By Juliet Rogers
According to Macmillan Advanced Learners Dictionary, International Students Edition, the expression, “TRIBALISM” refers to “a way of thinking or believing in which people are more loyal to their tribe than to their friends, their country, or any other social group.” This definition helps us to understand tribalism as a very strong loyalty that someone feels for the group they belong to, which is usually combined with the feeling of disliking all other groups or being different from them.
Western nations prefer to name it ‘ETHNIC CLEANSING.’ This suggests to us that tribalism is not just an African affair but also threatens the peace of citizens in Europe, America, and Asia. Nonetheless, the threat it poses to African countries outweighs other continents.
One scholiast, providing a clue in 2010 to the wars involving Western powers in Afghanistan and Iraq—and, less overtly, in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and elsewhere —suggested the “Global War on Terror” was actually a “Global War on Tribes.”
The nexus between Islamism and tribalism is the case in ideological struggles from the Middle East to Western Europe. Wherever there are migrant populations that have an ancestry in societies that are highly tribal, an element will, it turns out to be more prone to religiously motivated violence. Islamic identification in isolation, independent of these tribal qualities, is generally not sufficient in explaining the gross prevailing religious violence in some regions of the globe. Even societies that are urbanized, and in such diasporas, can maintain qualities of tribalism. ( Jacobson and Deckard: The Tribalism Index, 2012 )
Between 1965 and 1970, the Ibo ethnic group felt they were superior enough to have a nation of theirs. They had the orientation that Northern Nigerian politicians were cheating them regarding the distribution of political and economic powers. The dominance of the North made the Eastern Ibos adopted a feeling of dislike for the others. They developed the idea of segregation, with the sole aim of establishing the Iboland – an independent state which should have self-governance system. This indifference owing to their loyalty to their tribe, germinated hatred for the Yorubas and the Hausas, which landed Nigeria into a guerrilla warfare. This saw a systematic destruction of the socio-economic fabric of that nation.
By the time tribal-based civil war ended, Nigerians were unable to educate their children due to excess poverty, which was salvaged by the 1976 free education. Nigeria suffered many military coups, with a devastating economic stagnation.
What we saw between the Hutus and Tutsis in the 1990s was a genocide of a very high magnitude. It was a senseless brutal civil war which saw the two leading tribes at dagger-point with each other until the International Community worked it out for peace for them. Instead of turning on foreigners who were benefiting more than them, Rwandese slaughtered their brothers and sisters, potential beneficiaries of their wealth.
Coming closer to Sierra Leone, among the Mano River countries, Liberians made their people victims of systematic killings and torture in the name of protecting their tribe from going into extinction. The Mano, Mandinka, Gio, Krahn, Kpelle and others saw themselves as enemies. An ethnic-biased civil war left their country completely sacked, because one tribe saw the other as threat to the other’s existence. So, fear among themselves led to their own destruction.
A careful examination of Sierra Leone will project a country that is grossly and negatively divided into two major tribes – Mende and Temne. Retrospecting the past will expose the loss the country suffered as a result of tribal indifference and the gains the country will make if it is moved away from the syndrome of tribalism.
Early 1991 in Bomaru, Dia Chiefdom, Kailahun District, Sierra Leoneans heard the first gunshot which landed the country into eleven year civil war. That war would not have progressed from that point if it was devoid of tribal sentiments. The intruding rebels had learnt the sickness Sierra Leone was suffering from.
The All Peoples Congress (APC), comprising more of Northerners had stayed in political and economic power for well over twenty years, much to the disadvantage of the South and East of Sierra Leone. All facilities – political and economic, were denied the Mende ethnic group and all associate tribes. Being marginalised and segregated by the Temne and Limba ethnic groups, the Mendes had always looked for an opportunity that can oust this Temne based regime. Therefore, when Corporal Foday Saybana Sankoh launched his rebel war campaign in the Eastern village of Bomaru with the simple gospel that they had come to dethrone the APC and install the SLPP, with the latter mainly comprising of the Mendes, it made it easier for his campaign to succeed. Tribalism made the Mendes so blind to the evils of armed conflict, so much that they turned their weapons upon their own brothers and sisters, destroying all the organised structures in the Mende Land.
By the time the Mendes came to realise their mistake, the war had already taken over the entire country, which tapped the attention of regional and international communities. It was only with the concerted effort of forces like ECOMOG, South African Military Firm, the Executive Outcome, United Nations Peace Keeping Forces and the Civil Defence Force that restored peace in Sierra Leone.
In effect, what we have been seeing in Sierra Leone over the years is the entertainment of two main political parties to a very large extent, grouped along tribal lines – APC being largely northerners whereas South-East sees the SLPP as purely theirs. This tribal belief or ideology has not brought our country to the development stage we want it. Each of the two tribes becomes loyal either to the Reds or Greens, thereby broadcasting seeds of discord and generating hatred for the other political group and its attended tribe(s).
It has got to a point where we have failed to see ourselves as one nation, one country and one people. We have lost national focus and become more partisan, largely dictated by tribal and regional interests. The scripture is clear on this when it states that: “A divided house cannot stand.” The division of our country, if not treated urgently, will continue to drag us backward in national development in the true sense of the word.
HOW DO WE SOLVE THIS PROBLEM AS A NATION?
Firstly, shifting our mindset from regionalism and tribalism to positive nationalism will return all the lost glories in the socio-economic and cultural gains our country will stand to make. Let us recall as a nation that when Africa wanted to gain political independence, there were nationalistic movements which were not looking at African tribes but a drift that could retrieve African countries from colonialism to independent African states. The Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society (ARPS) was formed in the Gold Coast, now Ghana in 1897 as a protest group to certain tenets in colonial administration, tenets that were developing the Western powers and not Ghana. In similar direction, the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), founded in 1917 under the leadership of Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford was aimed at the modernisation of West Africa. Part of the inspiration for the invention of the NCBWA was the thriving concern that most Pan-African movements of the epoch were too diffused and extensive in their aims and objectives, and did not commensurately address the concerns of West Africans. This was closely followed by the West African Students Union formed in London in 1925 to discuss matters affecting West Africa and proffer solutions to them. In addition, the West African Youth League was formed by a Sierra Leonean, Isaac Theophilus Akunna Wallace-Johnson, in 1935. Potent among all of these was the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), a Pan-African movement that was led by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican Immigrant that wanted to bring into being “an independent black republic over the entire continent of Africa”. UNIA-ACL was said to be “unquestionably, the most influential anticolonial movement in Jamaica prior to 1938.” (Honor Ford-Smith) UNIA-ACL relished its greatest vigor in the 1920s. All of these did not aim at tribes in Africa but nations.
It is worthy of note that this retrospection will proffer remarkable solutions to tribalism in Sierra Leone.
The National Union of Non-tribal Students (NUNS) with a broad base executive, comprising major tribes across the country will serve as antidote to tribalism.
Since the youths form the fulcrum of tribal sentiments and violence, it will be expedient to see an emergence of Non-tribal Youths League that cuts across tribal and regional boundaries. Serving as pressure groups with a broad focus on nationalism; this will save Sierra Leone not only from conflict, but from political intrigues, economic degradation, poor education standard and the likes.
Juliet Rogers is a Societal Engineer, Life&Emotional Intelligence Coach.