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Date: Sun, 30 Apr 1995 13:33:31 -0400
Sender: The African Global Experience <AGE-L@uga.cc.uga.edu>
From: "Muzi Dlamini (GE)" <dlamini@SUNTAN.ENG.USF.EDU>
Subject: Tribalism in Africa

Tribalism in Africa

A dialog from the AGE-L
30 April 1995

Date: 29-APR-1995 16:28
From:Stephen Isabirye peacetoallhomosapiens <waithakh@db.erau.edu
Description: Tribalism in Africa

President Moi of Kenya has characterized tribalism as a cancer. This is an accurate description of a demoralizing challenge that we face in Africa. As an urban raised African I too saw tribalism as an evil that we have to overcome. Increasingly lately I have come to regard tribalism both as a cancer and also a tool that can be used to propel Africa to a new dimension of development.

The majority of Africans are not able or willing to forsake their tribal allegiances so what do we do with this mind set. How can we channel this tribal energy into a national mainstream. We need to understand the tribes before we impose nationalism on them. Tribes are a contradiction in todays Africa they are an evil if your tribe is not in power and a benefit if your tribe is in power. This is due to the nature of our political and government systems whereby there are no checks and balances. This fosters a climate of absolute power resting on the Executive and by extension to the Executive tribe. So what should be done?

The first step to getting rid of an ailment is an acurate diagnosis and an admission by the patient that he has something that ails him. Once the diagnosis and admission have been made then a course of treatment is initiated that allows healing to begin. We need to admit that Africans are by nature tribalistic and this in itself is not inherently evil. Fact: tribes had institutions and systems that catered for the welfare of all the tribal members. Could it be that African States by totally disregarding tribal institutions and systems have weakened themselves? Could it be if you weaken the family you weaken the nation? Africans traditionally belonged to extended families, which in turn belonged to a clan, and which in turn belonged to a tribe. In our haste to make the absurd partitioned Africa (Berlin Conference and the partition of Africa) into nations we chose to totally disregard this established socio-political order to our own peril. So we have tried and failed at making the great leap from individual tribal members to national citizens. For one to have allegiance to a nation the benefits must outweigh those of belonging to a tribe. In most African nations you are defined as a citizen only in paper your primary designation is that of an ethnic group. For example on paper you might be Rwandanese but your benefits or ill fate is determined by whether you are Hutu or Tutsi. This schizophrenic national mind set permeates Africa and its denial only compounds the problem.

African States need to form governments and institutions that have their power base in the tribal institutions because this is where the real power emanates from. i.e. Most Africans respect and have primary allegiance to the tribal structure. The central government is viewed as an outside force that is often hostile and not relevant. I submit that the national government would have more legitimacy if all tribes were represented. All issues in government would be examined using dual standards; a tribal and a national standard. Balance both interests. In most parliaments an upper house should be formed consisting of statesmen who command the most respect and support from each tribe. All tribes would be designated two members very much like the US Senate. This group will balance the State interests versus the tribal interests. An equal representation will ensure that the rights and interests of minority tribes are not trampled upon by majority tribes.

Africa has tribes for better or for worse. If given lemons make lemon juice. It is the hand we have been dealt let us play it to our advantage; turn our cancer into HEALTH. Fellow Africans let me know what you think.

Date: Sun, 30 Apr 1995 13:33:31 -0400
Sender: The African Global Experience <AGE-L@uga.cc.uga.edu>
From: "Muzi Dlamini (GE)" <dlamini@SUNTAN.ENG.USF.EDU>
In-Reply-To: <199504300344.XAA19310@suntan.eng.usf.edu>

Excellent insight Mr Asabrye, that was a thought provoking post. Tribalism is the root and fabric of the African society. It is where we derive a sense of pride in being African. I consider myself more of a Swazi than a citizen of Swaziland, in the same way a Zulu is more of a Zulu than he is a South African citizen, and a Ndebele is more Ndebele than they are Zimbabwean/south african. A Shona is more Shona than they are Zambians/Zimbabwean. Tribal belonging is valued more than national identity. I cannot begin to understand the origin of the

beliefs and values of the Nationalist leaders who have been trying to implement a Eurocentric system of government that ignores our tribalism. Although I agree with the nationalist ideology that we are one and we need to be united as a people. I do not understand their notion of nationalism that define "nations" through colonial borders. I do not understand how they think such borders which sometimes divide tribes into different nationalities could bring about national solidarity. We need to take advantage of our strong tribal ties to create a grassroots democracies that will derive power from tribal belonging.

N.B. Please refer to Swaziland's Tinkundla(gives regional authority back to the chiefs) system of democracy, I would like to know what you think about it.

Message-Id: <199504301828.UAA21842@cismsun.univ-lyon1.fr>
Date: Sun, 30 Apr 95 14:27 EDT
Subject: Re: Tribalism in Africa (fwd)

I agree with most of the view presented about tribalism in Africa. Since the independances we have tried to make abstaction of tribalism and give precedence to the concept of citizenship. I guess this was, for our leaders, a way to model Africa after the west and foster her development. In my opinion two main mistakes were made:

  1. western countries are homogeous In fact most of them have a chamber in their Congress or Parlement tha t gives equal power to all regions (tribes?) on the decisions of the countries. I equate western geographical regions with African tribes because maybe with few exception, that I do not know :=), there is a unique relation between a tribe and a geographical area.
  2. legitimacy of a goverment by institutions I have a personal feeling, maybe I do not express this very well, that a western goverment is more a government of content (the institutions) than a government of process (consensual agreement). It is hard to mak e institutions, that are by definition static, on a structure when most of the decisions are taken after "palaver" and consensus.

This is why I think with the other netters who expressed this idea that something should be done to integrate the tribal system into the state government, in the first place, and ultimately into an African government. The importance of an African government at a higher level finds, in my opinion, a legitimacy in the fact that, unlike other regions of the world, the limits of the African states does not correspond to tribal limits. For instance, the border between Benin and Nigeria separates Yoruba families. The Beninois side speaks French as an "office" language, the Nigerian side speaks English. At the first sight they look very different, but the fact that they are under the traditionnal authority of the same chiefs make any custom control between the two border by the respective states impossible to maintain. The same pattern repeats itself between virtually all African countrie s which makes an African government indispensable.

Dr Kwame N'Krumah, first President of Ghana and one of the greatest supporters of panafricanism, made some interesting studies about all this. He emphazised the necessity of the effective involvement of all ethnic groups to the development of Africa and African countries. A good question to answer is why his work and ideas have not had more impact not only on other African governments but also in the diaspora. Ultranationalisms? Selfish interests? Manoueuvres of western countries willing to maitain their "own share" of the great continent? The debat e is open on this question. But a good understanding of those reasons is necessary to improve anything in the way Africa is governed today.

I also think that, nowadays, the problem is complicated by the existen ce of big cities and the exodus from the villages. Since those cities are influenced by the west, will a city like Lagos, Nigeria, one of the mo st populated cities of the world, be under a tribal goverment, a western- like government or an harmonious mix.

I hope I've transmitted my opinion of the complexity and uniqueness of African politics.

Finally, a great debate!

Joel Vignon