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political tribalism

A Dictionary of African Politics

Nic Cheeseman,

Eloïse Bertrand,

Sa’eed Husaini

political tribalism 

The manipulation of ethnic identity, whereby it is transformed into a kind of nationality in which leaders play on a community’s fear of losing out to other ethnic groups in the competition for power and resources to mobilize support. This is often done by demonizing other communities, generating fear, and arguing that only by uniting behind a given leader can the group effectively defend its interests. In this way, political tribalism may legitimate attacks on both rival communities and internal critics. The term was made popular by John Lonsdale, for whom it was the other side of the coin to moral ethnicity, both of which are rooted in the importance of ethnicity to everyday life.