Tribalism – A Curse?

Tribalism can be defined as a state of being organized in, advocating for, a tribe or tribes. It also refers to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are more loyal to their tribe than to their friends.

We have witnessed through the media and the books we read, how this monster – tribalism has caused irreparable harm to our society. Let us look at the case of Rwanda and what happened in 1994, where the Hutus who are the majority slaughtered one million Tutsis, a minority tribe, in a span of 91 days. Until today, people in Rwanda and the international world are yet to recover from the impact that this genocide left.

Immaculee Ilibagiza a survivor of the Rwandan holocaust has told it all in her book entitled ‘Left to Tell’.

Immaculee describes her country as a beautiful masterpiece from God, with the rolling hills; mist-shrouded mountains; green valleys and sparkling lakes. She describes the weather as pleasant all year round, the reason why the German settlers who arrived in the late 1800 christened her The land eternal spring.»

Immaculee grew up not knowing what tribe she belonged until she went to school. The ethnic roll call by her teacher Buhoro took her by surprise, for when he asked the Hutus, Tutsis and Twa to stand up, Immaculee remained seated.

«Immaculee Ilibagiza, you didn’t stand up when I said Hutu, you didn’t stand up when I said Twa, and you are not standing up now that I’ve said Tutsi. Why is that? Her parents did not teach her or her brothers the history of their own country. She was completely clueless of the tribal animosity that has been boiling down to the days of the German and Belgian colonialists. These colonialists created a blunder that later is to fuel resentment between Hutus and the Tutsis. The colonialists favored the Tutsis who are the minority and placed them as a ruling class; therefore the Tutsis were ensured better education to better manage the country, for the benefit of the Belgian overlords. This resentment gained momentum and its climax reached in 1994, where the Hutus slaughtered one million Tutsis within a span of 91 days. Immaculee’s family was brutally murdered and she and her brother who was outside the country, were the only survivors. It is hard to comprehend how people could get into such madness and kill just because of tribal differences.

In 1992 five thousand people were brutally killed in Kenya, and another seventy five thousand displaced in Rift Valley to what was termed as tribal clashes. This conflict was primarily between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu communities. The former head of state President Moi of Kenya defined tribalism as cancer which needs to be shunned.

The monster of tribalism has permeated its tentacles into both public and private sectors. The element of ethnicity and nepotism has seen peoples’ careers spiraling downhill while those who belong to the ‘right’ tribes moving up the ladder. Let us take the example of Mr. Mulunzi (not his real name) who was employed in 1962 in the public sector, and who worked hard through the years until he retired in 1997 without earning a single promotion. Thus the reason for him to remain stagnant on his position is because he did not belong to the tribe that was in power then. He watched his less competent contemporaries moving up the ladder because they belonged to the ‘right’ tribe. This scenario brought to him a sense of hopelessness and despair and after his retirement it was deemed necessary for him to seek specialized treatment for depression.

Pius Omondi (not his real name) was another victim of misfortune. He did well in his ‘O’ Level education. His good scores made him to get a job as a clerk in a bank that was making waves in profits. But he hardly enjoyed his job as he was faced with a series of subtle persecutions from his supervisor Mr. Mburu. His supervisor felt that his uncle’s son who was not as qualified as Omondi, was better suited for the job. He trudged through his job for 10 years without earning a single promotion. His job became a source of misery. He is later to suffer health problems and when he sought medical attention, he was diagnosed with a condition known as panic attacks. While he was undergoing treatment, his woes at work persisted. His friend Sirikwa, who was in self-employment greatly sympathized with him. At the same time there was an investment madness that had taken the country by storm. It was pyramid schemes that were introduced under the guise of Christianity. Many were lured into joining the schemes which promised double the principle amount after a period of two weeks. Sirikwa was already a beneficiary of the schemes and had bought himself acres of land from the proceeds of his investment. He is later to lure Omondi to join such schemes. Omondi could not see why he should remain in a rat race of employment, with all the frustrations that went with it. He opted to retire early which he did. He was paid a lump sum amount which was lucrative. When he finally retired from the Bank, he sang a new song. A song of a prisoner who had been freed from the woes of employment.

Like his friend Sirikwa, he joined the pyramid schemes putting all the money he was paid by the Bank into these schemes. And before the two weeks were over for him to taste the first fruits of his investment, the government ordered the closer of all the pyramid schemes, terming them as illegal scams. Hundreds of people lost their money which they have never recovered until today. Omondi ended up languishing and eventually went to live in the slums.

Come to think of it all this suffering of Mulunzi and Omondi tells us how tribalism can be evil and demoralizing.

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