A tribe is viewed, developmentally or historically, as a social group existing before the development of, or outside, states. A tribe is a group of distinct people, dependent on their land for their livelihood, who are largely self-sufficient, and not integrated into the national society. It is perhaps the term most readily understood and used by the general public. Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, the world’s only organisation dedicated to indigenous rights, defines tribal people as those who “…have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and are clearly different from the mainstream and dominant society.” This definition, however, would not apply in countries in the Middle East such as Iraq, where the entire population is a member of one tribe or another, and tribalism itself is dominant and mainstream.
There are an estimated one hundred and fifty million tribal individuals worldwide, constituting around forty percent of indigenous individuals. Although nearly all tribal people are indigenous, some are not indigenous to the areas where they now live.
The distinction between tribal and indigenous is important because tribal peoples have a special status acknowledged in international law. They often face particular issues in addition to those faced by the wider category of indigenous peoples.
Many people used the term “tribal society” to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of social, especially familial, descent groups (see clan and kinship). A customary tribe in these terms is a face-to-face community, relatively bound by kinship relations, reciprocal exchange, and strong ties to place.
“Tribe” is a contested term due to its roots of being defined by outsiders during the period of colonialism. The word has no shared referent, whether in political form, kinship relations or shared culture. Some argue that it conveys a negative connotation of a timeless unchanging past. To avoid these implications, some have chosen to use the terms “ethnic group”, or nation instead.
The ethnic groups of Africa number in the thousands, each generally having its own language (or dialect of a language) and culture. The ethnolinguistic groups include various Afro-Asiatic, Indo-European, Khoisan, Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan populations.
Luba in Democratic Republic of the Congo (c. 15 million)
Mongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo (c. 15 million)
Kongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Republic of the Congo (c. 10 million)
Kanuri in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon (c. 10 million)
Horn of Africa
Oromo in Ethiopia (c. 30 million)
Amhara in Ethiopia (c. 25 million)
Somali in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya (c. 16-19 million)
Tigrayans in Ethiopia (c.6 million)
Tigrinyas in Eritrea (c.3 million)
Afar in Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia(c. 4-5 million)
Maghrebis in Maghreb (c. 110 million) including Berbers in Mauritania, Morocco (including Western Sahara), Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (c. 30 million)
Egyptians in Egypt (c. 91 million) including Copts in Egypt and Sudan (c. 15 million)
Hutu in Rwanda, Burundi, and Democratic Republic of Congo (c. 15 million)
Chewa in Malawi and Zambia (c. 15 million)
Shona in Zimbabwe and Mozambique (c. 15 million)
Zulu in South Africa (c. 10 million)
Sotho in South Africa and Lesotho (c. 6.4 million)
Ethnic groups of Rivers State in Nigeria
Yoruba in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone (c. 40 million)
Hausa in Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Chad and Sudan (c. 35 million)
Igbo in Nigeria (c. 32 million)
Mande peoples in The Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Niger, Mauritania and Chad (c. 30 million)
Akan in Ghana and Ivory Coast (c. 20 million)
Fula in Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, Chad (c. 20 million)