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January 29, 2016 By Titus Boye-Thompson, Communications Consultant

Those who have gone close to the Germans always refer to their love of country and the sense of togetherness they display as a major factor for German advancement and economic prowess in Europe. All over Europe, the German miracle is admired and slightly envied by those whose nations show evidence of fragility and ethnic tensions of destabilising proportions. In Africa, the Rwandans seem to have cracked the bubble, edged on by the very violent conflict that they experienced and the devastating consequence of tribalism in a country where inter-marriages and ethnic plurality was supposed to have united its peoples. Their civil war revealed a savagery that is unparalleled in its ferociousness unless the amputation of limbs that characterised the Sierra Leonean conflict is put into focus. It is therefore no contention that the consequences of the Rwandan conflict were a greater recognition of the divisiveness of tribalism and its debilitating effect on their society. To the extent, a greater sense of nationalism over tribal affiliation has anchored the recent development of Rwanda as a country emerging from conflict and fragile state.

The crux of the matter is that Sierra Leonean narrow-mindedness still displays that arrogance and discomfort of tribal pursuits and all its dangerous repercussions for the advancement of the country. Nationalism is not being encouraged by a Cabinet that is skewed, nor is cohesiveness perpetuated by a political dispensation that lacks pluralism and a constancy of regionalism and tribal voting patterns that leave the country divided between North and South or rather between North West against the South East. It is this dichotomy which provides the basis for volatility that hinges on political tribalism and the disenfranchisement of minorities.

Those who promote the vestiges of political tribalism do so because they have identified its effectiveness as an institutionalised practice. It is clear that political tribalism now reflects what economists call rent seeking, the rewards of illegal use of power and the accruals of gains from corruption. To say therefore that political tribalism is corrupt is an understatement and consequently, a system that promotes its pervasiveness is also inherently corrupt and ultimately flawed.

Dambisa Moyo, an East African Economist who wrote about the impracticalities of development aid, singled out the potential for aid to developing countries causing laziness of public officials in bring forward policies that would relieve their people from poverty to a system that encourages corruption because of the opportunities in expanding corrupt practices and the securing of wealth without productivity. The question may well be asked as to how tribalism provides any rent seeking opportunity or in fact, whether there is any relevance of Dambisa Moyo’s postulates to the growing preponderance of illegal wealth transfers and rent seeking in a small country as Sierra Leone. To delve into the realms of what is envisaged here would be to attempt a monopoly over knowledge in a manner of such arrogance to which this piece itself alludes against public officials involved in the corrupt trade of favours and influence.

A common instance of political tribalism is when those in authority dispense with public office and positions of inherent trust to persons who have no formal qualification nor practical experience of the position. When a person is allowed to occupy public office without the requisite qualification but on the basis of belonging to the dominant tribe within a political dispensation, it hoers on corruption to the highest order because that misfit would do the country as a whole a disservice by nonperformance. To allow for some clarity, consider the case of a person in a public position who occupies office for a whole year without achieving any calculable output or perform a single task. That person is paid for that period, is provided with a Government vehicle and driver, yet he spends the whole year and fails to provide a single proof of what he had achieved in that period. What is more corrupt than expending public funds on such a wastrel? However, the situation changes when the occupant of that office boasts of close links with high authorities, of a filial bond with his bosses and of almost family affiliations with those who are supposed to monitor and supervise his position. Such a person transfers the corruption of his position to rent seeking. The economic loss suffered by the state in keeping that person in posts is accounted for by the unlawful wealth or in this case unearned rent from the corruption of his office.

There is a growing debate on how this matter of tribalism as a wider issue needs to be handled. The impact of tribalism in some ways determines the potentiality for pluralism in the wider society and on a more practical level, how such parochialism hinders investments and the spread of populations across the country seeking to expand on opportunities for wealth creation and employment. To some, the context of rural tranquility obscures the opportunities of economies of scale. They see the transfer of populations to larger conurbations as rural urban migration but yield any consideration to the opportunities that a migrant labour force provides. The advantages of investments in the rural economy by returnees should also not be limited to a return to traditional ways of engagement but on the basis of a return in economic terms that would expand potential for agricultural value added and for a value chain in logistic, technology and monetization of the rural economy therefore creating asset based wealth generation and the exchangeability of land, especially agricultural land as a tradable commodity.

It is for these reasons that the issues generated by political tribalism be tackled with seriousness and that this matter be viewed in its broad economic consequence. The time is past for those who would claim merit by virtue of support for a political dispensation rather than on the basis of a genuine ability to deliver for development. As a starting point, it may do well to suggest that civic education be re-engaged within our schools and other networks. Sierra Leoneans have a national pledge but the citizens are wont to recall its tenets, not even on a perfunctory note. The school system does not teach the ideals of the pledge and nor does the civics instruction imbibe a culture of nationalism and civic duty. One of the best ways to fight tribalism therefore is to build a shield for it through nationalism.

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