Chris Zumani Zimba: Political Scientist, PhD Finalist, Lecturer, Author, Wikipedian and Consultant
When President Lungu talked about removing ‘tribes’ from the Zambian National Registration Card (NRC) following his February, 2018 visit to Kigali as a way of fighting tribalism, we all knew that ‘Eagle One’ had lost it and needed more technical support now than before. Honestly, Lungu simply showed pathetic ignorance, simplified thinking, mental dwarfism and political illusion in addressing national complex issues such as regionalism and tribalism which saw more than 800,000 people dead in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. For God’s sake, tribalism and regionalism are stubborn political ideologies that are so humanly permanent and fragile in man and woman; not different from one’s race, sex, gender, religion or human height. And in order to help our politically and intellectually limping President, let us just ignore whatever he said in Rwanda and quickly advance some practical and academically sound remedies that could mitigate tribalism in Zambia as follows:
- Zambianization/Africanization of democracy through federalism and Chiefdom decentralization:
Switzerland where frequent referendums form the main basis of legislations for national and local governance could be a classic example on how to Africanize western democracy into the hands of the local people, regions or traditional tribes. As small as it is, Switzerland has 27 unique traditional democratic political systems constituting of one (1) federal-national system and twenty six (26) cantonal-states systems. With reference to governance decentralization, many African states like Zambia could learn something from the Swiss unique direct democracy model which treasures frequent referendums and popular initiatives on national, cantonal and communal levels especially if this could be operationalized at chiefdom, district or provincial level. In a federal system, senior chiefs could play a critical role in supplementing and sobering democratic systems and practices if they could be given more legislative powers or/and executive latitudes as equal actors alongside elected political officials. If Lungu could begin to entertain this approach, then scholars would applaud him for being intellectually born again.
What is wrong with constitutionalizing referendums or other forms of direct popular participations at chiefdom, district or provincial level where collective villages, townships or district could have legislative powers to decide their own welfare and destiny? This is where tribalism is and could be institutionally tamed. Operationalizing a Swiss like direct democracy model at chiefdom, district or provincial level could make Western democracy more acceptable and sustainable in most parts of Africa because of the following two main reasons. (i) Most Africans are permanently attached to chiefdoms and fully respect these ancient structures with their blood, clanships, ethnicity, names, languages and personal identifications. (ii) Generally, Africans are culturally heterogeneous and traditionally conservative to the extent that this decentralization of power at chiefdom or district level would make them embrace and defend democratic tenets with easy in their respective different indigenous cultures and traditional styles. In this way, western democracy will be customarily be contextualized, locally impregnated and operationally consolidated as well as sustained under a federal government as opposed to what President Lungu was day dreaming in Rwanda. Removing tribe on Zambians’ NRCs is both politically strange and intellectually poor.
2. Establishment of traditional leaders as permanent legislators in a bicameral system:
What is called the ‘house of chiefs’ in many African states such as Zambia today is a locally perpetuated colonial structure that could be used to restore legislative powers for and to traditional leaders on non-partisan and non-elective basis if transformed to become part of the mainstream legislature. What is wrong with creating a two chamber legislature with a lower house (for elected parliamentarians) and an upper house (for chiefs and other non-elective actors) in Zambia like in UK? The sad political reality is the betrayal and mockery were most European and American democracies have true faces of European and American culture while African democracies have no indigenous and traditional governance colours. As substantive legislators in a bicameral system, chiefs could possess equal powers with politicians on crucial governance matters like administrative laws for land, minerals, forest, fish, alcohol, investment priorities, education, public health, citizenship or the regulation of national taxation, smoking, marriages, war, budgeting, external borrowing and infrastructure development in line with broad federal binding guidelines. Such political modifications and institutional integrations where chiefs participate in bicameral legislatures could localize and solidify Western democracy in many African unitary states without any doubt. This is a health and informed political discourse President Lungu is supposed to be championing. However, the Zambian leader has a pool of dull special assistant and intellectually lame advisors at State House who are mainly specialized at scheming how to benefit from AVIC contracts or Luntex connections.
3. Establishment of traditional leaders as permanent legislators in provincial/region parliaments:
In an event that Zambia opted to adopt a federal system like in the case of the United States of America, our country can Zambianize and consolidate democracy by designating key traditional leaders as permanent legislators in provincial parliaments within the broad Zambian federal system. In the United States, each state has its own parliament and is governed by the regional laws that are initiated, debated and passed by each respective state parliament. For Zambia and with the inclusion for key traditional leaders as equivalent legislators on a non-elective basis, Western democracy could ride on this model to become more legitimate and sustainable in the 10 provinces or regions if they became semi-autonomous states. That’s why what President Lungu suggested in Rwanda about tribalism in Zambia is both a political joke and traditional insult.
4. Establishment of traditional leaders as permanent top executives under the provincial and districts governments
Whether in a unitary or federal system, the substantive role of chiefs in governance can be restored on non-elective basis either as permanent chiefdom superior leaders or district executive chiefs and kings where they could constitutionally be mandated to perform similar roles as designated top government officials. It cannot be wrong to Africanize and Zambianize western democracy by infusing chiefs as district and regional royal governors at executive level on equal basis with cabinet ministers, district governors or provincial ministers. Certainly and by pragmatically integrating them into mainstream local governance, this could give and boost the legitimacy and credibility of democracy in Zambia and in many places across the region.
5. Other proposed models of Zambianization/Africanization of democracy
In addition, there are could be other models that can be piloted in the quest for Zambianization or Africanization of Western democracy such as (i) Establishment of a council of senior traditional leaders to embody the head of state role on a rotational basis; and (ii) Establishment of traditional leaders as permanent top cabinet ministers under the central government. In other words, it is important to remain intellectually generous and open minded of how to Zambianize or Africanize democracy in Zambia and Africa respectively without insulting African identity based on what our President said in Lungu. Why doesn’t Lungu recognize and respect academicians and experts like us on such matters if he needs technical guidance and policy recommendations?
In conclusion, we realize that one or a combination of the above recommendations could be pivotal and ripe in promoting and consolidating Western democracy in Zambia, and many parts of Africa if properly and objectively executed than disrespect Zambians in the name of removing tribes on their NRCs. This approach is critical and important because, as long as Western democracy remained Western in Africa, its lifespan will be made very short while its purpose, relevancy as well as efficacy will be aborted either in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future in many parts of the region because forces of tribalism, regionalism, religious identity or traditional leadership cannot be undermined or rmoved as Lungu thinks.