Tribal Violence in Africa: A History
Violence between one African tribe and another has been going on for centuries, from West Africa to East Africa, from north to south. It is perhaps not too dissimilar from western civilisations past clan rivalries, yet the fact that it is still present today does seem rather astonishing.
Looking at the causes of some of the earliest rivalries between African tribes, we find that the age old issues such as land come into play. This was indeed the case with one famous African tribe, the Maasai, who originated from the lower Nile valley. A semi-nomadic African tribe, they started migrating south during the 17th and 18th century to a stretch of land that now encompasses northern Kenya and central Tanzania. Once there, they waged war with the resident African tribe, displacing them. Even until the 19th century did this form of tribal violence continue, as the Maasai continued their trail of destruction on other resident Africa tribes in southern Kenya as far as Mombassa.
Going a bit further south, we find another African tribe who, among countless others, sought to bring a fair amount of destruction upon their neighbours. These were the Imbangala, a tribe that originated from the Kasanje kingdom in central West Africa and appeared in the area we know today as Angola during the 17th century. They lived according to the quixilla laws, laws that included cannibalism, torture and human sacrifice. Their main activities including attacks on other tribes in search for loot and young adolescent men and women to join their camp. The adolescent men were forced into cannibalism, plied with fermented tree sap and had no choice but to join the army, only becoming a fully fledged member after killing an enemy in combat.
The Atlantic Slave Trade & West Africa
The Atlantic Slave Trade saw the rise of an era which transferred more than 12 million Africans across the waters to a number of different countries throughout the world. During this period African tribes like the Imbangala sold their prisoners of war to slave traders and even went out in active search of slaves to capture and sell.
Other African tribes, or rather kingdoms, that followed suit are that of Dahomey, now known as The Republic of Benin in West Africa. Dahomey, along with other west African imperia, including the Asante Empire and the Bambara Empire, survived almost entirely on profits made from the slave trade. Again this constituted selling prisoners of war from neighbouring countries of West Africa to the European traders. This caused a severe depletion of West Africa’s population and also its resources.
Modern Tribal Violence
Tribal violence is still rife in a number of regions stretching from West Africa through to central Africa and all the way down to the south. Following the slave trade, the West Africa tribe of the Dahomey and its slavery counterparts crumbled due to inner disputes, violence and a lack of income. Events like these, not only confined to West Africa but to all other African tribes who made a living off slavery are plenty and may represent the first modern occurrences of tribal violence following contact with Europe.
Recent news reports within the past couple of years point to countries like Kenya where tribal violence between the Luo and the Kikuyu followed supposed rigged elections. Burundi, Congo and Rwanda also suffered the same fates with disputes between the Hutu and Tutsis African tribes. Even further south, South Africa has also experienced tribal conflicts between the Xhosas and the Zulus. In almost all cases, the tribal violence stems from political disagreements.
It is often said that the reason for these violent clashes can be traced to the differences between tribal culture, still very much present in rural areas of West Africa, and the modernized governmental structures reminiscent of the colonial era. Whether this is true is a fact difficult to establish, yet all conflicts seem to revolve around one main subject: poverty and its associated effects.