By Mbita Chitala PhD

I earlier published this article on tribalism in Zambia many years ago which I am re-posting with a few changes as the issues such as the demands of the Linyugandambo, the demands of the Umozi Kumawa and the complaints of several citizens such as the President of the Socialist Party Dr Fred Mmembe and others need to be addressed rather being ignored.

The starting point is to define what a tribe is. What is a tribe? Does Zambia have tribes? What is tribalism and what are its positives and negatives? Before colonial subjugation of Zambia, the Bantu people that occupied these lands were a mosaic of lineage groups, clans, villages, chiefdoms and kingdoms with indeterminate boundaries. The earliest Europeans who considered themselves civilized such as Lacerda, Livingstone, Serpa Pinto, Cameron, Selous and Arnet that visited Central Africa which later became Barotseland-North Western Rhodesia in 1899 and North Eastern Rhodesia in 1900 and amalgamated into Northern Rhodesia in 1911 told stories of barbarism of the natives. When the British finally took over the administration of Northern Rhodesia from the BSA Company in 1924, the colonial administrators had one challenge of how to manage the Bantu speaking people. They designed a system where they sorted out and divided these Bantu speaking people who numbered 921,063 persons when the first census took place on 7th May, 1911 and divided them into what they termed as “tribes”.

The colonial administrators wanted to have units that they could control. Colonial administrators like Lord Lugard and ethnologists like Malinowski, Redcliffe-Brown etc in the quest for divide and rule the Bantu speaking people, insured that each Bantu unit so sorted, was under a “chief” appointed by the colonial establishment. That is how one Soli Chief in Zambia remarked, ”My people were not Soli until 1937 when the Bwana D.C. told us we were.” (Quoted by Martin Meredith (2006, pp 155)).

That is how many of Zambia’s “chiefs” were invented and tasked to work as agents of the colonial administration and keepers of the traditions of their people. That is how Medicine man Monze for instance became a Chief because the colonialists identified him as relatively smart as a rain maker.
The colonialists were helped by the missionaries who then transcribed hitherto unwritten languages of the Bantu speaking people into written forms and in the process reduced Zambia’s innumerable dialects to 73 and ascribed each to a “tribe”.

The 1933 annual report on the social and economic progress of the people of Northern Rhodesia published by His Majesty’s Stationary Office in 1934, pp3-5 observed as follows: “At present time the population of the territory has been classified into seventy-three different tribes, the most important of which are the Wemba, Ngoni, Chewa, and Wisa in the North Eastern districts, the Rozi, Tonga, Luvale, Lenje, and Lunda members of which are resident in both eastern and western areas. There are thirty dialects in use, but many of them vary so slightly that a knowledge of six of the principal languages will enable a person to converse with every native in the country.”

This is how “tribes” were formed in Zambia. Before that, the Bantu speaking people in Zambia were simply Bantu speaking and were all related in their historical ancestry having migrated from their citadel in Cameroon. In 1933, they numbered 1,371,213 inhabitants in Northern Rhodesia and in order to rule them effectively, the colonialists divided them into “tribes” and gave each “tribe” a name as a way of advancing and facilitating their “divide and rule” doctrine. So the bantu people who lived in the rocks around Mount Nsunzu were named “AMambwe” while the Bantus who were master smelters of iron around Lake Tanganyika were named the “ALungu” and so on.

After Zambia became independent, the nationalist leaders and the general Bantu populace had been so brainwashed by the colonialists that they did not abandon the colonial categorization of our Bantu speaking people into “tribes”. The new leaders of Zambia resolved to continue with this racist term which categorized Zambians into “tribes”. The word “tribe” used by the colonialists to describe aspects of living of the Bantu speaking was actually a racist term. It described the Bantu people as living in primitive societies. The description had derogatory meaning as it defined the Bantu speaking “tribes” as uncivilized savages.
Having divided the Bantu speaking peoples of Zambia completely, the Zambians up to today have been using the word in their political discourse. Today, Zambians still refer to their 73 groups created by colonialists as “tribes” and “tribalism” is often seen as an ideology where one puts one’s own group above every other consideration, including kindness or justice. Explained in this way, tribalism has the potential to lead to bigotry, segregation, disunity of the people, and when taken to extremes, may even lead to strife and genocide.

It is without controversy that after Zambia won its independence in 1964, there still survived clan/tribal consciousness and structures of past epochs such as backward customs, rituals, prejudices and superstitions. These vestiges cannot justify the continued describing of the Zambian Bantu speaking people “as tribes”. They have since developed and emerged as “nationalities” because of the advances in commodity production. It is shameful and unacceptable that these vestiges of the past continue to be used to divide the Bantu people of Zambia by spreading ethnic or tribal consciousness by some of the reactionary leaders.
However, over the years, there has been in Zambia ethnic mixing and unifying processes (consolidation, integration and assimilation) which have created broad national communities and lingua francas –languages and dialects. It is therefore disingenuous or untenable to employ the concept of “tribe” to describe the forms of ethnos in Zambia. There has been developing broad national communities which can no longer be termed as “tribes” as languages and dialects of the several Bantu Speaking peoples have converged forming literary languages or lingua- francas which is an important condition for the establishment of broad national communities and the unitary nation of Zambia.
According to Denis Dresang(1974) what in the political arena are referred as “tribes” in Zambia are basically divisions in the society that group people according to regional background, language and subjective stereotype. In this way, you have the Lozi Speaking nationality who occupy Western Province of Zambia and comprise of more than 20 dialects who speak one lingua franca known as Lozi. Similarly, there is the Nyanja speaking group in Eastern Province who comprise of several dialects including Chewa, Ngoni, Nsenga, Tumbuka and so on with a lingua franca known as Nyanja. Then, there is the Bemba speaking nationality from Luapula, Northern, Muchinga, Copperbelt and parts of Central Province who speak more than 40 dialects and have a lingua franca known as Bemba. Then there is the Bantu Botatwe group in Southern, parts of Lusaka and Central Provinces who comprise of more than 10 dialects and speak a lingua franca known as Tonga. Then there is the Kaonde/Lamba group in the Copperbelt and part of North Western Province with their own lingua franca as are the Luvale and Lunda of North Western Province with several dialects and lingua francas.
In other words, because of ethnic consolidation, tribal consciousness only survives in false ethnic consciousness of brain washed Zambians. The former “tribes” as they were known under colonialism have merged into single large groups and this was fostered by the penetration of commodity-money relations and the conversion of rural areas from subsistence economy into modern small scale commodity producing capitalist economy.
It is therefore not anymore tenable to describe the populations of Zambia grouped in nationalities as tribes. President Kaunda tried to stop this racist undertone and tried to unite the country by encouraging inter marriages among Zambians, transferring public servants between regions, ensuring that students too were sent to other regions other than their region and so on. And because of the multiplicity of lingua francas, the administration of President Kenneth Kaunda adopted a foreign language English to be the official language in Zambia. It was hoped that English, though foreign, could play a unifying role of Zambians instead of wastefully developing the many Zambian ethnic dialects. All these policies were progressive and should be recommended that those privileged to govern Zambia do advance these policies that go towards uniting the country.
Many observers would want to do away with false tribal consciousness because of the divisive effects of tribalism. The divisive effects of tribalism are felt when leaders consciously or unconsciously begin by their conduct to discriminate between so called ethnic groups as left to us by the colonialists. This discrimination may be carried to extremes. One politician or leader may push one’s claims to leadership solely on tribal grounds. This is tribalism of the deplorable kind. It manifests itself in several ways—in attempts to organize political parties on a tribal basis; in demands that political, cabinet or other posts should be distributed purely on a tribal basis, and, worse still, in demands for tribal quotas in the distribution of civil‐service jobs and in the showing of favouritism toward their fellow‐tribesmen by senior public officials.
These abuses harm the cause of national unity. They are roundly condemned and firmly resisted by leading Zambian opinion makers. Not a week passes in Zambia, for instance, without the newspapers calling for vigilance against the cancer of tribalism. There has been hardly an address made to the nation since independence by all of our Republican Presidents that has not contained a warning to the effect that an overly tribal ‐ Zambia would very soon cease to be one country, and that the diversity of gifts possessed by our diverse peoples should be devoted to the task of building a great and unified nation.

It is evident that the processes of national integration are still far from being completed. Zambia is still faced with the challenges of resolving inherited problems from colonialism such as the ethnic and linguistic problems, establishing an order that will ensure equality and development for all the peoples and their cultures and languages.
To address the challenges meaningfully, we start from the known as provided by the Zambian government statistics. This notwithstanding that it can be objected to by some academics and observers. Table 1 and 2 summarizes the population share of the so called tribal and language groups of Zambia according to government statistics.

Table 1:Tribal groups and their population share, 1969-2000 (in %)
Source: CSO
Tribal group ​​1969 ​​2000​​2022
Bemba ​​18.3 ​​18.1
Tonga ​​​10.5 ​​12.7
Ngoni ​​​6.3 ​​4.0
Lozi ​​​5.5​​ 5.6
Nsenga ​​5.1 ​​5.5
Chewa ​​4.8 ​​7.2
Tumbuka ​​3.8 ​​4.2
Lala ​​​3.1 ​​3.2
Kaonde ​​2.9 ​​3.0
Luvale ​​2.4 ​​2.1
Lunda (North-West) ​2.3 ​​2.5
Ushi ​​​2.2 ​​2.4
Lamba ​​2.2 ​​2.2
Bisa ​​​2.0 ​​1.8
Lenje ​​​1.9 ​​1.7
Namwanga ​​1.6 ​​2.7
Mambwe ​​1.6 ​​2.3
Mbunda ​​1.5 ​​1.4
Other ​​​21.9 ​​17.3
Total ​​​100.0 ​​99.9

Table 2: Language groups and their population share, 1969-2000 (in %)
Source: CSO
Language group ​1969 ​1980 1990 ​2000​2001​2008

Bemba ​​38.8 ​42.9 ​43.1​ 41.7​50.0​42.1
Nyanja ​​21.7 ​22.3 ​23.8 ​23.8​12.0​14.0
Tonga ​​​15.2 ​13.3 ​14.8 ​13.9​16.0​21.1
North-Western ​10.6 ​7.7 ​8.8 ​7.7​12.0​12.3
BaRotse ​​9.2 ​8.0 ​7.5 ​6.9​9.0​8.8
Other ​​​4.5 ​6.0​ 1.9​ 6.0​1.0​1.8
Total ​​​100.0 ​100.2​ 99.9 ​100.0​100.0​100.0
The two tables mean that, instead of dealing with 73 “tribes”, we can reasonably reduce them to six (6) language groups to achieve the demand of establishing inclusive government administration in Zambia. This is what President Kaunda and the UNIP administration used in answering the challenge of equity in governance of Zambia following the disturbances that arose at their 1969 UNIP conference where the cancer of tribalism almost exploded into war.
After 1971, President Kaunda recognized the need for a sustained need to forge an inclusive elite bargain in Zambia. He introduced the “One Zambia One Nation” motto to be the arching motto and relied on a practice called “Tribal Balancing” whereby access to positions of state power was to be distributed equitably among competing groups. This practice was implemented at all levels of the public sector which became evident in high degrees of political, economic and military power-sharing.
In a seminal study “ Working Paper no. 77 – Development as State-making – INCLUSIVE ELITE BARGAINS AND CIVIL WAR AVOIDANCE: THE CASE OF ZAMBIA by Stefan Lindemann , Crisis States Research Centre August 2010”, the researcher emphasized the historical necessity of power sharing to advance Zambia’s unity and the democratic project and in this study, he created indices that we have borrowed in this article/notes to represent the case of Kaunda’s tribal balancing philosophy.
For President Kaunda and his administration, access to positions of political and administrative power was important for competing social groups in that it provided them with visible recognition, a ‘say’ in decision making and control over government resources.
A first obvious indicator in this respect is the composition of government. A second indicator for political power-sharing is the composition of the ruling political party, measured by the inter-group distribution of members of central committee of the party. A third and final indicator for political power sharing was the composition of the civil service, measured by the inter-group distribution of permanent secretary positions.
Table 3 indicates how President Kaunda was able to share power among the six language groups in his party UNIP. Table 4 presents how President Kaunda was able to balance power by making appointments of Permanent Secretaries equitably shared from the six language groups. And Table 5 shows how President Kaunda distributed power in the Defence and Security apparatus equitably among the sic language groups. Table 6 summarizes the sharing of power between all the so called 73 tribal groups.

Table 3: Distribution of the UNIP Central Committee (CC) between language groups, 1964-1969 (in %)
Source: CSO 1973; Rotberg 1967; Times of Zambia, August 26, 1969.
Language Group ​Population (1969) ​1964 ​1967 ​1969

Bemba ​​38.8 ​​​28.6 ​45.5 ​41.7
Nyanga ​​21.7 ​​​28.6​ 9.1 ​16.7
Tonga ​​​15.2 ​​​14.3 ​27.3 ​25.0
North-Western ​10.6 ​​​0.0 ​0.0 ​8.3
Barotse ​​9.2 ​​​21.4 ​18.2​ 8.3
Other​​​ 4.5 ​​​7.1 ​0.0 ​0.0
Total ​​​100.0 ​​​100.0​ 100.0 ​100.0

Table 4: Distribution of permanent secretaries between language groups, 1968-1972
(in %)
Source: CSO 1973; GOZ various years; Stefan Lindemann
Language Group ​​Population (1969) ​1964 ​1968 ​1972
Bemba ​​​38.8 ​​​0.0 ​31.8​ 28.0
Nyanga ​​​21.7 ​​​0.0 ​22.7 ​36.0
Tonga ​​​​15.2 ​​​0.0 ​9.1 ​12.0
North-Western ​​10.6 ​​​0.0 ​4.5 ​4.0
Barotse ​​​9.2 ​​​6.3 ​18.2 ​20.0
Other ​​​​4.5 ​​​93.8 ​13.6​ 0.0
Total ​​​​100.0 ​​​100.0 ​100.0​ 100.0

Table 5: Distribution of Commanders between language groups, Second Republic
Zambia National Defence Force

Gen. G. K. Chinkuli (Tonga)
Lt.-Gen. P. D. Zuze (Nyanja)
Lt.-Gen. B. N. Mibenge (Bemba)

De-unified command structure
Maj. Gen C Kabwe
Gen. C Masheke
Brig. Gen. C J Nyirenda
Lt. Gen A. Lungu
Lt. Gen. C.S. Tembo
Brig. Gen. F.S. Mulenga
Maj. Gen. Simbule
Lt. Gen G. M. Kalenge
Maj. Gen T. Fara
Lt. Gen Simutowe
Lt General F.G. Sibanda

Distribution of Commanders between language groups, Third Republic
Lt. Gen Shikapwasha
Gen. N.M. Simbeye
Lt. Gen W.C Funjika

Lt. Gen S. Kayumba
(North Western)
Lt. Gen. S.L. Mumbi
Maj. Gen. M. Mbao

Lt. Gen C. Singogo
Lt. Gen G.R. Musengule
Lt. Gen.R. Chisheta

Lt. Gen. Mapala
Lt. Gen. I Chisuzi
Maj. Gen. Yeta
R Phiri
Lt. Gen . Sakala
Lt. Gen Lopa
Lt. Gen N Mulenga

Lt.Gen.E Chimese
Lt. Gen. Lopa


Lt. Gen. Mihova
(North Western)
Lt. Gen. Mulenga


Lt. Gen Muna
Lt. Gen. Sikazwe
Lt. Gen. N Mulenga


Lt. Gen Barry
(North Western)
Lt. Gen. Alubuzwi
Lt. Gen P. Solichi


Table 6: Distribution of government between tribal groups, 1974-1990 (in %)
Source: CSO ; GOZ various years; Stefan Lindemann
Tribe ​Population (2000) ​1974 ​1976 ​1978 ​1980 ​1982 ​1984 ​1986 ​1990
Bemba ​18.1 ​​24.4 ​17.3 ​16.2 ​15.5 ​15.2 ​15.0 ​11.8 ​11.8
Tonga ​​12.7 ​​14.4 ​13.9 ​11.4 ​4.6​ 4.4 ​5.8 ​6.1​ 4.3
Chewa ​7.2 ​​7.0 ​7.8 ​11.3 ​10.8 ​9.6 ​9.1 ​9.6 ​12.8
Lozi ​​5.6 ​​8.3 ​8.6 ​12.5 ​16.6 ​19.5 ​15.9 ​16.7 ​9.3
Nsenga ​5.5 ​​2.8 ​3.0 ​3.8 ​1.4 ​0.0 ​1.5 ​1.6 ​9.1
Tumbuka ​4.2​​ 4.4 ​4.3​ 0.0 ​0.0​ 0.0 ​1.5 ​1.6 ​2.0
Ngoni ​​4.0​​ 0.0 ​0.0 ​0.0​ 6.1 ​5.5 ​3.8 ​0.0 ​1.0
Lala ​​3.2 ​​4.4 ​1.3 ​1.2 ​4.6 ​4.4 ​2.9 ​4.6 ​2.0
Kaonde ​3.0 ​​2.8 ​4.8 ​3.8 ​3.1 ​3.0 ​2.9 ​0.0​ 5.4
Namwanga ​2.7 ​​2.8 ​3.5​ 5.1 ​1.7 ​3.0​ 1.4​ 1.4 ​1.7
Lunda (N/W) ​2.5​​ 5.8 ​5.6​ 3.8 ​3.1​ 3.0 ​2.9 ​3.0 ​0.0
Ushi ​​2.4 ​​0.0 ​1.3 ​1.2 ​0.0 ​0.0 ​1.5 ​5.6​ 6.4
Mambwe ​2.3​​ 4.4 ​0.0 ​3.8 ​0.0 ​0.0 ​0.0 ​0.0 ​0.0
Lamba ​2.2 ​​0.0 ​0.0​ 0.0 ​4.3​ 2.9 ​1.4​ 2.9​ 3.3
Luvale ​2.1 ​​1.4 ​3.0 ​4.9​ 3.1​ 4.4 ​2.9 ​3.0​ 1.0
Bisa ​​1.8 ​​0.0​ 0.0 ​0.0​ 4.7 ​4.1 ​3.8 ​4.0​ 5.4
Lenje ​​1.7 ​​2.8 ​1.8 ​3.8​ 1.7 ​1.5 ​5.3 ​5.6​ 6.1
Lunda ​​1.4 ​​1.4 ​8.6 ​1.2 ​1.7​ 3.0​ 10.6 ​7.2​ 6.4
Mbunda ​1.4 ​​0.0 ​0.0​ 0.0 ​0.0 ​0.0​ 0.0 ​0.0 ​1.0
Other ​​15.9 ​​13.0 ​15.2​ 16.2 ​16.9 ​16.6 ​12.0 ​15.2 ​11.0
Total ​​99.9 ​​100.0 ​99.9 ​100.1 ​100.0 ​100.0 ​100.0 ​100.0 ​100.0
President Kaunda and his colleagues argued that power sharing especially access to military power was crucial for competing social groups in that it shaped their feelings of physical security and survival. Representation at the upper levels of the power institutions give groups a real stake in the both the administrative and security sector. Key, in terms of military power sharing is the composition of the officer corps, measured by the inter-group distribution of the top command positions.
President Kaunda and his colleagues also emphasized economic power sharing. Access to economic power is of immediate material interest for competing social groups. A first useful indicator may be control over key state-owned enterprises, which are among the most lucrative public institutions in the patronage-based political systems (Tangri 1999). Economic power sharing may therefore be control over key state owned enterprises and statutory institutions. Both indicators can be measured by the inter-group distribution of Boards Directors and Senior management positions.
It is evident from practice and in the literature that inclusive elite bargains often accommodate dominant social cleavages, stabilise the inter-group competition over the control of state power and thereby favour trajectories of social instability avoidance. As competing social groups enjoy inclusive access to positions of political, military and economic power, their leadership does not have an immediate incentive to mobilise protests or even violence against the state. States underlying an inclusive elite bargain are therefore likely to enjoy relatively secure and stable hegemony as a collective system.
Exclusionary elite bargains, by contrast, fail to accommodate dominant social cleavages, intensify inter-group struggles over the distribution of state power and ultimately favour trajectories of civil disobedience onset. As certain groups enjoy privileged access to positions of political, military and economic power, the excluded leaders will have an immediate incentive to mobilise protest and violence against the state. Instability must be understood as resulting from the inability and/or unwillingness of ruling political parties to achieve sufficient degrees of elite accommodation.
If there is one lesson that President left to Zambia, the principle of inclusiveness in governance or what he termed “tribal balancing” is one good heritage which Zambians must be thankful for as it helped unite the people of Zambia.
Officially, the administration of President FTJ Chiluba did not accept the convention of ‘tribal balancing’ arguing that such an approach would be undemocratic and economically harmful. But does this really mean that ‘tribal balancing’ was abandoned? Many scholars seem to think so and reported a growing ‘Bemba bias’ in appointments, typically related to the fact that President Chiluba himself was a Bemba-speaking Lunda from Luapula Province.
The fact however is that President Chiluba informally retained ‘tribal balancing’ in government, albeit to a lesser extent than it was under President Kaunda. In absolute terms, President Chiluba’s governments were on average dominated by Bemba-speakers. In terms of population share, however, Bemba speakers were only very marginally over-represented. All other language groups received relatively proportional representation, even though some of them were at times slightly better or worse off.
The only exception was the Nyanja-speaking group that was underrepresented from 1991 when the MMD formed government and this was because UNIP had won all parliamentary seats in Eastern Province in 1991. Nonetheless, President Chiluba subsequently used his right of appointment to bring Nyanja speaking people on board. Even though Nyanga speakers remained underrepresented, they were continuously represented in the ‘inner core’ of political power.
President Chiluba also maintained the tradition of racial inclusiveness by appointing a significant number of ministers of white or Asian background. Table 7 below summarizes the distribution of posts in government as reported by Stefan Lindemann in his study and shows that all language groups were equitably represented in the governance of Zambia.

Table 7: Distribution of government between tribal groups, Index of Representation, 1992-2008 (in %)
Source: CSO ; GOZ various years; Stefan Lindemann
Tribe​ Population (2000) ​1992 ​1994 ​1996​ 1998 ​2002 ​2004 ​2006​ 2008
Bemba​ ​18.1 ​​12.8 ​9.5 ​15.8 ​16.2​ 16.6 ​18.2​ 2.3​ 5.3
Tonga ​​12.7 ​​7.4 ​8.7 ​8.9 ​17.5​ 1.​ 7.4​6.7 ​6.6
Chewa ​7.2 ​​0.0 ​0.8​ 0.8 ​0.8 ​1.0​ 2.4​ 8.1 ​7.1
Lozi ​​5.6 ​​5.1​ 6.4​ 8.7​ 8.2 ​11.6​ 7.4 ​9.0​ 7.2
Nsenga ​5.5 ​​3.9 ​4.9​ 6.0​ 2.1​ 1.5​ 0.0​ 3.2​ 4.5
Tumbuka​ 4.2 ​​5.2​ 3.5 ​5.8​ 5.3​ 1.5​ 2.5 ​2.3​ 0.9
Ngoni ​​4.0 ​​5.0 ​1.6​ 0.8 ​0.0 ​0.0 ​0.0​ 6.3​ 2.7
Lala ​​3.2 ​​0.0​ 0.0 ​0.0 ​0.8 ​8.3​ 8.3 ​2.3 ​6.2
Kaonde ​3.0 ​​5.2​ 5.7 ​2.2​ 0.0​ 4.9 ​2.5 ​4.6 ​8.4
Namwanga ​2.7 ​​1.1​ 4.9​ 2.9 ​5.3​ 1.0​ 0.0​ 1.4 ​1.3
Lunda (N/W) ​2.5 ​​1.1 ​2.1 ​2.2​ 2.9 ​2.9 ​3.3 ​3.2​ 6.2
Ushi ​​2.4 ​​6.0 ​3.3​ 2.3 ​2.4 ​2.5​ 0.8 ​1.9 ​1.8
Mambwe​ 2.3​​ 6.0​ 4.9 ​0.0​ 0.8 ​2.9​ 3.3 ​2.3 ​2.2
Lamba ​2.2 ​​1.3 ​4.6​ 4.5 ​4.5 ​9.2​ 6.6 ​8.6 ​8.8
Luvale ​2.1 ​​0.0​ 0.8 ​0.8​ 1.6 ​1.0 ​0.8​ 6.7​ 3.6
Bisa ​​1.8 ​​3.9​ 1.3 ​2.2 ​4.9 ​1.5 ​1.7 ​1.9​ 0.0
Lenje ​​1.7​​ 6.0​ 6.6 ​2.3​ 2.9 ​9.7 ​10.0​ 8.8 ​9.6
Lunda ​​1.4 ​​7.8​ 8.2​ 8.8 ​6.2 ​8.7 ​6.6 ​5.3​ 5.3
Mbunda ​1.4 ​​1.1 ​1.3 ​1.4 ​0.0 ​0.0​ 0.0 ​2.3​ 1.3
Other ​​15.9 ​​21.1 ​20.7 ​23.6 ​17.3 ​13.5 ​18.2​ 12.5​ 11.1
Total ​​99.9 ​​100.0 ​100.0​ 100.0 ​100.0 ​100.0 ​100.0 ​100.0 ​100.0
Following the coming into office of President Levy Mwanawasa who headed a minority government having won the elections by a small margin in 2001, President Mwanawasa was also mindful of having an inclusive governance structure in Zambia to ensure the unity of the nation. As a result, President Mwanawasa sought to forge coalitions. President Mwanawasa chose to co-opt several prominent opposition MPs and appointed them as ministers or deputy ministers. This not only helped MMD to regain a workable parliamentary majority but was also meant to attain the demand for inclusivity and also create support in the opposition areas.
President Mwanawasa further used his appointment prerogatives to nominate individuals from opposition areas as ministers. This conciliatory attitude ensured that the Bantu Botatwe group, the Lozi group and the North-Western group were equitably represented in governance.
Nyanja speakers, by contrast, were initially almost entirely excluded, which gave rise to complaints about marginalisation. To rebuild support in the East, President Mwanawasa appointed Rupiah Banda, a Chewa, and subsequently made him Vice-President of the Republic.
The re-emergence of MMD as a ‘national’ party in 2006 facilitated the establishment of a more balanced government during President Mwanawasa’s second term. Altogether, the Mwanawasa governments on average retained a broadly national outlook.
However, the Bemba speaking group appeared to be aggrieved and accused Mwanawasa of establishing a “family tree”. The Mwanawasa administration was accused of nepotism as he appeared to appoint several persons to government positions from his Lenje and Lamba speaking people. This was resented by the Bemba speaking people who were organized under the Patriotic Front of Michael Sata.
President Mwanawasa died in office and was succeeded by President Rupiah Banda who also was president for a short time and did not change the perception of government as a government of the “family tree”. President Banda had no time to effect any noticeable changes in the governance of the country. Subsequently in the elections that were held in 2006, President Banda was defeated by President Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front party.
While Zambia’s peace and stability seems solidly entrenched, it should not be taken for granted. Signs of continuity notwithstanding, the Mwanawasa elite bargain came to exhibit a number of serious cracks, which were strikingly similar to those of the First Republic. On the one hand, the Mwanawasa administration witnessed a certain ‘re-tribalisation’ of political competition, evident in the strength of the PF in the Bemba-speaking North and the UPND in the Tonga-speaking South. On the other hand, the ruling party lost ground in the urban centres where Sata’s PF emerged as a serious contender.

The PF victory in the 2011 general elections unfortunately further polarised Zambia along both tribal and class lines. This underlines that the political culture of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ and the corresponding peace should not be taken for granted.

The fallout between President Mwanawasa/Banda administrations and Bemba language group became apparent during the 2006 elections when most of the Bemba-speaking voted for Michael Sata. President Sata did not live long and he died in office before effecting many changes in governance. He however started the process of inordinately appointing his tribesmen and women to several government positions.
President Sata was succeeded by President Edgah Lungu who continued with the programs of President Sata. President Lungu was accused by the UPND that he had been captured by the Bemba speaking group at the expense of creating an inclusive government that comprised all the other six language groups. For instance, he hard not a single cabinet minister from the Tonga language group as well as from the Lozi and North Western language groups where the UPND defeated the PF party.
The Patriotic Front government was accused of favouring the Bemba speaking group from Northern, Luapula and Muchinga provinces in appointments.
For sure, equal power sharing among the ethnic groups appeared to be compromised. The Defence and Security positions were held by the Bemba and Nyanja speaking peoples as were most of the positions in government, and the public sector. The advice of President Kaunda to insure that there was “tribal balancing” appeared to be ignored. This partly led to the fury of the opposition party the UPND who complained of the marginalization of the Bantu Botatwe group, the Lozi group and the people of North Western Province. In the elections that were held in 2021, the UPND managed to create a coalition that managed to defeat President Lungu and the Patriotic Front party with a promise to establish an inclusive government as advised by President Kaunda at the creation of the state of Zambia in 1964.
After almost three years in government, President Hichilema of the UPND has failed to follow the advice of the founding President Kaunda with respect to power sharing under the UPND administration. The defeated PF party and other political players such as the Socialist Party have accused President Hakainde Hichilema and the UPND Administration of repeating the mistakes of the defeated President Lungu administration in forming a government that is not inclusive. They have complained that the UPND cabinet is overly dominated by people from Bantu Botatwe group, Lozi group and North-Western group at the exclusion of other groups particularly the Bemba speaking group and the Nyanja group. Some observers contend that this state of affairs has compromised equity and inclusiveness of representation in Zambia’s governance structures. They have pointed to the following matters at issue:
i. Under President Kaunda, the three arms of government – executive, Judiciary and Legislature- were always headed by different persons coming from different language groups. In the current UPND administration, the heads come from the Bantu Botatwe and the Lozi groups only at the exclusion of the huge Bemba and Nyanja speaking groups. (See Table 3) The Executive and Judiciary are headed by members from the Tonga group while the Legislature is headed by one from the Lozi group. This is not being inclusive.
ii. Under President Kaunda, as a general rule, no single language group could provide heads to more than one arm of the defence and security wings. Under, the UPND administration, there are two heads from the Lozi language group and three heads from the North Western region and none from the other four language groups. This is not being inclusive.
iii. Under President Lungu PF administration, apart from one, all the heads of the defence and security came from one region. This was unfair as it did not conform to the spirit of inclusiveness in governance. Under President Hichilema’s UPND administration, all the five heads of defence and security come from only two language groups at the exclusion of the four other language groups. (See Table 5) This does not support the principle of inclusivity in governance.

iv. Under President Mwanawasa, the MMD attempted to form an inclusive government by appointing to cabinet members of the opposition from language groups where the MMD did not have representation. Under the UPND administration, this has been ignored and seemingly non prominent persons without political clout have been appointed to cabinet in marginal positions to represent regions where the UPND have no representation. A more inclusive approach should have included consultations with the losing political parties in parliament to determine consensual unity of purpose.

v. It was the hope of all progressives that the post of District Commissioner would be professionalized as was the case in the first Republic where the appointment was made by the Public Service Commission after competitive examination and interviews or at worst done away with as it was superfluous to good governance. Under the UPND administration, the President has continued in the UNIP, MMD and PF footsteps where the District Commissioners have been appointed by the President as his cadres in a costly and unnecessary partisan repeat that is intensely loathed by the public.

vi​The dismissal of some Boards of Directors of state enterprises, Ambassadors and so on without reasonable explanation and which appears to form a pattern for retribution, revenge, and unfairness and their replacement by UPND cadres is not good for the unity of our country as it is discriminatory and offends the principle of inclusiveness.

The prospect for equitable and inclusive power sharing by all ethnic or language groups in Zambia in the UPND administration will surely be analysed in due course as it is too early yet to analyse fairly and scientifically the UPND attitude on inclusive and equitable government given that the UPND administration is hardly a 100 days in office. However, the above are given as pointers to a troubling prospect in advancing a united “One Zambia One Nation” by the UPND administration.


It is evident that to disregard ethnic or language group considerations altogether in composing a government in a country of many different language groups would be folly. No country in the world does it that way. In Great Britain, the Prime Minister is more often than not a Scot—but even he has to pay some respect to ethnic considerations by offering a few top posts to Englishmen! And the Welsh may not be overlooked with impunity either.
The United States, being a less homogeneous nation than Britain, makes concessions to national groups even more openly. Party tickets have to contain the right proportion of Northerners and Southerners, and a sprinkling at least of representatives from minority national groups like the Irish. Cabinet posts are filled in the same manner. Zambia must also practice this ethnic or group balancing. To do so, is not so much tribalism as plain common sense.

While the motto of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ has undoubtedly left deep traces in Zambia’s political culture, such assessments are contradicted by the recent ‘re-tribalisation’ of political competition, (during the PF and now the UPND administrations) which is at least reminiscent of developments during the First Republic which caused the split in UNIP and the formation of the UPP by Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe. Linguistic and nationality cleavages clearly continue to matter for voter alignment and even more so for party affiliation. The enduring salience of tribal cleavages becomes also evident in contemporary political debates on social media and the recent proliferation of tribal associations and divisive traditional ceremonies.
As a rule, many observers would argue that ordinarily, ethnic or tribal affiliations should play no part in filling civil‐service posts in Zambia. The only workable basis of selection to positions in the civil service should be individual merit. This is the ideal position. However, in reality, this cannot be so. This ideal can only be achieved, under two conditions: The Republican President as the appointing authority must enjoy the confidence of all other ethnic groups as to his impartiality of judgment, and the terms of competition must be fair. In Zambia, the first point has so far not been met as the appointing authority have successively chosen to be partisan in their making appointments to the public service.
As to the second condition, the public service has since 1973 when the one party state was formed in Zambia, been politicised to the extent that it is considered partisan and all subsequent Republican Presidents have failed to create an independent and professional civil service. And so, Zambia is confronted by adopting other methods that guarantee equity and inclusiveness in governance to advance the unity of the country.
The long‐term solution, obviously, is to speed up the rate of educational advance in Zambia and adopt competitive civil service examinations as was the case during the First Republic. But until candidates for jobs at all levels can compete on an equal basis throughout the country, the Public Service Commission will forever be a moribund institution.
As a concluding remark, it is safe to say that Zambia’s enduring peace and stability goes back to the persistence of inclusive elite bargains, which manifested themselves in high degrees of political, economic and military power sharing between competing linguistic and national groups. Thanks to the enduring work of President Kaunda and his colleagues. This helped to accommodate the colonial legacy of high social fragmentation in so called “tribes”, prevented the emergence of cohesive group grievances and thereby laid the foundations for Zambia’s lasting peace.

Instability has also been avoided in the past under the MMD administration by adopting inclusive policies in governance. There were also in the country the presence of credible political leaders as mediators ‘above tribe’ such as the late President Kaunda and Harry Mwanga Nkumbula who signed the Choma declaration to prevent civil strife in the country.
In Zambia, political leaders—irrespective of their different language or “tribal” origins—are anxious that the country should remain united and the battle against the excesses of tribalism must be advanced by all Zambians to defeat tribalism. But anxiety alone to preserve a united country is not enough. Zambia’s leaders must work sincerely and realistically for the unity of its people, because if they do not themselves practice what they preach, the people will be divided and national development and unity will be compromised.; Mobile: 0976030398


  1. This is a very informative article and tribal zealots must read it carefully. People with no brains use the tribal card to win favours or give the same. Merit is what will lead to development not ancestral heritage

  2. I’ve decided to rebutt your article in view of some glaring omissions and falsehoods you’ve presented to support your conclusion.
    It’s clear that your intention is to malign President HH and the UPND government, but just to correct some of your wild assertions;
    a) The President has nominated 4 of 8 MPs from the Northern region,
    b) Seven ministries out of 25 are similarly given to northerners,
    c) The vast majority of these 7 ministries are running the country’s economy and have in turn appointed colleagues/ northerners to key parastatal positions,
    d) The recalling of diplomats was intended to correct the PF blatant regionalism which excluded known Zambians,
    e) ZAF is headed by an easterner.
    In short, it would be myopic and insane to equate the misdeeds of ECL with the new dawn government

    • Chitala’s knowledge of some of the things and persons he’s writing about is quite limited. In a few cases he has dressed up his guesswork as a fact. He has omitted completely the language factor in nation-building and attempts made by the UNIP government and the challenges it faced. Quite understandable since Chitala is not a linguistic, an anthropologist, a sociologist or political scientist. He has made no attempt to speak to those better informed than he is on the Zambian case. There are a few cases where some of the people he has written about are still alive.

  3. statistics are are wrong ! Bembas are not the majority in Zambia beans! Bembad are mainly found in Kalama and chinsali. You were right to say bembas were part of the more 40 that use the same lingua . The usage of beans, makes other people believe that be bad are the majority in Zambia, while not

  4. KK’s UNIP united Zambia. Zambia was even more united in ushering in MMD. Everything was turned on its head when Late FTJ misled by ba kandile went for the selfish and ill-fated 3rd term. Certain groups felt left out. History has shown that leaders that have refused to retire wreck their parties. Chiluba wrecked both his MMD party and national unity. If national unity is to be materialised, it will be by the ordinary people not politicians. Zambian politicians have lost trust and respect. They are now viewed as liers and sadly as thieves. Again late FTJ’s philosophy that politics is about numbers not principles and people. This allowed all manner of crooks and criminals in the political space. Good decent and principled men left politics

  5. Dr. Mbita Chitala has conveniently or truly forgotten that at one time in the 1970s all the commanders of the wings of the defence forces were Nyanja speaking people. This prompted Mr. Daniel Munkombwe (MHSRIEP) to raise the issue in Parliament. Those in doubt can check The hansard at Parliament or newspapers at the National Archives. I guess KK realised his mistake unlike the President’s that came after him.

  6. This article is far from the truth. That is the problem with historical literature written by Zambians, they are always not accurate. Foreigners even product better literature on Zambian history.
    1. Before the colonists came we had tribe wars. That is how King Lewanika claimed to have a large area up (today) copperbelt. Tribal identify has been there even before colonialism for example, people from Barotseland called others who are not from their area as manyokunyoku or mazwahule. These are not colonists’ terms.
    2. Barotseland has never been part of Northern Rhodesia, hence the signing of the agreement called Barotseland Agreement between Northern Rhodesia and Barotseland to form one Nation called Zambia.
    There are a lot of lies in this article but I chose to share only two.

  7. Point of correction – Lt Gen. Peter D. Zuze should have been a North Westerner and not Nyanja as indicated in the article. Also Lt Gen. Isaac Chisuzi was not Tonga but probably from Eastern or some other province. Then Gen. K. Chinkuli and late Lt Gen. R Shikapwasha are Tongas within the bantu botatwe group and both of them are from Central Province. If I am mistaken, we have had no Army, ZAF or ZNS Commander from Southern Province in a 59-year period. Although KK tried his best to balance tribes, tribalism is a chronic disease in Zambia. These are some of the things which HH is working hard to correct, he may not 100% manage during his one or two terms but he is making the first step of a long journey and he should be supported. However, I stand to be corrected if I am wrong.


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