by Ruth Aine - 01 November 2014
Africa is a close-knit community. It is not a country, but we seem to have a lot of things that differentiate us from the rest and yet bring us together. Culture is an integral part of who we are. With culture comes tribalism.
In school we were taught that tribalism is one of the reasons that colonialism came to an end. The more the natives of the land were able to accept themselves as who they are, the easier it was for them to unite in fight for what they believed in. We see that coming to life especially with the Buganda Kingdom, which is the authority that mainly fought for the independence of Uganda.
A brief background: Uganda is home to over 40 ethnic/tribal groups. The Baganda form the largest group, comprising almost 17% of the population in the south. Originally, Uganda had four kingdoms that enjoyed a certain level of autonomy under British colonial rule. However, the kingdoms were abolished in 1966 by Uganda’s first president Dr Apollo Milton Obote. They were re-instated by the current president in 1993. To date, only three kingdoms exist: The Buganda, the Bunyoro and the Toro Kingdoms. Other important ethnic groups in Uganda are the Ankole (8%), Iteso (8%), Basoga (8 %,) Bakiga 7%, Banyarwanda (6%), Langi (6%), Bagisu (5%), Acholi (4%) and Lugbara (4%).
Uganda is diverse in terms of ethnicity and we continue to see the role played by tribalism in the country in the following ways:
I remember so well the politics of my little town where I am registered to vote in the 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections. The talk of the town was who to vote for and why. There were so many affiliations in regard to who comes from which place and to what clan they belong. In Kabale, being a very small district, it was very easy for word to go around (Kabale is home to the Bakiga). As a result it is hard to keep anything secret, but the usual talk is: ‘Where do they come from?’, ‘Who are they?’. Even when you apply for a job, the first question that you get asked is: “Where are you from?’ or ‘Who are your parents?’. This inclining makes it hard for the right people who can perform, to get into office or get a job that they actually could do really well.
Very important to note as well is that tribalism goes hand in hand with religion. Especially in this small district, there were always the Protestants versus the Catholics. These are sentiments that still exist today. Tribalism is also carried over to education. There are many church founded secondary schools and most of them are either Protestant or Catholic. I attended a Protestant faith-based secondary school and while the school had tribes from all over the country, the home tribe was always dominant and visible.
In the early and late 1990s, it was unheard of for someone from the southwestern part of the country getting married to someone from the eastern part. However, the numbers have increased over time. This is as a result of education, which I believe are the effects of globalization. Occasionally though you will find critics of such in society. Most times these will be defined by age and perceptions.
Going forward, there are so many barriers that have been broken down due to globalization, civilization and education. They are very visible. Intermarriages are slowly being accepted into society. There are particular tribes where it is still hard to get away with intermarriages. There have been horrific stories of families torn apart and individuals disowned because they married into other tribes, but there are also many success stories. And I think that those are showing that we are becoming one.
However, something that I believe is noteworthy is that we are also continuing to see a people searching for their roots and a sense of belonging. This goes beyond only certain tribes. It is about belonging to the nation. This is a very good trend because then we cease to look at each other as ‘the other people’ and look at each other as brothers and sisters. In a quest for good governance, better health care facilities, and better service delivery in the country, there seems to be a unanimous decision that we all belong and that we are all being affected, hence we deserve better as a nation.
This is what I see as the bigger trend going forward – that tribalism will no longer be the issue that separates people but rather that which brings people in Uganda, as well as in Africa, together.
Identity is becoming crucial to people on the Continent – it is something that we treasure and tribes are a part of this identity.