Tribalism: The Idolatry of 20th Century

Abdulai Mansaray, author

The elections have just concluded in Sierra Leone. Better still, Act 1 scene 1 of our democratic process has just been concluded. How democratic it was is anybody’s guess. The accusations, allegations and counter accusations keep flying. But interestingly, our country has never seen the like of this election. Social media seemed to have come of age during the elections. Fake news gained a lot of currency in the minds of people. Although there were lots of controversies and the lot, the run off, or better still Act 2 Scene 2 is sure to take a life of its own. There are a lot of issues, some perennial and some new that have been raised and continue to be, from the recently concluded elections. It is with humility that I confess; that having gone through the political jamboree recently; I feel that I am suffering from political constipation. My Whatsapp pages have been the best of victims during this cycle. Believe it or not, a new illness is about to descend on us; whatsappmyosis.

It is just half way through the journey, but what sticks out from these elections is the theme of regional and tribal lines being drawn across our country. I recall how people tried and failed to use tribalism to fuel our decade long war. The spirit of the nation was very strong then. As a nation, we all believed that we faced a common enemy; the rebel fighters. And so those who tried to use and capitalise on our ethnic differences failed miserably. Can anyone imagine what it would have been like, if they had succeeded to pitch one tribe against the other during the rebel war? We survived it as one. It’s time to bring back those days of oneness.

Today, my heart bleeds for my country and I am struggling to find words to describe the depths to which our nation has been allowed to sink; using tribal allegiances to determine who is best equipped to lead us into the next political cycle. Our politicians have succeeded where the rebels failed. Our politicians have succeeded where the mercenaries failed. The geopolitical landscape was succinctly demonstrated by the results of the recently concluded elections. If there is anything to take away from the elections, it is heart wrenching that our politicians have allowed TRIBALISM to rear its ugly head in our midst.

You don’t need to be an Einstein to fathom this. The voting pattern has left a landscape that is, and will be plagued by tribal consciousness. The worry is all too familiar. We have seen how one of the largest democracies, one that you would be tempted to use as a blueprint for democracy, USA has been used, misused and abused to  become one of the most divisive societies. America used to be the land of the free. Today, it is the land of us and them. I have no desire to describe any geographical area by its tribal colouration. But suffice it to say that this has been the case. It is a really sad state of affairs that a new wave of tribal instincts has been rejuvenated.

To say that Sierra Leone’s 2 main political parties were juxtaposed along tribal lines is like telling me that the pope is catholic. But unlike today, these tribal differences and allegiances were as subtle as you could get. It was not uncommon for a Mende person to vote for the APC and the Temne for SLPP. There was an unspoken notion that the SLPP and APC were genetically Mende and Temne parties respectively. In spite of such notions, there was room for the in-betweens. As a district, Kono was regarded as the Ohio or king maker of our electoral process. The district has never been known to go half way; all or nothing. But the recent results, which many have described as sticking 2 fingers up the … to the APC has conjured unusual political alliances that seem to be bordering on the tribal. This is really sad; that in this day and age, a man’s qualification to represent his country would be largely or solely dependent on the language his parents decided to teach him.

Having gone through the marathon campaign season, you would expect voters to experience some voter apathy. That is a possibility, but if such a low motivation is tinged with the fervour of tribal instincts, who knows. But those politicians who believe that preaching tribal allegiances is the best route to their success would be best described as delusional. In the first place, except if your aim is just the acquisition of power and nothing but power, a divided country is not the best menu for a new leader. Leaders succeed because they have a united following. Donald Trump peddled the concept of divide and rule. Today, he cannot get anything done in his back yard. As if to make matters worse, those whom he rewarded with appointments and positions for standing by him are now deserting him in droves; at least one every week.

Our parliamentary composition is very likely going to be a preferably mixed bag. The expectation is that we would have better parliamentary debates unlike the comatose one we had for the last 10 years. Interestingly, whosoever ends up being the president will have his work cut out. For how can you lead a parliament where its midwife was tribalism? How can one lead a parliament with tribalism as its dominant DNA? How do you share development projects, political appointments, undertake projects for social mobility based on tribe and region? I can hear you say it has always been the case. True. But this was subtle then. Just like the elections, this one would be blatant. Many would like to see how you can lead a divided parliament. Ask Donald Trump.

Tribalism is now becoming our country’s compound interests. As a nation, we must resist it; for it serves only those who stand to gain from it. And that is the politicians who, drunk with Machiavellian principles see it as a means to an end. They are prepared to use you, misuse you, abuse you, and in the end refuse you. And when they achieve their political ends, will the price of a bag of rice, petrol, cement etc. depend on the language you speak? Will sanitation, good education, and even the weather depend on your tribal affiliations?

With tribalism fast becoming trendy as demonstrated in the elections, we should never allow it to fester among us. We should never allow such ethnocentric way of thinking; who is your uncle to linger among us.  Tribalism will make prejudice seem like physics inter-generationally. It is therefore the most dangerous opponent of philosophy, because it feels the most credible to the average person. If we do, it will succeed where the rebel war failed. If we look around Africa today, there are lots of examples to choose from. For the sake of Mama Salone, let’s vote wisely; for the price of a bag of rice knows no tribe.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).

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