Left Unchecked, Tribalism Will Consume Zambia

The importance of human relationships is a cardinal virtue in the African tradition.  When you compare life in the Western world and in African tradition, it does not take long to see that, in Africa, relationships between people are much more important to happiness in life than education, wealth, time, programs, or material things.  Joy and contentment in the absence of material abundance is the greatest Christian virtue that African Christians teach Christians in the Western world.  Although poverty can be dehumanizing, it would be a mistake to exchange our material poverty for the relational poverty that is often a byproduct of pursuing material wealth.  Notwithstanding, it would be regrettable for us to be content with economic poverty when we have the opportunity to come out of poverty through, hard work, education, and by setting personal goals.

Despite having some of the best community values of all African cultures, as Zambian Christians we must not bury our heads in the sand.  There are aspects of every culture which must be rejected because they are not consistent with biblical teaching.  For example, if we show favoritism and give preferential treatment to those who belong to our tribe, regardless of their credentials, character, and track record, then we dishonor God, who does “not show favoritism”.  Tribal patriotism which prevents us from exercising fairness is an offense to God.  The Rwandan genocide provides a tragic but vivid example of what can happen when our cultural values reign unchallenged.  Christians must reject any cultural value which expresses itself in the marginalization or oppression of people made in the image of God.

Tribalism has created and perpetuated many of Africa’s contemporary problems.  We tolerate corruption, political oppression, and discrimination to protect our own.  We campaign for public office on tribal platforms.  Sadly, even selection to church office is campaigned for on tribal grounds and not based on spiritual maturity or preparedness. So when the results of tribal evils manifest in our midst we often fail to speak against them, because to do so would be to speak against what we would have done if we were found in the same position.

The biblical story of Jonah is often told as cautionary tale of what will happen to us if we are disobedient to God’s call.  In fact, the story of Jonah is a story about how the sin of “tribalism” is an offense to God and a hindrance to His purposes.  Jonah was an Israelite.  When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and call them to repentance, Jonah refused.  Jonah ran the other way, not primarily out of disobedience to God, but because he was an Israelite and Israelites hated Ninevites.  Jonah’s “tribalism” ran so deep that when he finally went to Ninevah and witnessed God’s compassion toward them, he asked God to take his life!  Who is teaching our people to show love and compassion, even to our enemies?

We have people in our nation who feel short changed and are angry to the point of near eruption.  Their pain is turning to hate because they feel they have been treated unjustly.  Who will help them search for justice, that their hurt does not breed violence? In every classroom and every building where church is being held, it is the duty of every preacher to declare that God views all people as equal, and he favors everyone who calls upon His name – the poor, the powerless, the Tonga, the Lozi, or the Lamba.

The church must address the challenge of tribalism.  As we teach our children about the value of human relationships and the importance of setting personal goals, we must not allow our tribal allegiance to contend with our allegiance for God.  Pray for peace and unity of Zambia.

Lawrence Temfwe