In the Name of the Clan: Is Bemba-Supremacy Behind GBM’s Resignation?
September 2009 on Radio Mano
It is September 2009. In a few weeks, the people of Kasama Central are supposed to be voting in a by-election. The key candidates in this election are Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (PF) and Burton Mugala (MMD). Mwamba comes from the ruling family of Kasama. Mugala, on the other hand, is a Namwanga. His home village is in Northern Province but is outside of the town of Kasama. Kasama is the capital of Northern Province. Northern Province is home to over 20 of Zambia’s 73 tribes. While most of the tribes are Bemba-speaking (Bisa, Lungu, Tabwa), there are some like the Namwangas and the Mambwes who are not Bemba-speaking and do in fact follow a patrilineal system.
Appearing on radio Mano that September morning, guest GBM makes some remarks that perhaps gives us an idea of who he is and the philosophy of his leadership. GBM remarked that the people of Kasama should vote for him in that by-election because Kasama, in particular, and Northern Province in general belonged to the Bembas. Casting his MMD opponent in terms such as “foreigner”, GBM made it clear that as a Namwanga, Mugala had no place in the political future of Kasama. This statement from GBM was seriously problematic.
I do commend GBM for having resigned from PF’s cabinet in 2013. But without him addressing what he said in 2009, I find his move to be extremely grim. In this article, I wish to interpret GBM’s resignation from the PF cabinet and cast it in light of his remarks in 2009. I do this for the following reasons. First, I do this to highlight the guiding attitude of Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba. Second, I want to have GBM to quickly address this so that he can perhaps atone for this cancer. With penitence, I think GBM can form a formidable antidote to the careless leadership of Michael Sata and his Patriotic Front. Third, I want to reiterate the ideal that should be important in our subsistence as a nation. These values invite all peoples of Zambia on a journey to create a common destiny. While our excitement is fresh with the courage of GBM’s resignation, we must hurriedly invite him towards redemption so that Zambia as a whole could benefit.
Mugala, GBM & Mambwe/Namwanga Rivalry
When GBM remarks that Mugala is a foreigner he is playing into the common stereotypes and historical rivalries that have existed between the Namwanga/Mambwe peoples and the Bemba-proper. In history, the Bemba-proper people through their chiefs had dominated the Namwanga/Mambwe people. According to historian Rotberg (1964) what actually saved the Namwanga/Mambwe peoples was their quick conversion to Christianity. Christian missionaries helped to keep the Namwanga/Mambwe safe from Bemba interference and skirmishes. However, closely connected to this, is the general distrust between these peoples which has unfortunately survived to the present generation.
However, Kasama has now grown into a modern town. That being the case, it was bizarre to have a person aspiring for a parliamentary seat to use tribe as the reason why Mugala should not be elected for the Kasama seat. Indeed in that by-election, Mugala lost to GBM by a wide margin.
I have written on the absurdity of President Sata’s interference with the Bashilubemba’s decision to elect Chanda Sosala as their Chitimukulu. In the article, When a Cobra Spits at Crocodiles: Why President Sata Shouldn’t Fight the “Bashi Lubemba” published in the Zambia Daily Nation and currently featured on www.eliasmunshya.org, I had explained that it is the Bashilubemba who have the power and authority to determine the ritual fitness of any one to serve as Chitimukulu as determined by Justice Silomba’s court. This is not President Sata’s job. I have advised in that article that President Sata’s fight with the Bashilubemba is not necessary. In fact, I put it very bluntly: President Sata cannot win the fight with the Bashilubemba.
The Effect of the Sosala Dispute On Sata’s Popularity
However, in view of GBM’s resignation, I have read of several insinuations from various sections of our society, that in fact, GBM’s resignation might affect Sata’s popularity in the Bemba-speaking areas. Some are in fact, predicting that Sata’s quarrel with the Abena Ng’andu Clan and the Bashilubemba could sink the PF in the Northern and Muchinga Provinces.
If this is what GBM had in mind when he was resigning from the Cabinet then he could be in a rude shock. From his 2009, statement, GBM might be laboring under a very mistaken burden that the Bemba-proper are the defacto owners of Northern (and now Muchinga) province. This is a huge mistake he could be making.
A distinction should be made here. When Sata fights with the Bemba-proper, this battle is not a battle with all the Bemba-speaking peoples of Northern and Muchinga provinces. In fact, some Bemba-speaking peoples such as the Bisa, the Lungu or the Tabwa might not be affected a bit by Sata’s skirmishes. In those areas, Sata could in fact maintain the support he already has. Additionally, with the non-Bemba speaking peoples, Sata’s support might not be negatively affected either. I do not think that the Namwanga or the Mambwe who support Sata will suddenly stop supporting him simply because Sata wants to impose a different Chitimukulu in Kasama.
Defending the Crocodiles
This, therefore, brings us to GBM’s so called resignation. According to GBM he resigned because he is a family member to the current Abena Ng’andu who are the rulers of the Bemba-proper. Sata on the other hand does seem to desire that a different clan, Abena Ngoshe Mukote should take their turn in ruling the Bemba-proper. This proposition is a far stretch. I do not see it happening. President Sata cannot bypass a hundred years of history that favours Abena Ng’andu with the Abena Ngoshe Mukulu nonsense.
However, this is where the subtlety remains: if this fight is between the two clans claiming leadership to the Bemba-proper throne, then it should be characterized as such. While President Sata’s interference is uncalled for, chieftainship disputes are not new in Zambia. In fact, not very long ago, there were issues in Mongu when Lubosi Imwiko became Litunga. The Mbikusita-Lewanika families were not well pleased. To date, there are reports that the Mbikusita-Lewanika royal branch does not have a great rapport with the current ruling family of the Imwikos. But these internal politics of the Lozi ruling dynamics never affected other tribes within the Lozi commonwealth.
Why then should a dispute between Abena Ng’andu and Abena Ngoshe Mukote become an issue that consumes the whole nation? How did we even begin to believe that actually, Chitimukulu dispute would affect all Bemba-speaking peoples? This is not the first time that Sata is quarreling with Abena Ng’andu. Shortly before the 2011 elections Sata is reported to have uttered some words taken as insulting to the Chitimukulu. The Bashilubemba summoned Sata. He refused to go. He claimed that he was a subject of Chief Chikwanda and not Chitimukulu. In that 2011 election, the Bemba-proper gave Sata almost a 100% vote in spite of his alleged disrespect to Chitimukulu.
If GBM’s decision to resign from Sata’s cabinet is about maintaining the supremacy of the Abena Ng’andu, it sits within his own philosophy of tribal superiority that made him to regard Mugala as an outsider to Kasama. It is the same dynamics at play here. If GBM really did not like Sata that much, shouldn’t he have resigned without making it appear like a tribal or clan issue?
There are better reasons why the whole cabinet should resign from Sata’s clueless PF leadership. Ubunga nabudula. Wynter Kabimba is becoming a small despot. There is a huge debt owed by President Sata’s close confidantes. Zambia is accumulating kaloba at unprecedented levels. These are more legitimate reasons why someone should resign from the PF government.
If GBM is serious about what he is doing, he must consciously challenge this tribal picture. He must distance his resignation from internal Bemba-proper ruling dynamics and show us that he has a passion for the whole country. The idea that it is “family that makes him leave cabinet” only goes to play into what I believe is his weakness as a political leader: the elevation of tribe and family above national interest.
Wynter Kabimba might not have been completely off the mark when he suspected that GBM could be an alleged tribalist. There is 2009 tribe issue reinforced clearly by 2013. I still remain unconvinced that GBM means well in this resignation. To convince me otherwise, he should retract his remarks against the Namwangas and invite them to a table of common destiny in their country!