What is wrong with tribalism?

Tribe is part of our identity as individuals among many factors that go into forming our one-of-a-kind identity as individuals. Any identification mark can be used against you. Being black for example. Being a Tumbuka, Luvale, Lungu can be used to victimise you, to embarrass you and diminish your life’s opportunities. Tribalism has become rather fashionable within and by the Patriotic Font, Zambia’s ruling party. The aim of this article is to show the immorality of tribalism and that those who have been practicing it openly and in private deserve a place in the Hall of Shame. Of course, my writing has the general aim of promoting truth and morality through philosophical thinking.

Defining Tribalism

Tribalism is the belief, behaviour, or attitude that regards members of one tribe as automatically more valuable than members of another tribe. To believe something is to hold that such and such is the case. To behave in a certain way is to do something or, indeed, to omit doing something. To have an attitude is to have a certain disposition towards something or someone. A tribalist can exhibit one, two, or all of these. Let me illustrate. Musa beats up Mutinta for fun because he believes Mutinta belongs to an inferior tribe. To beat is to behave in a certain way. Of course, behaviour is guided by the beliefs. However, beliefs and behaviour can, and do come apart. Musa can believe Mutinta is inferior but still be rather nice to her.
What about attitudes? They are dispositions, the way we feel towards something or someone. Mistrust, love, respect, hatred. I can hate someone without doing anything about it. Maybe I cannot beat him because I am paralysed. But I think tribal attitudes are insidious and more pernicious than tribal beliefs. Beliefs are relatively easy to dispel but attitudes diehard. Even when someone believes Kaondes are equal with her tribe mates, a tribalist may continue to harbour feelings of disdain and scorn towards Kaondes. Let me end my effort to define tribalism by saying one can behave in a tribal way without being a tribalist. You may not believe the other tribe to be inferior, to despise them. But you may insult them because you believe tribal speech will win you an election.

What is wrong with tribalism?

Every person is valuable. This value comes from having important interest that underpin one’s wellbeing. My wellbeing is important to me and yours to you. Morality requires that similar interests of different individuals be recognised and regarded as equal. Everybody’s interests count.
In order to ensure recognition and protection of certain interests, we give them moral shields called rights. So, you have a right to life because you have an interest in continuing to exist. You have sexual rights because you have an interest in sexual intercourse and, perhaps, in the prerequisite or resultant companionship as well. These rights are prima facie equal because they each protect something valuable for the right bearer herself. When we automatically violate and neglect the rights of members simply because of their tribal membership, we acquire the tag of tribalism. Besides explicit violation and deprivations of rights, which we can call structural injustice, there exists some more insidious form of tribalism.
One insidious way tribalism manifests is through inciting negative beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour towards members of another tribe. There are stereotypes about every social grouping. Tribalism involves advancing certain negative tribal stereotypes. Six out of ten Bembas are thieves. Tongas are stingy (they like themselves). When you regurgitate these stereotypes, you promote a negative image of all individuals who identify as Bemba, Tonga, Ila, or whatever. This will result in deprivations long after the initiators are dead and their once supremacist brains decomposed. Stereotypes promoted to win a by-election may become endemic disadvantaging generations of members of the stereotype group. But things could get worse from here.

Tribalists direct hate speech against other tribes. They publicly make statements about other tribes as being unworthy. The utterer of tribal remarks may not himself or herself be a tribalist. One may believe in the equality of tribes or even the superiority of the other tribe in certain respects such as industry, innovation, arts and whatnot.

By being tribalist or uttering tribal remarks, one insults or harms four categories of people. The tribalist insults herself. She has no self-respect and speech act communicates to the world that she is a low-life of rather low morals. She insults her tribespeople. People tend to generalise. If one low-life of one tribe insults another, she reflects poorly on members of her tribe. Evidence for this exists. Normal white people will feel embarrassed and ashamed by some low-life making racist noises during a football match. She insults those she hopes to incite. She regards them either as stupid or low-lives like she is. Stupid to believe her hateful utterances or moral-low lives to share in her moral idiocy, lacking discernment of fundamental moral principles of respect for others. Lastly, she insults or harms those she directs her utterances at. I am running out of my word permit so let me dash to application.

The Patriotic Front’s Tribalism

Every Zambian has a right to a job in the public sector. A job is a good. It satisfies some of our various needs and desires inherently and instrumentally. Hence, we naturally have an interest in having a job, and there are not enough good jobs for everyone anywhere on earth. In Zambia, the situation is worse despite the Patriotic Front’s flamboyant promises of more jobs. This scarcity means the demands for equal consideration spikes. Where there’s scarcity, inequalities are in the offing. One of the most influential moral and political philosophers, John Rawls, provides what seems a sound principle for a just society. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage (2) attached to positions and offices open to all.

Tribalism in and by the Patriotic Front violates both (a) and (b). We have seen how Bembas want to occupy certain key positions. Zambia Revenue Authority Commissioner General, Kingsley Chanda and Chanda Nyela clearly express this when they conspire to abet the illegal activities of “mwina Chinsali munensu”. The inequalities in Zambia are not designed to benefit everyone. Certain tribes carry more of the burdens while some tribes run away with the goodies. On tribal lines, some areas appear to be neglected. For example, there are perceptions that starvation among the predominantly Tonga people in Southern Province has been downplayed by the PF. Secondly, there are reasonable views that Tonga government employees are more likely to be transferred to unfavourable areas or retired in ‘national interest’, a term that has been popularised by President Edgar Lungu. Many people have complained about suspected tribal biases in the allocation of scarce jobs in the public services and on boards or councils of government or quasi-government bodies. The positions and offices, it appears, are not equally open to all.

Not only are tribes discriminated against poor, they are also socially stigmatised. Many do understandably feel the pain and shame that comes with stigmatisation. It is egregiously wrong to subject a group of people to this form of treatment. The wounds are deep, and healing may take generations. Our nation’s founders new this and deliberately distributed development and public offices fairly. The PF are happy to repeat the anti-tribalism mantra One ‘Zambia, One Nation’ that they have effectively rendered hollow. The President’s anti-tribalism starts and ends at wearing a hoodie printed with the vacuous slogan, “My tribe is Zambian”.

The claims I have made in the paragraph above seem to receive support from tribal remarks by individuals within the organs of the PF party and government. Chanda Nyela, Bizwell Mutale, Nkandu Luo, and Christopher Yaluma have uttered tribal remarks against the Tonga people of Southern Province. That is two cabinet ministers and two influential or highly ranked party functionaries. In doing so, they insult or morally harm four groups of people. They mean themselves as being morally bankrupt and contemptible individuals. They have insulted Bembas by portraying them as people who despise and disrespect others on the basis of tribe membership. They harm those against whom they make tribal remarks. It’s hateful speech because it has potential to incite hateful attitudes, violence, and discrimination against Tonga-speaking people. They also insult the people they directly address.

Last Words

My final thought is that we should all be proud of our tribal diversity which many countries lack. We should directly and explicitly promote tribal equality without misusing tribal numbers to gain hegemony over numerically smaller tribes. This is why we must oppose the devious scheming of Ms Godfridah Sumaili and her jacket-and-tie, holier-than-thou Pharisees and Sadducees to denounce equality of faiths and instead pronounce one faith as superior to all others. Such hegemonic attempts to change our Constitution to promote sectarian supremacism mirror and give a blessing to parallel tribal agendas. Both must be fought relentlessly until they have beaten the dust. Zambia must remain united as authentically multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

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