In African politics, tribal and ethnic identities are frequently cited as two of the main issues confronting the continent and having a significant influence on unity of national identity.
Politicians and their supporters are split along tribal and religious lines from east to west and north to south in Africa.
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These undoubtedly have significant effects on the continent, as the discussion that follows will show.
Africa is a multicultural continent rich in diverse ethnic groups and civilizations with a wide range of interests.
The problem of ethnicity and tribalism is somewhat common to many African nations, notwithstanding their distinctions. However, it’s equally critical to acknowledge the distinct background and circumstances of every nation. For instance, the split between white and black South Africans and the legacy of apartheid are strongly related to the problem of ethnicity in that country. The ethnic groupings of Kikuyu, Luo, and Kalenjin are the most divided in Kenya. Thus, while certain elements are shared by all of Africa, the details might differ greatly throughout nations.
While the continent has benefited much from diversity throughout the years, there have been more drawbacks than benefits to Africa from the use of ethnicity as a political tool.
A policy of rotating power among ethnic groups in African states has been brought about, according to many scholars and researchers, by examining the tool of tribalism in politics. This policy has given everyone a sense of belonging, but many others see the same reason as the source of conflict when agreements are not adhered to strictly by the various ethnic groups.
The common ethnic dynamics that exist throughout the continent are as follows: political leaders use the boundaries that many African countries were established with, little consideration for the ethnic and tribal groups living within them, to further divide their constituents and create ongoing threats rather than opportunities for unity.
Because of this, using ethnicity in politics now in Africa offers a greater threat to national and regional administrations, with ethnicity serving as the catalyst for nearly all disputes.
This intensified the process by which political parties that ought to represent all people are founded on tribalism, which results in “ethnic voting,” which is detrimental to both the advancement of democracy on the continent and political growth.
Ethnic division is currently the quickest path to political control and leadership in Africa. To further their own agendas at the expense of progress, leaders have frequently paved the path for tribalism, which has frequently resulted in conflicts both within and between nations as well as between groups within the same nation.
Using the Nigeria 2023 general elections as an example, the major candidates’ actions caused the electorate to be divided along the lines of the three major ethnic groups. As a result, even months after the election, when a winner has been announced, the seeds of discord are still growing and negatively affecting the country as people find it difficult to relate to one another or work together.
Voting based on ethnic or tribal identity typically results in a “winner-take-all” mindset, where the victorious party or candidate utilizes their position to further the interests of their ethnic group, mostly to the exclusion of others. As a result, groups feel that they are not being adequately represented and take up arms to resist the injustice against them; in doing so, the nation is threatened and becomes incapable of peaceful cohabitation. This frequently leads to a cycle of resentment and violence.
Eventually, when insecurity sets in, it will not only undermine national cohesion but also other critical facets of economic expansion, such as foreign partnerships and investments, which will ultimately lead to slowed growth.
This dynamic might be more prominent in Africa than in other regions of the world for a number of reasons. The fact that many African nations still have young, developing institutions is one factor. Political leaders may find it simpler to utilize their positions to further the interests of their ethnic group rather than the interests of the nation as a whole as a result.
National experiences have demonstrated that the presence of ethnicity in politics has hindered the ability to pool resources for the good of all. Instead, it has led to the “personalization effect,” in which members of the ruling class’s ethnic group typically enjoy the excesses while others are treated with contempt and do not benefit from the so-called “benefits of democracy.
Additionally, there’s the potential for the already-existing divide between common people and powerful politicians to grow.
In this instance, the politicians who have benefited the most from the public’s exploitation of their ethnic pride are able to experiment with 21st-century methods at the expense of the underprivileged, who typically survive on stipends, widening the class divide.
Such divisions lead to mistrust and animosity, which in turn fuels discord and other related vices that impede progress. In some African countries, as was the case in Sudan a few years ago, this frequently resulted in the transformation of members of particular ethnic groups into political rivals and state enemies, who carried guns and endangered political stability in an attempt to obtain what was rightfully theirs and had been promised.
Overall, since ethnicity and tribalism are inextricably linked to who we are as Africans, there is never a bad time to make amends.
To demonstrate that no ethnic group is superior to another and that all are allies on the road to the continent’s progress, doing so will require a proper reorientation, starting with the political gladiators and working their way down to the average person.
Knowing this implies that the political class can improve nation-building by more skillfully utilizing ethnic and tribal diversity to promote sustainable development that benefits everyone, regardless of origin.