A review of Anthea Manasseh’s Tribeless
“When brothers fight to the death, strangers inherit their ancestral home.” (African proverb)
I first read Anthea Manasseh’s TRIBELESS article on readafrica.global. For someone who was raised to love and appreciate all the tribes that my ancestry represents, I was much disturbed by the emotions that her words conveyed. To me, it was a whole new way of looking at life, and I had many questions. What makes a person choose to have no tribal affiliations? Have we, as Africans, come to the point where our children are better off without tribal labels? Would we raise better leaders if we did not tell them that their people are only those who belong to their particular tribe? Are the next generations of Africans better off seeing our continent as ONE community, a billion-plus strong?
Don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating for the dissolution of our ancient tribal structures. Like few other writers, Manasseh’s article leaves me wondering about the positive potential of raising leaders who are able to see family in others. Perhaps this was the purpose of tribal groups in the first place: to establish commonalities that make it easier to care for and cooperate with one another. Perhaps we are better off without markers that separate, and often alienate us. Perhaps we can find a solution to our public institutions, our social fabric, and our political decisions being permanently divided along tribal lines? Perhaps.
I tried to rationalize the differences between Anthea’s Kenyan upbringing, and my experience growing up in Nigeria. The curse of Africa is clearly not that we are gifted with a multiplicity of tribes, each with its own colourful contribution to the African tapestry. The curse is in the fact that we have allowed those affiliations to colour our judgement of Good and Evil in the simplest sense. Our morality, even our humanity seems to evaporate in the face of tribal sentiments and preferences.
In Nigeria today, the tribo-political divisions between the northern Arewa group, the eastern pro-Biafra resuscitators, the southwestern Oodua group, and the militant mid-western groups that populate the Niger Delta; are all tribal affiliations first and foremost. Despite the gift of diversity that over 250 language groups represent, the giant of Africa is still crippled by the tribal (instead of the national) focus.
It is difficult to speak of tribal differences without Rwanda coming top-of-mind. Rwandan politics is a case study that all Africans should be familiar with, and learn from. The life-sapping battles between the Hutus and Tutsis were fought along tribal lines, and the ensuing genocide seems to have taught us very few lessons. With Sudan and South Sudan, the disenfranchisement of certain minority groups has led to the split of a nation that was renowned for growing its empires long before colonial rule. But we can so easily forget about that glorious past, and insist on a new and separate future. Ethiopia and Eritrea also gave real meaning to that proverb about fighting brothers. The Horn of Africa was at war from the early 60s into the late 90s with millions lost funding disputes over land, ideology, and nation-state autonomy. For many observers, the initial questions are still unanswered, and the general polity is yet undecided about whether or not the colonial treaties should be applicable to the borders of our countries today. Still, brothers fight.
The Malian example is no less difficult to swallow. The Tuaregs of Mali continue to make their choice of secession known through the First, Second, and Third Tuareg rebellions. The sentiment is quite clear: to make the Azawad area a permanent home for the Tuareg nation-tribe. With the failed peace agreement of June 2013 followed by the ceasefire of February 2015, Mali is still plagued by sporadic attacks from the ‘Brothers to the North’. In DRC, the pygmy tribe Batwa, and the Luba tribe have been at loggerheads since 2013. Pummeling each other with arrows and axes (I have found myself rejoicing at the dearth of gunfire in this case) these tribes who have lived together since antiquity find no respite in dialogue. The peacemaking ‘baraza’ councils notwithstanding, that conflict has extended to include the Twa tribe, with targeted attacks on the Tutsis of DRC.
It is not at all difficult to see how these stories are similar, with brother tribes and sister nations disregarding centuries of inter-marriage and joint ancestry. It is not difficult to see the opportunity cost either, a simple evaluation of what Africans have lost in terms of development, technology and infrastructural improvement. It is also not difficult to see why Ms. Manasseh would choose to be tribeless, and to raise her offspring simply as Kenyan Africans. Perhaps this is the first step towards national (and continental) unity. In the light of this week’s elections with ensuing banter over the legitimacy of Kikuyu, or Luo, or Kalenjin leadership in Kenya, I see clearly why such a decision would make absolute sense to a peace-loving parent.
Tribelessness is still a hypothethical question at this point. If we took tribalism out of politics, would we get better results, and perhaps a greater tolerance for minor differences? Would our people know to choose leaders based primarily on merit? And without the bias of tribal affiliations interfering with our political structures, would we be better able to take candid, analytical, and unemotional looks at our leaders?
Or would we just find new labels to use, and new banners to fight each other under?