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Why Tribalism Won't End Unless we Stop Stereotyping

Updated on February 29, 2016

We are all tribalists

Tribalism has become deeply rooted in our culture. In fact, instead of tribalism reducing over time, it has been on the surge in recent years and definitely won't end anytime soon. Bring up the subject of tribalism in any gathering and everyone suddenly gets emotional and defensive, insisting that they are not tribalists and do not condone it at all.

However, the truth is that we all tribalists, just as we all stereotype. Whether you know it or not, you are a tribalist, denying that you are one only makes you a worse one.



A stereotype is an oversimplified, generally exaggerated belief that all individuals belonging to a particular group act and think in a similar manner. Stereotypes can be either positive or negative. Negative stereotypes are used by individuals to justify bias and discrimination based on race, gender, tribalism and various other basis.

Most people find the issue of tribalism disgusting and detestable. While this is understandable, considering the negative impact tribalism has had on our nation, it is also important to note that we all contribute to tribalism, be it actively or passively. The major contributing factor for tribalism is stereotyping. Kenyans have mastered the art of using stereotypes; not a day goes by without one hearing stereotypical innuendos being thrown around carelessly. Most media even publish stereotypical stories, in the aim of getting more readership, because they know that is what the Kenyan people love. Rather than stay educative and discourage the use of stereotypes, the media encourages this uncouth habit by publishing funny stereotypical stories they know will have tongues wagging.

As we casually throw stereotypical and tribalistic remarks around, we hardly take the time to evaluate the damage we are doing. You often hear that Kikuyus are misers, Luos are proud and conceited, Luhyas love to eat...I could go on all day. People rarely take the time to dig through these remarks, dismissing them casually as funny jokes.In reality, however, it is remarks such as these that fuel tribalism. Not only are the jokes usually offensive and in bad taste, they teach other members of the society to look at people from a certain tribe or region in a particular way. These disparaging remarks make Kenyans develop negative attitudes towards other Kenyans from different tribes.


The reason most of us use stereotypes is because we came from a background where we were taught to use them. Parents and the people the child is surrounded by in their formative years have a huge impact on the social and mental development of the child. Children pick up many habits from these people. Stereotypical parents who often throw around degrading remarks regarding people's tribes teach their children to judge people according to their tribe, even if that is not the intention of the parent. Children will always believe what they see and hear. Hearing their parents say that people from a particular tribe act in a particular manner makes the child develop a preformed attitude towards that tribe, making them become biased towards people of that tribe. They later become tribalists when they grow up, applying what they were taught as children to disrespect and discriminate people from that tribe.


People who are exposed to derogatory stereotypes end up believing that the stereotypes are true. Stereotypes form the basis of our relationships, leading us to behave in a tribalistic manner. You will find people having friends from specific tribes only. You might also hear them say that they cannot marry from certain tribes or live in regions where the majority of the population is members of a particular tribe. Negative stereotypes make other tribes seem undesirable and inferior to us. People will shy away from associating with people from a certain tribe because of what they heard, never mind that they themselves have never associated with an individual from that tribe personally.

Generalizations are often misguided. There is no way that a certain trait or characteristic can apply to all members of a group, it simply does not make sense. These stereotypes often disregard the fact that there are other members of the group who act differently than what the stereotypes insinuate. Rather than judge a person you just met on the basis of something you heard, why not get to know them and decide for yourself whether you like them or not. In many circumstances, friends and relatives tell us to be wary of people from certain tribes. When you actually get to know an individual from the tribe, you realize that the stereotypes you have been hearing all along are baseless and impractical.


Why we Feel the Need To Stereotype and Judge Based on Tribe

Psychologists indicate that one of the major reasons people are so prone to stereotyping is because as humans, they are naturally lazy and hate the idea of thinking. Rather than get to know a person from a certain tribe and make our own decisions, we would rather know what people from that tribe are like beforehand. As humans, we like to fill our minds with preconceived ideas so that we can entirely forego the conception of those ideas by ourselves. We think it is difficult getting to know people individually, so we form stereotypes according to tribe to save ourselves the trouble of getting to know people from different tribes individually.

The use of stereotypes has also been linked to the superiority complex that is part of the human nature. This especially true of Kenyans, prideful people who always regard themselves as superior to others. Not only do Kenyans consider themselves better than people from other countries in the region, they also consider their tribes as superior. When a Kenyan from a particular tribe hears a degrading remark about their tribe, they come up with degrading remarks about other tribes so that theirs can appear superior. Tribalists always want to hear that people from their tribes are say, the richest, most charming in terms of appearance, most powerful, while branding people from other tribes with mocking slurs such as lazy and misers, in a poor attempt of making members of those tribe appear inferior by comparison.

  • Tribalism forms the basis of everything we do, fostering corruption and making us lag behind in terms of development. People marry and form relationships based on tribe. Voting during elections and appointment of other posts is based on tribe. Sometimes, even the service you get at an office or institution is based on a tribe.
  • The use of demeaning and derogatory stereotypes should be reduced so that the the younger generation learns to judge people based on their individuality, rather than based on the stereotypical references regarding their tribes.


Do you think a decrease in the use of stereotypes will help lower tribalism?

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