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How might tribalism derail attempts for a conflict-free future?

Posted By Sarah Skidmore, Monday, July 13, 2020

Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program makes assumptions about the role of tribalism in the future of Africa. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


Tribalism manifests as people make decisions out of loyalty to their group or tribe. Think of modern Africa. Consider the vastness of the continent – the Arab culture of northern Africa, the poverty throughout the sub-Saharan region, and even racial tensions in South Africa. This does not even begin to examine the magnitude of diversity and wealth of identity that is present among the 3,000 plus tribes that call Africa home. The Angolan Civil War. The Ethiopian Famine. Apartheid. Rwandan Genocide. War in Darfur. Civil conflicts spurred by groups with varying ideologies have plagued Africa historically. The divisiveness of these conflicts and the havoc the African people experience due to power moves by African leaders drastically impact the ability of the continent to unlock its potential.


What future is in store for a continent that continues the cycle of civil unrest, the and violence evoked by tribalism? What future may exist if tribal imbalances continue in the decades to come? What harm may come from tribal grievances continuing to perpetrate?


The legacy and continued impact of colonialism is far reaching – even in postcolonial times. Colonial powers manipulated and destroyed classic power systems of African tribes for centuries. The beliefs and systems European colonialism imposed throughout Africa have a lasting influence on indigenous groups and impact politics. Following the reign of colonialism, the latter half of the twentieth century was shaped by Western imperialism and followed by the influence of international investment. However, all throughout this history, Africa was, and is, filled with countless tribes, ideologies, and customs.


Merely focusing on tribalism is similar to focusing on the concept of diversity. There is value in diversity. There is importance on honoring cultures and customs. There is significance in hearing differing perspectives. But there is more work to be done than simply recognizing diversity. Groups and tribes must shift toward fostering inclusion and cultivating a shared vision for the grips of destructive tribalism loosen. Without this shift toward inclusion and a shared vision, tribalism in Africa will continue the cycle of violence and destruction too common in the past decades.


Tribalism represents groups with varying cultural identities, societal identities, historical narratives, political views, and power dynamics. Along with the distinctive features of each people group, there are the histories and relationships among the various groups. These relationships are shaped by varying levels of trust, tension, and power, which influence decisions. How might cultivating greater trust between groups allow for a conflict-free Africa?


When ideating ways to achieve a conflict-free future in African by 2050, tribalism is undoubtedly a factor that will influence attempts toward that future. Tribalism represents the vast diversity that exists throughout the continent. Consider the value that tribalism may bring the people as they honor the unique culture and beliefs of other groups. Image a conflict-free future when tribalism evolves beyond a focus of violence and power toward one of inclusion, shared vision, and unity.


© Sarah Skidmore 2020

Tags:  Africa  future  tribalism 

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