MY TURN: Come on, tribal politics in this age?

Dr Obert Mpofu

Dr Obert Mpofu

Tichaona Zindoga
President Mugabe spoke authoritatively about the issue saying we are all one. The moment people or groups of people try to raise the tribal card they become anathema.

Are we not all happy that the political temperatures in the country have cooled, especially after the swift intervention of President Mugabe who told factionalists in the ruling Zanu-PF to shut up?

At this time last week, we were all in the grip of something heavy in foreboding; some kind of siege and deep fear that our country was hurtling towards something nasty and evil.

The signs, the bad omens, were there. The energy, the negative energy, was there.

Factional conflicts in the revolutionary party were taking worse turns and protagonists were willing to fight it out in public without fear or shame.

The gloves were off.

Thursday marked a climax, a crescendo of these factional fights as war veterans were bussed in ostensibly for a special meeting.

As we now know, their convenor, Cde Christopher Mutsvangwa, had not followed proper channels to legally hold that meeting.

And once they got into Harare, the war veterans were met with the force of police who made sure that they did not go ahead with the meeting and deployed tanks, teargas and other non-lethal means to disperse them.

The country was thus careened towards a cliff, which, the following day, it took President Mugabe’s intervention to haul us back.


We are relieved.

You see, the danger with the path that the country was now taking is similar to a fire that is started by a match that is tossed off by a careless drunk in the veld.

It starts off small but burns down the whole forest, this tiny fire that burns big logs and whole trees of the bush.

And the winds of the sky blow the fire to reckless, dangerous potency, driving it forward with naked, lustful, consuming rage.

Pity the grass, the snakes, the little creatures that have nowhere to run: they become fodder and fuel.

But even the big trees are not left unscathed as the fires consume everything in the way.


It is easy to assume that when a fire starts in a veld, or anywhere else, it becomes a force on its own; an evil on its own, that is driven by a spirit and spirits of its own.

In the same manner, you could see that factionalism was beginning to drive as madly and in an evil manner of its own, and true to evil spirits, a whole legion of spirits of different shades and character converge on a feast of destruction.

Until they are cast out.

But the price of factionalism is high: who is going to talk about bread and butter issues and the economy caught in a life of death and an orgy of self-destruction?

Who thinks about the dying, the sick and the hungry?

Who cares about the woman dying while giving birth, children dropping out of school, rural girls that lack sanitary ware and people lacking access to clean water?

The problem of factionalism, especially the overt, naked one, is that it creates a false reality, wrong priorities and an unhelpful narrative.

It also creates false gods.

It can make giants out of midgets.

In the madness of it all, some people without any sophistication pose as prophets and high priests of a false religion.

Woe to honest people who are either driven to murder or are persecuted for doing the right things – or things they cannot help.

But then, as pointed out above, we are safe.

The President spoke (and we hope we are not seeing some characters talking in whispers at nocturnal venues).

That is a mourning, global picture of factionalism as lately as we have seen.

There is still one worrying aspect that came starkly out of the debacle – and this is the main submission of this piece.

It is talk about tribalism or regionalism.

Tribalism is not something new in Zimbabwe.

Some people would like to say tribalism is an African problem, an atavistic phenomenon that tells so much about our backwardness.

Scholars want to blame tribalism on colonialism which they say amplified divisions among African people and made them to fight each other in the classic divide-and-rule fashion.

That is largely true.

But before the coming of the white man to Zimbabwe, for example, as much as the country was at peace in itself, there were some tribes that were more aggressive than others.

In fact, all empires and societies were built on war, even though various would maintain their particular identities, culture and philosophies.

But modernity whether brought by wars, and especially now enhanced by knowledge was supposed to end all the harmful and atavistic characteristics of tribalism?

Alas, it didn’t, especially in Africa.

Now it’s as a threat to democracy – even worse than autocracy.

This is the view of Harvard scholar Professor Calestous Juma.

He says: “The challenge to democracy in Africa is not the prevalence of ethnic diversity, but the use of identity politics to promote narrow tribal interests. It is tribalism.

“There are those who argue that tribalism is a result of arbitrary post-colonial boundaries that force different communities to live within artificial borders…in the absence of efforts to build genuine political parties that compete on the basis of ideas, many African countries have reverted to tribal identities as foundations for political competition.

“Leaders often exploit tribal loyalty to advance personal gain, parochial interests, patronage and cronyism. But tribes are not built on democratic ideas but thrive on zero-sum competition.”

Just these past weeks we heard a lot of disturbing noises about what tribes could or not rule Zimbabwe.

Then there was that pathetic, tragicomic assertion by Cde Obert Mpofu that no person from Matabeleland North province was fit to lead this country.

President Mugabe spoke authoritatively about the issue saying we are all one.

The moment people or groups of people try to raise the tribal card they become anathema.

You see these groups at the bar, at school and other social gatherings huddled together discussing their little agendas of supposed marginalisation or perceived superiority.

It is truly disgusting, hearing educated, mature people discussing that it is time for a person of this or that tribe to rule this country.

Come on!

This writer has expressed humble disgust at some people bent on pursing this route.

We have enough challenges to confront as a nation and whoever rallies the country around confronting issues of the day should be king.

And to rally the country around the national question presupposes unity not petty and atavistic tendencies such as tribe or region.

Prof Juma puts it nicely when he says: “The way forward for African democracy lies in concerted efforts to build modern political parties founded on development ideas and not tribal bonds. Such political parties must base their competition for power on development platforms.”

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