The Problems Surrounding Tribalism in Africa
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Dec 16th, 2019

The Problems Surrounding Tribalism in Africa

Tribalism is the attitude and practice of harboring such a strong feeling of loyalty or bonds to one’s tribe that one excludes or even demonizes those ‘others’ who do not belong to that group” (Nothwehr, 2008, p. 5). Tribalism thus prompts one to have a positive attitude towards those who are connected to him or her through kinship, family and clan, and it de facto (directly or indirectly) alienates one from people of other tribes who are not related to him or her by blood, kinship, family or clan (Nwaigbo, 2005, p.


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The concept of tribalism has popularly among people and even academics been closely associated as a defining characteristic of the African continent. When the scene of events is not in Africa but somewhere for example in Yugoslavia or modern Russia, then questions are raised as to why ethnicity has somehow “reappeared”.

This is because many have the idea that somehow ethic identity antedates everything else and with the approach of modernity this should disappear. The European nation states are supposed to have eliminated such a primal form of organization. Therefore, constructing a paradox as to why a subgroup cultural difference continues to persist.

Tribalism in Africa dates back many centuries ago. Although, back then, before the penetration of colonialism, things ran smoothly and it was due to the fact that they had their on settlements and ways of doing things. However, after the divide and conquering of Africa decided at the Berlin conference 1884, things turned sour for clashing tribes.

This meaning that individuals felt even more threatened as they were forced to stay with people they didn’t necessarily get along with. Tribalism in Africa therefore becoming a big aspect of African relations regarding multiple angles, namely; the socio-economic, cultural and development attributes. One may refute the point stating that it doesn’t expand to that extent although it is undeniable that tribalism is a big contributor to the mentioned issues.

Effects of Tribalism on Africa Nation Building

Africa is a land that is highly blessed both in natural and human resources that possess a stable and peaceful political terrain and a group of inhabitants that are culturally minded, patriotic and nationalistic in their endeavors. The Africa land is occupied by people who love and cherish the land and as well regard Africa as their most priority. Therefore illegality in African terrain should be guided and curbed to avoid up-heard. In idea situation, lives in Africa should be peaceful and for long span of years.

Contemporary, Africa as a continent is depreciating in values and orientations towards meeting up with the required standard of living. The advent of colonial rule ruined the stable peace, and flourishing terrain experienced by ancient Africans. The colonial adventure initiated and inculcated in Africans diverse views about the Africa land as most Africans possess little or nothing about their history.

They have been brain-washed, thus, most of these Africans antagonize the cultural values norms and knowledge that existed years before they were born. Africans were made to acquire western education and western religion at the expense of their own African education and religion and it is sad to note that they dwell in a lost world as they become novices about their own existence.

They act and execute western plans and dwell in western ideas and concepts which gravely affected the growth of Africa. Today, the western world is seen globally as the supreme authority as they are in possession of high technology, scientific experiences and even creation of technocrats.

Therefore, the impressions that most Africans possess that Africa is inexperience in handling her affairs aid Africans to ignorant of the benefits and uses of our unique natural and mineral resources and as a result contact the western countries for technological innovations, scientifically inventions and technocratic expertise. Africans are at the climax of knowledge but they fail to acknowledge this fact, thus, they take the positions of been inferior to the western world and as such Africa resources are utilized by the western countries.

Africa’s land has long agitated for nation-building so as to aid Africans possess her lost glory and abilities, but the progress of this Africa nation-building have been foiled by some negative concepts that aided the mental slavery of Africans. These negative concepts include tribalism, and a host of other negative concepts.

Tribal groups in the Africa terrain have different cultures that are different in ideologies. These groups partake in tribal discrimination that evolved series of wars, and terrorism. For example, the tribal frictions that occurred in Rwanda, Sierra-Leone, South Africa, Nigeria, South Sudan among others. These tribal groups have in various ways secured mediums to ascertain the supremacy of their tribal groups in the African society.

The process of ascertaining their supremacy lead to disagreements in different forms as some tribal leaders for their own sake betray their country for the external intervention of the western countries to destroy their own land as evidenced in Libya that led to the death of Gadaffi; in Sudan; Nigeria as in the case of Biafra civil war where the Eastern Nigerians sought for western aids. These act of tribalism had gravely affected Africa as a society as there are little or no benefits to enjoy and many adverse consequences to suffer, thus, the foiled progress of Africa nation-building.

Firstly, in the aspect of politics. With Africa’s emerging economies and way back into the spotlight it doesn’t override that there are still multiple issues and one of the main ones being tribalism and politics. The concern isn’t autocratic, strong willed leaders but furthermore, the contribution to tribalism looking at the case of democracy in Africa.

Using a provided example, Kenya’s 2007-08 elections that were violent. The level to which tribal conflict would have resulted into a civil war. The challenge that democracy faces, in this case, is tribalism, identity politics to enable tribal interests and agenda.

The same applies to the case of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, tribal agenda used as a means to end to eradicate an entire tribe to get into power. Another case of these instances is the former Liberian President Samuel K. Doe Krahn tribe has massacred Manos and Gios and vice versa. Not to mention the Zulus and Xhosas killing each other in South Africa. (BBC, 2012)

On the contrary, looking on the other side, there is a chance that observers are overlooking the positive side. Tribalism depicts power, conflict and nepotism in lieu of security and self-worth are the results of tribalism. Tribalism may just be a natural step in Africa’s evolution and growth.

If there could be a step taken from ethnic affiliations from family to clans to the national level in so far as class then international affairs. According to Walter Rodney, in his book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, his theory explores the idea that different ethnicities, regarding various reasons, had a longer period of time to go through these social stages. He thinks that Africa was frozen purposefully by the western powers in order to slow down its natural social growth.

Obviously for reasons of exploitation and control. Society in Africa was then brainwashed by the western norms, values and culture. Therefore, tribalism “ceased to be transient as it had been for other societies and became institutionalized,” Mr. Rodney believes. (Baltimoresun,1993)


  • Nothwehr, D. M. (2008). That they may be one: Catholic social teaching on racism, tribalism, and xenophobia. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
  • Nwaigbo, F. (2005). Tribalism versus evangelization in sub-Saharan Africa.
    African Ecclesial Review, 47 (3), 131-159

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