The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa

The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa

Edited by Leroy Vail


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James Currey



A collection of studies by key academics on ethnic identity in Africa.
'The great virtue of this book is that it is the first major study to focus exclusively on the historical evolution of ethnic identity over a broad region from Zaire ... to South Africa.' - John McCracken, University of Stirling

US & Canada & the Philippines: University of California Press


January 1989
13 line illustrations
448 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9780852550434
Format: Paperback
James Currey
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This book carries forward an analysis of tribe and culture which has been gathering steam since the late 1960s and which has upset a great deal of previously accepted wisdom, both political and academic. The central thesis - that the same forces of modernity which nurtured Africa's state-based nationalisms also bolstered ethnic self-consciousness - undermines the ideological foundations of the one-party state. As long as it was supposed that ethnicity would inevitably wither in the shade of the spreading tree of nationalism, the one-party state could be justified as a temporary bulwark against the secessionist threats of tribalism. In this book many contemporary African heads of state bear more resemblance to Mussolini than to Abraham Lincoln. 'Ethnicity', writes Vail, 'quite legitimately became the home of the opposition in states where bureaucratic elites stifled the initial popular thrusts of nationalism.' - Norman Etherington in JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORY
It took some courage to put this volume together. To begin with ethnicity, tribalism or what you will, has been a somewhat protected species in Africanist scholarship, although it has been constantly and vigorously dealt with again and again in the best African journalism and literature. Invoking tribalism runs the risk of imputing atavism whilst most of our agendas are concerned with showing the complexity and sophistication of Africa. Secondly, discussion of this issue in the context of Southern Africa is haunted by the divisive project of Pretoria's racist regime to which no responsible scholar would wish, even inadvertently, to offer hostages. With skill, and forthright integrity neither the editor nor his distinguished contributors fall into either pitfall. ...Leroy Vail and his essayists are to be congratulated on initiating an important debate about an important issue that will assuredly run and run. - Richard Rathbone in AFRICAN AFFAIRS
The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa decisively vindicates and consolidates this shift of perspective. - Colin Murray in THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN REVIEW OF BOOKS
The book's wealth of detail greatly enhances our understanding of the volatility and complexity of ethnic consciousness and ethnic behavior. - Leonard Thompson in AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW