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U.S. politics projects tribalism


US President Donald Trump speaks to the press in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

Tribalism stems from primordial, visceral and oftentimes fanatical sentiments and emotions. The raw power this cauldron presents can be harnessed in ways which beggars belief,defies logic and contemns the lowest common denominator of human decency.

Africa has all too often witnessed the end results of tribalism run amok which have manifested in institutionalized persecutory attacks, civil conflict and levels of barbarity that would render denizens of the animal kingdom skittish.

The scorched earth politics driven and energized by tribalism is often propelled by a pathological lust for power, avarice, systematic ethnic marginalization or a base desire to enshrine and act on traditional prejudices.

This leap into societal darkness has been the reality for several African countries constrained to co- exist and thrive as homogenous entities, despite the wildly hodgepodge composition of their disparate groupings.

An imbroglio made infinitely worse as tribal factions within our nation states have sometimes nurtured age-old mutual hostility and suspicion.

This daunting if not implausible status-quo is inextricably linked to the legacy of cynical and rapacious forces of European Imperialism, but is in no way a justification of chaos or carnage, for which we as Africans have to bear responsibility.

The worst post-independence tribal conflicts in Africa include the Nigeria – Biafra war ( 1967- 1970) a 3 year conflict, with a death toll numbering in excess of 1 million and the Rwandan genocide (7 April 1994 – July 1994) in which Hutus massacred 800.000 Tutsi compatriots.

Apart from industrial scale mayhem, the quest for and exercise of tribal domination at all cost is antithetical to democratic principles and bears a very heavy price tag.

It is an impediment to the attainment of significant or wide reaching nation building achievements and inevitably poses a huge risk to long term stability. Ergo, the stagnation if not outright regression which plagues our continent.

This is the bitter fruit of tribalism. The truth is that most of the 54 countries in Africa are striving to stay afloat, let alone swim.

I venture to state as an indigene of Nigeria, home to 500 tribes and the most populous country in Africa, that Nigerians are all but submerged under the waves of disunity and turmoil.

The current morass afflicting the American political landscape is being increasingly characterized by the U.S. press and political analysts as “tribal.”

The irony is palpable as African nations seemed to have conquered the worst of the tribal demons of decimation in our slow march towards functioning democracies.

The strong support of U.S. administrations in these efforts was guaranteed in their geopolitical leadership role as stake holders and exemplars of democracy.

However, Trumpism which is entombed in tribalism, is upending democratic institutions domestically at every turn under the leadership of its chief proponent , whilst his recalcitrant and vacillating Republican Party chieftains are totally complicit and his electoral support base remains intractable in the face of glaring leadership turpitude.

Paradoxically, in African tribal politics it is typical for the larger tribe to subjugate smaller tribes and embark on dismantling societal norms,eventually following through with persecutory speech and actions.

However to the consternation and befuddlement of the world, the adherents of “Trumpism” comprise of 30 – 35 percent of the American electorate.

It is deeply sombre and telling that former U.S. President Obama, an icon of unity and reconciliation in the U.S., recently felt compelled to compare the current acerbic and polarized state of the U.S. body politic to prevailing conditions in Hitler’s Germany.

In a speech to the Economic club of Chicago he stated, “We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly.”

He noted that despite the great accomplishments in science and culture and a functioning democracy in Germany, the death of sixty million people can be attributed to Adolph Hitler.

A word of warning to which the U.S. should hearken – tribalism in full bloom is a black hole with a vortex that sucks in the very life and identity of a nation.

Africa, home to 3000 tribes, is asking for the restoration of historic and traditional democratic moorings and bearings. This is a duty which is incumbent on the most powerful nation on earth to discharge.

The silver lining to the billowing clouds of potential global upheaval can be summed up in the words of the great British statesman, Sir Winston Churchill who famously opined, “Americans will always do the right thing, only after they have tried everything else.”

His words spoken circa 1944 were eerily prescient, as the world has just witnessed the outcome of a bitterly contested Senate race in Alabama in which “tribalism” was repudiated in no uncertain way and democratic values and human dignity prevailed.

• Fowler is an international lawyer

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