Governance Challenges Revealed By Barotse National Council (BNC)

By Maurice Makalu
Putting aside the secession controversies generated by the BNC resolutions, the gathering itself and the position it purports to hold in the governance and representation of the people of Western Province have crystallized two governance challenges that Zambia, as a democracy, faces: parallel leadership structures and tribal integration.
a. Parallel Leadership Structures
The BNC was a gathering of around 2,000 chiefs and indunas or headmen. These considered themselves as representing Western Province ahead of 17 MPs and around 146 ward councilors who were elected by 188,519 people out of 394,660 registered voters there. The chiefs felt so representative that they even asked the elected MPs (and Minister) to resign.
Recently, Chief Nkole of Kapiri Mposhi was reported to have ordered the Kapiri Mposhi District Council not to displace his subjects from their farmlands in his chiefdom, denying ever giving HIS land to the state. The chief warned the Council to stop interfering into land issues in his chiefdom and not to undertake any land development works in the area without his permission. The chief said, “I have never signed anywhere that I have given land to the state so do not displace my people from their farms on this land because those are their permanent farms given to them with permits.”
The question is: Who governs and represents the people, traditional leaders or elected officials?
Obviously the answer is both. Zambia therefore must draw clear boundaries between the two. Nyerere in Tanzania opted to ban chiefs altogether to avoid tribalism, farm land squabbles and such. We have decided to retain them. Let us define their role very clearly and sensitise and contientise them so that they do not overstep their boundaries and start unnecessary frictions with elected leadership. It is anti-democracy to place inherited leadership ahead of elected leadership for by its very nature, inheritance is undemocratic. It perpetuates hegemony and marginalization and knows nothing about equality and human rights for all.
In the modern era, when we speak of “self-determination,” like the BNC is seeking, it does not mean being ruled by a local instead of a foreigner, instead it means being ruled by an elected official. Election, regular popular election, not nationality, defines self-determination (democracy). The Arab Spring is a good example, where rulers ‘for life’ are being shown the exit door. Chief rulership is not self-determination.
So even as we devolve power from the centre to the regions, we must not allow inherited power to interfere with elected power other than through the ballot. It is a recipe for disaster. There is a reason developed democratic countries have confined their chiefs and kings to ceremonial roles only. We too can make our traditional leaders ceremonial leaders; let us have constitutional chieftaincy. Let’s put ‘spanners’ in our governance and development processes all in the name of respecting tradition. Democracy and development are the ‘tradition’ of the future and chiefs must not interfere or be seen to interfere with their traditions of the past.

b. Tribal Integration
The wider Zambian population received calls for secession with trepidation because we have all grown up under One Zambia One Nation, thanks to KK’s one party state and its strong nationalism drive. We have lived and shared together as one people, as brothers and sisters of one family. This however, is slowly being threatened with the emergency of multiparty democracy, where some people see tribalism, a form of hate speech, as part of their freedom of expression and association. Tribalism is raising its ugly head to an extent where some politicians are using it as their strategy in seeking political office.
Furthermore, as the BNC showed, chiefs rule over tribes. Despite assertions that Lozi is the ligua-franca of western province, Nkoyas disassociated themselves from what they perceived as a “Lozi” move. They are now also organizing a Nkoya council. God knows which other tribes will organise theirs as well. Mbundas on the other hand attended and presented a long list of complaints of “Lozi” marginalisation of Mbundas, and appealed for Mbunda chiefs to be recognized as senior chiefs as well.
How do we uphold our One Zambia One Nation as a multiparty democracy? We need deliberate government driven and sponsored tribal integration.
This should go beyond tribal balancing in political appointments where it is really hard to have real balance. Rather it should involve having a “National Population (or Tribal) Integration Policy” whose objective should be to integrate the 73 tribes, by deepening our appreciation of the “Ubuntu” that makes us bantu-speaking peoples; the humanity that makes us human.
Among other things, the policy must encourage and facilitate for chiefs, especially paramount and senior chiefs, to attend traditional ceremonies of other chiefs. Having Paramount Chief Chiti Mukulu as guest of honour at the Kuomboka Ceremony, or chief Mukuni at Ukusefya Pang’wena, would go a very long way in bringing Bembas, Lozis and Tongas together. The policy must prescribe what I can describe as chiefs ‘diplomatic’ relations, where our chiefs can pay each other courtesy calls; the Litunga going on a kingdom visit to Paramount Chief Gawa-Undi just like Presidents go on state visits; with lots of media coverage. On these visits, they should exchange gifts as souvenirs to be displayed in palaces back home so as to be reminded of “my visit to Chief Mukuni of the Tonga people.” This will build a rich tradition of friendship and cultural exchange between tribes, which will cement national unity.
Almost every province now has a community radio station. Let these stations broadcast cultural programmes about Zambian tribes. How about “Imitundu Yesu (Our Tribes)” programme on Radio Ichengelo on the Copperbelt, to discuss cultures of different tribes; or “Your Lozi, Lunda, etc Neighbour” on Radio Lundazi in Eastern Province. These community radio stations can allocate just 30 minutes a week to each of the 7 major tribes, where people of these tribes from within the communities can share their cultures, music, etc and just speak their language on air. After all they are in Zambia; therefore, at home.
Whatever we have to do to integrate and make our One Zambia One Nation more one, let us do it. Let not the Ministry of Traditional Affairs be only about looking after chiefs, their salaries and livelihood, but also bringing our rich tribal diversity closer together. When we sing: “One land and one nation is our cry… All one, strong and free,” we must remember it is an eternal cry, perpetual work in progress.