The Misconception Between Patriotism And Tribalism.


Patriotism is densely entangled with the nation’s political life. After self-interest, patriotism is probably the sentiment with which political leaders frequently appeal to when seeking to mobilize the citizenry for important national obligation and favours.

Patriotism by contrast with tribalism portrays a term of loyalty to a particular nation, which only those possessing that particular nationality can exhibit. Only a Nigerian can be patriotic to Nigeria.

Patriotism is not to be confused with a mindless loyalty to one’s own particular nation which has no regard at all for the characteristics of that particular nation.

Tribalism on the other hand, is described by the learned authors of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as behaviour or attitude that is based on loyalty to a tribe or other social group.

The terms patriotism and tribalism are in semblance but with different meanings. This article seeks reveal the misconstrued illusion and misinterpretation of the terms.

  • Patriotism and Tribalism.

Patriotism: Patriotism as a concept according to Miroslav Ninci & Jennifer M.Ramos (2009), are categorised into two varieties. They assert that patriotism can be identified as ‘absolute’ and ‘contingent’.

They aver that the ‘contingent’ position of patriotism must be justified by one’s country’s action, that is, the greater the approval of one’s country’s policies, the greater the degree of patriotic attachment that is unwarranted.

On the other hand, the other variety ‘absolute’, is aptly captured thus: ‘patriotism is an absolute and constant value, and it is reflected in one’s support of one’s country/government when the going gets tough, and not in qualifying one’s attachment to country, by its performance and behaviour.’

In simpler parlance, patriotism involves attachment to one’s country (an entity that includes both the social group and the existing norms and institutions which are the foundation for the existing state).

Tribalism: Wikipedia defines tribalism as the state of being organized in, or advocating for, a tribe or tribes. In other words, the “engaged theory” defines tribalism as ‘being based on variable combinations of kinship-based organization, reciprocal exchange, oral communication, and analogical enquiry.’

Tribalism is further defined as a label for social groups who feel a distinct sense of difference by virtue of common culture and descent.

  • Difference Between Patriotism and Tribalism.

One way of showing the distinction is offered by Paul Gilbert, who explains that, ‘patriotism is love of one’s country, whether one’s country is thought of in nationalist terms or not.’ Whereas, tribalism is a parochial attitude found in every culture, in every nation, and in modern societies across racial lines. It neither defines a nation nor its people.

Equating patriotism with tribalism/zero-sum chauvinism, Leo Tolstoy opined that it amounts to “a very definite preference for one’s own people or state, and a consequent wish to get for that people or state the greatest advantages and power that can be got—things which are obtainable only at the expense of the advantages and power of other peoples and states”.

Concerning the foregoing, tribalism can be seen as situations where people are overly loyal to their own group.

Patriotism on the other hand, requires full loyalty and utmost devotion to one’s country just as it was evident with Nigeria’s past heroes, like Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Magret Ekpo, Anthony Enahoro, ad infinitum.

The patriotic zeal and actions of Nigeria’s past heros are worthy of emulation, as they fought with fervour so as to free Nigerians from shackles of colonialism. In the same vein, a written source asserts that one would think the heroes of Nigeria’s independence had patriotism in their DNA.

Moreover, early ethnographic writings offer examples of a “we-feeling” among members of a particular tribe which set them apart from neighboring tribes.

Ethnographers call this tribalism, and linked it to the notion of ethnocentrism particularly associated with tribal people.

For example, the Zulu people of South Africa call themselves as ‘isizwe’, meaning a nation or a people different from other tribes; the Birhor of India distinguish themselves as ‘hor’ or people from ‘diku’, etc. Here, an explicit reference to tribalism is made out.



Tribalism refers to utmost loyalty to one’s tribe, as contrary to one’s country. patriotism on the other hand is the love of one’s country and willingness to defend it.The duo concept have similar bearings in loyalty, albeit different meaning and usage.

About the Author

Jimoh Abdulganiy Adisa, is a 200 level LL.B student at the Faculty of Law, Bayero University, Kano. He is also a writer, legal researcher and member of Al-Maslaha Chamber, Equity Chamber, and Law Clinician. Jimoh Adisa is a law intern at Primus Partners, Ikeja, Lagos and he is currently the Director of Media and Publicity, National Association of Kwara State Law Student, BUK Chapter.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary(New 9th Edition)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *