This fact is often framed as a continent-wide struggle between the ancient and the modern, between Africa’s age-old tribal allegiances and its modern political institutions inherited from Europe. According to this narrative, African societies are yet to be fully reformed by modern life. When faced with elections therefore, voters continue to express old tribal solidarities rather than deciding based on ideology or policy. This argument presents European colonialism as a civilising mission against the customary order, albeit one which failed to fully de-tribalise its subjects. The 1884 Berlin Conference, far from dividing Africa among European powers, becomes seen as a unifying exercise that brought tribes together into modern political entities. As foreign affairs commentator Jonathan Power wrote in a 2006 article for The New York Times: Op-ed 

Colonialists didn’t fail to root out Africa’s tribal politics. They created it.

Standing in line at a Nairobi polling station to cast my ballot in Kenya’s 2017 presidential election, I struck up a conversation with fellow voters in the queue. The result was a foregone conclusion, said one of the gentlemen proudly. We had the numbers and our candidate was going to win. Everyone else agreed. No one needed to ask which candidate we would be voting for. That was another foregone conclusion. We were speaking in Kikuyu, and the Kikuyus were voting for President Uhuru Kenyatta. In the end, Kenyatta was…

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