Within various African countries, there is “inequality and favoritism” due to tribal imperialism. Tribal imperialism has manifested itself in various ways at the national level as a result of political and economic miscalculations, systematic installation, and intentional social engineering. In postcolonial Africa, there has always been inequality in social status, economic resources, civic duty, political power, and membership.
Tribal imperialism, as a new category, on the other hand, is currently expanding at a rapid rate and is becoming more prominent. In this regard, African countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Sudan will be the focus of my remarks. These nations have placed ethnocracy at the center of all social, economic, and political activities, which has had the most significant impact on them.
Identity politics is primordial in nature, aggressive in character, and irrational in its organization.
Tribal imperialism, which is usually done by the so-called “majority” tribe or ethnic group, is a big part of the problem. However, minorities have used different tactics to play the same card.
When it comes to Nigeria’s politics, economy, and culture, the Hausa and Yoruba are the “biggest tribal groups” and the driving forces behind all that happens. They also say they are entitled to all of the country’s resources, including its political and economic power. However, when compared to the other tribal groups in Nigeria, they do not make up the majority of the population. Despite this, the two largest ethnic groups are the Hausa, which accounts for 25 percent of the population, and the Yoruba, which account for 21 percent of the entire population, making up 46 percent of the overall population.
In Ethiopia’s case, the Amhara and Oromo populations, each with respective populations of close to 22.9 and 33.5 million, are considered the country’s “majorities.” This shows that out of Ethiopia’s 120 million population, even when combined, the population of these two largest tribes does not constitute a majority.
However, the last population census in Ethiopia was only carried out in 2007, making it tricky to get accurate numbers for the total population by tribe or ethnicity. Still, Ethiopia’s experience with tribal imperialism during the almost 27 years that the minority tribe Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)/Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power makes for an interesting case study. The new Prosperity Party is a carbon copy of the EPRDF, with the same tribal political philosophy.
Likewise, in Kenya, the two largest ethnic groups, the Kikuyu (22 percent), which also includes the Luhya (14 percent), and the Luo (13 percent), account for slightly less than half of the population.
Tribalists, on the other hand, are of the opinion that the game of political power ought to be played among the ethnic groups that have a numerical advantage. This kind of scenario demonstrates that the other 30 or more tribes do not have any possibility of playing a significant role in the political or economic system.
History has taught us that religious and ethnic prejudice led directly to the creation of South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation. However, currently, the same ethnic and organized tribal imperialism is at the heart of political and economic maneuvering.
While the concept of African unification is admirable in theory, it will never be realized so long as nation’s administrative structures are divided along ethnic and linguistic lines. This system causes citizens to be split into first- and second-class citizens.
The tribal and linguistically defined administrative regions in the aforementioned countries made the situation worse by causing political instability and economic collapse. In other words, Kenya stands out from the rest of the pack because its administrative system is noticeably more developed than those of Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Sudan.
There is a possibility that political leaders believe that bolstering their own ethnic group or their supporters economic standing more broadly will assist them in maintaining their power. Nevertheless, the creation of inequality and favoritism will, in the end, cause the economic and political situation to suffer, and it will make the damage to any nation both permanent and irreparable. It is impossible to preserve political power and economic growth by catering to the needs of a select few.
“Identity grows at a faster rate, but it will eventually bite back without mercy.”
In Africa, political institutions that are founded on affiliations with certain tribes, ethnic groups, or languages are more likely to be destructive and isolationist in nature. The use of ethnicity as a factor in political decision-making can have a number of unintended repercussions, including the promotion of nepotism and tribalism as well as prejudice towards persons who do not belong to a particular ethnic group.
All of these ramifications may be traced back to the racial prejudice against people who are in positions of power in the political system. Political appointments and business opportunities are prioritized or given away without consideration for individual talent, based purely on their ethnic background—who they know, not what they know.
“Ethnic ties are cultural ghosts,” many African leaders have said, and when Africans attain freedom from European colonialism, contemporary citizenship replaces ethnicity and tribalism. There has been a significant pushback against the idea of conventional democracy, which is at odds with prevalent conceptions of liberal democracy and state nationalism as acceptable standards of value.
The preservation of African customs through enslavement has played a significant role in the formation of South Sudanese identity. The people’s struggle for independence, ethnic diversity, and sociocultural complexity in the nation’s governance, political systems, and bureaucratic institutions reflect the various stages of development the nation has gone through.
Distancing oneself from identity politics and thought is necessary to achieve an inclusive government, just as it necessitates a shift towards people-centered leadership. Although social class, religious affiliation, and other dynamics all play a role in shaping one’s political identity, other factors, such as one’s life experiences, allies, and relationships that entail emotional attachment and political commitment to a specific constituency in exchange for material benefits, also play a significant role.
Tribalism in postcolonial Africa causes a lot of problems that cannot be solved with an old paradigm or the same ideas as before; instead, it requires a more advanced way of thinking. One of the most important parts is that it sees every person as having the same worth. Tribal politics can’t last because it pits “us” against “them” and because it doesn’t help the tribe or ethnic group that says it stands for what it says it stands for.
Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), University of Johannesburg, and AISSS Executive Board Member and Head of Strategic Research.
Contributed by Seife Tadelle (PhD)