Tribalism and The Pan African Vision; Can African Youths Dismantle Tribal Politics?

How Tribalism is affecting the Pan African Vision

Pan Africanism has, over the years, not been given a clear definition among scholars. However, the concept of Pan Africanism could refer to a philosophy (or philosophies) that sought to promote ideas of a united Africa. The concept has been championed by the founding fathers of the continent, together with other lead figures like Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. ONH, among others, with Kwame Nkrumah as the led advocate.

The concept sought, among other things for the political unity, economic, and cultural liberation of Africa, it also provided an ideology for rallying Africans at home and abroad against colonialism and, recently, neo-colonialism. This has remained until today, a continuous pursuit by strong Pan Africanists across the continent and the diaspora. At the center of its advocacy is the promotion of consciousness of Africa as the ancestral home for all Black people irrespective of their geographical location in the world, a call for the descendants of former victims of the inhuman trans-oceanic slave trade to reunite with their ancestral home.

However, ethnic and tribal politics seems to be one of the many impeding blocks against the gains of Pan Africanists in Africa. Before the advent of colonialism, political authority across the continent lay primarily on the tribal authorities in the forms of clans, kingdoms, and empires.

The unprecedented shift occurred when the European colonial authorities invaded the continent to introduce different political systems which were utterly alien to the natives Africans and mostly requires the Africans to shift their loyalty away from their respective tribes and clans to the newly established “political nations” as a people with a common dominator: They were all oppressed by the Europeans.

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Tribes in Africa previously evolved as groups with unique cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes that guide their lives in the societies that they establish. The transition from this tribal formation into nationhood, mostly in the 1950s upwards, doesn’t cut off the sense of loyalty that they held towards their tribes. Therefore, the political cultures of the newly formed nations were influenced mainly by tribal allegiance.

One of the few leaders who were quick to identify the problem which “ethnic difference” among Africans and its potentials to cause a serious threat to the unity of the continent was the Ghanaian Pan Africanist leader, Kwame Nkrumah who was himself faced with the trouble of addressing tribal divisions in the then Goal Coast at a time the Europeans were insisting on sustaining their control of the goal rich nation.

In 1972, while addressing the Conference of African Freedom Fighters, Nkrumah said, “The objectives of African unity can seriously [be] undermine[d] by Tribalism, which provides one of the hardest hurting grounds for colonialist and neo colonists, enemies of African independence and unity. Unless we take this problem of Tribalism carefully in hand, it can undo do all our valid efforts to bring real independence to Africa”.

He seemed to have understood from these early days of “nationhood” in the continent that, if the dimension of politics is stretched towards tribal lines, the very factors that necessitated the struggle for independence and the Pan African visions set thereof by himself and his comrades held would be hard to achieve it not even impossible when identity politics becomes the order of the day.

While Kwame Nkrumah and other founding fathers of the continent, such as the former Tanzanian leader Julius Kambarage Nyerere have taken steps to neutralize the potentials of ethnic differences destabilizing the progress of their nations, other leaders did little or nothing to address this issue and some either use their “tribal identity” to seek or maintain power.

Some political figures, who emerged immediately after independence resulted in seeking political influence by creating convenient alliances through the mobilization of tribes for political support. This played greatly in maintaining the tribal inclination in the political culture of many countries across the continent. Most often, the politicians do appeal to tribes or ethnic groups in order to win the election. This is evidently a tactic for personal gains against the greater unity that is needed for nations to stand.

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 How does this affect the Pan African Vision of a unified people and continent?

Undoubtedly, Tribalism, except when tackled, will continue to overshadow the efforts of Pan Africanists in creating a common political consciousness throughout the continent in the concept of “Pan Africanism.”

Several years ago, Tribalism conquered the wits of few states leading them into bitter experiences. These include Rwanda, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Central African Republic, and recently, Kenya. The outcome from the tribal political crises these countries have faced indicated that; not only is it challenging for nations with ethnic politics of identity to be united, but it is also fundamentally impossible for the continent to move forward for the realization of the Pan African vision in such a political climate.

To establish a unified continent or a federal state like in nation-building, there needs to a common understanding among its people of recognized principles. Children of the continent need to be taught to be Pan Africanist from their teenage to universities. If not, the continent will continuously be exposed to the danger of the continuous exploitation it currently faced.

Politicians and electorates as a way of sanitizing politics in the continent, should appreciate their ethnic diversities and create upon it a unified people through the Pan African political concept. The youths, who would live the greater part of the future should be nurtured to appreciate the concept through the education system and other means. The civil societies across the continent must equally participate in the political socialization process.

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The leaders of the continent have a very crucial role to play. Some of them have failed in their responsibilities to unite the people. However, the new breed of leaders across the continent should be patriotic in dealing with African affairs. They should establish standing policies that will detest Tribalism from effective governance.

Politics of tribal or ethnic identity has the potentials of rendering the Pan African spirit an illusion. Therefore, some of the suggestions provided above and more are urgently necessary in order to address this problem.