WE AGREE with civil rights activist Brebner Changala that Hakainde Hichilema did not lose the 2016 general election because he is Tonga. He lost because those Zambians from the 73 tribes of Zambia who voted for him were fewer than those who voted for President-elect Edgar Lungu.
What is a fact is that like all human beings, there are hard core tribalists in all the 10 regions of Zambia – but they are very few and they are an endangered species.
Zambians’ perception of politics has drastically changed. But what is undeniable is that each election has its own national and regional dynamics. Also talk and practice of tribalism has over the years been fueled by those who benefited from the incumbency.
It is, therefore, wrong and untrue to conclude that the regional popularity of Zambia’s major political parties is defined by tribe. If so, then all our leaders, past and present, and all of us who vote for them, are tribalists. But are we?
The case in point is what happened in 1991. This was the apex of the revolution to remove first republican president Kenneth Kaunda and the hated one-party state which had dominated the Zambian political scene for 27 years. All Zambian politicians -north, east, west and south – rallied behind trade unionist Frederick Chiluba from Luapula.
It was clear at the time that the newly born Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) was going to sweep the United National Independence Party (UNIP) into oblivion at the polls. Alas, it was not to be. Something strange and totally unexpected happened.
The people – not politicians – of Eastern Province stood squarely and unshaken behind UNIP and the party swept all the seats in the province. The country was aghast. But the people of Eastern Province had unequivocally spoken.
Who could accuse them of being traitors or tribalists? What tribalism? This was democracy at its best. They simply loved UNIP and they found no reason to change. They wanted to do it again in the 1996 election and were only pre-empted by Dr Kaunda who boycotted that election. That is how MMD took advantage and changed the voting pattern of the province for good.
What happened in the 2016 election was that two evenly matched presidential candidates offered themselves for election. Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front was a smart, articulate lawyer from the humble beginnings of Lusaka’s Chawama compound who endeared himself with the grassroots of Lusaka and the Copperbelt.
To many of his young supporters he was a role model. They saw him as a hero who rose from the ghetto through hard work, loyalty and twist of fate to become the sixth President of Zambia. They voted for him because of his charm, track record of the ruling party and humility.
On the other hand the UPND leader, despite his humble background, portrayed himself as a business mogul – successful, arrogant and unrepentant. He sold himself as an economic redeemer. ‘‘I’ll fix it,’’ he claimed.
So Zambians were given a clear choice between two diametrically different candidates. One humble, God-fearing and committed. The other man well-heeled, pompous and hungry for success. His critics said he was hungry for power. This was the gist of this election.
It is true the entire Southern, Western and North-Western regions apparently rejected the incumbent President and voted for Hichilema together with a sizeable portion of the Copperbelt, Lusaka and Northern Province. Was this tribalism? Some may say ‘yes’ but how do they explain the above example of Eastern Province in 1991?
In 2008 when flamboyant politician Michael Chilufya Sata rose to prominence at the head of the now ruling PF to challenge Rupiah Banda of MMD, it took Western, North-Western and Eastern Province voters to stop Mr Sata’s roller-coaster.
When Mr Sata used his remarkable ingenuity to ‘‘hack’’ into former president Banda’s popularity server, Mr Banda lost the 2011 election. What tribalism was that?