In many fora, the case of tribalism in Africa has been portrayed as the Achilles heel of genuine issue-driven political competition and growth.
This malaise has been severally blamed on the haphazard geographical demarcations that colonialists, in a haste to mark out new territories for varied reasons as mineral wealth or expansionist grandeur, bunched up ethnic different communities.
At times these communities had no historical joint administration and usually the existing traditional forms of government had been suppressed.
In most cases the colonialists, forced by political implications of colonialism to free their occupied territories, abandoned newborn countries, some of which did not have any real national identity.
More importantly they made sure that the newly independent countries took over the government style of the colonizing countries as a form of neocolonialism.
Is tribalism really the blight of African politics? To begin with the diversity of African society makes our continent unique. Within the different languages and cultural interactions therein, lies a wealth of rich customs, envied world over.
From local folklore, to traditional craft, music and dance, precise traditions of marriage and burial and the culture as a whole is something we should preserve.
The flipside is that all this cultural wealth is directly tied to tribes or ethnic groups. In most cases, this loathed African unit called the tribe is the first identity that a person has and which eventually links him to a nation, or nations.
Also, before colonialism, the traditional administrative systems were based on the same tribe and it is those units based on the tribe that the white men dismantled in order to impose their own administration.
Therefore, the idea of supplanting tribalism in Africa entirely for the idea of the unified nation is a bloated one.
For a country like Rwanda, the idea of the nation and the tribe can be easily maneuvered, because Rwanda is linked to Banyarwanda, although it poses another complication.
What about the Banyarwanda who are geographically located outside the Rwanda nation, who hence may not be Rwandans?
For multi-tribal nation like Uganda and Kenya, the conflict of tribe verses nation is the greatest political challenge that these countries will face for decades.
It has never helped matters that politicians, however educated, or intellectually bred they are, often resort to easiest tool of politicking, which is the tribe.
In many multi-ethnic African countries, tribes have learnt to overlook their tribal differences and focus on their individual capacities in their day to day lives.
Politicians instead have leant to invoke tribal animosity as an easy way of vote seeking. They have furthered the “if I eat, the tribe eats” mentality.
If Africans in schools, offices, bars and other public fora are able to engage each other on the level of individual character and abilities, why does tribalism always become the standard during political contests?
In the future of issue-based political dispensation, the tribe should be placed in the background of the real issues affecting members of that tribe.
In America, where there are no tribes, there are Hispanics, Irish Americans, African-Americans, Arab Americans, and Jewish Americans etc who all have their interest.
These interests are not just, if he eats, we eat kind of interests. They are interests catering for specific difficulties that any group may face in advancement or in pursuit of equal opportunity.
How we move our tribes to learn to demand for clean water, good roads, proper infrastructure to whoever stands for office irrespective of tribe may be a good starting place.
We do not have to kill the tribe, to advance in non-tribal political thinking, but we have to eliminate the links between having your own in power in order to benefit, because that is essentially corrupt and is the problem.
If the tribe can be used as a rallying point to demand good services as deserved by any other national citizen, not as a preference over other tribes, then the cycle of eating with your tribe as soon as you get political power will never stop.
The movement of the African American from the slave farms to the highest echelons of political power in America, a good example of how “tribes” can unite to promote meaningful political advancement.
In America, minorities do not necessarily vote for someone from their group, but instead vote for someone who will advance their interests.