Chris Christie And American Political Tribalism In Africa tribalism is based on blood and kinship. In America it is based on ideology. No better

By Paolo von Schirach

January 11, 2014

NAIROBI – African countries are often criticized for their tribal social structures that still affect politics and governance. In simple words, the political process often results in the victory of one tribe or ethnic group. This group then proceeds to grab all relevant positions, revenue sources and more, while the others get little or nothing. The implicit justification for all this is that you have to reward loyalty. And loyalty is based on blood and clan connections. (Do you want a pearl? The President of Angola appointed his son as the chief administrator of the nation’s Sovereign Wealth Fund in charge of investing the country’s huge oil revenue). Needless to say this does not work very well for the broader society.

New Jersey Tribalism

That said, leave it to New Jersey to concoct something not too dissimilar from tribal politics. Well, instead of blood relations the metric used here is political affiliation and loyalties. You are a friend? You shall be rewarded. You are an opponent? You shall be punished. Look, to some extent this logic has some value. In politics there must be winners ands losers. But do you cut electrical power to the towns that voted against your boss? No, as this would be illegal.

Close that bridge

Well, apparently nobody explained to senior staff working for newly re-elected (and now GOP rising star) Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey how far you can go in rewarding friends and punishing political adversaries. Someone decided that it would be really cool to create artificial traffic jams for the citizens of the city of Fort Lee, whose Democratic Mayor, Mark Sokolich, had refused to endorse Christie. With an excuse, they closed lanes of a major bridge (sadly called George Washington Bridge) heavily used by tens of thousands of commuters every day. After the closure, chaos ensued.

In so doing these Christie loyalists thought that they would “teach a lesson” to the deviant Mayor. Well, they certainly managed to cause huge problems for tens of thousands of citizens.

Christie the fair pragmatist?

Governor Christie claims to be a non nonsense Chief Executive who has principles but who is always ready to negotiate fairly with anybody. Well, apparently his enlightened pragmatism has not percolated among his senior staff. The question is: does Christie promote mostly fanatic loyalists capable of such behavior? Therefore is all the talk about “pragmatic bipartisanship” just that: “talk”? (At the moment there is no evidence that Governor Christie had anything to do with this action, directly or indirectly).

Let’s be clear, this almost unthinkable action motivated only by politics, resulting in traffic mayhem for the citizens of Fort Lee, is not akin to an innocent, if crude, high school prank. This incredible idea of “punishing a city” because its Mayor failed to support your man is egregious, and it is most likely criminal. (An investigation is now under way).

But, more than anything else, it reveals a level of narrow-minded pettiness that makes African tribalism look enlightened and noble in comparison. 

If Christie wants to become president, he better start rethinking the criteria he uses to hire senior aides. Among the ones he has chosen so far, there are idiots and criminals. And these staff choices do not make him look smart.


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