Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ukufita kwati nindoshi - Questioning our Independence

“Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves
We tired of beating our heads against the wall
And working for someone else.”
― James Brown (“Say it loud” song lyrics)

I know for most the title of this article, “Ukufita kwati nindoshi[1] (you are as dark as a witch or wizard)”, evokes sentiments of self-hate because they are of a darker hue than others. There are children, teens, and even adults that are still subjected to expressions like these. The end effect is often loss of self-esteem. This, mostly among females and to a lesser extent among males, leads to persistent use of complexion lightening substances. Does being of a lighter complexion mean one is superior or even more beautiful? I leave the answer to you.

Me, I sing James Brown’s song. “Say it loud, am black and proud”. But the question in my mind lately is – am I black and proud? No, because this article is not about complexions. Though, truthfully it is not much different from the question of complexions.

It is about the indoshi (witch or wizard), not ukufita (being dark). You see, we usually consider indoshi to be divisive, confused and dreadful. Indoshi is a delusional answer to one’s misfortunes or tribulations.

Indoshi still abounds in the motherland I call Zambia. Well, it is called Zambia as off October 24, 1964. Before that, it depends on which side of the historic pendulum you are sitting on.

October 24, 1964 is the day our demand to have a chance to do things for ourselves was realized. We danced, we laughed, we hugged. Hooray, independence at last. I was just over a year old, so I really did not dance, laugh, nor hug anyone. Or perhaps, mum and dad hugged me, and danced with me. Well, if they did, I am sure I did not understand what the hullaballoo was all about.

Looking back over the near 50 years of independence, I really wonder exactly what freedom from control or influence of others we attained. The influence of the British colonialists? The fear of the influence of the village headpersons? No pun intended. I mean traditional influence.

Or was it both? Unfortunately, it was only the fear of the influence of the village headpersons, we seem to have got freedom from. And here in, lies the lesson of today’s obtaining political and socio-economic decline. The village was as dark as a witch or wizard. The colonialists were not.

Hence, the British colonialists really never left. I am not going to go into imperialist or neo-imperialist theories to justify this. That is, a discourse for Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Donald Chanda, Derrick Chitala (sorry Mbita), Azwell Banda, Owen Sichone, Tyoanse Kabwe or Neo Simutanyi. These fellows can write a Bible on this issue.

In any case, that I am communicating to you in the language of the colonialists, and in addition, that you and I were imprisoned in the four walls of a classroom for years learning how to do things the colonialist’s way, is evidence enough. Surely, one does not need neo-imperialist theories to understand this. Our governance and political systems are all colonial anyway. Sic.

You see in our deluded sense of independence, our traditional governance values and systems were perceived to be as dark as a witch or wizard. The colonialist’s values and systems were of a superior complexion. So instead of embarking on a process to shed off the colonial influence, we simply dreamt up phrases to explain how we will govern ourselves. Zambianisation, humanism, or and later, new culture, new deal, et cetera. 

Yes, we still maintained the undergarments of the colonialist’s governance and economic systems. There still was the colonizer and the colonized, now typified as the urban elite and the rural poor. Being products of the colonialist’s education imprisonment, the urban elites inherently walked in as the new colonialists (rulers), to the continued disadvantage of the rural folk.

Till today, even when this is conceived through the dog-eared claim that we are a democratic State, you will realize that the rural folk are still mostly not represented by themselves in our current political and economic governance. There is always some urban elite that travels back to his or her hamlet during election periods. He or she stands on some desolate anthill and gives a sermon of “being a good son or daughter of the soil that will represent their interests”. When, in fact, the sermon on the anthill is simply a sermon seeking servitude from them.

Clearly, we have continued to think of the rural folk and their traditional systems as indoshi. So we cannot trust them to represent themselves. They are inferior, after all. But are they?

No they are not. The fear of the influence of the village headpersons (sorry traditional influence) is deliberate. It evolves out of recognition by urban political elites that most traditional governance structures are more representative. They have evolved over long periods of time through various forms of conflict resolution strategies and recognition of preserving harmony among similar peoples. Integration of these systems into our current governance structures will only serve to undermine the urban elites - the new colonialists.

Abracadabra! We are independent! All Zambians are now equally represented! All Zambians will prosper equally!

It was all a colonial delusion. New colonialists, in the same undergarments, popped out. Just take a look at how our governance system is organized. You have a political tier (where the president and ministers sit) – the managers or executive as we call it. These are aided by an administrative organ (where the permanent secretary and his/her administrative staff sit). Then we have two other tiers. The legislature (where the people we throw pieces of paper called ballots sit), and the judiciary (where the men and women in cloaks sit, dispensing justice). Not much different from a little Britain.

Now do the same for traditional authorities like the Barotseland case. You have the Namuso, the first tier of government which has the Litunga as the Head of State; and, the Ngambela (Prime Minister) as the political, administrative and judicial head of the Barotseland.  Then, there is the Lwambi, the second tier of government, regional government of the southern part of Barotseland. This is headed by the Litunga-La-Mboela (Litunga of the South), with the Sambi as the political, administrative and judicial head of the southern region. At Namuso and Lwambi there are Indunas (Ministers). The next tier after this, are chiefdoms (these have Lilalos (number of villages), county administrative areas, and an Induna). Note that each level of government has a Kuta. The functions of the Kuta are political, administrative and judicial. Also not much different from a little Britain, isn’t it?

Hence, there surely is nothing ukufita kwati nindoshi, about this traditional governance system. If anything, it is much devolved when compared to how we are governing ourselves.

I know the major criticism that often comes is that, in these systems there are no elections! Well, democracy is not always about elections as conceived through someone throwing a piece of paper in a box. And if, traditional governance systems are a serious indoshi, they surely can be tweaked (fine-tuned). After all, in our current governance system, there is no devolution. I don’t have a micro-government I can really interact with within my residential space, unlike my grandmother in the village.

Inarguably, there is local government in the traditional governance systems, as exemplified herein. Local government is simply a form of self-authority, self-governance.

But can we, after nearly fifty years of independence, say we all have equal opportunities to influence the policies and operations of the government, if local government is a far cry from our traditional governance systems? Or is independence just a word?

So how it be, that we still consider our fear of traditional influence as dark as a witch or wizard? Why did we think freedom from control or influence of the village headpersons is independence?

In retrospect, given the way we have misgoverned ourselves since independence, there is now a serious case for changing our mindset. The village headpersons are not ukufita kwati nindoshi. We did not have to seek independence from our traditional governance systems. We needed to learn, and integrate. It is the other colonialist we needed to seek independence from. Not simply admiring his/her undergarments and then excitedly rushing into wearing them as our own. This simply made us, the urban elite, no different from the British colonizers.

We need to cease being colonizers of our own people. As continuing doing so, makes the claim for independence worthless. For, without adequate representation or indeed independence, the people will continue being impoverished.

You see, the problem is, the politician, you and I, are still trying to understand and cleanse the indoshi. But there really is no indoshi in our traditional systems.  The indoshi is in us, the urban elites.

Ora pro nobis.

End script: Comments on errors of fact are most welcome.

[1] Ichibemba expression meaning, “you are as dark as a witch or wizard”.