For the Nation to Live the Tribe Must Die

‘For the nation to live, the tribe must die. ’ Assess the validity of Samora Machel’s assertion with reference to examples in Africa and/or Asia. It has been estimated that there may be some 600 to 1,000 different tribal groups or more in Africa. There are some whose territory may be 200 or 300 miles square. Inside each large territory may live more than a million people. The smaller tribes may have only two or three thousand people and some of the smallest have only a few hundred. Most tribes are no larger than 250,000 people, the population of only a medium-sized American city.

To a number Africans today, the tribe is more important than the nation in which he or she lives. Subsequently it has been said that the African will think of himself as a Yoruba or an Ibo rather than, say, a Nigerian and quite obviously for the nation to exist as a unit which is the problem. Tribalism; a distinguishing feature of the African continent which more than any other continent has seen the constant near perpetual reshuffling of the state through coups as a result of its offshoot nepotism.But what is this phenomenon and is it the case that the contempt it breeds is a hindrance to the growth of nationalism and its love child the unified nation. My issue with this term arises from the true understanding of what it connotes, a group of communities existing under a leader Upon first glance Machel’s assertions is indisputable, the tribe if this term even suffices the nature of this divisive concept and the degrees of separation it has the power to create between existing tribes encompasses race, class, language and culture can create a ‘tower of Babel’ complex within a nation as when the house is divided it can or may never stand.A Tribe may be defined as any group of people numerically larger than the community to which members of an extended or perceived kinship group belong, they share common name, language, culture and eponymous origin and thus this unifying phenomenon transcends all aspects of life, within South Africa the indigenous population has no word for tribe, only for nation, such is the sense in which these affiliations are revered.

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These strong group identifications and there dangers they arouse are specified in Tajfel and Turners Social identity theory, which can be surmised as group dentifications that are eventually connected with strife. This theory asserts that strong in group sympathies give rise to equally strong out group antipathies, and that, under the right circumstances these inter group animosities prevent peaceful co-existence[i]. Group identifications that are strong often generate psychic benefits from group membership and will develop beliefs about the macro level importance of their membership.

In particular, they come to see their group as shaping their interests in the larger political and social relevance of one’s is often associated with belief in the necessity of maintaining group solidarity. This belief in the need for group solidarity tends to reinforce perceptions of inter group differences. Sympathy towards one’s own group sometimes gets associated and may generate antipathy toward other groups ultimately leading to political social disintegration and sectarianism.In my view the malady is incipient, sectarianism is the practice of identifying and being pre-occupied with differences, sectarianism though an issue in itself is heightened by scarcity of resources and deprivation, the divisive power that this causes has long been recognised as tribalism and was a key element in the ‘divide and rule’ nature of colonialism and has since been used to further individual political careers.Idi amin had a personal army from Nubian tribes who bore no allegiance to Uganda and therefore mercilessly defended his power despite the fact that thanks to Amin the situation in Uganda was dire, whereas had his soldiers been patriotic Ugandans then perhaps a coup to allay his rule may have occurred without the need for foreign intervention, and before him Milton Obote filled his Army ranks with soldiers from the Langi tribe loyal to him so as to enable his rule, and after Amins coup de’tat he set about ethnically cleansing Uganda of Obote’s tribesmen the Langi.The social construction of group identities necessarily involves differentiation oneself from or ones group from the other, and that therefore identity construction necessarily entails the potential for a violent antagonistic relationship with the other, within Uganda racism and the ideal that groups ‘racially different’ from the other is officially taught in schools.

This official curriculum divides Ugandans into categories herein the Baganda of the South of Uganda are taught that they are superior to their Northern counterparts of darker complexion which has resulted in the notion that “the biggest problem threatening Uganda’s unity is ethnic differences. From history we realise that there has been some unrest between different religious and ethnic communities. Since the 1880s Uganda’s politics has been built on religious sectarianism.Multi-religious denominations and religions resulted into multi-political ideologies”, this sentiment has been deeply internalised by the Ugandan people and thus a child who of Baganda stock feels himself superior to that who is not. “14-year-oldg irl: “If we are all equal we ought to give our porters food on plates with us, and not on banana leaves at the back door. ” Answer, from another student: “But we are not equal. The Europeans and Ganda are clean and the others are dirty.

” [ii] Thus how can a nation unite if these backward notions remain about one’s neighbor?In Tanzania where “there is no racism and tribalism” peaceful and democratic elections went ahead as of October 2010 (http://www. bbc. co. uk/news/world-africa-11642727) where as in Uganda Museveni has been in power for more than 20 years. Within Tanzania the people have gathered under Swahili which is used as the lingua franca despite there being some 90 different tribal groupings; the existence of this many tribes meant that to avoid a ‘tower of babel’ situation the nation had to unify under one language, as well this no one tribe seemed to possess an evident majority.Whereas in Uganda the Baganda tribe make one fifth of the country’s population and is positioned in such a way as to dominate the life of the country’s capital. Kampala containing the tradition capital of Buganda is now the capital of Uganda.

The contrast to Tanzania is notable as no tribe of any size or significance “abuts on the capital, Dar es salaam” (Tradition and transition in East Africa: studies of the tribal element).In ContrastTanzania as remarked by Nyerere that “No tribal group dominated all others in size wealth and education”, in this case of Tanzania the tribal element still had to die as with the adoption of Swahili as the lingua franca it was overstated then that the majority of the nation spoke this language. In 1965 Nyerere went on to ban the use of tribal languages at electoral meetings allowing only Swahili to be used and the focus of politics shift to the nation which was at the time deeply odds with tribal politics[iii].Machel’s assertion although recognising the divisive nature of tribalism seems to dichotomise the issue of building a nation, as in fact numerous dimensions of modern social and cultural changes have to be reached for the nation to exist; not just the demise of tribalism. This assertion an oversimplification of a wholly complex and otherwise unanswerable issue, to Suggest that a nation is to ‘live’, but only under certain circumstances is removing from the nation what is to be a nation…..

In other words there is much more to be outlawed…. When we speak of a nation what it is the actual embodiment of? Modern nations are based on ethnic identities that are in some sense ancient and primordial, much like tribes. Anderson (1990) stressed that nations develop along with the recognition of political communities and that claims to nationhood do not come from internal calls for solidarity, the discourse of nationalism and the recognition of Nations is inherently international.In other words; however varied the internal structure of a nation it still lives by this theory despite tribalism as the inhabitants share a common external frame of reference, so for the nation to live that tribe need not necessarily die, however in my opinion for the nation to live the Tribe needs to die. Dr. Francis Fukuyama in ‘The origins of Political order’ suggests that Human social behaviour has an evolutionary basis and that human politics is subject to certain recurring patterns of behaviour across time and across cultures.The first major social development was the transition from hunter-gatherer bands to tribes which was made possible by religious ideals that united large numbers in worship of a common ancestor and as under a tribe a group could quickly mobilize men for war the surrounding peoples had to themselves tribalize, or be defeated. Thus warfare also forced the second major transition from tribe to state as states are more stable since tribes tend to disintegrate into infighting after the death of a leader[iv].

Thus states offered a better chance of survival so the people gave up the freedom of the tribe for the coercion of the state. Just as the relationships within tribes are founded on the basis of looking out for one’s relative the state depends on the propensity to create and follow social rules. Fukuyama Further states that “Poor countries are poor not because they lack resources but because they lack effective political institutions” as they yet have to emerge from the rigours of tribalism.Thus in my view the needs to die for the nation to exist as historically this need to de-tribalize has been the cause of the emergence of nations.

What is clear is that African boundary lines impose artificial divisions on already complex patterns of tribal and sub tribal groupings, the colonial powers of Europe had failed to redraw these boundaries in accord with cultural and linguistic lines resulting in these problems being passed on to African states to solve after independence, here the unequivocal imbalance caused by the throwing together of various tribes within a state is manifested.Social theories suggest that when an identity becomes an issue is, when it is to be recognised out of necessity, such as what has been experienced within the (‘artificial’) African states. Uganda is essentially genetically separated between the peoples of the North and the south, and to assert dominance they exploited the differences between the two through the creation of the myth that because of their lighter complexion the Northerners were inferior.

And if there is one thing to be taken from recent history, it is that peoples of different ethnicities tend to not co-exist peacefully. Congo has been a scene of conflict and division in which the forces of tribalism have been most apparent, however is this phenomena an oversimplification of process that needs more than just the tribe to die, as at the time of independence Congo was blessed with only 18 college graduates in land of 13,000,000 inhabitants[v]. For Congo its disunity was by no means tribal.At the time new leaders were being pulled and pushed by differing forces including the Belgians and impelling economic pressures. Even though the death of the tribe may have allowed the ‘nation to live’ as such I still return to view that Machel oversimplifies a wholly complex issue. The strife and self destruction witnessed by the Somali people though understandably part of the same homogenous unit is persuasive to the conclusion that too much attention continues to be paid to tribalism rather han the identification of other possible problems the state faces such the employment of neo-patrimonial politics and corruption.

Why and how was it possible in Somalia for a nation of one race, one tribe, one religion, one language to fracture, disintegrate and self destruct so effectively with very little external assistance? In my opinion it is not identity per se but the collateral attitudes that arise from identities that are consequential to the emergence of a nation.Only those believing with more conviction in the need for group solidarity and those deriving more psychic benefits (which the illiterate uneducated members of the nation that are the majority) from their group associations were more likely to be threatened by their political enemies and this heightened sense of threat leads directly to greater political intolerance.This is not to deny the existence of tribal ideology or sentiment in Africa, the argument is that this phenomenon has to be conceptualised differently under modern conditions. There is a large difference between the man who, on behalf of his (neo-patrimonial) tribe strives to maintain its traditional integrity and autonomy and the man who invokes tribal ideology in order to maintain power and position. Tribalism is a categorical identity invoked by elites; it is an external manifestation of a fundamental problem within a nation.In a state(s) where social mobility is non-existent and the wealth remains locked within the hands of a few, the lines by which people identify themselves with will grow and thus separation of groups increase, now couple this with pre conceived notions of inferiority and superiority as well as separate languages, this forms a highly poisonous concoction that I doubt any nation can survive.

Bibliography Meszaros, I. 1989. The power of ideology. Harvester wheatsef Fukuyama, F. 2011.The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Meredith, M. 2006.

The state of Africa. Simon and Schuster Hansen, H. 1991. Changing Uganda. Ohio University Press Measures, B.

1998. Amin’s Uganda. Minerva press Bolton, D.

1985. Nationalization – a road to socialism?. Zed Books May, E. 1965. African Tribalism: Some Reflections on Uganda. Political science quarterly Mafeje, A.

1971. The ideology of tribalism. Cambridge university press

Author: Bill Schwartz


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