Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The true face of tribal politics in Africa

KAMPALA - I had hoped to complete the three-part series on walking down memory lane but the rude interruptions of the "festive season" followed by the violence across the border means we cannot fiddle while Rome burns.

It might have taken a stolen election to spark off violence in Kenya but the tribal and ethnic fissures have been there for generations. The Kenyans might refer to them with the politically-correct title of 'communities' but the Kikuyu dominance, both in politics and the economy over the last several decades, have left lingering resentment and anger amongst other tribes, especially the Luo.

In Uganda this resentment was, for a long time, reserved for the Baganda for the lofty position they found themselves in the colonial Uganda -- a direct outcome of geography, a bit of scheming and generally being in the right place at the right time. This tribal friction continues today in the context of the proposed land law reforms which Buganda says, in a cloud of half truths and half lies, is a plot by the Central government to steal its land.

Other tribal sentiments continue to flow quietly but steadily. Ex-minister Mike Mukula recently raised the matter in a meeting of the ruling NRM (of which he heads the party's eatern wing) by claiming that most of the top jobs in the country are held by people from western Uganda. This claim is not new; sometime in the late 90s, The Daily Monitor ran a story in which it clearly showed how the west had a disproportionately large number of ministers in the Cabinet.

In a rather unconvincing rejoinder to Mukula, MP Frank Tumwebaze points out in today's papers that many of the institutions led by people from western Uganda, like the Uganda Revenue Authority, the Police Force, etc, have senior managers from other parts of the country.

I have always thought that people of my age and generation identify themselves more by achievement and other associations, such as schools attended and premier league clubs supported than by tribe. Evidence from Kenya suggests that while tribal sentiments might not be worn on sleeves, they remain close to the heart.

Rwanda, just next door, showed how extreme tribal (or ethnic) feelings can go when close to a million people, most of them Tutsi, were slaughtered in the 1994 Genocide. If the international community did not have residual guilt over its inaction over the Rwanda genocide, the Kenyan violence could have been worse.

On a continent of contradictions, tribes give us so much of our history, culture and tradition but they can also spark so much divisionism, death and destruction. The challenge for anyone seeking a new Afrikan body politik, therefore, is how to harness tribal/ethnic power for social and communal good.

I used to think that economic prosperity in a globalising world would rid people of much of the tribal sentiments. I always thought that as people travel more around the world, they would stop identifying themselves through tribal and local lenses and become part of this global mass of humanity.

How naive I must have been! If you look at the online discussions of tribal issues, most of the contributions are from Africans living in the Diaspora (and therefore more exposed and hopefully more affluent on average). It now appears to me that this fast globalising world, rather than give people a new and highly individualistic, capitalist and consumerist identity, is so faceless and empty of real meaning that it forces many Africans to try, as much as possible, to retain their original identify of tribe, language and culture.

It might help explain why many of the Ugandans living away from home pay silly money to buy matooke in East London markets, flock to shows featuring Ugandan musicians, and use every opportunity to speak their mother tongues. Man is a social animal and wherever we go or however wealthy we become, we seek social acceptance in one form or another, but often through tribal identity.

The notion of the nation-state imposed on Africa by colonialism cannot bind this continent together neither can 'free and fair elections held under a multiparty political system' offer a sufficient fulcrum for political-economic change within these artificial borders.

Maybe the solution is to the embrace the tribe as the unit of social, political and economic mobilisation -- as was the case in pre-colonial times. We would eliminate the sham of having 'broadbased' governments that in reality represent the interests of a small ruling elite with a sprinkling of outsiders to give beef up their political-correctedness credentials. Maybe tribe should be embraced, not abused as a primitive and backward form of social mobilisation and political organisation.

Burundi, which has had its fair share of Hutu-Tutsi ethnic violence, has sought to take the sting out of ethnic differences by drawing up a power-sharing constitution between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. It might still be very shaky but at least it offers an agreed-upon template of how power (and resources) should be shared.

Western-style democracy is simply a system for the articulation of varied interests, many of them mobilised along class or occupational lines. Hence farmers in Iowa will support candidates who promise to give them subsidies and protect them from foreign competition, private equity barons will support candidates who promise not to over tax the rich, and so on. In the absence of trade unions, a true middle class in formal employment, and with a large peasant population, maybe it is time to mobilise and lobby according to tribe and vote for candidates who promise to share the spoils. Smaller tribes would ally with bigger ones to play kingmaker and any one group, needing the support of others to govern, would have to build bridges and roll the pork barrels over them.

It might be backward-looking, but at least it will ensure that when angry members of disaffected tribes come running after you with a machete, you will be able to see them before they strike.

4 Comments:

Blogger Joshua said...

wow. a tour de force

1:18 pm  
Blogger alfred said...

Apparently Dan, tribe is very important all over the world, it therefore is interesting when a musoga for example, walks around nose-tucked-in-mouth over a fair comment from a nyaru, munyoro or muhima! Equally entertaining is for such a musoga to wage war on another peace loving Ugandan who is not about to relent! These type of Basoga only bring snickering(not sniggering) upon themselves from the rest of us while foolishly believing they are winning the war.....

Contrary to the allusions in your last para, i think such Basoga should know that in runnig around with their machetes, they are at the climax of the stupidity and foolishness of their resentment to the fair comment made in the first place.
BTW, you may use any other tribe in place of Basoga if it drives the point home better, for me i stick to Basoga for my experiences with them.

Finally Dan, the Luo/Kikuyu scenario in Kenya was very absurd, it should not have happened, just like the genocide in Rwanda/Burundi and other such incidents in Africa. However in my circles, it has become very interesting how journalists who have mainly only read so much on the internet about the Rwanda genocide peddle the line that the international community sat back as the genocide got underway and bla bla bla( you infact use it in the Kenya situation.)To make my point, did you honestly expect foreigners to understand and curb the genocide in Rwanda? or if there was a war in Uganda, isn't Uganda best placed to fight it? Please find out more about how the international system works, otherwise you remain just another journalist trying to be a pundit on the subject, and it waters down your good writing.
Happy new year!

9:49 am  
Blogger Daniel Kalinaki said...

Alfred,

I had written a politically-correct response to your post but lost it to the dodgy internet. I hope this shorter (and more brutal) version is not also 'eaten' by the net.

Your argument, that countries should solve their problems internally without external intervention is as idealistic and simplistic as your thesis that the Kenyan violence and Rwandan Genocide "should not have happened". Of course they should not have happened. But they did. Like the two world wars, the holocaust, the war in northern Uganda, etc The question, then, is how to stop them happening again. I think domestic issues are increasingly becoming international which is why are UN peacekeepers all over the world (including in Rwanda before and during the early days of the Genocide), and why there is international intervention in the Kenyan crisis -- oh, and in the conflict between the Ugandan government and and the LRA rebels.

So, yes, Uganda is best placed to fight its own wars, but when it fails, it resorts to the 'international system' like it did to the ICC.

I don't know who else is in your 'circles' and which planets your therapy group orbits, but I do detect some missed anger-management classes in your post. Why all the angry references to "stupidity and foolishness?"

You took the trouble to sign up for a blog just to respond to the post. Take it further by actually laying down a credible argument you believe in -- regardless of your views or tribe.

Happy new year mate!

P.S You notice I kept the references to the Basoga who, I agree, can be big-headed but have not been known to carry machetes...not yet, anyway.

7:48 am  
Blogger Omutahinga said...

Hi. I respectfully stole (and perhaps misused) quotes from his brilliant blog post. But for the record, I called you a philosophical maverick. :-)

8:01 am  

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