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The Fractured Power: How to Overcome Tribalism

Author:  Reuben E. Brigety II

Affiliation: Council on Foreign Relations (adjunct senior fellow), former US Ambassador to the African Union (2013-2015)

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place:  March-April 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 3090 


Keywords: Government Tools, Fractured Power, USA




In this article, the former US Ambassador to the African Union talks about the method and tools used by the United States with troubled and failed states. These technologies reflect decades of research, in both government and academia. One such technique is the USAID Conflict Assessment Framework (CAF), which is designed to illuminate the fundamental dynamics of countries at different stages of civil conflict. When applying the same framework to the United States in 2021, the US government’s tool paints a compelling picture that the US itself is unable to solve many of its pressing domestic problems or encourage other countries to do the same. The controversial presidential campaign of 2020 exposed deep divisions in American society, specifically showing the type of tribal politics – when strict loyalty to a foundational identity (such as race, religion, clan, or region) rather than concerns about politics. These divisions are coupled with a growing belief that America’s political and social institutions are no longer functioning as intended. Tools like CAF demonstrate that tribalism, and its ability to ignite conflict, is a common force connecting one’s identity to politics regardless of location or political system—whether this system is democratic as it is in the West or the dictatorship of other countries. In the author’s view, the central measure is whether citizens of diverse backgrounds can use reason and argument to transcend foundational identities and work together for the common good. The writer believes that the current stage of failure that the United States is going through invites it to learn from experiences from other places’ rich invaluable guidance on how to overcome American tribalism. If the diagnosis of US tribal politics is currently based in part on tools, such as CAF, originally developed to assess foreign states, then the solution can be found in a similar setting. It falls to Americans to bridge the tribal divisions in their country.


By: Taqwa Abu Kmeil, CIGA Research Assistant



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