The Reasons Zambia faces tribalism today might be deeper than we can possibly imagine. One Zambia, One Nation might just be a pun thrown around without a meaning behind it. Zambia, a land that is indigenous to 72 different ethnic sets of people preferably called ‘Tribes’ might be on a verge to the uttermost destruction. But before all hope is lost, let us go back to our roots when Zambia (at that time Northern Rhodesia) was in it’s infancy. In order for us to study this matter, let me turn back the hands of Time and re introduce you to ‘Cecil Rhodes’ the man who conquered Africa.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to the students at the University of Cape Town whose #RhodesMustFall campaign has forced us to reengage and debate, in a new and invigorated manner, the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes. Because of their brave and spirited campaign, a lot more people now know a little more about Rhodes than they did before. That in itself is quite an achievement
Perhaps we can gain some insight into Rhodes’ alleged entrepreneurial abilities by studying the actions of his British South Africa Company (BSAC) in present day Zambia starting about 1890. The BSAC was put together by Rhodes to facilitate his acquisition of mining rights across Southern Africa. It also “administered” the territories of Northern Rhodesia andSouthern Rhodesia for close to 30 years from around the 1890s to the 1920s. (This is akin to, say, Royal Dutch Shell running a country today!). David Posner, in his highly insightful book on ethnicity in Zambia, Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa, describes the activities of the BSAC thus (emphasis mine):
“The BSAC took over the administration of the territory that later became Zambia in 1894. The company sought to administer the territory with two goals in mind: First, it sought to extract labour from the local population to sustain its mining efforts and satisfy the demands of its white settler population for African workers. Second, it sought to minimize costs. Taxation was embraced from the beginning as the key vehicle for achieving both of these goals. It not only generated revenue but, because taxes were payable in cash only, it induced large numbers of African men to take up wage employment for Europeans…[T]axation quickly became the heart and soul of Company government in Northern Rhodesia.” (p26 – 27).
In administering the tax, the company faced manpower constraints and therefore devised a system whereby indigenous chiefs would be the local tax collecting “agents” of the BSAC. In exchange, the chief’s position as local leader would be guaranteed in addition to receiving a commission for collecting taxes. To ensure that this system worked efficiently, “the BSAC implemented a series of administrative actions to bolster the authority of existing chiefs and to create new chiefs where they did not exist but would be administratively helpful. [These administrative actions] gave the company the power to appoint and dismiss chiefs as it saw fit and provided for the fining and imprisonment of subjects who failed to carry out their chief’s orders.” (p.28 – 29)
Posner then talks about the profound long-term impacts that these policies had on the structure of Zambian society:
“The decision to use chiefs as agents of rural tax collection, and the policies employed to solve the various problems that arose as a consequence of this decision, had important implications for the structure of [Zambian] society and for the nature of post-colonial identities. These policies transformed chiefs from embodiments of customary authority into agents of European administration, and tribes from communities with fluid boundaries and varying degrees of internal cohesion into entities that, while not entirely fixed or uniform, were far more territory bound and standardized in their social and political organization than in the past”. (p30).
In other words, the selfish actions of the BSAC had the impact of driving a wedge between chiefs and their subjects as well as making ethnicity a salient feature of Zambian society. The worrying levels of ethnic mistrust otherwise known as Tribalism in contemporary Zambia might be attributable in part to the actions of Rhodes’ BSAC in these early days.