Tribal Violence

The slaughter last week of Kikuyus and Luos in Kenya reminded us that this is a world of tribes. How should wise governments deal with the reality of tribal loyalties and tribal violence?

David Responds

Posted by David Ignatius on January 10, 2008 3:38 PM

Readers’ Responses to Our Question (19)

BobL-VA :


I concur with Anonymous. Blocking Levent Alkan would seem to be in everyones best interests. This is simply the wrong forum for his posts.

Anonymous :

To:David Ignatius

you should not leave this place as a junkyard as
to continue to let the junk-person: "Levent Alkan" to post all sorts of junks here!
This abnormal individual must be sent to the "house of the crazies" to stay there!

pls. stop this individual to post meaningless junks!


Anonymous :

To: Moderator

Pls remove all junks that LEVENT ALKAN here!

This junk-person must be isolated from posting here wih all sorts of meaningless junks that are only be kept in the house of this individual!
This place cannot be turned into a junkyard!

Thank you.

Cristina :

"(a) Competing Value Systems and Emancipatory Change

The dominant paradigm, and the western social systems from which it is derived, is based on a normative commitment to freedom of choice, equality of rights, and institutional accountability. However these principles are rejected in societies based on hierarchical religious or cultural systems, so imposing the
dominant paradigm does indeed rob 'peoples of different cultures of the opportunity to define the forms of their social life'. [Escobar, 1997, 91] Thus people in dual societies do have to make difficult choices between competing value systems. Many traditional values are compatible with western principles, but many others are not.
And where this is so Escobar's claim certainly holds. It is indeed impossible to create a social and economic system based on personal freedom and equal rights, without marginalising those who still support political absolutism, ethnic exclusion, theocratic absolutism or patriarchy.
This contradiction between indigenous and foreign systems confronts development theory with its most difficult challenge. Using external standards to judge local systems is to assume that there are universal values against which these can be measured and found wanting, and that wealthy and powerful foreigners have the right, and, indeed, the obligation to persuade other societies to adopt them. This claim has always been used to legitimate the actions of those who have profited by forcing their systems onto others, and it also contradicts the principles of free choice and cultural tolerance that are critical to the western value system itself."(Brett, 2000:12)

Dr. E. A Brett
Published: February 2000
Development Studies Institute
London School of Economics and Political Science


I recommend the reading of this article.

conscience-to-the-world :






daniel :

How should wise governments deal with the reality of tribal loyalties and tribal violence?

Wise governments? What wise governments? In what way have governments--the best of them--managed to put ethnic/religious loyalties and tribal violence at bay?

Taking myself--an American--as an example, I live in a society in which it is next to impossible to have an umbrella of a particular worldview, a worldview such as Catholicism or Judaism or Mormonism without constant rents in this umbrella and wind blowing it about and all to hell.

More often than not this forces me back into identifying myself as a white man or thrusting me forward into political party ideology or statements such as "I live in the greatest country in the world". Perhaps the best way I can put the losing battle to retain ethnic/religious identity is to simply point out the plight of marriage in advanced societies. Even the conservatives in a place such as America have an empty view of marriage and family. There are no extended families. There is a constant assault on "tribe". We have families more or less together and children are expected to grow up not into tribes but...well, this is the question. What worldview? What religion is expected to remain intact? What political party? What in fact nation?

This crisis will only increase as we realize more and more how dangerous it is to have the collapse of ethnic/religious loyalties result in racism, but trying to rise up out of such loyalties will result in a battleground for years to come of worldviews which are a mixture of religion, economics, politics, philosophy, etc.

And individuals whether they like it or not will have to become educated--which is a rather tame way of putting the terrible process of just being burnt, of having so much of what one holds dear just fade away. It becomes apparent that what wise governments will have to do is continually be engaged in creating universal worldviews which replace all we have known so far. And going by America...

Well in America we have people atomized, stuck before the television, obese, more and more diagnosing pretty much healthy, thin and active children as mentally ill and in need of drugs--so many strategies to somehow make a nation cohere as ethnic/ religious loyalties--even national loyalties--are broken down toward who knows what.

The philosopher king is not an empty ideal. Such a human being must always be arriving to redeem us. Not tribal leaders. Not religious figures. But philosopher kings. And we will probably not take a secure step toward solving these problems until enough of us are such kings (there can be nothing with only a few) to stabilize the world toward such an overcoming of the past.

But the short term view is pessimistic. We are always told that breaking down ethnic/tribal, racial categories leads to freedom--and we do have the democratic ideal before us. But reality intrudes and we can expect vastly imperfect compromises to smooth over differences. I have already given such a view of America with the atomization of families, of the practice of not allowing crowds to gather unless they can be sold something, of the constant pressure to consume (food, drugs of all types, children under all types of medication), television and more television, sports which are alternately satisfying and frustrating because we have teams but the teams always trade players (no loyalty). It goes on and on. The only way I have personally been able to deal with it is by reading heavily, constantly attempting to compose new dreams of the world, becoming a generalist and learning about a great many fields in what must remain, alas, a superficial manner.

Ultimately I find it comes down to ancient, age-old practices. I simply contemplate myself and ask if I am a patient man, a compassionate man, a brave man, a generous man. Behavior is questioned and worldview is created out of this type of reduction and not reduction to ethnic/religious, etc. categories. This is not to say such contemplations have not crossed the minds of religions, tribes, etc.--on the contrary, they have--such strategies go back centuries--but they must constantly be improved upon, and for all our improvements very few of us acutely pose such questions to ourselves.

Just try to be a better man. No ethnic animosity. No religious animosity. Be tolerant with the constant fading of worldviews. Hang on to essentials such as a belief in the ever renewing ability of the human spirit. Have faith that other human beings want new universals as well.

There is no easy way to know and to develop what we know as the human spirit.


robert of LA- what youre commenting on is the emergency powers act of 1787-

it has been used at various times in history-

this directive SUPERCEDES those limits sets, and basically puts the president outside of the reachof CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT. (hence the necessity of the congressional study linked here)

"A Congressional Research Service study notes that under the National Emergency Act, the president "may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens."

The CRS study notes that the National Emergency Act sets up congress as a balance empowered to "modify, rescind, or render dormant such delegated emergency authority," if Congress believes the president has acted inappropriately.

NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 appears to supersede the National Emergency Act by creating the NEW position of National Continuity Coordinator without any specific act of Congress authorizing the position.

NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 also makes NO reference whatsoever to Congress. The language of the May 9 directive appears to NEGATE any a requirement that the president submit to Congress a determination that a national emergency exists, suggesting instead that the powers of the executive order can be implemented without any congressional approval or oversight.

here is the entire congressional study
quite a long read- the information applicable are towards the end of the study.

alos youll notice that thew act was used only 4 timesprior to the present-
there is a list of the emergencies in the past 10 years
i didnt conut but a couple of pages

youll also notice they all seem to focus on financing

Leroy Forney :

Perhaps Tanzania is an example of overcoming deadly tribal identities. This seemingly was accomplished by the first independence leader, Joseph Nyerere. He deliberately introduced a national identity to overcome tribal loyalties. He introduced Swahili as the official language (along with English) to unify the country. He established public schools (he fiercely promoted education, and called himself the First Teacher) as boarding schools, each mixing students from wide areas to promote a cross-tribalism and national identity.

I know of no other African country blessed with such an outstanding first leader following independence.

Robert of Los Angeles :

Well, you obviously did not check the link cause the language of the directive says not of the fearful things you says or even the author of WorldNetDaily article.

It basically is to plan the unplannable and provide for continuity not making assumptions as whether Congress OR President is able to act during this emergency.

It declares no particular powers just that there be sufficient dispersed surviving leaders ("Succession orders and pre-planned devolution of authorities" to allow for "continuing performance of National Essential Functions under ALL conditions." Definition of ""Catastrophic Emergency" means any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions"

Sounds that justification would be a disaster of a scale beyond what Musharraf is able to use, even much more in scale than a Katrina, unless it hit DC. It certainly has nothing to do with war powers or civil unrest.


robert of LA-

we have more immediate concern in america as far as dictatorial powers are concerned-

the president signed a directive in may of 07 that states if he decides there is a national emergency- (and it is up to his discretion) he can impose martial law and suspend congress indefinitely

theres a link in the article to the directive itself

D. Hodara :

Your question comes too late to correct the mistakes made by colonization. The western powers which designed the map of Africa for their selfish material and political interests forgot that in their own 'civilized' western countries nationalities have been fighting each others for centuries. When they created the borders of the various countries of Africa, they ignored the tribal problem, which could not erupt as long as they controlled the countries. They forgot that there could be a time when they would lose control.... Now we have witnessed and are still witnessing the consequences of such artiicial borders and there does not seem to be any valid solutions available. To remember : Congo (Kinshasa) - Rwanda - Liberia - Sierra Leone, and now Nigeria - Kenya - Sudan (Darfur) and the one not mentioned and the others to come.

Robert of Los Angeles :

Interesting, 2x2 that 4 of the 6 "other" conflicts you mention are fueled by Islamist radicalism and Moldova/Moldavia seems quiet enough.

Mohammad allam :

In a tribal society the method of election should be change.from every tribal group the representative should be elect who serve as a common legislaturer and these common select the head of the goverment and head of different this way we can have a balance of true goverment.The present system of election of goverment in a tribal society based on adult suffrage is dangeorus and hard to work.The case of Nigeria,iraq and afghanistan is example of this type of faulted democartic set up.

2x2 :

There are many other pockets of violence in the world...if we ever get the time to focus away from the Arab-Israeli fued! Some are known (Darfur, Rwanda, Pakistan) but many are just festering away (Armenia-Azerbaijan, Dagistan, Moldavia).

Yousuf Hashmi :

I agree with your opinion one hundred percent that this world is a world of tribes and still not forget or left its basic instinct of survival.

Today we see the killing each place. Some where it is Al qaeda somewhere it is Taliban, some time it is in darfur and some time in kenya some time it is classified as collatoral damage or given a name of war . It may be for a nice cause like palestinans or kashmiris or for water or island disputes.

Ultimately humans are killing humans. Once they fights with the body force or some bamboo then they invented steel swords and now of course they have all kind of weapons.

So I think there is no dispute that humans are fighting for humans in its all history and civilization. Only name and methods are changing with the change of time

What wise governments should do to deal with tribal loyalities. This is a really difficult question because so far what ever social systems tried none of them found to be perefect.

Britishers are specialist to develop the systems to deal with different colonies they were controlling. They were succesful to protect themselves but when they left the area was under more violence and more racial and tribal conflict.

I have yet to see one single country which was colonised for sometime does have a peaceful environment.

The golden example can be given of singapore. However the people who have inside information knows very well that still there is a strong division between chinese,indians,malayans and soingaporians.

Why there is no violence. The basic reason is economic prosperity, education, respect of law,and democracy.

Today Europe is uniting to one nationality concept. every body knows that how much bitter stories are filed up in their archive files.

They come to this stage because of same five indicators I have outlined earlier.

This is true that now every body talks about these simple objectives.But unfortunately many nationalities in Africa, Asia and South America not able to achieve.

The reason is lust of power and corruption in ruling class where they still believe in master and slave configuraton.

If some body really wants to change the tide then I think the one and only answer is the education and education on all levels.

Today developed countries are eager to sell all kind of weapons to these nationalities. but no body is interested to provide basic education to dark spots of the world.

we all know the problem and the solution . WP editors knows thousand times more than what I know but the world now is so selfish, so market economy oriented that every investment has to pay back.

If west keepi on selling those machines which kills humans and still look for the reason why the people is killing. I am sorry this is just a very confusing situation

Robert of Los Angeles :

Amen or (Ameen) to that. May it be in the name of the Almighty or just in the name of basic human rights!

But if you read my post above, please note that one party trying to impose Sharia, especially on a multi confessional nation will be doing the opposite, though civil war is the most likely outcome.

Shiveh :

There is power in numbers and comfort in familiarity. Tribal behavior is caused by necessity. It is a symptom of injustice; a defense against aggression. For as long as people are not treated equally, the oppressed will try to join together to fight back. It is not possible to brake down the tribal behavior before first correcting the actions that have caused it.

People from vastly different origins populate the United States, but because of a governing system that considers all as equals, there is little tribal aggression among them. Exceptions exist to the extend that the system is not perfect (Hispanics don’t feel that equal- blacks have old memories). The effective way to confront tribal behavior demonstrated by many countries of the world is to enact a system of justice that is obayed by all, including more powerful ones, throughout this planet; no veto power to differentiate amongst them; no preferential treatment to push back others. Same is true inside each country. Unless and until equality is universal, tribal behavior and blind cruelty will perceiver as a disease of the environment.

Robert of Los Angeles :

Is the following the forgery?

If it is real, this discussion about tribalism is rather moot. A newly elected President in a multi-confessional state that started to impose Sharia nationally would precipitate civil war and / or military coup.

Just when you were thinking, Kenya WASN'T another front of the Islamic radical terror campaign!!

Critina :


A very interesting topic...I am curious to read the panelists and posters! and my own contribution eventually! It looks very specific, but loyalty and tribalism and the identity notion...coupled with the issues related to survival and continuity...that is pretty much an up-to-date topic and it will be for some years to come. With the increasing pressure on natural resources (being oil only one of them and not the the essential one to keeping life...there is land, water...)For whatever reason, I just recalled Einstein...always thinking of what he said, thought...He supposedly said that he didnt knew how we would be fighting the 3rd war...but the fourth: with sticks and bones. Was he right? Are we already there...or or walking steadily into that point of no return? This is just throwing my thought to the wind...

Congrats! It is a much deeper question than a simple murder in Africa would or might suggest...

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