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Ravages of Tribalism


By Salika Rashid


Tribalism, which is an antithesis to nationalism, is consciousness or loyalty of people towards its tribe. It can be differentiated from nationalism, as it focuses on the bigger picture of the nation. The pattern and behaviour of an individual are often contoured by the tribe; it is according to its dictums the person constructs his/her identity, and the retention of this identity within the larger the group is tribalistic. What is palpable is the debate that how tribalism is detrimental for the democratic States. Not to deny the fact that tribalism becomes the cause of chasms within the nation or country but the advantage in "cultural enrichment pattern" can't be ignored. Even though tribalism has persisted in various continents but its grip in Africa has remained intense.


According to many critics, the root cause of tribalism was designed by the colonial masters who governed through divide and rule policy thus the discord and disunity became their legacy. It is still penetrating intensely, hollowing the entire political, social and economic system of Africa. The inter and intra-rift has dwindled the progress and development in the African subcontinent. Furthermore, people have engrained this so profoundly that the tribal names are enquired before the greeting. The conscious treatment with "the other" gives rise to the prejudicial and stereotypical mind-set. This acts as an impediment in comprehending the other as human and ultimately wounds the very cause of humanity, compassion and tolerance.


What David Mitchell described tribalism holds true in this context. He asserted, "In a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only "rights," the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful”. These lines clearly enunciate the web of unscrupulous and heinous development concocted by the shades of tribalism. The political leaders of their respective states have used it as an apparatus to mould and serve their interests. Despite the fact, the maximum number of African countries have gained emancipation from their colonial masters yet they had been following the same line of their colonial masters, that is, the policy of 'divide and rule'.


These leaders belabour, harangue and utter dangerous language against their antagonists; in this way, by slurring and hate speech they gain in elections. This moreover germinated various fallouts in the African societies which include polarization, marginalization and corruption. Not only this but nepotism, disunity, separation and the rift within the people have emerged as a key crisis in the continent.

David Lamb wrote in his book, "The Africans," that tribalism "remains perhaps the most potent force in day-to-day African life" and that it is one of "the most difficult African concepts to grasp" for the outsider. The concept of a tribe which was meant to bring stability and meaning in the of people got twisted in a crooked manner. The "us" and "them" debate began to unravel the hidden nuances of polarization. And the psychology behind this fashions the world view of the people.


Case study

Kenya was free from tribal clashes and confrontations but after the arrival of the colonist, the differences began to magnify. The settlers began to instigate the skirmishes in the society; giving space for stereotypes to perpetuate and ultimately constructed deep chasms in the lives of the people.

For example, the Kikuyu were given the impression that the fish-eating Luo’s were lazy, uncircumcised and unreliable while the Luhya’s were made to view the GEMA (Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people)communities as schemers, liars, untrustworthy, arrogant and so forth. Even 2007/2008 ethnic clashes disrupted the society again where properties were damaged, human lives were lost and many were expelled.


The mania with tribal identities has thwarted the road to democracy in the actual sense. According to many critics, Nigerian tribalism is another form of racism. Hausa community is stereotyped as lazy people, Igbos as thieves and Kamba a practising witchcrafts. Merit, skills, competition has no place on the continent rather favouritism, power and tribal affiliation have prominently invaded the region.


Burundi, another African country witnessed turmoil and political chaos when its President announced the third term in 2015. The protest was followed by mockery from different communities.

Albeit western education was inculcated in the region but the outcomes were not far-reaching. Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe etc. all are gripped under the menace of tribalism. Poor governance and lack of proper management of resources are the main reasons for the collapse of society.


Way forward?

The way required for tackling the increasing threat of tribalism is by embracing diversity. Moreover, in order to dwindle its effect, it is imperative to rectify the causes leading to havoc in society. The common interests and mutual ideas are needed to bring people together again. Hatred and animosity should be replaced by cultural exchange, common goals. Government policies along with strategies of think tank can facilitate in mitigating the increasing risk of tribalism.

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Ramon Miles
Ramon Miles
Nov 14, 2022

Tribal system still exists in the old areas like Africa, even some parts of America too. The tribal people take care of each other & they don't allow outsiders in their regions. I learned all this during my search to KnowledgeCity for taking online courses on different cultures around the world.

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