Tribalism Exploding

Tribalism Exploding

VicFallsTrblFor the moment, there is no part of Victoria Falls comfortable for tourists. The Zimbabwean side of Africa’s greatest tourist attraction is ready to explode as President Mugabe’s health fails. Livingstone on the Zambian side Tuesday was filled with the smoke of burning tires and tear gas.

Britain issued new travel advice for Zambia this morning, but it was hardly severe urging its citizens simply to stay abreast of current news. The U.S. currently has travel warnings issued for 39 countries and “Europe as a Whole” but nothing this morning for Zambia.

Tour operators in Livingstone assured me by phone that the situation was calm and that police were in control. The airport is open normally. The streets, however, are mostly vacant as both citizens and tourists remain hunkered down.

So what’s going on? The Zimbabwean situation has been ongoing for several decades and is coming to a head the closer 92-year old dictator, Robert Mugabe, is to death.

Zambia, on the other hand, just concluded a very close national election that is being disputed and it’s tearing the country apart: North from South in more or less tribal divisions.

Livingstone, Zambia – the northern third of Victoria Falls – was at least until today the refuge for tourists wanting to visit Africa’s greatest natural wonder but were leery of the situation in Zimbabwe. Livingstone’s development over the last 20 years has been phenomenal. Today nearly 4 out of 5 foreign visitors stay on the less spectacular Zambian side to avoid the Zimbabwean uncertainties.

I think the current Zambian disturbances will be short-lived. Both the European Union and the Jimmy Carter foundation have certified the election as free and fair, and both have congratulated the winner, Edward Lugu.

There are two problems – as with so many democratic contests today worldwide. The first is that the results were so close. Lugu won by only 50.3% of the vote. The second is that issues and policy didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was your tribe.

More or less there are no “dominant” tribes in Africa whose numbers are considerably greater than any other similarly sized tribe. So it’s clear. The closeness in democratic elections in Africa is because tribes are so similarly numbered.

What’s been so exciting over the years, however, was to watch the youth of Africa try to shake this off. It takes only a little bit of education to recognize that you’re not always right. Once that’s understood, then the need for differing opinions and healthy debate is considered critical.

The problem is that tribes preceded – may have foreshadowed – modern politics. Modern politics cleaves the world between the haves and the have-nots, and tribes naturally just fell wholly into one or the other.

On the broad ideological opposites – capitalism/socialism, liberty/loyalty, conservative/progressive, globalization/anti-trade … tribes embrace one or the other decisively. That wouldn’t make sense if issues and differing opinions were believed fundamental.

Yet in Kenya’s “Great Political Divide” the two head-butting dominant tribes are clearly divided this way. The Luo led by opposition leader Odinga Odinga are socialist, single-party advocates of progressive economics and very anti-globalization. The Kikuyu in power, lead by President Uhuru Kenyatta, are capitalist espousers of human rights, champions of globalization and advocating a less progressive tax policy that favors the rich.

And so it goes, right down the line of African countries, right down to Zambia. The global economy oppresses Africa. They have no choice but to be capitalistic. So those in power are champions of capitalism.

But statistically Africa continues to sink below the rest of the developed world. You know: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So those not in power are champions of socialism, and that’s the split today in Zambia. The richer south embraces the status quo. The poorer north throws the molotovs.

We’re all tribal. Catholic Irish and Protestant Irish. Germans and Greeks. Belgian French and Belgian Flemish.

The richer urban and priviliged areas of America support Hillary. The poorer less privileged of rural America support Trump. Issues don’t matter. Facts don’t matter. Truth doesn’t matter. Tribes do.