Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tribalism and the Trouble in Africa

Reach Upward, in a comment on a blog post at Slam Smith, linked to an amazing article. The article by "Theodore Dalrymple" explores why Africa has had so much trouble with corruption. It is an article that will take a while to digest. We get the argument from Dalrymple (the pen name for Anthony Daniels... but that name was already taken by C-3PO I guess) that the benevolent intentions of the colonialists in Africa caused a great many unintended problems.

For example, he discusses how important farming is in the base of the economy. Seeing the desperate conditions, outsiders have emphasized the importance of education. So poor families will sacrifice and stretch the limits of the capacity to send a relative to school. Once the relative graduates, they will be able to get a government job. With all the help they received from their family to obtain the education, they have a social obligation to pay the family back. They then exploit their position in the government to maximize the benefit to their family.

Dalrymple argues that the notion of the nation-state, imposed by the colonialists, has been the root of many problems. The people simply don't have a system of culture and customs that supports the nation-state. Everybody has loyalty to their family group and has no qualms about exploiting the official government to benefit their primary (only?) loyalty.

This all reminds me of a book I read by Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem. In that book Friedman was examining the root of the problems that have beset the Middle East for so long. One of the chief culprits, as I recall it from the book, was tribalism. The notion of placing your tribal loyalty above all others, and being willing to exploit your tribal connections, sounds awfully familiar when compared to the system that Dalrymple describes in Africa.

1 comment:

Reach Upward said...

This problem seems to be common both to Africa and the Middle East. It appears to be at the root of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. While the US forces took Iraq in three weeks, the tribal conflicts continue years later.