The recent events in Kenya have prompted attempts to analyse and postulate whether the same thing could happen in
‘Tribalism’ is derived from ‘tribe.’ What, however, is a ‘tribe’? I raise this question because what most people call tribes are strictly not tribes. They may be ethnic groups or nationalities, depending on one's ideological disposition. In the case of the dialogue which has been occasioned by the events in
French tribu and English 'tribe’ originate from Latin tribus or the Greek equivalent phule. All these are linguistic terms designating Indo-European institutions of antiquity. They designate particular kinds of social and political organisation which existed in these societies at the time.
According to Henry Morgan, the great 19th century anthropologist, a tribe "illustrates humanity's condition in barbarian state." That is to say humanity is no longer at the primitive and savage, but not yet civilised, not yet a political state.
Notwithstanding the common usage of the word "tribe," tribes almost don't exist anywhere in the world today. To use the term, is a daunting misnomer. Beyond this it shows the limited knowledge of whoever is using the concept for the purpose of analysis.
Concepts like tribe are supposed not just to represent phenomena, but also help us understand. They are tools of analysis. Whenever we are using the wrong concept, there is a disconnect between our view and the reality we are trying to handle. It is like using the wrong tool: you cannot, for instance, go to observe the stars with a microscope; you need a telescope.
It is in this regard that I find the concept 'Identity' more appropriate. Social identity has been defined as "...that part of an individual's self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to the membership."
We should hasten to point out that at a definite time one or some of these memberships are more salient than others. When Daily Monitor columnist, Dr Munini Mulera is talking about tribe, he actually means identity.
Listen to him: "I praise tribalism as a positive force for self-affirmation and self identity; for cultural celebration and continuity; for channeling collective efforts at community development. Being in the social company of Banyakigezi is a unique family experience that brings me immeasurable joy."
Here he actually means to talk of identity. As we have already argued, tribes don't exist any more. However, the need for identities does exist. This need is met by various forms of identities. They may be based on ethnicity, gender, religion, or profession.
Dr Munini totally misses the point when he writes: "I reject a culture that allows ethnic and racial identities to govern decisions and actions that otherwise demand justice, fairness and a broader view." It should be remembered that identities also deserve to be treated fairly. They also demand justice.
A few examples will illustrate our point. The anti-colonial struggles were struggles for the recognition of the identity of the colonised nations. In the early '60s the Blacks in the
Identity has also been the major driving force of our politics in
It seems the President is not aware of Quebec in
This is what has happened in
Despite President Museveni's attempts to ban identity politics, the identity question is still driving our politics. Instead of living in the delusion that it is only the so-called kipingamizi (Loosely translated Swahili for saboteur) who engage in identity politics, we should come out and admit that the principal political problem facing us today is how to negotiate our way among identities. It is only that way that we shall institute programmes to learn about identities. To learn to realise that, just as we feel proud of our respective identities, others also deserve their identities to be recognised and respected. That identity can be a political factor of serious magnitude.