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Opinion / Columnist

Tribalism undercurrents bubbling under the surface

11 Aug 2017 at 10:08hrs | Views
IF there is anything terribly ominous and disturbing about President Robert Mugabe's current succession power struggle tearing Zanu-PF asunder, it is not just the involvement of the military, but also tribalism undercurrents bubbling under the surface.

The problem has always been there in local politics and in Zanu-PF internal dynamics, but it is now threatening to erupt as the party's leaders and power brokers retreat to their tribal and regional laagers, despite strategic and expedient cross-ethnic alliances, to secure power.

Actually, tribalism has been there since time immemorial. Colonialism made a bad situation worse as settler regimes sought to ethically divide and manipulate people to rule them. But the divide-and-rule strategy was also sadly adopted by nationalists and independent Zimbabwe rulers to gain power.

Mugabe has late been grumbling about this problem at the Zanu-PF Youth League interface rallies around the country. He first spoke about it in Marondera in June and then mentioned it in Chinhoyi last week. It is clearly bothering him, although he is also one of the architects of ethnic state formation and tribal politics in post-independent Zimbabwe.

In fact, building an ethnic state architecture and allowing tribal politics to be one of his methods of securing, maintaining and retaining power — controlling the power matrix through identity politics - is one of Mugabe's biggest failures.

However, Mugabe is now playing victim to manage the situation. He is protesting some people are saying it is now time for Karangas to take over from Zezurus, his own ethnic group. Indeed, there is such an undercurrent in Zanu-PF.

There is also the "Zezuru unconquerable" spirit, which is equally unhelpful. Add to that deep feelings of marginalisation in regions like Matabeleland and Manicaland; you have an ethnic political powder-keg. The party is now a cauldron of ethnic politics.

The problem is Mugabe and Zanu-PF are not discussing the issue openly and honestly. Admittedly, it is an unsavoury subject; it smacks of primitive and village politics, yet it's a harsh reality not just in Zanu-PF, but also in other political parties.

It is a cancer in our national life in general. Since it is a threat to nation-building and cohesion, it needs to be confronted and rooted out. Keeping quiet or ignoring the problem, hoping it will just disappear, is delusional. Constructive debate and nuanced engagement, not irresponsible polemics, are important to find a way forward.

Previously, opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti spoke about the need for "de-Zezurunisation" of the state — which was rather reckless — but that manifested their inner feelings.

That is not how the issue must be engaged; there are more civilised ways of dealing with it without demonising each other and driving the country down the dangerous path of Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria, among many other African countries ravaged by ethnic contradictions and strife.

In this region, there are ethnic tensions and rivalries everywhere, some rooted in ancient history. It is a fight for power and resources, worsened by colonial borders — the lines of longitude and latitude drawn without due regard to history, language and culture.

Colonial state-formation left Africa's fundamental social reality disfigured and the continent sitting on a geo-ethnic volcano.

Currently, virtually every African conflict has some ethno-regional dimension to it. After independence some African leaders — from Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda to Mugabe — denounced tribalism as divisive, some with forked tongues of course, and sought to enforce a mythical homogeneity amid diversity.

Some banned regional parties, yet others co-opted ethnic groups through opportunistic distribution of posts, jobs and development projects — patronage.

That is Mugabe's formula — cronyism-driven co-option rather than a strategic approach and viable meritocracy-based model.

Zanu-PF needs to resolve the succession issue in the national interest and common good, not in the interest of tribes and regions.

Tribalism is just wicked and unsustainable. It must stop.

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