The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black American man, by a White police officer, on May 25, 2020, in the US state of Minnesota has once again opened a sad chapter in the ever-contentious issue of race relations in contemporary America. So gruesome was this particular case of Floyd’s murder that it has sparked spontaneous protests and riots across America and beyond against what many believe to be perennial racism-motivated police brutality on Black Americans. Footages of Floyd’s dying moments from suffocation with his neck pressed hard under the knee of a White policeman as he lay flat on the ground with his hands tightly cuffed behind was like a scene from a horror movie.
George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black American father of one, can be heard under his dying breath saying to his White tormentors: “I can’t breathe.” But, deafened by racism, the cop suffocated him to his untimely death after nine minutes of choking.
Notwithstanding the fact that the main culprit in this latest episode of fatal police brutality has been sacked from his duty post, arrested and charged with murder, Americans across racial divides have poured onto the streets of major cities to protest this one death too many. The death of George Floyd, which has been blamed largely on what many describe as institutional racism against Black citizens and other people of colour in White-dominated America, has sparked off a renewed conversation about race relations around the world. In Africa, the continent of origin of Black Americans, there has been an outpouring of emotions over the killing of one of their brethren in America and they have also expressed solidarity for the massive “Black Lives Matters” protest marches across the United States against racism and police brutality.
However, in expressing solidarity and support for Black Americans against racism in America, Africans appear to have conveniently forgotten their own problem of broken intra-race relations that has manifested in the form of tribalism, a problem that is no less prejudicial than racism. While there is no denying the reality that America has a big problem of institutional racism, Africa has a bigger problem, an entrenched culture of tribalism that is worse than racism. Tribalism is worse than racism because the latter is hate for others while the former is hatred for one’s own self. And the biggest problem that can befall a people is self-hate. Whereas the White race appears united in their racism against other peoples of colour, the Black race is divided along tribal lines in acrimony, prejudice and hate for each other as expressed in the most bestial form of discrimination ever known to man. The problem of tribalism in Africa, which predates the coming of the White man to the continent, has been at the core of a weakness that served as an enabler of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism.
With an inglorious history of institutionalised slavery, as the major destination of the human cargo transhipment out of Black Africa, race relations in America between descendants of former slaves and slave owners is a very touchy and sensitive matter.
The image of a White man choking a Black man to death with his knee understandably evoked the horrific memories of slavery in America. Unfortunately, the guilt for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is not one that should be borne by White slave merchants and their brother plantation owners alone. The evil Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was a joint-venture partnership between White merchants and Black African tribal chieftains.
The culture of slavery in Africa predates the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, as Black Africans had enslaved fellow Black Africans of different tribes from time immemorial. And as the demand for human cargo export to work in the plantations of the New World increased, so did Black African tribal chieftains wage ceaseless wars on their neighbours to capture more people for sale to the White man. It was also the internecine tribal wars between African tribes that made the colonisation of Africa easier for European colonisers.
Just as it was an enabler of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism, tribalism has manifested itself in post-colonial Africa in the form of divisive, exclusionist, conflicting and destabilising politics of ethno-geographic identity, which has proved an anathema to the collective development of Black African states in the contemporary world. Identity politics has left many a Black African state divided and destabilised from acrimony, discrimination and marginalisation on the basis of ethnicity, resulting in violent armed conflicts across the continent.
The tribal wars between the Dinka and the Nuer in South Sudan, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, Hawiye and Marehan Darod in Somalia, Zulu and Xhosa in South Africa, Fulani and Tiv, Jukun, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, etc, in Nigeria have resulted in the slaughter of more Black Africans than White racists have done in the entire history of America.
As a direct consequence of the social instability brought upon Black African states by the entrenched culture of tribalism, not much economic progress has been achieved in post-colonial Africa. Black Africa has become the dark case of a war-torn, economically helpless, hopelessly poor underdeveloped part of the world. This situation has created a huge army of desperate economic refugees out of Black Africa, desperately trying to escape the impossible living conditions back home into more prosperous Europe and North America.
In addition to colour differences, the economic destitution and prevailing conditions of social savagery in Black Africa is rubbing off negatively on the image of Black people all over the world.
A people steeped in self-hate will be standing on weak moral ground to point the finger at other people for hating them, because tribalism is worse than racism. Without prejudice to the fact that America is still facing a problem of racism, it would be unfair not to acknowledge its commitment and deliberate efforts towards evolving into a more racially-inclusive nation more than any other country in the world. Many Black African countries on the contrary are retrogressing from inter-tribal to intra-tribal conflicts. While America has extended civil rights to descendants of freed slaves and immigrants, Black Africans of ancestral slave heritage are still socially ostracised, derogated, demeaned, discriminated against, marginalised, excluded and treated as outcasts in the most inhuman manner in their home continent.
Whereas America achieved a major milestone as a leading racially-inclusive nation when, in 2008, Barack Obama, a Black American, was elected President of the United States, Black African states are still plagued by indigene/settler dichotomy and minority/majority tribe supremacy battles. And that is why it is easier for Obama, a Black American, to be elected President of White majority America than the same Obama, an ethnic minority Luo, to be elected President of his majority ethnic Kikuyu native country of Kenya.
Due to the low of level of integration and assimilation within the peoples of Black Africa, Ilhan Omar had to take refuge in faraway America, following the destabilisation of her native Somalia from protracted tribal/clan wars, where her success story as a refugee-turned-congresswoman is only possible.
The story of Sesugh Uhaa, the Black wrestling superstar that was born to Nigerian parents of Tiv origins in America, where his talents and potential have been nurtured to success, may have been different if he was born in Taraba State in Nigeria. If Uhaa had been born in Taraba, where ethnic Tiv people from neighbouring Benue State are regarded as non-indigenous settlers with very limited political and economic rights, his accomplishments in life would have been severely hampered, and that is if he wasn’t mowed down in the perennial Tiv/Jukun tribal war.
To bring an end to the problem of racism in America and elsewhere, Black Africa must first put an end to its bigger problem of tribalism.