Mixing Tobwa with Munkoyo: Have Malawian Voters Invaded Zambia?


Reports that Malawians have invaded Zambia to vote should be evaluated within the ambit of history, for without such an analysis we will become rumour mongers and liars who want to create a storm in a cup of tobwa, the east’s favourite drink. There are no Malawians that are invading Zambia, or whose vote could sway Zambian elections.

To suggest otherwise is to be disingenuous to the patchwork character of our founding as a nation. With that in mind, I am not calling for lawlessness and neither am I saying that borders are not important. We obviously do have political borders, which were created not by us, but by Queen Victoria and her team of magicians. Contrary to what many of our people believe, the current geographical area we call Zambia was drafted not by the Africans, but by the Europeans. Baishile twebafye ati, you see those hills across? That is a different country of territory. Europeans did not care about anything, other than negotiating among themselves which peoples will belong to Victoria and which territory will be stolen by Leopold II. The Scramble for Africa which took place centuries ago, still has an effect on current nation-states. In 1964 and during the independence struggle, Kaunda and his friends did not make matters easier. They complicated stuff to the extent that they started searching for pure breed Zambians in a country that could not produce pure Zambians, and in a Zambia where Kaunda himself failed the test of a pure breed. Earlier, with the stroke of a pen from Belgium, the Aushi commonwealth got divided some for Leopold II and others for Victoria. In Chipata, the same happened, across the hills, one people got divided into two, or perhaps three to create a united nation with a people stranger to the others. The most challenging aspect of African independence was the failure by new states to redefine the concept of citizenship in a way that redressed the colonial definitions of a Scrambled continent.

Ifwe kwesu ku Luapula twalibako nabwino. At least, palibako icimana ica putula Congo na Zambia. However, for our relatives abena Chipata, abena Mwanga, Malawians and Tanzanians, it is worse. There is no identifiable landmark or natural demarcation that separates territories. May be a hill at Mchinji?

In Nakonde, I understand that you can have one leg in Tanzania and the other in Zambia. At Tunduma, you just go through a small kantemba and the other side is literally a foreign country. Except for a few soldiers and some road signs, there is nothing that inherently demarcates and distinguishes Zambian soil from that of her neighbours. Indeed, as a birth defect deeply rooted in our founding as a nation, we shall for the foreseeable future continue to live in an absurdity of citizenship particularly for those relatives of ours who live in neighbouring towns and villages.

These people I call inter-border voters. No one can bring closure to this Victorian impediment in our national character. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to figure out with scientific accuracy the citizenship status of some Zambians who live in towns and villages close to our neighbours. Navigating through the challenge of bordering towns does not just require knowledge of the law, it requires knowledge of diplomacy and the ability to ignore trivial insignificant things that have no bearing on the subsistence of our republic.

To date, our relatives in bordering towns still make legitimate claims to citizenship in both countries. Some villagers in Malawi do cross into Zambia and register as voters and vice versa. At Mokambo, Zambians who have for decades lived on the Katangese side of Mokambo do cross over into Zambia to register and to vote in Zambian elections and some of them do vote in Katangese elections as well. In those bordering areas between Angola-Zambia, Tanzania-Zambia, Zimbabwe-Zambia and several other bordering areas, the situation is the same. We have a few villagers who could so easily identify with either of the countries. This number of people is very small and cannot affect the outcome of general elections in Zambia. Typically, inter-border voters in Zambia tend to favour the ruling party. For the Mokambo ward in the 2011 elections, the then opposition PF candidate lost the council election partly because the inter-border Zambian voters did not like candidate Sata’s vitriol against them.

The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) faces a statutory hurdle when it is registering voters. When a person produces a green national registration card (NRC), ECZ does not have the powers to deny registration of such a citizen. The NRC is a prima facie document that proves that a particular person is a registered citizen. The challenge is even greater in bordering areas where inter-border Zambian citizens live. It would be patently unfair for ECZ to refuse registration of a Zambian who lives at an inter-border area such as Mokambo or Mchinji. It is also difficult, if not impossible for ECZ to refuse registration of a voter who lives in Mchinji but shows up with a valid NRC in Chipangali. The ECZ is not competent to confer or disconfirm citizenship on Zambians. Mulomo for anybody to somehow suggest that a Zambian inter-border voter who lives in Malawi is by virtue of living in Malawi not Zambian enough to vote. There is a small number of inter-border Zambians who will always challenge our penchant for umulomo no bufi. Those few so called Malawians should be left alone to vote freely in our country. If indeed, someone has evidence that these inter-border voters have absolutely no claim to Zambian citizenship, the state and the civil society have the right to arrest those few who do not qualify to be Zambian and prosecute them. But to paint the picture that all inter-border voters are foreigners is wrong and patently unreasonable given the history of the founding of this great nation – the founding deeply rooted in the wishes of Queen Victoria and her team of Scottish magicians.

No one should lose sleep over the alleged invasion of Malawians.

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