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The Perspective by Edward Bwalya Phiri: regionalism, a threat on peace and unity in Zambia

The first Republican President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth David Kaunda, remarked in August 1967 that, “We have canvassed so strongly and indeed, viciously, along tribal, racial and provincial lines, that one wonders whether we really have national or tribal and provincial leadership. I must admit publicly that I have never experienced in the life of this young nation, such a spate of hate, based entirely on tribe, race, colour and religion, which is the negation of all that we stand for in this party and government. I do not think that we can blame the common man for this. This fault is ours fellow leaders – we, the people here assembled.”

And Indian politician, economist and statistician, Subramanian Swamy opined that, “National politics have become devalued today because of cateism, communalism and regionalism.” On The Perspective today, focus is on Regionalism. Please note that, there are different forms of regionalism and among them are; linguistic, economic and political. And this article will concentrate on political regionalism.

The Oxford University Press [2007] defines regionalism, among others, as the desire of the people who live in a particular region of a country to have more political and economic independence.

Additionally, the online encyclopaedia [the Wikipedia] elucidates regionalism as, “a political ideology which seeks to increase the political power, influence and/or self-determination of the people of one or more subnational regions. It focuses on the development of a political or social system based on one or more regions….”

Obviously, political regionalism is averse to national wellbeing, due to a number of reasons. Firstly, because it is primitive and retrogressive in nature. Secondly, because it impinges the growth of democracy, and annihilates our long held culture of ubuntu. Thirdly, it extinguishes national economic and social cohesion. And fourthly, because it renders racial and ethnic integration unattainable. This awful state has given rise to tribal supremacy and political regionalism. The country witnessed a situation where even political appointments are regionalised. It’s only people from certain regions and tribes who are appointed to public offices, while the opposite is the case.

In it’s a worst scenario, political regionalism foments racial and ethnic bad blood and can therefore wreak havoc in a nation. Zambia’s experience especially during elections has been that of violence. A number of people have either been maimed or killed for being on the other side of the political divide. People’s minds have been poisoned so much that they perceive political opponents as nothing more than a worthless creature, which they can willingly and with pleasure waste or expend in whichever way possible.

Truth be told, Zambia has been divided due to hebetudinous politicians, who want to ride on the tide of the tribal whirlwind to get to the top of national leadership. Such crop of political leaders draw their strength from traditional leaders of like minds, who have been urging their subjects and tribesmen countrywide to only vote for leaders who hail from their tribe. This unfortunately, has fractionalisation and polarisation the nation. This is evidenced by the regional voting patterns that now characterises national polls.

Political leadership is about national governance; therefore, the criterion for choosing leaders must be credibility and competency. We therefore need national patriotism in the selection of leaders as opposed to the ‘kin and kith syndrome’ that has been obtaining for some time now and statistics of the past elections can attest to this fact.

Nevertheless, we can still fight and conquer this scourge. A well-known American film critic and television co-host, Roger Ebert once delivered an emphatic message for a time such as this. He proffered that, “Parents and schools should place great emphasis on the idea that it is ok to be different. Racism and all other ‘isms’ grow from primitive tribalism, the instinctive hostility against those of another tribe, race, region, nationality, class or whatever. You are a lucky child if your parents taught you to accept diversity.”

Zambia is bigger than all of us, we need to look at the common good of our nation and refuse to blindly support individuals just because you are tribe mates. Taking myself as an example, if I was to support my brothers from the Northern, Eastern regions of Zambia or my in-laws from the southern, purely on ethnocentrism or nepotistic reasons, it’s not like I will be eating with them when they form government. All I need is competent and selfless leaders who are going to transform the economic fortunes of the country and create an enabling environment for everyone to make ends meet.

This year’s polls are so critical to the nation, for two reasons. Firstly, it will have a great bearing on the economic status and secondly, it will have a great impact on the peace and unity of the nation. We therefore need to vote for progress and development. Our political leaders have wrought fractionalisation and polarisation as tools to control the electorates.

We need to appreciate the fact that politicians are so cunning; they pretend to express what apparently may be considered a genuine concern, but with an ulterior motive. And we need to know them as the vipers they truly are. Indian Politician and former member of the Utter Pradesh Legislative Council, Veena Pandey, could not have been more precise when she said that, “Some political leaders were trying to spread the poison of regionalism for political gain.”

Countrymen and women, let us not be used by selfish politicians to destroy our own country. Please note that regionalism will not take us anywhere as a country. The only sure outcome is that the country will slide into deep developmental inequalities between regions or provinces. It is not a secret that some regions are poorer than others; and among the poorest are Western, Luapula and Northern provinces. And the reason is simple; we have been choosing leaders based on tribe and not competencies.

It is a fact that developmental inequalities between different geographical areas are mainly due to political machinations. Whereas developmental activities are concentrated on regions considered to be pro-ruling party, areas that are predominantly for dissenters of the party in government are shunned and deprived of any meaningful development.

Another social ill that emanates from regionalism is the adulteration of the moral fibre of our society. This can be seen by the levels of graft and corruption in the country, the lack of social conscience among the citizenry, the increase in violence both by the politicians and ordinary citizens, the furtherance of ethnophaulism and generally profane language in society.

A timely message from the Swiss Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, Carl Gustave Jung, is that, “The best political, social and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.” Please allow people to be who they are without being taunted for hailing from certain regions.

I, therefore, want to call upon every well-meaning Zambian to take introspection and evoke the spirit of our forefathers who in unison wrought us the peace we are today risking. Let us heed the wise counsel by the former Vice-President of the European Commission and former Italian foreign Affairs Minister, Federica Magherini, who said that, “Each generation needs to commit to the foundations of our peaceful coexistence.”

Please, remember to vote for competence and not tribe, tribe will not take us anywhere. Vote for peace and vote for progress. For today I will end here; it’s Au revoir, from EBP.
For comments: elbardogma@yahoo.com

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