Tribalism and Nationalism in Africa

November 2, 1960

Report Outline
Conflicting Ties of Tribe and Nation
Role of Tribes in African Development
Separatist and Unifying Forces in Africa

Conflicting Ties of Tribe and Nation

Stormy events of the past few months in the Congo have emphasized a complication in the transition of African lands from colonial status to independence that has not been present, at least in comparable form, at the birth of new nations on other continents. The complication in the former Belgian Congo, and in other parts of Africa, is the existence of tribal loyalties and customs that compete with national loyalties and aspirations.

Jubilation over attainment of their independence has been strong among African peoples, but the tribal ties and rivalries that prevail among them seem to be acting as a divisive influence, partly because tribal boundaries frequently do not coincide with national boundaries. Tribal attachments consequently interfere with getting some of the newly independent countries firmly headed toward a stable nationhood. African tribal customs and the political forms of democracy are in many ways poles apart. The passage from tribalism and a colonial status to national independence and representative government is therefore bound to be halting and difficult, and it may well follow courses which at times exasperate and puzzle people in the more advanced nations of the free world.

Obstacles to Unity in New African States

Norman F. Lord, former editor of Paraclete, a Catholic monthly, stressed the point last spring that “One of the greatest obstacles to unity in an African nation is the rivalry among the many tribes of an area.” Lord observed that “each tribe wants to be the ruling tribe” and that “one tribe is envious of the progress of another and attributes it to favoritism on the part of the government.” It is only the relatively few Africans who have received a higher education who think of themselves primarily as citizens of an African state. Most Africans give first loyalty to one of the more than a thousand tribes found on the Dark Continent.

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