Friday, October 25, 2013

Caution about tribalism talk
By Editor
Wed 02 Oct. 2013, 14:00 CAT

It is interesting to note that some people became very uncomfortable with the mention of tribalism being a factor in the demands for Wynter Kabimba's resignation as secretary general of the Patriotic Front.

We started hearing people who have never cared about the mention of tribalism calling for caution in the use of the word "tribalism". We never heard some of these characters ever complain about charges of tribalism when those at the receiving end were Tongas from the UPND.

Since 2006, this newspaper has carried many stories of people accusing the UPND of being a political party of Tongas. We have also carried many editorial comments urging the UPND to move away from a narrow, tribal political base and do everything possible to make their party acquire a national character if they have to harbour any hope of ever being a ruling party of this country. We never heard any complaint from the people who are today cautioning about the use of the word "tribalism".

What has changed? The only thing that has changed is that our previous talk in the last few years or since 2006 has been about UPND and Tonga tribal politics. And today, we are talking about the Patriotic Front and Bemba tribal politics. And surprisingly, almost all the people who have thrown caution about the use of the word tribalism are this time round Bemba-speaking elements.

We don't think it is right for us to be free to talk about tribalism only when those said to be involved in it are non-Bemba speaking people - are Tongas or some other tribe.

It is not in dispute that some people in the leadership of the Patriotic Front went for Wynter because of his tribe. We could mention some names of those who took sides in this dispute on the basis of supporting a fellow tribesman. And those involved know that we know.

There are people in the Patriotic Front who stood against Wynter simply because he was seen to be fighting a fellow Bemba tribesman. We do not want to bring too many problems for these people. All we can say for now is that their tribal approach to politics and to life in general is wrong and deserves to be denounced.

We ask those who are complaining about the tribal talk today to tell us where they were when we were denouncing the Tonga tribalism that saw Sakwiba Sikota hounded out of the UPND simply because he was a Lozi-speaking person and the top leadership of the UPND was a preserve of Tongas? They never uttered a word against what was being said about UPND's Tonga tribalism.

The Zambian people, including ourselves, were not denouncing UPND's Tonga tribalism because they hate UPND and Tongas. No. They were doing so because they hate tribalism in general and regardless of which tribe or individuals are involved in it.

Today, the same people, and this same newspaper, are denouncing the Bemba tribalism that is said to be negatively influencing the politics of the Patriotic Front and the power struggle in this political party.
It is therefore dishonesty on the part of some of our Bemba politicians who seem to be so uncomfortable with the denunciation of Bemba tribalism. What is making them uncomfortable? It is simply because of a realisation that the Zambian people don't like tribalism and tribalists. And if they come to know them as being tribalists, their chances of winning national political offices will greatly diminish. It is not the fear or the dislike of tribalism that is making them uncomfortable with the mention of the word "tribalism", especially Bemba tribalism. It is the fear of losing power or the reduction of their prospects or chances to win power that is making them uncomfortable with the mention of the word "tribalism".

But what words should be used to describe the behaviour, the actions of people who are behaving or acting in a manner that can be said to be tribalistic?
They want to be allowed to be behave in a manner that is tribalistic, but they don't want anyone to publicly describe their behaviour as being tribalistic. Things have to be called by their right names. If calling things by their right names brings some credit to some people, let them get the credit. If calling things by their right names brings some discredit to some people, let it be so.
In life, one should be known by their behaviour, by what they do and by their beliefs. Those whose behaviour is one of tribalism, let them be known for that. Those whose actions are of a tribalistic nature, let them be known for that and reap the rewards of that. Those whose outlook, whose beliefs are tribalistic, let them be judged by that. We have to be honest about these things.
If one thinks that being tribalistic is a good thing, let them not pretend otherwise. That's what honesty demands. But today, we have tribalists being scared to be known as such. Again, there is need for honesty in life. Flann O'Brien once remarked: "Put a thief among honest men and they will eventually relieve him of his watch." And Bertrand Russell says: "The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented hell."
There are only two kinds of people in this world: honest people and dishonest people. We have a choice as to the category we want to belong to.
We shouldn't fear to be associated with our beliefs and pretend to be what we are not.
We should also not be afraid to hear the truth. And as Plato put it: "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
As we have strongly pointed out before, tribalism is a blight on the human conscience. And we should never allow our country to play host to tribalism. Nor shall our voices be stifled if we see that one of us is engaging in tribalism or is a victim of tribal tyranny. Tribalism must be consciously combated and not discreetly tolerated by any of us.
Clearly, there is nothing careless about exposing tribalism and tribalists. What is careless is to assume an ostrich attitude and pretend that tribalism does not exist in our politics. It exits and is a growing problem that is principally led by our politicians themselves for narrow and selfish considerations.
The best way to dismantle tribalism is not by denying its existence or by labelling those who courageously and publicly draw our attention to its existence as careless. It is by acknowledging it and by working for increased understanding in the society of the underhand and pervasive ways in which tribalism functions. It calls for a willingness to reexamine what would be regarded as normal.

It presupposes opening up the subject of tribalism - no longer isolating and alienating those who dare raise it. It involves listening and creating spaces to hear the hurt, anger and aspirations of those expressing tribal oppression or marginalisation. It means dragging tribalism from the hushed conversations and murmurs and silences, into the arena of public discussion. And our politicians, the main culprits who mobilise on tribal basis and who generate tribal consciousness, should be in the forefront of this transformation.

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