Tribalism: Why it Should be Embraced

Published on 17th September 2012

Graphics courtesy
Average parents know that the best way to keep a child busy is to keep giving it things to play with:  it could be a car key, then a bedroom key, the car key again, then the bedroom key. The child will be happy. One does not need to be a professional parent, if ever there was such a term, to keep the attention of the child distracted; no matter the IQ of the child.

Astute politicians know that the best way to control the citizens' psyche is to constantly create debates, and situations warranting debates. Before the debate of sugar is over; there is a building collapse; and before that is over, there is theft of military equipment; and before that is over, there is burning of cultural centres; and before that is over, there is ‘another wife’; and before that is over, there is debate on high interest rates. One does need to be a professional politician, if ever there was such a term, to distract the masses, no matter the number of graduates amongst them. Average people will do average things to control average people. So it is with tribalism.

What is wrong with tribalism? Nothing of course, just as there is nothing wrong with being a man or woman; a Muslim, or Christian; or being black, white or coloured. But when everything is the same, and we wish to cause disharmony, we must find differences in similar things, and so, we go for difference which we cannot change. We go for tribe.Then we reduce nepotism to tribe. This is utter stupidity, we are not nepotic because we are Luos, Dinka, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, or Russians. All of us are potentially nepotic. What makes us nepotic is not tribe, but greed, lack of ethics, and lack of controls. We are nepotic because we can be, not because we are of a certain tribe.

Rationalize corruption on tribalism is equally banal and vain. Are we corrupt because we speak with clicks in our language? Do we practice tender-preneurship because we were born amongst cattle herders? Do we practice hoarding of goods, theft of public funds, and sale of rotten maize because we migrated along the shores of lake Malawi? Of course not. We do it because we choose to. We are corrupt because we choose to, and we get away with it because someone lets us. Tribalism has nothing to do with corruption.

Then we fault civil wars on tribe. How basic. Do people go to slash each other because the others are not, for example, Luos? If that is the case, why not slash all Arabs, Luhyas, Maasai, Kalenjin, Orma, Somali, Xhosa, Boers, and Indians? After all, they are also not Luos. If they slash them because they are Luos, why do they also slash fellow Luos who associate with the other people? Simple. We do not go to civil war because we are Dinka, Arab, Shia, Jews, European, or black. We go to civil war because we feel if we do not, we will never have better roads, better schools, a share of our the natural resources and government employment, among others. All these are decisions taken by men, men of any, and all tribes. Tribes have nothing to do with arming youth, denying the people resources.

We charge underdevelopment on tribe. How retrogressive a thinking mode! Tribes do not build roads, no! Decisions on how to allocate resources are responsible. Tribes do not build universities, no, money does that, and money is controlled by people. Tribes do not build hospitals, or generate and distribute electricity, or grow and process food crops. People do, and the resources needed are controlled by people. People decide not to release the resources, then instead of arguing for resources, we argue for tribe.

It is cheap, and easy, to blame tribe. Tribe is so visible that once you invoke its name, you need not make further arguments. There is no tribe that is inherently violent. All tribes are arrogant and gentle. Humans by nature are both stupid, and intelligent, in equal measure. We can choose to act foolish, or wise, as fits our circumstances and objectives. But since it is hard to sustain an intellectual argument on why things are they way they are, we go on and on why tribes are right, and wrong. We might as we all argue that males and bad, and females are good. After all, like sex, tribes are not chosen by us, and we will never change.

It is beautiful to be tribal. We should all celebrate a national tribal day, and we should call it just that, tribal, ethnic, day, not such fancy word as cultural days. We must call things by their right names; it is the first mark of wisdom.

Today, I will celebrate my tribe. I ask you to celebrate your tribe. I will wear a t-shirt bearing the words: I am a Luo. I will greet fellow Luos in luo language. I will dance to Luo tunes, and I will sing luo songs. I am a luo, body and soul. And I will encourage you, a Xhosa, a Jew and an Arab to dance to your own tune too. Let us be original, exotic, authentic, and natural. Let us be who we are, so that we can respect each other as equals. We are all tribal. We are tribes. We are humans. Humans are tribes. Humans are tribal.

By Ojijo Pascal
The author is a writer, public speaker, and consultant.

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