Just a few months ago, my fellow New Yorker, Donald Trump, made a series of public outcries that our President Obama might not be a “real” American, and accused him of foreign origin. It was a few weeks of utter silliness, until the White House finally put the issue to rest by releasing a copy of his birth certificate.
Now the Zambian opposition is doing much the same — accusing Rupiah Banda of “foreign” parentage, and hoping the high court will render him ineligible for the next election. It would be cute to say that the Zambians were taking a play out of the Trump book, but this one has a Zambian precedent that pre-dates the Donald, when much the same was done to President Kaunda, the founding president of that country!
The current debacle involves accusations that Banda’s father was Malawian. The not-so-amusing part of all this is that 50 years ago, these states did not exist, and Africans decried the arbitrary colonial boundaries that divided ethnic and cultural groups. (My colleague, Dan Posner has a nice article about the implications of this division in Malawi and Zambia, and a larger argument about African boundaries can be found in Jeff Herbst’s book.)
While patriotism can be a positive force for state-building, these types of cheap political maneuvers, which needlessly distract voters from substantive issues, are as big a waste of time for Zambians as they are for Americans.