The Cost of Tribalism

For those who have seen the Earth from space,

and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will,

the experience most certainly changes your perspective.

The things that we share in our world

are far more valuable than those which divide us.

-Donald Williams

Tribalism is the root and fabric of the African society.It is a phenomenon that has been haunting the continent of Africa long before the colonial rulers had arrived. Kwame Nkrumah– Ghana’s first president and one of Africa’s greatest statesman at one time said of the tribal system in Africa as “the main impediment to Africa’s independence, industrialization and growth”. Nkrumah’s words are still echoing in most countries in Africa. From Senegal to Nigeria in the west, to Kenya and Somalia in the east.

It is this tribal system that dominates every sphere of life in most countries in Africa. From economics to politics one cannot rise to level of high authority without the consent and support of his/her tribe. Allegiances are  first given to the tribe one belongs to then to the state. Tribalism also leads the state to commit atrocities against those tribes that oppose them. It also causes divisions, revenge killings and skirmishes between competing tribes for resources. In rare occasions even genocides were motivated and inspired by one ethnic group who saw themselves as victims  and caused the 1994 slaughter of 800000 people in Rwanda.

When the British came to colonize the continent they perfectly understood the social fabric of Africa and the strong importance tribes had in Africa. It is under this context and the lack of unity tribalism created that facilitated and enabled the colonialists  to implement their strategy which was to first divide the people and then conquer them. We all have seen the negative impacts tribalism has in the society. It creates rifts and hatred between the community. It divides and disintegrates the society and makes them susceptible to foreign invasions. Finally if taken to an extreme it leads to wars and horrific genocides.

However, I want to reiterate that there is absolutely nothing wrong with claiming your tribe and being proud of your roots. It is perfectly natural- we are who we are and there is no denying that. The problem starts when one or few tribes think  that they are superior to other tribes and have more right than others. When loyalty to ones tribe leads to favoritism, cronyism and the subjugation of minorities. When politicians play the tribe-card and incite hatred and bigotry. And last but not the least when the benefits that comes with allegiances to tribes outweigh those of the nation.

I strongly believe that we should all appreciate and respect our differences. We all should cherish our diversity and always remember what Almighty Allah has told us in the holy book of Quran:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).Al-Hujurat 49:13