Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Are We All Tribalists?

These past few days have been exciting, nerve-wrecking, challenging, and depressing all wrapped in a box as we waited for the 11 August 2016 election results. Zambia was waiting to know who would lead Zambia the next five years. Social media both Facebook and Twitter were lit with various commentaries as the results began to filter in. Some results were predictable while others not so. One constituency, however, opened a can of ugly worms that might be very difficult to put back. Dundumwezi.

When the results for Dundumwezi which is a constituency in Kalomo were announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), they showed that Hakainde Hichilema (HH) from the United Party for National Development (UPND) had obtained 30,810 votes while the incumbent and current president Edgar Lungu (EL) got 252 votes. Almost instantaneously, social media erupted with tribalist accusations and most of this targeted towards Tongas who primarily hail from Southern Province. The hate speech that was targeted towards Tongas was filled with such venom that not even a cobra would have stood the sting. The things mentioned will not be dignified by having them reprinted in this blog.

This is the elephant in the room that has appeared that many people do not want to discuss but discuss it we must. It is sad that an entire tribe gets to be victimised, marginalised and insulted based on a voting pattern. Many of us were not present when the people in Dundumwezi were voting. We do not exactly know why they voted the way they did and were they not within their rights to vote as they wanted. Shouldn't elections be a personal decision? Who are we to tell them how they should have voted? Also at what number would it have not been considered tribalism, 300 votes, 750 votes or 1001 votes? The subjectivity in this matter is one that is up for debate.

Whether we want to admit it or not we shall support the person we most relate closely to. If your brother and a stranger were in an Olympic race, of course you would be expected to show support for your brother and no one would condemn you. However your allegiance would change if your brother spat, shunned and kicked you, where the stranger called showed you love and compassion. In a sport where no Zambian or African is participating, the chances that most people will support the next team closest to Africa are high. Most Africans are likely to support the African American or individual from the Caribbean. This is not necessarily wrong everyone is entitled to their preferences. It is a known fact that a number of African Americans voted for Barack Obama purely based on the fact that he was black and not that he had better policies than John McCain or Mitt Romney.

The depressing part about the aftermath of the Dundumwezi results is how some people saw it within their senses to vilify an entire tribe and assault them with all manner of filthy words. Generalisations can be dangerous and this is one point where it is. People cannot assume that Tongas, Bembas, Lozis, Tumbukas or any other tribe are a homogenous people who think alike, do similar things and have same patterns. We need prayers. Some of my closest friends are Tonga, my mother is Tumbuka but speaks Tonga because she grew up there and let me not forget the in-laws. Trust me they are very different people and never would it cross my mind to think just because of an action they have done, I can then assume that definitely that is how all Tongas are.

Election time can be a very emotional and polarising period because individuals have invested time, resources and have vested interest in the candidates they support. It is not the wisest thing to speak when one is emotional because things might be said that cannot be taken back. Some Politicians perpetually continued to draw tribal lines as they have noticed the best way to appeal to voters is through kinship to remind the voters that they are a brother, sister, son or daughter or come from the same province. This appeals to the electorate because once again they feel some kind of connection. This method can also be a weapon used to marginalise, discriminate and paint a certain group of people as selfish, greedy, uncouth and tribalistic. This further, breeds a mentality of us against them. Some people believe they have more right to be Zambian than others. This is disappointing because we all have friends or family who belong to other tribes. We celebrate weddings and mourn at funerals together, then how dare we turn on them just because of an election.

It is not my duty to explain or rationalise what happened in Dundumwezi. But it is by duty to call out anyone who attempts to marginalise, discriminate and hurt others based on their tribe. We did not go to a shop to choose a tribe or race we were born into it. By keeping silent, we are telling the people who wish to spread such ideas that it is ok and applaud from the sidelines. By keeping silent we tell victimised groups that there is no place for them. Never should it be acceptable that one individual or a group of individuals should be used as a barometer for all others. Human beings are complex people. Many people have been hurt and wounded during these election results and we need to heal. A good place to start is by addressing the elephant in the room and not pretending it is an inconveniencing fly that can be swatted away. 

How best do you propose we can address the problem?