Monday, January 5, 2009



The Daily Monitor
Kampala, Uganda
Beti Olive Kamya

Tribalism, a word defined by most English dictionaries as “loyalty to ones tribe and culture” adopted a negative connotation in contemporary Africa - a legacy of the colonial strategy to break up the strong African society, that was held together by loyalty to tribe and culture.

In order to control the African mind, a prerequisite for the successful colonisation of Africa, the Mzungu demonised everything native – religion, music, art, and tribal sentiments. What I find pitiful is the 21st Century African still trapped in the 19th Century colonisation strategy, long overtaken by the independence of Africa!

Lately, the Ugandan elite have, with scorn, thrown around the words “tribalism” and “tribalist”. I have been at the centre of it with friends and foes alike, concurring that the “dirty” words will see me fall from the grace of “national appeal” to the shame of “wallowing in tribal sentiments”! If tribalism means loyalty to and standing up for ones tribe, then I am guilty – but who isn’t, so that (he) throws the first stone?

Most people prefer a spouse from their tribe, name their children tribal names, practice their tribal culture and hang out with people of their tribe. An easy example is the Museveni family, who, when the time came for their children to marry, looked for families from their tribal community. They could have sourced children-in-law from good stock like Prof. Nsibambi, Hon Amama Mbabazi, Rwot Acana or Paul Etyang – all with good pedigree, education, looks and politically friendly – but no, it had to be good old Karugire, Kamuntu, Kuteesa, Rwabwogo and no one was surprised or hurt because it is normal.

People informally organise along tribal biases – caucuses in Parliament, student associations, social groups abroad. Thus, Banyakigezi, Twegaite, Acholi, Lango and Nkoba za Mbogo are tribal groupings in North America. A Mukiga in Toronto will by-pass an Acholi in the same town to reach a fellow Mukiga in California through Banyakigezi Association. His / her Acholi friend in Toronto will not feel snubbed because this would be a Banyakigezi affair, and (s)he would know that his/her Mukiga buddy will not expect an invitation to Kachoke Madit, but together, they will attend UNAA as Ugandans.

Hanging out with ones’ kind is not exclusively African – every city in the world boasts of Irish pubs, Italian haciendas, Japanese pagodas, Indian Associations – all patronised by people of the same ethnic background ….and the Scottish Nationalist Party in Britain is all about Scottish issues.

Media houses in Uganda make bold tribal statements – Voice of Teso of Mike Mukula, an Iteso, Voice of Toro of John Katuramu, a Mutooro, Radio Paidha of Simon D’ujanga, from Nebbi, Kigezi FM, Radio West, Bunyoro Broadcasting Services, Kiira FM and CBS are all tribal radios.

Kisoro Trading Co, Bugisu Vehicle Repairs, BannaMasaka Supermarket, Kamuli Drugs Shop, Owiny Ki Bur Bus Services, Nyabushozi Milk Plant and Rwampara Traders are names of businesses located in Kampala, quietly confessing where the proprietors’ hearts are.

Most people, left on their own, have simple tribal hearts but they are not averse to other communities. Lions, buffaloes, elephants and birds hang out with and look out for their own. If you want to see the wrath of a baboon, knock one as you drive through Busitema. Hit a dog and no baboon will notice!

Tribalism was demonised by the colonialist because it competed with his/her designs for Africa. The 21st Century African cannot still be promoting the archaic, colonial interests! Enjoying our diversity works well at levels where the colonialist did not find the need to penetrate e.g. loyalty to clans and healthy competition among clans that form a tribe are as healthy today as they were before colonialism, but tribes are not about to disintegrate.

The tested, centuries-old clans’ that are woven to form strong tribes can be adopted to build a nation of many interdependent tribes. There is nothing wrong with tribalism if it goes hand-in -hand with the universal values of constitutionalism, democracy, justice, transparency, equity and respect for each other. Let us celebrate, not apologise, for who we are; only then shall we be confident enough to build a strong Nation of One Uganda, One People.

Beti Olive Kamya
MP, Lubaga North