Conflicts in Africa – The naked truth

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The natural struggle to rebuild is proving difficult

Some have commented that pointing to colonialism is not an excuse as many African countries have had decades to try and resolve this. The implication of the argument is that the effects of centuries of colonialism, in effect, are supposed to be overcome in just a few short years. Yet, as Richard Robbins, professor of anthropology suggests, if countries like Canada have been struggling with accommodating different groups, then in Africa the problem is more complex:

We must remember that the European agreements that had carved up Africa into states paid little attention to cultural and ethnic boundaries and ethnic groups had little opportunity or need to form political alliances or accommodations under repressive colonial rule.… Think of countries such as Canada, which has been trying for hundreds of years with mixed success to accommodate only two linguistic groups — English and French — and you get an idea of the problems of African states with far greater cultural and linguistic divisions.

— Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 2002), p. 302)

Furthermore:

Consider the extent to which he Second World War of just 6 years duration has pervaded the consciousness of our developed world for 2 generations and imagine how 4 centuries of enslavement might have seized the entire social and cultural ethos of an undeveloped continent.

— Bob Geldof, Why Africa? Bob Geldof Speaks at St. Paul’s Cathedral, DATA.org, April 21, 2004

In some parts of Africa, slavery and/or colonial administration had almost erased cultures and community with an “education” and “civilizing” program that gave Africans only a minimal skill set that served European colonial interests. Rebuilding from decades and centuries of this has been a tough struggle.

Consider the following from a speech by Bob Gelfdof:

To establish a type of nationwide government, [European] colonial administrators effectively set about inventing African traditions for Africa, that would make the process more acceptable to the indigenous population. The most far-reaching inventions of tradition in colonial Africa occurred when the administrators believed they were respecting age old African custom whereas a commentator notes “What were called customary law, customary land-rights, customary political structure and so on were in fact all invented by colonial codification.” By creating an image of Africa steeped in unchanging tradition the colonizers condemned the continent to live in a reconstructed moment of its past. A vast continental theme park — Africa-land, that hindered development for decades. But perhaps the most pernicious of the traditions which the colonial period bequeathed to Africa was the notion of Tribalism. Just as every European belonged to a nation, every African must belong to a tribe, a cultural unit with a common language, a single social system and established customary law. In Zambia the chief of a little known group once remarked, “My people were not Soli until 1937 when the Bwana D.C. told us we were. The concept of the Zulu as a discrete ethnic group did not emerge until 1870.”

These were the dangerous sands upon which the colonialists imposed a new political geography. However once in motion, the process was enthusiastically reinforced by the Africans themselves. Tribes became the object of passionate African imagination. Some chroniclers have endowed their tribes with a retrospective primordial essence. Rather like Yeats did with the similarly disenfranchised Irish.

The British ruled through these local hierarchies, a process which unconsciously promoted the most malleable, collaborative or corrupt local chiefs and where none existed, as we’ve seen, they simply created one, enabling ambitious individuals and groups to achieve positions of status, dominance, and wealth that might otherwise have been unattainable.

To counter this tribalism some African leaders proclaimed the single party state to be the only means to control the excessive, ethnically based competition for the global goods of modernity — education, health, and the eradication of poverty. Competitive democracy they said would only lead to penury. Yet one-party rule unrestrained by the moral check of shared community had the same result. It proved to be a mask for oppression, ethnocracy and kleptocracy. Of the 107 African leaders overthrown between 1960 and 2003 two-thirds were murdered, jailed or slung into exile. Up until 1979 59 African leaders were toppled or assassinated. Only three retired peacefully and not one was voted out of office. No incumbent African leader ever lost an election until 1982.

… imposing … cultural beliefs on other people, whether by economic muscle or cruise missile, so that they can be more like us is a farce, particularly when the obvious external purpose is regional control of resources and political influence.

— Bob Geldof, Why Africa? Bob Geldof Speaks at St. Paul’s Cathedral, DATA.org, April 21, 2004

 

Anthony Claret

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Anthony Claret

Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.
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