Tribalism and its Political Undercurrents

Published on 17th January 2011

Since the Europeans came to Africa and perfected the art of divide and rule based on advancing of particular ethnic groups against those perceived to be hostile, they gave Africa something as bad as the trade in slaves, if not worse. Most countries and territories have undergone immense upheaval that will take centuries to harmonize.

The most depressing element of this equation is the disheartening state of mistrust amongst communities created the continent over, this is further heightened by the shameful distribution of the meager resources available to the continent and further by the disenfranchisement of the none politically correct communities in the social-political arena. By any standard, Africa has been in a self-destruct mode for quite a number of eons.

When we talk of tribes, we evoke a most passionate state of belonging, it is essentially the larger family, the immediate of the root family and with that, it is offered the same protections the root family enjoys.

When a member of a family is seen to be under attack, the whole family is at risk of the same attack and by extension the community [read tribe] is threatened, such as in the ages of the early man - as nature would have it - he was denied the fangs and horns of the beasts of prey and to wage the war of existence, developed in mind and discovered that in numbers, the odds were greatly in their favour and thus began the societies. They discovered the security of family, the security of tribe [community] and in this state, man flourished.

When politicians evoke ethnic sympathies, the community rallies behind them for the simple reason that at the secondary level – the family is under attack, the larger family is under attack, and at the very root level, it is by extension an attack on the nuclear family which by instinctive mechanisms is unacceptable as it creates great disadvantages to the security and development of the family and by extension the community. 

Therefore, this will always be a very powerful political tool. The colonial political schemers used this tool and disenfranchised entire communities in the interest of a few who in turn gave them the ethnic support needed to hold the continent in an iron grip. The white tribe plundered the conquered without much hindrance. As the continent gained independence from the colonialists, they that inherited the reins of power discovered the potent force of such arrangements.

The call to community is not in itself inherently evil, it is its negative use that gives it  its  bad manners otherwise used in conjunction with the positive aspects of sabre tooth tiger attacks of earlier communities or the German psyche that developed its economy and  industries before Hitler turned into Nazi fascism.

If the tribe was to be moved from the language and traditions level to a national level, what a beautiful continent we would have!

By Maina Ndiritu.


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