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New Tribalism is an Emerging Terrorism Threat

Updated: Sep 17

Word cloud of Eunomia Journal article

In their Eunomia Journal, the Civil Affairs Association recently published an article I wrote on one potential challenge facing the world in 2035: New Tribalism. The full article (a five-minute read) can be found at https://www.civilaffairsassoc.org/post/a-wicked-cultural-problem-options-for-combating-new-tribalism-in-2035 (Civil Affairs Association’s Eunomia Journal) and at https://divergentoptions.org/2020/07/06/a-wicked-cultural-problem-options-for-combating-new-tribalism-in-2035/ (also published by Divergent Options).

It is difficult to forecast global conditions 15 years from now, but understanding and assessing future world dynamics are of supreme importance to US intelligence organizations and other entities concerned with national security. While near-peer competition has generally taken priority over terrorism as the chief concern among the Department of Defense and other organizations helping to provide for the common defense, terrorism still poses significant threats.

Various theories exist regarding what may characterize the next wave or generation of terrorism across the globe. One such theory explores New Tribalism. This asserts that a new breed of terrorist groups will rise up in areas with weak governance, especially in Africa. Members of these groups will pursue a utopian vision to build a perfect society in their regions during their lifetime, and child soldiers, genocide, and rape are key means to that end.[i] This theory nests well with Samuel Huntington’s claim in The Clash of Civilizations that culture overrides ideological, political, and economic distinctions among people, driving global conflict.[ii]

The Fund for Peace ranks nearly half of sub-Saharan African countries in its Fragile States Index “alert” category, reflecting political and security challenges that make the region ripe for New Tribalism violence.[iii] There, violence against civilians (i.e., abduction, attack, and sexual abuse) conducted by identity militias—“armed and violent groups organized around a collective, common feature including […] ethnicity [or] religion”—increased by nearly ten times in eight years, growing from 83 incidents in 2010 to 817 incidents in 2018.[iv] Unless drastic changes take place to strengthen political institutions within the region, sub-Saharan Africa will likely become a hot bed for New Tribalism terrorist activities threatening regional stability.


[i] Jeffrey Kaplan, “The Fifth Wave: The New Tribalism?,” Terrorism and Political Violence 19 (2007), 545-570, DOI: 10.1080/09546550701606564.

[ii] Samuel P. Huntington, "The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 21.

[iii] The Fund for Peace, “Fragile States Index Heat Map,” 2020, https://fragilestatesindex.org/analytics/fsi-heat-map/.

[iv] The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, “ACLED Codebook,” https://acleddata.com/acleddatanew/wpcontent/uploads/dlm_uploads/2019/04/ACLED_Codebook_2019FINAL_pbl.pdf, 22; “Dashboard,” https://acleddata.com/dashboard/#/dashboard.

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©2020 by Matthew Allen Hughes