Jul 20, 2010

(Untitled) 'cuz the 1st & 2nd titles I came up with suck

If there's one thing living with a foreigner has taught me, it is how to get along with people who are different.


My husband and I have been having the same argument off and on for 16 years. When it comes to Africa, we hold diametrically opposed worldviews. He is a tribalist. I am nationalist.

We met when I was at the height of my pro-Black racial identity development. I had been mentored in college by a Black Activist named Mudavanha with a PhD from UC Berkeley who had kicked it with the Black Panthers in the Bay Area during the height of the racially tense 60s. He evolved into a Pan Africanist who lived part-time in Ghana, wore bata karis adorned with Adinkra symbols every day, and was fond of giving African American students Ashanti names.

I was so down with my peeps back then. It was all about Africa - its glorious history, its unrecognized & untapped potential, its shinning future. Black Americans & Africans - we were all the same. Africans. Some never left the Continent, others - like me - were victims of an African Diaspora brought on by the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.

Believe me I was shocked to my toes to see my African husband argue any American (including me) into the ground who dared to claim Africa and Africans were - should - or could ever be one.

Historically, Americans subordinate allegiance to ethnic heritage in favor of a national identity. Irish-American, African-American, Korean-American, Mexican-American... "American" unites us all. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

To my American mind, unity is strength.

On the other hand, we have tribalism. Tribe is the center, the source, the guide, the organizing system of my husband's African mind. Europeans who carved up Africa during the 1885 Berlin Conference grouped together people who had "no business" being united under a single anything. The people groups referred to as "Nigerians" today were separate nations, like Italian city-states, each with its own ruler.

Nigeria's dominant ethnic groups have tried to work together & "get along" - it has been a failed experiment. (Read Uwem Akpan's excellent short story "Luxurious Hearses" for a snapshot of all the elements that must be combined for Nigeria to become united.) Today, my husband is convinced that splitting Nigeria into 5 parts can solve all its problems. Corruption magically disappears. Disorganization & chaos disappears. Why? Because fighting disappears. Tribes are each unified by their tribe's vision to advance the tribe as a whole. Everyone lives happily... ever... after.

If I grew up as he did, I'd probably believe as he does. But I'm extremely wary of this brand of tribalism because in the negative extreme, tribalism is the seed that can give rise to ethnic rivalry, tribal hatred & ethnic cleansing. I do not - maybe even cannot - believe fragmentation & division can ever trump unity & wholeness.

Many Nigerians are convinced Nigeria could change Africa if it ever got its sh*t together. If Nigeria is to ever become the world power it longs to be, it better learn how to live & work with people who are different. Learn how to build consensus despite differences. Start with the tribe next door.

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