The Lost Tribe of Africa

Updated on September 4, 2019
Johan Smulders profile image

Johan has a BA and BEd - University of South Africa and a MA from -Abilene Christian University. Marriage Counsellor and Evangelist.

Traditional dwelling on Wild Coast
Traditional dwelling on Wild Coast | Source
Moving from tribal to urban areas
Moving from tribal to urban areas | Source
Informal settlement, Parkridge, East London
Informal settlement, Parkridge, East London | Source
Children of the lost tribe at a soup kitchen in Peifferville, East London
Children of the lost tribe at a soup kitchen in Peifferville, East London | Source

Poverty and the disenfranchised in Africa

The Lost tribe of Africa and the emotionally divided in the Western Society.

Three books that I read recently made a great impact on me. The first is ‘The Wretched of the Earth” written by Franz Fanon and published in 1961. This is a must read for any student who is interested in African history. Fanon is a Frenchman and describes the Africa of his day with the problems that it faced as colonial times came to an end. The book could just as well be written today. As we look at Africa 50 years later it reflects the same problems that Fanon identified in the 1950’s and seems to be following the route he predicted.

Fanon’s basic observation is that in Africa as in other parts of the world there are compartmentalized groups that exist together in a country and that they each have their own ideology and interests. He points out that the rich and the poor co-exist, always have and always will. He coins phrases like ‘lumpenproletariate’ and ‘bourgeois of the bourgeois’ to describe groups in society using, British, USA and French examples. Remember, he writes in a time when Russian expansionism was taking place in Africa.

As Fanon looks at his world he asks the question how things can change and a more equitable distribution of wealth can be achieved? During colonial times two groups are found in African countries. Either the Colonial rulers (or the new Black leadership that was given the position of rulers), and the local traditional leaders. Each has its own agenda, its own need to maintain its power. The only way that he sees this impasse being broken is by destroying everything and starting all over again. In his opinion neither of these groups will give up their power and so change into a better, more equitable situation. So the poor rise up and destroy the country and out of the ashes a new better society evolves. This is obviously a very brief and perhaps simplistic understanding of Fanon’s view.

The second book is ‘The Great African Society’ written by Hlumelo Biko and is called by the author “A plan for a nation gone astray”. Hlumelo is a son of the human rights activist Steve Biko who was killed by the security police under the apartheid government in 1977. Hlumelo is very critical of what has happened in South Africa over the last twenty years since the apartheid leadership handed over rule to the new ANC leadership. He sees corruption, lack of meaningful growth of the economy and a poor education system as some of the problems that face South Africa (and perhaps all African countries) today.

The amazing thing about Biko’s book is that with great insight he outlines clearly a plan that can divert “a society headed into peril” into “a great society”.(pg.247) Some of the steps that he sees as vital are; a need for increased personal security for all, private enterprise adopting failing schools to fast track education, increased funding in housing to get rid of shack dwelling, a huge increase by the private sector in technical skills training and a so called “re-engineering fund” to “make available loan guarantee instruments to facilitate expansion capital for small and medium businesses in order to spur sustainable job creation on a national scale”.(pg.252)

Biko also outlines clearly steps that need to be taken in education and small scale farming to turn the country around.

The scary fact is that in South Africa we see clearly Fanon’s compartmentalization of society. Each group trying to hold on to their power, be they economic or political. So there exists the new bourgeois, the political and traditional leaders, rooted in the past and desperately struggling to maintain their power. At the same time new political parties arise feeding off the needs of the population and looking for their share of the gravy train. These parties quite unashamedly make promises they cannot keep and unfortunately the desperate believe them.

One of the situations that Fanon looks at in his book is the problem in Kenya where mostly young people left their traditional homes and moved into the cities to look for a better life. In the South African situation this has been very much the pattern and the same has occurred in most, if not all, African countries.

Here, living in shacks, we find a 'lost generation' who have left the life their fore fathers lived, in search ot the “better life” that they saw in the colonial western style cities. Slow economic growth in these cities failed to produce job opportunities for most of these regional migrants, and so the “better life” remains just a dream. For the political leaders this disenfranchised group makes a great target in promising them what they dreamed of. Something that all politicians can promise but nor really deliver. So the Economic Freedom Party at present in South Africa enjoys a growing following among these people, often the poorest of the poor. The trouble with political power it that it corrupts. The leaders, who once in power, are really only interested in holding onto that power and not following through with the often unrealistic promises that they made. To put political slogans into workable systems is not just difficult but often downright impossible.

The Lost Tribe:

Here we find then what I call ”The Lost Tribe of Africa”. They all share a common poverty, and the same need and dreams. They come from every country, nation and tribal affiliation. As they look back at the tribal areas that they came from they do not want to return. After all what is on offer there? Poverty, hunger in time of drought, poor schooling to say the least and certainly no job prospects. When they look forward in the 'informal settlement' that they now live in they share the hope of a better life. This perhaps seems possible if countries could follow the seemingly simple steps that Hlumelo Biko so clearly outlines in his book. Then many of them could enjoy a better life.

The trouble is, that as Fanon points out as far back as 1961, the power groups in society are each obsessed with holding on to what they have, and so in the end will probably lose both power and possessions; all because of their greed.

This problem of people being caught between two cultures is not only a Third World problem but also exists in the religious community in the USA and Europe and in society in general in Western Society. Here children are growing up who are caught between the culture of their parents and the culture of their peers, as experienced on a day to day basis.

In their book "Forming Multicultural Partnerships" Hardy and Yarnell refer to the problem of what they call 'Third Culture Children'. They also quote from references to "Third Culture Kids" in a book by Pollock and van Rieken with that name. These researchers have identified that many young people in Western Society are caught between the culture of their parents and the culture of the world that they spend most of their time in, namely their school and working environment. This creates a situation of insecurity and conflict that has important implications to their feeling of "who am I and where do I actually fit in?" Here, according to these writers is what could be called a lost tribe of young people who don't feel comfortable in the cultural environment where they have grown up and yet they continues to be part of their family. At the same time they live in the new multicultural environment where they spend most of their lives. Here they come into contact with and accept a new way of thinking and behaving that is very different from that of their parents. This can lead to a state of conflict and insecurity in their minds and conflict with their families. A movie that was popular on the circuit some time ago called "Bend it like Beckam" illustrated this reality very powerfully.

So we find this 'lost tribe' floating in a no-mans land in both the Third World and also in Western Society. Obvious and very visible in the huge informal shack cities in the Third World, were people having lost the past hope and leadership that existed in the tribal areas and now live on the edge of a land of promise, but with little hope of sharing in that promise!

But also less obviously also in the many Western cities and towns where young people have rejected the culture of their parents and have adopted the one of the modern world where they find themselves and is in many ways foreign to their parents.

We all live in a world that presents new challenges and solutions. Makes one think!


Forming Multicultural Partnerships: Hardy and Yarnell.

The Great African Society-a plan for a country gone astray: Hlumelo Biko.

The Wretched of the Earth: Franz Fanon.

Third Culture Kids: Pollock and van Reken

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

        Johan Smulders 

        3 years ago from East London, South Africa

        In our area of South Africa we see this situation with no real promise that is can change. Huge squatter settlement, next to large areas of poor housing and then the large areas of middle to high income housing. Add the tribal areas nearby and we see the problems daily in the streets of East London, (men next to the road looking and hoping desperately for a job)and there are no easy answers.

      • profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        3 years ago


        I think you could say those things of pretty much anywhere.

        I recently read Mandela's autobiography 'Long walk to Freedom' it's a fascinating read and he wasn't too complimentary of the ANC after apartheid especially with the corruption that crept in.

        This was an enlightening read.

        Thank you.


      • profile image

        Johan Smulders 

        3 years ago

        The sad thing is that so many people in Africa and I think other countries are caught in a no win situation!

      • profile image

        Deb Hirt 

        3 years ago

        You brought up so many valid points. In order for change to be effected, people must also be willing to change.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)