THOUGH many Zambians like denying it, tribalism is very much with us, though like the poison arsenic it is odourless and colourless, and a person can absorb significant doses without immediate harm.
As elsewhere in the world, Zambia must take bold, decisive measures to ensure that genocide does not take place here since we have all the recipes that can lead to ethnic cleansing.
The classic example is the Rwanda genocide which, despite lasting for only 100 days claimed approximately 800,000 people.
Although a UN peacekeeping mission was in Rwanda at the time, its mandate and numbers were very limited — and the UN Security Council decided to reduce it even further.
In short tribalism and its grave consequences can only be tackled by concerned parties.
It is thus heartening to hear the good news from President Edgar Lungu that Zambia will consider enacting a law criminalising tribalism.
As the head of state has noted, there is need to ensure that every person is treated as an equal to the other despite their tribal affiliation.
We totally agree with President Lungu for observing that tribalism and ethnicity had grave consequences on national unity if not carefully watched.
This is a timely intervention since the issue of tribal politics in Zambia has largely been ignored by political players, many who even fuel it for cheap political aggrandisement.
Loosely, Zambian politics have been dominated by four regions, namely northern, eastern, western and southern.
Understandably, some tribes and regions feel left out in the political leadership, especially for top executive positions.
So far, Zambia has had six presidents after 50 years of its existence and out of the six, one is from Luapula province, two from Northern Province, one from central province and two from eastern province.
This evidences that after fifty years of independence, Zambia has been represented by leaders from four provinces though vice-presidents have come from almost all provinces while every province has had a representation in cabinet over the last 50 years.
By any standard, the representation can be considered to be evenly distributed considering the number of years the country has been in existence since its formation in 1964.
The discussion on tribalism started from the one party state under first president, Dr Kenneth Kaunda.
In 1972, Kaunda attempted to contain the ethnic and tribal proliferation in Zambia through the philosophy of Humanism to enhance the image of tribal homogeneity under a single party leadership.
At one time Kaunda convinced Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe to step down as vice-president after being dissatisfied with the fact that two Bembas could hold two top positions in both UNIP and the government.
Kapwepwe reluctantly stepped down and Kaunda appointed Mainza Chona, a Southerner to replace him. But this move annoyed the Bembas who later founded the United People’s Party (UPP) under the leadership of Kapwepwe.
During the reign of second president Frederick Chiluba, the tribal talk subsided when he made appointments that were seemingly based on merit with an even representation of leaders from different tribes.
Although there were complaints of tribal tendencies in distant shores, Chiluba’s reign seemed to be based on professional scale rather than on tribal inclination.
Chiluba’s successor Levy Mwanawasa was later accused of nepotism with phrases such as family tree and complaints alleging that Mwanawasa co-opted a lot of his tribesmen into government and this was not well received by certain quarters.
It was also observed that Mwanawasa’s victory was attributed to votes from the Bemba-speaking tribes on Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern Provinces while the opposition UPND leader Anderson Mazoka received votes from Lusaka, Southern and Western Provinces.
The UPND lost to the ruling MMD by a margin of 30,000 votes but increased its seats in parliament to 44 compared to the MMD’s 68.
Though former President Rupiah Banda was in office for a short time, his critics accused him of practising tribalism although the allegations could not be substantiated with evidence.
President Lungu inherited tribal factions many of them which were formed before he was even born.
We thus hail him for considering tackling this vice which has the potential to divide people irreparably.