Chris Zumani Zimba, Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Researcher and Consultant

Ethnic Map of Zambia.jpgThe political stability you see in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, Australia or India are due to federation or federalism as these huge states are too heterogeneous to be united under a unitary state system. By definition, federalism is the mixed form of government which combine a giant government (‘federal’ government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. It is the contrast of a unitary system i.e. a state governed as a single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme and any administrative divisions (sub-national units) exercise only the powers that the central government chooses to delegate. Currently, Zambia although too diverse and heterogynous uses a unitary state like many other UN member states (Out of the 193 UN member states, 165 are governed as unitary states) and many of them which are ethnically, religiously, culturally and racially diverse and heterogeneous are not pragmatically and nationally united or politically at peace  and stable.

Before independence, ethnically, linguistically, culturally and regionally diverse and heterogeneous Zambians were united under the political spirit of ‘nationalism’ i.e. a political ideology to unify the citizens under one state with the sole aim of liberating themselves from foreign rule and proclaim self-rule and political autonomy. This made Kenneth Kaunda, the first black president and his UNIP folks to wrongly think that Zambia is or could become a nation. But little did they know that ‘nationalism’ is far different from the concept of ‘a nation’; this now explains why the ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ political slogan has not and will never work as anticipated. While it is easy to mobilize and team up citizens of any given country to rise up and fight as a united front against foreign invaders or rulers, it is not an easy to task to unit them same people amongst themselves once their collective political enemy is no longer in the picture especially if the citizens in questions are ‘not a nation’.  This is where Zambia found itself after independence and today.

Following nationalism which was born in France as a result of the French Revolution of 1789, the French historian and philosopher Ernest Renan in 1882 at Solbone defined a nation as ‘a culturally homogeneous group of people, larger than a single tribe or community, which share a common language, institutions, religion, and historical experiences and are willing to continue being together’. Good examples of which Renan called ‘a nation’ include Japan, Portugal, England, Spain, Italy, China, Swaziland, Saudi Arabia, France, Sweden, Finland, Holland or Germany. In a classical nation which is an ‘ethnic nation’ as opposed to the modern artificial outfits-‘civic nations’, the people are one as they speak the same language both from the North, South, West, East and Central such that as they travel from one place to another within their territorial state, they don’t need any language interpreter. In simpler terms, a nation is a collective group of people with common and distinct characteristics attributed to them – including language, traditions, customs, beliefs, race, habits, ethnicity and are willing to continue being united and live together as one sovereign family of which the former Northern Rhodesia and Barotseland cannot be said to be such or one.

We need to note and stress that true and classical nations are named after its homogeneous people and not after trees, rivers, mountains, hills, seas or forests as the case stand across Africa. Japan is born of the Japanese, China after the Chinese, Saudi Arabia after the Saudi people, Spain after the Spanish, France after the French, Britain after the British, Italy after the Italians, Portugal after the Portuguese, Germany after the Germans, Sweden after the Swedes, Finland after the Finnish, Russia after the Rus people, Turkey after the Turkish, Iran after the Iranians, North or South Korea after the Koreans or Greece after the Greeks. Lets forget the political insult of the Berlin Conference of 1884 which created modern boundaries of African States based on the demarcations of rivers, hills or forests when European colonialists shared the ‘dark continent’ among themselves without the knowledge and consent of the affected Africans. This oppressive Conference and ruthless and indiscriminate partitioning of modern Africa is what created the political chaos of today with many unstable and divided heterogeneous people being bundled into one country under a unitary state system. For example, the united Chewa people of the Great Chewa Kingdom of Gawa Undi found themselves becoming citizens of four different civic states called Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and became foreigners one to another as opposed to creating their own nation state called ‘Chewa’. This was the case of many great and united ethnic nations that peacefully existed across Africa before colonialism and the 1884 Berlin Conference.

Based on Renan’s definition, we now know that modern Zambia has many multiple cases of ‘classical nations’ within it which makes it very incompatible to use a unitary state system of governance. Good examples of classical or ethnic nations in Zambia include Kum-mawa or Nyanjaland (Eastern Province) Tongaland (Southern Province), Bembaland (Northern Province), Barotseland (Western Province), Lambaland (Copperbelt Province) or Soliland (Lusaka, Congwe, Runfunsa,etc). Hence, in a heterogeneous country like Zambia, it is practically impossible to fight and eradicate politics of tribalism, regionalism, political violence and national disunity under the current unitary state system unless if we call upon the strength of federalism i.e. a mode of political organization that unites separate states (diverse nations) within an overarching political system in such a way as to allow each region or ‘nation’ to maintain its own fundamental political integrity and identity.

As such, the following preposition for federalism visas unitary system stand out in this case for the following structural reasons and political arguments:

  1. Zambia is huge and vast such that it very hard if not impossible to overcome the growing threat of regional divisions or ethnic extremism, political confrontations, inter-tribal hostility or provincial political squabbles as long as we insist on holding to the unitary state model of electing only one ethnic citizen at a time to govern all 10 or more ‘nations’ for 5 years as our Republican President;


  1. As long as Zambian politicians, citizens and political stakeholders fail to realize that sustainable peace, security and political stability at national level may only be guaranteed in Zambia through federalism with reach regional having and forming its own semi-autonomous government with its unique parliament as well as elected regional governor/president, the revival, consolidation and long term survival of democracy is doubted in this country as regional political rivalry, ethnic hostility and political violence will not be halted at any point;


  1. Unless the question of federalism is seriously addressed and pragmatically prioritized, the demands and political protests for self-rule by regions (nations) such as Barotseland amongst the united homogeneous people who feel politically oppressed, deprived, frustrated, bitter or angered by the monster unitary state system will not be avoided, stopped nor suppressed in Zambia;


  1. If the quest to political federalism is either ignored, over delayed or denied and all political powers and final governance decision making machinery continue to be exercised and retained in the capital city-Lusaka with provincial and district public structures in (Kum-mawa, Tongaland, Bembaland, Nyanjaland, Barotseland, Lambaland, Soliland, Kaondeland, Luvaleland or Lenjeland) merely being delegated by and under the powerful unitary central government, the dream of fostering national unit and sustaining political stability that is needed for the workability and survival of democracy may not be attained in Zambia;


  1. As long as the question of establishing regional states or provincial governments though federalism is not seriously prioritized and urgently addressed in the name of defending the current unitary system, the prevailing unproductive governance trends of tribal name calling and unnecessary political blames on rival regions with political violence and bloodshed fights will continue and worsen in Zambia;


  1. Unless strengthening of regional or provincial democratic rule through federalism is prioritized and executed, the trends of vigorous political confrontations, ethnic fights, regional protests and unwarranted civil unrests and even blood political violence as a result of fighting for one position of running the central unitary government will persist in Zambia while the viability and survival of democracy will continuously be threatened and permanently betrayed;


  1. Federalism in this culturally heterogeneous and nationally deserve vast state called Zambia will tremendously mitigate the growing political culture where each ethnic group, tribal province or linguistic region or a coalition of regions/provinces want to brutally win or defend the Republican Presidency to themselves by forcefully sponsoring their own son or daughter in a national election while practice of seeing political jokers, regionalists and ‘experimenting candidates’  overcrowding the parliamentary and presidential elections will not be reduced or avoided in Zambia.

In conclusion, it is imperative to stress that, the greatest political weakness, leadership hypocrisy, policy dilemma and intellectual sub-normality among our voters and leaders is to continue thinking that Zambia is one big political family that can be fostered to peacefully co-exist in harmonious love as one people thereof in national unity through ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ slogan under a unitary state system. But if we can transform the current Zambian provinces into 10 or more regional states to be semi-autonomous under a federal government that can mainly be responsible for foreign relations and defence among other few areas, while we allow the regional states to govern themselves in line with their respective culture, aspirations, values and needs, then the emerging and growing threat of tribalism, regionalism, political violence and national disunity can be pragmatically mitigated across the political horizon. This is more crucial because, Zambia is not a ‘nation state’ and the current unitary system is too politically divisive and incompatible at its best while the KK ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ political slogan is merely too stale and below par of being a governance solution to resolve the growing political puzzles and national fires of today and tomorrow.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s