Overcoming tribalism | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Overcoming tribalism

Posted: Apr 20, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Terfa Naswem

During the 45th independence celebration of Nigeria as a nation, David Feddes, a writer for The Radio Pulpit, writes:

Comment“On October 1, 1960, foreign rule ended, and Nigeria became self-governing. As we celebrate this important moment in the country’s life, I pray that God will bless Nigeria and every person in it. I pray that government leaders may shun corruption and use their influence for the good of the people. I pray that fellow Christians in Nigeria and all the Nigerian churches may shine with love and truth of Jesus. I also pray that Nigerians who are not Christians may know God’s care for them and experience respect and kindness from Jesus’ followers. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. The Lord has his purposes for this nation. So, on this anniversary of independence, I ask God to fulfill his purposes for Nigeria.”

Independence from foreign rule is something to celebrate. And when God grants freedom, we must use it to serve God and bless others. This purpose of political power is not to gain personal wealth or to grant special favors to one’s family or tribal members. The purpose of political power is to serve all who are being governed and to work for their well-being. One of the big challenges we face in political systems is dealing with people who are not like us. But for government to be responsible, its leaders need to have all people’s needs and interests in mind according to Feddes.

As Nigeria continues to celebrate years of independence from colonialism, many Nigerians still need to overcome tribalism. Of all the problems that threaten humanity, tribalism is one of the worst. Tribalism involves caring only about your own tribe or group and ignoring people of other groups. Tribalism involves fear of anyone outside one’s own tribe group, hatred for people of different backgrounds, and contempt results in seeing people of another race or group as enemies. Tribalism sweeps through groups and tribes and infects entire nations with hatred.

The results can be dreadful. When you are tribalistic, you stop thinking straight: you judge people by the color of their skin or the name of their tribe or the place of their birth, rather than looking at who they really are. You become paranoid and irrational: whenever anything goes wrong, you blame it on those people you do not like, and you think they are hatching some kind of plot.

Tribalism has terribly destructive effects on those who hate as well as those who are hated. Just look at the 20th century: the Turkish slaughter of Armenians for many years up to 1915, the Nazi Holocaust of more than 6 million Jews during World War II, the tribal massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s – and these are just a few examples. As the 21st century has begun, many thousands in the Darfur region of Sudan have been murdered as a result of ethnic and religious conflicts. Tribal tensions have brought danger and death to Nigeria and to other nations as well.

How can we overcome tribalism? How can we defeat racism and suspicion and ethnic strife? That is one of the most pressing questions in the world today. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, old hatreds exploded with renewed cruelty after communism collapsed. In Western Europe, there is hostility to immigrants and guest workers. Canada has ongoing tensions among French-speaking and English-speaking and aboriginal citizens – differences that many politicians have tried and failed to resolve. In the United States racial tension still enters into hiring practices, bank loans, home purchases, and law enforcement. Accusations fly about racism and reverse discrimination.

So tribalism is a problem we cannot afford to ignore. But what can be done about it?

Trying segregation and integration

Segregation does not work, so what about integration? Some leaders figured that if different peoples are mixed together and they live side by side for a while, they will learn to appreciate each other. But Serbs and Bosnians who were forced to live side by side for more than 40 years under communism still hated each other. Hutus and Tutsis lived side by side in Rwanda, but mistrust and hatred only grew stronger. In Nigeria and other African countries, people from many different tribes were brought together under their national government and people from different tribes flocked to huge cities and mingled there, but blending can still lead to conflict. In the United States, after decades of civil-rights legislation, racial hostility is still a problem. Integration is not enough.

This is not to deny the importance of civil rights and equal opportunity. But those things can take us only so far. Replacing an old policy with a new one will not replace hatred with love. The deepest problem is not legal or social; it is spiritual. We need more than new laws; we need new hearts.

 • Naswem, wrote in from Jos