Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Are ethnic groups and tribes uniting or dividing Africa?

Article from AFRIC Editorial
Africa comprises of different communities of people defined by their physical appearance, language, culture, tradition and boundaries. Most wars in Africa were caused by tribal or ethno-religious conflicts which have led and/or with various consequences; the birth of new countries, death, human rights violations, rise political movements, creation of militias, unemployment, insecurity, migration, poverty and disease spread.

After-war problems such as demand for leadership change, quest for natural resources and social status dominance are also evident. In addition to afore mentioned, an African phenomenon of supporting religious and political movements/leaders because it/he is attributed to a particular tribe is one very challenging intricacy causing conflicts.

Existed/On-Going Tribal or Ethnic Conflicts

  1. Luo and Kikuyu Tribes in Kenya

Kenya has about 42 tribes under three linguistic ethnicities namely: Cushitic, Bantu, Nilotic. After independence in 1963, Njomo Kenyatta as first president, a Kikuyu, instilled peace for a while. He extended a hand of friendship to his Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a Luo. His son Raila Odinga held the Post of Prime Minister from 2008 to 2013 and has been the main opposition leader. Uhuru Kenyatta the Son of Jomo Kenyatta current president since 2013 before his re-election in 2017, was accused during his campaign by his main counterpart Raila Odinga of tribalism; who are not much of friends like their Fathers., Raila Odinga a Luo accused Kenyatta of appointing Kikuyus into government institutions and positions to ensure his victory; an issue which is still on-going.


  1. Ndebele and Shona Tribes in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe with few political turn overs experienced a long reign of dictatorship from Robert Gabriel Mugabe from the majority Shona tribe. He was prime minister from independence in 1980 till 1987 under the Ceremonial First President Canaan Banana from the Ndebele Minority tribe and then President from 1987 till 2017. Government majority made of Shonas, maltreated and marginalized the Ndebeles or Mthwakazis who occupy the midland provinces also called Matebeland. While retaliating, they were cracked down and killed by the government militia in what was termed the Gukurahundi Massacres. This stamped pain in the hearts of the Ndebeles who are still retaliating against the government through their opposition parties till today.


  1. Rwenzuru and Bakonzo Guerrillas in Uganda

In the 1960s, the Bakonzo and Bama ethic groups felt marginalized by the Tooros and began the Rwenzuru rebellion demanding for an independent kingdom which was recognized by the government in 2009 with the secondary motive of gaining votes which failed in 2011. In 2014, the Bakonzo demanded a separate kingdom which was granted by President Museveni. Weeks later, Youths from both kingdoms attacked government forces in an attempt to over through the government. Many were arrested from both kingdoms, tried in military tribunals and jailed; Ugandans still retaliating.


  1. Biafra and Hausa/Fulani/Yoruba Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, there were clashes over political power till 1966 when Yakubu Gowon became President under whose term the Biafra (Nigerian) Civil War was fought. The war was caused by ethno-religious differences between the Hausas and Fulanis northwards and the Igbos south eastwards and the Yorubas south westwards. There were a series of Coup D’Etats and fighting over mineral oils in the Niger Delta. During this period, Muslim Hausa, Yoruba and Fulani Majority in the North started molesting and killing the minority Ibo/Yoruba Christians who had to retaliate since power was in the hands of Christians. The State Military blocked the Niger Delta food supply and amidst gun fighting, led to many deaths. This conflict has not ended completely because Muslim Fulani herdsmen slaughtered Christian farmers in the middle belt recently over grazing/farming land. Boko Haram an Islamic sect which surfaced some years back is terrorizing Christians and others in the North.


  1. Tutsi and Hutu Tribes in Rwanda and Burundi

This was a conflict over social class unlike other conflicts in Africa that were caused by language and ethno-religious differences. The perceived Tutsi rich cattle rearing minority was under the rule of the perceived poor Hutu farming majority after they took power by force in the early 1960s from Belgium. From 1972 to 1994, the Tutsi Government militia and civilians attacked the Hutus slaughtering almost 200,000 women, children and men. In Burundi, the Hutus tried an uprising in which many were killed by the Tutsis and failed. This left Rwanda devastated.

  1. North Arabs and South Black Africans in Sudan/Nuer and Dinka Tribes South Sudan

Sudan was divided into Sudan and South Sudan because of ethno-religious and tribal clashes over grazing land since the “Sudans” are found in the drought Saharan zones. In the North and Centre of Sudan, there are the Arab tribes; Kordufan and Darfur and Beja eastwards, Mapan, Nubian and Angassana southwards. In South Sudan, there exist the Dinkas and Nuers. These ethno-religious differences led to the two Sudanese wars which gave birth to South Sudan in 2011. Till present, all the tribes in both countries are still fighting over leadership and control of resources.

There are others such as the on-going Muslim Séléka and the Christian Anti-Balaka conflict in Central African Republic and some ended although the consequences are still being felt such as the northern Tuareg ethnic group and the Southern black Africans in Mali, Krahn and Gio/Mano Ethnic Groups in Liberia and Zulu and Pondo Tribes in South Africa.

What Can African Countries do to Avert Tribal Conflicts?

  • Change of mentality at personal levels

It is high time Africans start seeing themselves as one people irrespective of colour, race, language, population size or religion in the example of Rwanda.

  • Participation in conflict resolutions by the AU and other international organizations as neutral third parties

The AU and other international organizations should continue to participate in conflict resolutions as a third party without secondary motives and without taking sides. In the case of Libya, the USA and France have taken over the control oil extraction when they initially came in as resolvers under the UN.

  • Try new options for conflict resolutions

If old methods have failed in conflict resolutions, new ones should be tried such as referendums and avoid war.

  • Majority ethnic groups should stop stigmatizing and marginalizing minorities

The various governments to create institutions that can monitor improper behaviour and use of violent language publicly against individuals and groups of people.


  • Promote living together through religious platforms

Churches should be involved in the promotion of living together using all their communication means also during their spiritual activities.

  • Adopt neutral official languages

In the case where a country has many tribes speaking multiple languages, a neutral language which is not affiliated to any of them should be chosen as the official language and the rest made optional. In DR Congo, Swahili and Lingala should be made optional and French fully promoted as their official language.

  • The Promotion of African Peace and Unity should be officially taught at all educational level

Africans should be taught about the positive aspects of unity in diversity as courses, subjects and in seminars so that the awareness to supress tribal division. In Cameroon, the Catholic Bishops recently wrote a book against occultism, resicrutianism and witchcraft.

Tribes are definitely dividing Africa although many African countries now see future possible positive changes as for the first time, DR Congo and Zimbabwe experienced a peacefully leadership transition and Rwanda now enjoying peace and harmony under Paul Kagame as president; which is now clear that these conflicts can be resolved.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Credit image: google image/illustration


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