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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 18:43 GMT
The tribe: Good or bad?
A new power-sharing government was inaugurated last week in Burundi, representing a vital step in the country's peace process.

Although the two main Hutu rebel groups have vowed to continue fighting, the new administration incorporates both the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi ethnic groups.

Will the two tribes be able to work together, considering their bitter and bloody past? Will the plan to create a multi-ethnic army succeed, given that the Tutsis have traditionally controlled the military?

Does the existence of tribes inevitably divide African countries? Tell us what you think.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

It is not easy for conflicting tribes to co-operate

Yoanns Mojwok, Melbourne, Australia
There are two essential factors that have complicated African contemporary history. They are the slave trade and colonialisation. They have affected the African way of life and as a result it is not easy for conflicting tribes to co-operate.
Yoanns Mojwok, Melbourne, Australia

If the tribes of Europe can live together why not the tribes of Africa? Europeans have killed more fellow-Europeans in tribal conflict than Africans have killed other Africans. Oh of course you call it the civilised wars.
Gary D, Jakan, USA

With the poverty, plunder and abuse of resources that Africa is experiencing, the tribes cannot work in harmony. Any peace deal is temporary. People have to be assured of the basics for their daily living before they can put tribalism behind them. European tribes only saw the harmony after the economic boom which followed the imperial period and global exploitation of wealth to Europe.
Awinda, Kenya

Most of the conflicts in Africa are just a result of corruption and oppression

Moses Fakeh, Hong Kong
Africa is a continent made up of over 50 countries. There are a many conflicts in the Africa. What I find quite disturbing is the generalization and stigmatisation of Africa with what goes on in few countries. Most of the conflicts in Africa are just a result of corruption and oppression. The dictators and corrupt officials are in most cases are the ones that incite ethic violence for their own gain. The war in Sierra Leone is one good example where the rebels tried to incite tribal tensions but failed. Africans of different tribes can live together in peace and harmony as it is today even after 10 years of war (not tribal) when these people are ruled by decent, loyal and honest leaders and put what is best for the country first rather than the number of digits in western banks.
Moses Fakeh, Hong Kong

Africa is a continent not a country. What you call tribes were nations before European adventurers Balkanised the continent. I live for the day BBC will routinely talk about English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish tribes when they describe the UK, or German, Basque, Flemish, Dutch and French tribes when they talk about Europe. If not why not? This is the 21st century and Euro-centric prejudices based the amount of melanin in your skin doesn't wash.
Dr. Timothy Gyuse, USA

I believe that the Europeans must stop calling the different nations "tribes'. Most of the so-called "tribes" qualify for being nations. The major problem of Africa is not "tribalism" rather it is the existing colonization of some nations in Africa. Unless the de-colonization of some of the African nations is complete there will not be a real peace in Africa.
Oromo, USA

If European tribes can come together and form the European Union why should the same be considered impossible for Africa - apart from the usual reasons of percieved racial superiority of course?

My tribe is the entire world.

Jupiter Punungwe, Zimbabwe
Besides, the tribe is no longer relevant in the modern world because of the advances in communication and transport have made the whole concept unworkable. Tribe used to be based on some ethno-geographic locality - people who lived in close proximity. For example right now I am exchanging opinion with people from all over the world, courtesy of BBC online, and often I find that I am in agreement with people from as far off as Canada. Indeed, through e-mail I know more about friends I have never met all over the world than I do about neighbours who live three houses down the street. All this affects who I identify with in terms of opinion and weakens my sense of belonging to a tribe. In other words my tribe is the entire world.

The existence of tribes is largely becoming irrelevant in the modern world. I see absolutely no reason why it should be considered relevant for Africa only.
Jupiter Punungwe, Zimbabwe

A tribe is a nation. There is no such thing as rival tribes, only different nations. Before the arrival of the colonisers, there were different nations, there was no such thing as Nigeria two hundred years ago, neither was there the Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Zambia. The only solution is to break up these countries into their respective nations, then there would be no tribalism.
Bhekuzulu Khumalo, Canada

First of all, what is a tribe? I do not like this word. It's never used when dealing with Albanians or people from Kosovo, for example. Anyway, there are many African countries with lots of ethnic groups that live peacefully with each other. Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Gabon, to name just a few, are good example of them. There is trouble in many other countries that do not have any ethnic background. This is the case for DRC, Angola. It is greedy people (both Africans and Westerners) who take advantage of the ignorance of uneducated Africans to perpetuate wars in some African regions in order to freely exploit the resources they want.
Jean-Remy, DRC/Canada

The borders were drawn by our colonial masters

George, South Africa
The problem with Africa is simple, the borders were drawn by our colonial masters: Britain! Once Cecil Rhodes and Queen Victoria's greed were satisfied, their children washed their hands whilst Africa is bleeding. When poverty forces itself into the front door of a house, love escapes at the back door. It's got nothing to do with tribes. It's got everything to do with frustration.
George, South Africa

How long will we blame our problems on our colonial predecessors? Every condition today is a culmination of what's happened in the past; continuing to point this out will not change that, only help explain it. Modern day tribalism is the result of two things: manipulative leadership and lack of communication infrastructure, both of which are equally important. We need more leaders like the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who sought first to build an integrated nation and a Tanzanian national identity instead of playing the ethnic identity card to preserve power. Secondly, when that message can be channelled through a well-developed national mass media that penetrates every corner of every bush or jungle, tribalism will be in its final days.
Daudi Baker, USA

At the different schools I attended, I mixed well and had even friends from other ethnic groups. All my life so far, my neighbours have always been people from other ethnic groups. As during my school years, they are friends who are so close, we help each other in times of need and look after each other's family when I am away on business. What creates ethnic chinks that have divided and continue to divide people in African countries is mostly the people at the top - politicians, very often whose calibre is questionable. Until that changes, it will continue.
Tambahata, South Africa

Recent history has shown that only authoritarian regimes have been able to keep ethnic rivalries in check

Tamuka Hwami, Chino, USA
Different ethnic groups cannot co-exist in Africa, much like they cannot in Europe. That's why the break-up of the Ottoman and Austrian empires after WW1 led to the establishment of ethnocentric nations. Similarly with the end of the Cold War, post-colonial African borders were not similarly realigned. Recent history has shown that only authoritarian regimes have been able to keep ethnic rivalries in check. Witness the demise of Yugoslavia.
Tamuka Hwami, Chino, USA

African tribes can and do live together - they have done so for ages. Cameroon is a case in point where over 200 ethnic groups live as neighbours in the cities and villages. It gets bad only when politicians start their divide and rule tactics. That's what we should be wary of.
Epie, Cameroon,

Difference has been an African reality for thousands of years

Eddie Mandhry, Kenya
The conception of "tribe" must be seen as what it really is, a western construct initially imposed to reinforce the notions of otherness, difference and inferiority that justified numerous ills, colonialism being the most devastating. Difference has been an African reality for thousands of years. How about focusing on our numerous similarities for the sake of our continent's future?
Eddie Mandhry, Kenya

At this very point in time, it may seem that tribalism in Africa is a contributing factor to the very slow pace at which the continent (to generalize) is developing (if at all), but we did not divide ourselves, we were divided. The integration of the Hutus and the Tutsis shows that there is hope at the end of the tunnel... Africa will work together!
Nyoko, Namibia

Tribal affiliations in Africa is the cankerworm that destroys the fabric of Africa's socio-political and cultural systems. It promotes allegiance to a particular group and section of society and tends to shut the door to those that are considered outside of that linguistic and cultural domain. As such, unity and cohesion are seriously weakened. In my view, the government of Burundi should institute a system of orientation by which Hutus and Tutsis will begin to see themselves not as separate tribes, and indeed different peoples, but as Burundians. It is only through such initiatives that the new power-sharing government will be meaningful.
Ernest Cole, The Gambia/Sierra Leone

The existence of tribes does not divide African countries

C. Nahimana, Canada
The existence of tribes does not divide African countries because with proper leadership, a multi-ethnic/tribal society could serve as a backbone for the development of the continent in bringing together a diversity of traditions and skills. African people will live together in harmony only when they identify the cause of their problems, then they will be united and stand together to fight puppets and greedy leaderships.
C. Nahimana, Canada

We as Africans should unite and strengthen by embracing our similarities and respect our differences. Tribalism should not divide us, it should enrich our uniqueness and build a better country and a better continent. If we cannot unite as a country of different tribes how can we unite as a continent?
Sharon Teklu, Canada

Tribes do not divide African countries, greed does. I believe that every ethnic undertone currently being proliferated is caused by the so-called political classes for their own selfish ends.
Bala, Nigeria

See also:

02 Nov 01 | Africa
Calm in Bujumbura greets new era
28 Oct 01 | Africa
Peacekeepers arrive in Burundi
01 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Burundi
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