The ugly face of tribalism in Africa

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There is no other continent which is marred with inter and intra-rift like Africa. We pretend to love one another, but the truth is that in reality, we often hate one another to the inner core. We live a life of denial feigning we are a united continent, but most of the time, our actions speak louder than words.

An outsider who happens to grace any Independence Day in any of the African countries may feel inspired by the presumed unity, love and patriotism showcased by members of that particular country; but what he or she doesn’t know is that many attendances to such an event are paid or ferried to attend the events, especially in the East African country of Kenya.

Accepted that the ugly root of tribalism was first planted by the colonial Masters aimed at feeding the destructive meal of the divide and rule system in Africa; today, that tribalism root has not ceased to germinate the seed of discord among Africans. Tribalism continues to rear its ugly face in Africa. No wonder ethnic violence never ends. Take a look at South Sudan. The youngest country in the world is a good example of a nation plagued into incessant wars since it gained independence in 2011. A long-standing political rivalry between the country’s two largest tribes was recently exposed. The two communities, which do not read in the same script, rose against each other following the dismissal of the former vice president Riek Machar by President Salva Kiir. One can argue that the dismissal of Machar was the gunpowder that ignited the ethnic war amongst the two main ethnic groups of South Sudanese, an action, which itself was borne out of ethnic intolerance. However, to argue that ethnic consciousness amongst different ethnic groups in the country has not been part of their lives is to run away from the basic truth. The result? Hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, injuries and exodus of refugees and displacement of innocent citizens from their homes and country. In December 2011, another ethnic violence ensued between Nuer and Murle which claimed at least a 1, 000 lives.

Kenya is not excepted from the wicked web of tribalism. In 2007/2008 horrific ethnic clashes erupted in Kenya, following disputed presidential election results. Kenyans turned against one another, homes were set ablaze, people were barbarically butchered mercilessly and properties worth billions of shillings were devastated. Moreover, women and girls were raped, property confiscated and thousands were internally displaced. How could individuals from the same country do this to one another? 

Take a look at the central African Republic. Look at the mess tribalism and ethnicity have left in that country. Where is Alfred Yekatom, also known as Colonel Rombhot? To his tribe and followers, he is a saint, fighting for the good cause; to others, he is a tyrant and warmonger. Elsewhere, Burundi recently plunged into crisis due to tribal wars that were more deadly than 1994-2005 political unrest. The country has witnessed horrendous chaos since 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his controversial third term which was against the country’s constitution. Burundians, most of them allegedly from the Tutsi community, flooded the streets protesting against the move. That protest prompted ridicule from Hutu members. The Police responded in defence of the Head of State. They descended on the civilians, fired live bullets at the irate crowds, killing several people leading. The response from the police led to reprisal attacks.

Africans are obsessed with their tribal identities to the extent that they often stereotype others who do not belong to their tribes. One common question one is likely to encounter in many African countries is, “Which tribe are you from?” People want to know your origin to determine how they will treat you. In some cases, one’s names, especially the second name will define it all. Castigation. Boxed stereotypically. Prejudicial evaluation. Most often in Africa, negative ethnic consciousness is the major cause of hatred among people within a country. Experts have linked it with catastrophic problems bedevilling the continent. Sadly, this ethnic consciousness impends development. Still wondering one of the major causes of Africa’s retarded growth and development? 

Tribal slurs are a chronic, contagious and infectious virus, often fuelled by political leaders who want to remain in power beyond their terms or despite rejection by voters. Deleterious ethnicity dates back to the colonialism era when colonial powers used to divide and rule to impose their dictatorial government on dominant Africans. Britons capitalized on inter-tribal wars which they triggered. The stealing and plundering from Britain continued while the ethnicity wars they instigated were going on. They captured several Traditional African territories they could not lay their shrewd fastidious hands-on, before because of severe hostility from the natives.

Having learnt from their Colonial Masters, 99 per cent of African leaders now act similarly more than 50 years since the African majority of the countries gained self-rule from their Colonial Masters. African leaders plant the seed of hatred among their citizens who are either political party members or tribesmen against their antagonists. Political rallies speeches’ are dominated by insults and hate aimed at the tribes they do not fancy. For some mediocre Africans, the political classes are always right. Those with such state of minds would shamelessly mock, scorn, attack and hurl insults at their brothers and sisters from another community as directed by their ‘gods’. Despite the introduction of western education in the continent, the majority has not learnt how to embrace people from different cultures, language, and religion. ‘My tribe is better than yours’ mentality still rules many minds.

In Nigeria, Hausa community is stereotyped as lazy people, Igbos thieves and conmen while Yoruba as noisy hypocrites whereas any member of the Kikuyu community in Kenya is perceived as a burglar, Luos are labelled chaos and Kamba are alleged to be practising witchcraft.

Those at the helm of the leadership serve the interest of their families and members of their community. Winning a tender and securing job both in government and private organizations is based on who you know and who you are. Definitely, not based on your merit, skills and competency. Key government positions are occupied by members of one tribe, depending on whom the President, minister or the legislator is. For instance, Jacob Zuma of South Africa was alleged to have appointed members of his community, Zulu to serve in his government. The same accusations were levelled against his predecessor Thabo Mbeki who employed Xhosa community members. 

New waves of revolutions witnessed in Africa indicate that people are tired of institutionalized discrimination, marginalization and rampant corruption. Recently we have seen the fall of tyrants like Omar-Al-Bashir of Sudan and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and more are on the verge of facing the power of unity from disgruntled African residents. 

Are Africans waking up from their slumber? You tribal bigot leader beware, your days are numbered. Do your compatriots hate you? The answer is No! Rather, you are simply the enemy of your country and its progress. Remember: what you sow is what you reap.

 By Samuel Ouma

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