AGE: 22




How Does Tribalism Affect National Development?

Historically Zambia is a blessed nation. The establishment of copper mines in Zambia enabled the employment of workers from various tribes across the country. As a result, workers from various tribes stayed together into towns such as Chingola, Kitwe and Mufulira.

People from different tribes mingled and stayed together. That was the foundation stance at independence: peace, unity and freedom. The idea of tribes fighting each other was non-existent.

As decades went by, strong ethnic and cultural identities sprang that separated members of one tribe from another, making them loyal to people like them and suspicious of outsiders. This undermined efforts to forge a common cause across ethnic groupings.

Tribalism has become pervasive and it controls a lot of human behaviour. In modern day, tribalism mannerisms are being handled in a carefully crafted way and the effects of these are disadvantageous to national development.

Tribalism can lead to a tendency of basing developmental projects in areas where those in authority emanate from. When the planning and implementation of projects is limited to these regions, other areas lag in development. This uneven distribution of resources would mean that other areas would still have poor road networks, pitiable hospitals and school facilities, depleted buildings and meagre infrastructure, a lack of them all together.

If communities do not have access to advanced medical care and facilities, ill health and death would abound. The loss of skills, active labour and productivity would cost the nation.

Schools and tertiary institutions that lack appropriate materials, facilities and general development do not attract well qualified teachers and lecturers. Consequently, quality education is compromised and these institutions are deprived of producing exceptional students.

Further favouritism in allocation of developmental projects would hinder local entrepreneurship and growth of small businesses. Enterprises that are located in better developed areas have access to markets, finance as well as supply and distribution channels. Developed communities are more likely to attract established corporates. This creates opportunity for local businesses to benefit from partnerships, linkages and spill over effects. Small and medium scale enterprises are key contributors to the growth of the Zambian economy; hindering their development would impede the country.

Tribalism can lead to business in human resource recruitment and job allocation. The results of this could be “Round pages in square Hotels”. This means that individuals may be assigned into positions they do not qualitatively fit or have the experience for. When individuals are recruited and assigned into positions based on relationship and not merit, the expected output and quality of work is compromised. In public service, the public suffers due to poor service delivery.

If employees are unproductive and inefficient, their organisations’ output and functionality levels dwindle. The resulting case being that, Zambian companies get out-competed by foreign firms and lose substantial market shares. In order to thrive, underperforming firms are led to size down. This would imply retrenchments and loss of potential taxes for the government.

Perhaps the most notable effect of tribalism is its ability to cause a social divide. Instigated discrimination and negative perceptions lead to disharmony in national relationships. When a nation is divided, the investment climate is dented, making it an unlikely target for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Several nations, including Zambia, have developed with the support of FDI.

There is a clear need to discourage tribalism and eradicate its motives from the Zambian mind-sets. Tribalism is not inevitable, but national unity is concealable. The spirit of unity will undoubtedly foresee national development.



  1. Cova, B. and Cova, C. (2002). Tribal Marketing: The Tribalisation of Society and its impact on the conduct of marketing. European Journal of marketing, volume 36, pp. 595 – 620.
  2. Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and Middle East (2009). Facts on file library of world History. Infobase publishing, ISBN, 1 – 4381 – 2676 – X
  3. Patrick Dixon. (2010). Wake up to stronger tribes and longer life. Financial Times
  4. Robert Papstein. (1994). The Zambia Journal of History and Central African Oral History Project. University of Zambia, ISBN 3 – 8039 – 0179 – 0
  5. Zambia Extractive Industries Transparency Institutive (2014). Reconciliation Report for the year 2013. Lusaka: Moore Stephens.


In the next publications we will start publishing essays for provincial winners

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