Democracy of ethnicity: Recipe for disaster


By Patrick Achitabwino:


The 2019 elections have repeated a political trend that is a recipe for disaster. We may wish to bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich but, if the trend remains uncontrolled and is allowed to dominate our political landscape, we are not far from degenerating into practising politics of ethnic extraction.

The worst part is that, as long as our politics ends up being crafted in the language and philosophy of ethic extraction, ideas for development of the country will mean nothing; our blind loyalty will be on the basis of blood configuration. When we reach that moment, reversing the trend may be at the cost of our liberties and would further erode any democratic gains we have made.


It is evident on the ground that the Lhomwes, Yaos and Senas have fortified the Southern Region and have formed an impenetrable regional block. It is no different in the Central Region, when the Chewas have made their home and home alone and are ready to defend it at all cost.

The North can be forgiven as it has no choice but to swing on the pendulum of allegiance either to the South or the Central regions. Not that it does not have the craving instinct to establish its own solid block, but because it does not have the numbers to fight for its cause on its own. The North, therefore, has to align to who happens to be a common, friend to its ideology at that point in time.

The formation of these political blocks that are signatured on the papers of ethnic extraction is a deterrent to progress; is counter-productive to national development and national unity and puts the nation in a precarious situation where any person gets judged on the basis of one’s tribe or region than on one’s conduct or character.


In this regard, even when you rise in any position, it will be perceived as if some nepotistic elements have played a role. People will no longer be looking at your capability; they will be looking at your tribe or region and align that to those in power either in government, ministry, department of corporate entity you are in.

This blockolisation of the political landscape in the country, if left unchecked, will create a future that will breed hatred as the people advancing such ideologies, though on national platforms they may be despising ethnic elements, in their unguarded private moments, they are proponents of tribal and regional divisions.

When we put on the tinted lens of ethnic distraction, we lose focus on national matters; we concentrate on looking at resources as a battle for our tribe or region, we become deaf to any word of wisdom that does not seem to make our ‘people’ beneficiaries of a project.

It is imperative to note that, when an economy collapses, it does not only collapse on one ethnic group. When medical supplies are low in a country, it is not just people of one ethic group that suffer. When the roads are bad, it is not only the vehicles of one ethnic group that feel the pinch.

When we struggle, we struggle together. It is in that regard, therefore, that our policies look at national development in totality. We risk swaying away from that if we continue cutting our country into regional pieces bordering on ethnic values and beliefs.

Blood is thicker than water, that we have to understand. When one ethic group feels threatened, it retreats back to its base and reinforces itself with its ethnic clan to defend itself even for a wrong cause.

We do not have to reach that level. It is high time we started practising politics of ideas where our affiliations to political parties is based on our assessments of the promises they make and the possibility of delivering on such promises. It is never too late to embark on the long journey of politics of ideas. It is possible if only we start looking at things beyond the boundaries of ethnic lines.

Our democracy is on the verge of collapse. Delivering the David Anderson Address in Gambia under the title ‘Africa in Transition: The Challenge of Pluralism, Democracy, Governance and Development’, Professor Adebayo Adedeji gave democracy a meaning that we need to embody. Professor Adedeji said: “Democracy is more than the ballot boxes, the political parties and all the institutional trappings. It is a way of life, a culture and a lifestyle at all levels of society and in all spheres of human endeavour.”

Prof. Adedeji further gave a piece of advice that we Malawians must give a listening ear to. His words resonate: “To build a truly democratic society and culture, we must plant the seeds of democracy, enable them to germinate through proper nourishment and by watering the soil regularly and, when the plant begins to emerge and grow, by carefully and tenderly nursing them until they become strong and indestructible.”

We need to plant the seeds of the democracy of ideas and not the democracy of ethnicity. Having reached a quarter of a century in a democratic dispensation, we can hardly afford to lose the liberties we attained through democracy by hanging our political democratisation on the cross of ethnic extraction.

We are Malawians first, the ethnic elements come later. If anything, our ethnic differences have to be elements that unite us than divide us. We should be cherishing the ethnic diversity, capitalising on its strengths and move forward in building a better Malawi we want.

We are not beyond redemption in saving our democracy from ethnic and regional lines. It is possible. It can happen and, indeed, it has to happen. As we are taking out the scales of democracy of ethnicity out of our eyes, we can always be encouraged by the words statesman Winston Churchill.

Churchill said and this must always be our anthem: “Sure I am that this day we are masters of our own fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond my endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.”

We will overcome; we will root out the democratic system that has the flesh and blood of ethnicity, for if that is not done, we are doomed and will surely be drifting, blindly, into the quagmire of anarchy and failure.

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