Let Talk Tribes

Emmanuel Sayjukon

Jamaica, NY


 Maybe it is time to begin a conversation about tribalism. We are slicing and dicing our political subdivisions based on tribes. We vote based on tribes even if we don’t intend as one must be of certain tribe before running for some elected positions. For example, to run for an elected position in a county besides Montserrado, you must be a member of a tribe associated with that county. Residency does not matter. Our counties are all tribal based which sometimes give rise to an absurd argument like “it is not possible for a Mandingo to hail from Nimba, Lofa and Bong counties at the same time.” In the classrooms, we teach that a county belongs to certain tribe(s) or that a particular tribe owns a particular county. So in our minds, we associate names and ethnicities to counties. A specific name seems to fall out of place if it does not align with the county with which our history books associate them.  Consequently, our reasoning is held hostage by this “you what tribe?” culture. Even in the Diaspora, some of our organizations follow tribal trends. If there is a non-tribal organization, people of the same tribe in that particular organization tend to flock on one side. Maybe due to propinquity or something of that sort but tribal alliances are so frequent. Tribalism is ingrained in our subconscious. We pretend that it does not exist or that we have already passed the stage of tribal bickering. In 2005, my idol Mr. Dennis Jah wrote in the Daily Observer online magazine “Confronting the Congo-Country Rift” to draw attention to the two broad categories of tribal divisiveness as real, active and cautioned that there was no need to sweep the issue under the rug as we proceeded into the 2005 elections. Poor Dennis, no one listened but the issue is still active no matter how we pretend that it does not matter.


But I want us to talk about tribes now or continue to live with this sickness for a long time. What do our laws say about tribes and political subdivisions? What is said about counties of origin? What factors are considered in determining who hails from a particular county? Where should county officials come from? From the way things have played out, it seems that all these are based on tribes: All Lormas, for example, no matter the place of birth are said to hail from Lofa County. Consider a Sidiki or Mamadee, a guy who knows nowhere else except Zwedru where he was born and raised but because he is a Mandingo, we put him to the Lofa or Nimba border or even Guinea without even asking. He would be a candidate for standup comedy if he claims to hail from Grand Gedeh County. I don’t know what our laws say but if it says anything to promote such tribal idiosyncrasy, I will object. As one Tanzanian scholar said “the law is an ass, idiot and we have to flog it to make it work for us.” I will certainly propose that if such law that promotes division based on tribes exists, it must be whipped to get in the interest of unity, peace and development. We are one people and need to rise above the pre-historic thinking of “you what tribe” which was the major tool of rebels engaging in ethnic cleansing during the heat of the Liberian uncivil war.






































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