Education is one of the greatest equalisers in society.
For those who have not inherited family wealth or married up or utilised their God given talents to act, sing, paint or play sports, education is virtually the only guarantee of a secure job and future. This has been emphasised time and time again by such luminaries as Kenneth Kaunda, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, and many others.
These three gentlemen and countless others would probably have amounted to nothing without education. Now, tribalism is tearing into the only platform that once enabled many of us to transition from the peasantry to urbane intellectuals with jobs and global experiences. Some people fear to talk about tribalism on the premise that merely talking about it will inflame it and make it endure. It is like talking about Racism in the Western world. It exists but those who promote it are resistant to talk about it because talking about it will magically make it endure. Baloney. Transparency is the best disinfectant to corruption, shady practices like tribalism and the like.
Today’s column is about tribalism and how it is destroying Zambia and how it will destroy Zambia. I will simply pick one example of tribalism in the education and employment sector. Tribalism in the political sector is well known. Some current leaders at the highest levels in the government of Zambia from 2011 to 2021 have openly stated and it is on record that certain tribes will never govern Zambia, and others have openly stated that certain tribes should never be allowed to campaign in certain provinces. These Tribal demagogues have not been molested or reprimanded or arrested for promoting tribal hatred.
The Penal Code prohibits the promotion of tribal hatred but because it is the government leaders that foster tribalism, nothing is done about it. But the accountability barometer keeps the data for another day on which the data will be recalled for usage to correct the injustice.
This column now returns to talk about tribalism, education and employment. January and February are now upon us when students go back to school. Some of us who teach in private post-secondary institutions immediately become aware of who is present and who is not present in terms of background: from rural areas, from urban areas, class backgrounds, employment status, family background, tribal background and the like. As a researcher I am keen on trying to know everything that statistics reveal or through simple observation.
It is very alarming when you calculate the numbers represented in our classrooms: the poor, the rural, the unemployed and some tribes are missing from the classrooms. These classrooms are filled with students from urban, employed, rich kids or over-represented by certain tribes from employed families. It is different from the Kaunda era when peasants and rich kids and from all tribes virtually found themselves together as they had been since grade one when education was free and those who got admitted to university and college all got bursaries. The equaliser was simply your performance in school.
Brain power is equally distributed across class and tribal lines until it is disturbed by ability to pay, a creature of class, political and tribal belonging. That is when the nurtured differences begin to appear. In Zambian post-secondary institutions currently, financial resources generally determine one’s ability to go further.
The employment status of parents and relatives also determines to a great extent who goes to school and who remains at home. Employment now depends to a great extent on what level of education one attained sometime back, who you know in the job market, the tribe of the employer, the political party of the employer and such unnatural and biased attributes that have assailed Zambia in the past ten or so years, and it is getting worse.
It has nothing to do with financial resources of the government. The government has money and it could budget it so that every student gets a scholarship or loan, I mean every student. If there was no money there would be no alleged massive infrastructure development.
Tribalism now heavily and consciously influences the employment patterns in Zambia. Tribalism therefore also now heavily influences the patterns of student populations. Those from employed tribes will send their students to university and later these students will get employed. And it is very easy to get data as to which tribes are employed. This data stares at you every day in the newspapers and it can also easily be obtained by the click of the button on your computer.
Content analysis of every newspaper in Zambia will tell you who is occupying this or that position because whenever any person is mentioned in the newspaper, they also tell you which position that person occupies. You can generally tell by their last names the tribe from which these individuals hail. You can also click the button and access the names of all ministers, ambassadors, permanent secretaries, army and police generals, heads of civil service, composition of all boards and tribunals, appointments to the judiciary etc.
This data is neutral. The newspapers didn’t create it, they just report it. The researcher would not be exaggerating because the data is as reported in the newspapers, who in turn got the data from government communiques or government Gazettes or swearing in ceremonies. Does it feel uncomfortable to talk about this reality? It shouldn’t. It is what it is. Tribalism is consciously promoted by this government. The data doesn’t lie. And you dare not shoot the messenger. Deal with the promoter of the tribal cancer.
Further as a Zambian, one can easily tell from which tribe one comes regardless of the surname which may come as a result of intermarriage. The employment patterns in Zambia do not reflect Kaunda’s One Zambia, One Nation philosophy. The educational student composition or pattern is also no longer reflective of One Zambia, One Nation. Cry the beloved country!
The absence of poor students and students from some tribes in this highly competitive and career foisting educational bonanza means that the poor and the less favoured tribes are less likely to be found in the future in the upper echelons of employment and political life in Zambia. Current trends in employment and education guarantee employment and high mobility recycling and reproduction of families of the future generation. The more educated the parents are, the more generally their offspring will be educated.
And since education is generally the only guaranteed equaliser in life so far, those who are left aside (the poor and certain tribes) will not have the basis for equalising the equation. This equation will keep reproducing itself into eternity. These kids will then mentor other kids who are like themselves. Poor kids and those from certain tribes will continue to be consigned to the dustbin of lower rank jobs and educational opportunities. The global economy is a knowledge-based economy from which poor kids and those from certain tribes will be excluded. Kaunda wouldn’t have wanted it that way. I don’t want it that way. Do you?
Study the situation in the United States, Canada, Brazil, South Africa and other countries and you will see that the educational inclusion or exclusion at a certain time in history continues to reverberate generation after generation. In the US, they are still talking and writing about the educational and other legacies of slavery. In South Africa, apartheid still has its imprint on society etc. Zambia is currently inadvertently laying a dangerous educational foundation whose full negative effects will be felt much more in the future. The past determines the future. Let’s arrest this monster now. The monster of tribalism. It is someone’s kid today; it will be your kid tomorrow.
What is to be done? We need, among other ideas, the creation of a National Educational Think Tank to articulate to the powers -that-be, the need to afford equal opportunities to all Zambians to access educational opportunities through bursaries or loans without discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on tribe. Things never happen by themselves. Writing about them is just the first step, after knowing about what is going on, which is itself a product of research and consciousness. The call-out has gone out. It should not be ignored.
Dr Hamalengwa is the compiler of the book: The Case Against Tribalism in Zambia. It is available on Amazon.com. He teaches law and writes about law.
Send comment to: email@example.com.