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Ethnicity & Tribalism

Insight into Ethnicity & Tribalism


Aisha Abdullahi Isse - Former lawmaker in the Transitional Federal Government and current head of the Mogadishu-based Somali Anti-Tribalism Organisation (SATO).

“There is a big hope now of restoring nationhood, however, tribalism can undermine the good efforts that are going on. We have decided to fight against tribalism [now] so that it does not become an obstacle to the establishment of the new nation."

Ian Pearson - Futures Consultant and Futurist Speaker of Futurizon

“Tribalism is a powerful force in human nature and reasserts itself here and there, from time to time. To deny it or to try to outlaw it is to invite at least as many problems as indulging it."

Atieno Odhiambo - Kenyan Historian

“The future of ethnicity is robust, the career of nationalism ended at independence, and the future of democracy, like the arrival at destination of the matatu transport system in Kenya, remains uncertain."

Thabo Mbeki - Former President of South Africa

“I am sure all of us need to be very concerned about a regression to tribalism … One hundred years later, this demon is raising its head."

"There was nothing wrong with people celebrating cultural pride, but the abuse of identity to define access to political power was a problem."

"If you wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me what I am, I’d say, ‘I am an African’. I might say I am African because my great-grandfather was Zulu, my father was Xhosa, my mother is Sotho. I have mixed blood."

Alan Masakhalia - Lead Consultant at Alarnies Development Consultants in Nairobi.

“Tribalism in Kenya is indeed a major stumbling block to democracy as well as socio-economic development. It persists since it provides an avenue via which state goodies and favours trickle down from those in power to their tribesmen. Therefore, loyalty to tribe is given ever greater relevance than loyalty to the country"

Mohamed Warsame Sandhool - Chairman of South and Central Somali Youth Umbrella

"Nothing will work for us if the youth are not educated against tribalism. We have to understand that tribalism will not get us anywhere, and we point out to the youth that it is tribalism that has taken the country to this level [of destruction]."

H.E. Mwai Kibaki - Former President of Kenya

"I firmly believe that regional integration is not a choice but a necessary strategy for sustainable development. On a cultural level, regional integration solidifies the unity of communities with personalities and common history, language and culture."

Dr Patrick Dixon - Futurist Keynote Speaker

"Although the world is increasingly globalised, tribalism is the most powerful force on earth, when a group of people identify only with each other. It’s more powerful than nuclear bombs, or the combined might of the world’s old superpowers or new ones."

"Put tribalism and ageing together and we will see wealthier parts of the world where large tribes of older people dominate every election, with a deep impact on every aspect of consumerism, design, leisure, fashion, employment, taxation, pensions and policymaking. At a time when most of the world's population must still walk more than 15 miles to a doctor, and when life expectancy in places such as Russia and Zimbabwe is falling, these issues pose profound moral and social challenges."

Zola Skweyiya - Member of the ANC National Working Committee

“The demon of tribalism is rising from every corner and we ignore it at our peril. We thought we would not go through what the rest of Africa has gone through, but we are just another African country. There is nothing special about us."

Roger D. Nelson - Director of the Global Consciousness Project (GCP)

“Even as this new magnet of globalization starts bringing "tribes" together, emerging technology guarantees that this again will change. Instantaneous language translators, already on the market offer to make languages transparent as instant translation, much like instant coffee, transforms long-term learning (brewing) into instant information."

Meluleki Mthembu - Diplomat candidate at Monash University SA

“African politicians could diminish the tribe problems in Africa by promoting nationalism or Pan-Africanism in their country, but tribalism matters to them because it suits them well and many African politicians get into power by using tribes issues. The same system Europeans used in past, now African politicians are using the same system to divide Africans for their own interest."

Henry Okullu - was a Kenyan Anglican bishop and theologian

“Ethnic affiliation as an extended family system is a great asset in nation-building especially when acting as a moral retaining influence upon, and a means of security for, its members. It can be argued that an ethnic group as a larger family unit is an order of creation. A nation, some people will argue, is not an aggregate of individuals, but rather a unity of independent institutions, of which ethnic grouping is one. If such is true then ethnic groups are a very strong foundation upon which a strong nation can be built. To do this effectively it is necessary to know how to distinguish between that which belongs to the ethnic group and that which belongs to the nation."

David Ropeik - Consultant in Risk Perception, Harvard Instructor, Author, Journalist

“We identify ourselves as members of all sorts of tribes; our families, political parties, race, gender, social organizations. We even identify tribally just based on where we live. Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason."

Jonathan Haidt - social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“Our tribal minds make it easy to divide us, but without our long period of tribal living there‘d be nothing to divide in the first place. There‘d be only small families of foragers—not nearly as sociable as today‘s hunter-gatherers—eking out a living and losing most of their members to starvation during every prolonged drought. The coevolution of tribal minds and tribal cultures didn‘t just prepare us for war; it also prepared us for far more peaceful coexistence within our groups, and, in modern times, for cooperation on a vast scale as well."

David Lamb - Journalist

“African leaders deplore ethnocentrism. They call it the cancer that threatens to eat out the very fabric of the nation. Yet almost every African politician, practices it, most African presidents are more ethnic chief than national statesman, and it remains perhaps the most potent force in day-to-day African life. It is a factor in political struggles and distribution of resources. It often determines who gets jobs, who gets promoted, who gets accepted to a university, because by its very definition ethnicity implies sharing among members of the extended family, making sure that your own are looked after first. To give a job to a fellow ethnic member is not nepotism, it is an obligation. For a political leader to choose his closest advisers and bodyguards from the ranks of his own ethnic group is not patronage, it is a good common sense. It ensures security, continuity, and authority."

William R. Bascom - Africanist and folklorist

“Tribalism, no longer an obstacle to self-government in Africa, is still an obstacle to national unity…Balkanized by rival European powers in the past, African boundary lines impose artificial divisions on already complex patterns of tribal and sub tribal groupings."

Arend Lijphart - Political scientist specializing in comparative politics, elections and voting systems, democratic institutions, and ethnicity and politics.

“Most experts on divided societies and constitutional engineering are in broad agreement on several points. First, they agree that deep ethnic and other societal divisions pose a grave problem for democracy and that ceteris paribus it is more difficult to establish and maintain democracy in divided than homogenous societies. Second, the experts agree that the problem of ethnic and other deep divisions is greater in countries that are not yet democratic or not fully democratic than in the well-established democracies."


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