastructure – energy, transportation, irrigation, and poverty – and youth employment etc. are emerging as common themes in Zambian politics irrespective of ideological differences.
By Honourable Brown C. Kapika
President for ‘Adedo – Zamucano Political Party (Zambia)
President for ‘Beweging voor Burger – en Mensenrechten’ Political Party (Netherlands)
(Partij voor de Burgerlijke – en Mensenrechten)