A united nation tested
The last few weeks have been a jaw dropping and sobering episode for Zambia. The unity we have known and cherished, espoused under “One Zambia, One nation” stands threatened.
The volcano is no longer simmering. It seems it finally is coming to its forceful life. The hidden discontent and wrath shows its face. A nation must respond.
Some sections of Western province have voiced their intention to secede on the strength of the 1964 Barotse Agreement. This is after the recent national council held in Mongu and resolutions that followed.
There are only but two truths for me here. The first is that it presents an opportunity for Zambia to face its demons and exorcise them. All 70+ tribes have been united since Independence but clearly some have suppressed their discontent, their true feelings. It is time to deal with this conclusively and lay it to rest.
On the other hand, it presents a very delicate matter that must not be underrated or disgruntled tactless elements allowed to have a field day. History and our african neighbours provide a wealth of lessons that have destroyed lives and nations.
From innocent childhood to prejudice
Each time I have to pick my 6 and 4 year old daughters from school, I observe something. They mingle innocently with all their school mates as they also do when attending birthday parties when invited. There is no Lozi, Bemba, Tonga, black or white. It is a case of innocent Zambian children playing with their friends.
Why then do we see a different mind and attitude among the older folk? They have been corrupted along the way. They have picked the filthy outlook and hearts that have exposed the world to apartheid, tribalism, nepotism, holocaust and all manner of isolation or superiority claims. The spirit of selfishness, self-importance and evil.
I have numerous friends that are not of my tribe and I see no need to associate based on what language they speak or the part of the country they are from.
I have noted before tribe becoming an issue when two children meet and announce intentions to marry. A lozi beauty or tonga lovebird and bemba heartthrob. The undertone of mismatch, suitability or resentment are saddening. Even love matters less when these biases or prejudiced perspectives take root.
It is this ugly face that we are seeing in Western province. It is the headache that says something in the whole body is wrong. The bulge that turns into a cyst with pus. It all points to a fundamental problem beyond what we see.
A misplaced cry?
Granted there is a problem and it needs to be dealt with cautiously. The people of Western province like all other parts of Zambia need to be heard. It is a cry for development, for resources to turn their lives around and for meaningful progress to be realised. That voice must be heard.
I have been to Mongu, the provincial capital of Western province. There is not much to write home about 48 years after Independence. Then again it is not the only area like that in Zambia. Of course, it is pronounced and to a large extent there has not been much done in terms of potential investments in the area. That perhaps is the reason for concern if such an area is assessed side by side with North Western for instance.
How did we get here?
Firstly, there has been no deliberate overall planning from a leadership and political front to set a development agenda in motion. This we see in Barotseland and countrywide. Looking back over the decades, there was a time each province had some economic mainstay to drive activity. Post-privatisation, this changed and economic activity took a nose dive in all provinces.
The investment that has since come up also revolves around the mining industry. Whether or not the investment has been impactful for the locals is another discussion. As such, non-mining areas have received little or no attention.
Additionally, there is the speculative issue of the attitude attributed to the locals themselves. They do not welcome any progress or activity that is not driven by them. This can be good when structured and meant to empower the locals. But it can also be detrimental if the extreme path is taken and any outside participation is resisted furiously.
I have never confirmed but have heard on several occasions the sad reason behind Shoprite being situated where it is in Mongu. Some years back in the early 2000s, a workmate at a multinational FMCG company had the branding on his vehicle scratched with an “X”. The reason? He was bemba.
The questions posed therefore must go beyond government’s role in this mess. It must also put on the spot the local leadership, starting from the Litunga.
With the prominence arising from the Kuomboka and the respect accorded to the establishment, has it been a challenge to seek an audience with the powers that be? Has the establishment failed to exert the influence of other traditional leaders with all the presidents Zambia has had? What has been the overall plan to derive gains from tourist popular and crowd drawing events like the Kuomboka? How much is realised each year in the Mongu economy and how much is channelled toward improvement or development plans at whatever level?
Accountability starts and ends somewhere. Where?
There is urgent need for harsh but honest introspection to resolve some of the immediate issues in Barotseland. Who the cap fits must wear it. The answers must point to the occupants of the land with their leaders to explain why they are where they are.
Similarly, government must acknowledge its part in the matter. We have had four presidents and are now in the fifth presidency. All have been very much aware of this thorny issue. For reasons best known to each, it seems they hoped when swept under the carpet, it would die.
It has not and stares us in the face, difficult to ignore and yet again sweep under the carpet.
It is from this point on that we must as a nation chart a way forward. This is beyond our biases, adopted beliefs or pride. It is a national call to do the right thing.
Under the RB administration, there were events that boiled over and led to the riots we witnessed in Mongu. There was blood shed, arrests made and the carpet was lifted to expose dirt that had not disappeared.
Prior to the September 2011 elections, the incumbent president is reported to have fuelled the fire. This, it is believed, he did by stating that he would restore the agreement within 90 days once in power.
Power came. So did a Commission of Enquiry which indicated that the people during submissions vehemently submitted they wanted to secede. His Excellency, without mincing his words, tore the head of the Commission Dr.Chongwe to shreds expressing his reluctance to adopt such a recommendation.
All else since then is on record culminating in the council and resolution to secede.
Is secession the best?
I am one of those that think not. We are one nation, one country and one people. We have differences and these we must confront and resolve with the sole intention of remaining united.
What the Barotse Agreement issue has exposed is the need for a comprehensive approach to national economic development. This of course is a view held with a firm belief that the spirit of the Agreement was empowerment and development, not secession.
If not secession, then what?
The cardinal issue then must be how government can foster this development and include it on the agenda. How can Western province be developed? How can the undeveloped and underdeveloped parts of Zambia be developed?
Each part of this our country must be developed by the resources found and harnessed in the specific area. For areas with less resources, the treasury and central coffers must likewise cater for development so no area lags. As an example, if just a fraction of 10% or even less of the profits announced by the mines were retained for and in North Western province, would it be as it is today?
We must then in a structured manner establish what resources or potential Western province has. Then it remains for the leadership to attract the necessary investment required to deliver development and empower the people.
I have always wondered how Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana or Namibia have diamonds, gold, oil and other natural resources. But can it be that all these countries around us can have all this but not Zambia? This we must establish as part of plans to deliver development that has eluded us all these decades.
The above must also be done in a consultative manner with explicit timelines. All stakeholders must be engaged, actions, accountabilities and timelines agreed. Then a reversal of the status quo can be set in motion with everyone clear on the direction. This is the spirit in which any dialogue must be held. Even the government’s planning as mentioned in pronouncements on decentralisation/devolution must have such steps at the core.
With regard to the Agreement itself, the silence of the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) is so loud. What are the implications of the agreement? What happened in 1969 as referred to by secession proponents that led to a breach? Expert interpretation of this document is critical at this stage so we all are aware of its status. It also is a means to curb ignorant debates and afford an opportunity for extremists to mislead many. Chaos thrives where a population is easily swayed by a minority with ulterior motives.
The fact that this matter is not light or insignificant can not disputed. It is for this reason I was glad upon arrival from India, the President opted not to make any statement on the matter. Hopefully, that was a sign there is more behind the scenes dialogue happening aimed at resolving a potential crisis.
What follows remains speculation at this stage. It is hoped though that objectivity, maturity and leadership will be the guide. Only in the spirit of unity, progress, selflessness, peace and objectivity can a challenge this sensitive be managed. Whichever way we look at it, the diversity we see and have in our nation and the world at large, is all part of God’s creation. It therefore is extremely sad when man feels or believes he is any wiser and must separate. We all need each other, are one and must lobby together for what we lack.
It is our role as citizens to demand development from our leaders and likewise to pray for them to lead with wisdom. Likewise, it the responsibility of the government to prioritise the welfare of its people. Therefore all cries for progress must be accorded utmost attention urgently.
In the absence of such an approach, we will have the myopic sections leading such misguided causes. And this poses a risk of plunging a nation into avoidable chaos.
For we know that myopic minds that promote such ills as tribalism thrive on such situations.
Zambia can not afford to be divided by people that easily disregard unity, love and peace cultivated over almost half a century.