9 February 2013

Africa: Nation-Building in Africa - The Reality, Challenges and Prospects


Over the last ten years we have witnessed how the development of corruption, and inter-elite rivalry, anchored on various ethnocentric claims for certain undeserved privelleges, rather than service to nation-building, on the bases of diverse appeals to "origins" such as "indigeneity", "customs", "traditions" and "tribal" groups rather than humanitarian, constitutional or legal claims, have led to lots of conflicts and loss of lives in Nigeria.

These conflicts are thus not only criminal in nature, in the manner they are variously executed, but also constitute the greatest disservice to the promotion, and development, of genuine African cultures at the levels of community, locality, nation and region. While in some parts of Africa, and at the level of international relations, these are beginning to be legally addressed Nigeria is yet to take any definitive stand, or make any progress, on the issues.

The negative impact of ethnocentrism and the politics it breeds, briefly referred to above, is on account of the fact that racial and tribal concepts were crafted purposely to promote separation, exclusion and discrimination rather than integration and inclusion, or justice. They have as such promoted view points, ideologies and policies that are both fissiparous and disintegrative. They deny as well as oppose two important considerations, necessary for constructive community building, in their articulation. The first is that they deny of the multicultural nature of the evolution of human societies which is based on the diverse processes of migrations, fusion and integration in favour of an assumed process that is supposedly defined by separation and exclusion. The second is the fact that it's views are based on stereotypes, informed by prejudices, that are further utilized for the purposes of a priori judgements, of whole groups of people. They, moreover, were applied on Africa by the colonial powers on the basis of a double standard, in other words such is not applied in the analysis, description or evaluation of western societies themselves.

The return to so-called democratic rule in Nigeria under the 4th Republic is accompanied by widespread development of sectionalist conflicts, as well as corruption, and a related tendency to civilian dictatorship on account of the various factors we have highlighted. We will illustrate these negative trends with reference to some important issues influencing Nigeria's current political development

The first is what is generally discussed as Nigeria's federalism especially in terms of its current tendencies to dysfunctionalism. Attention has variously been drawn to the increasing centralization of its activities under the military, as well as the economically unviable nature of its federating units as currently constituted. However very few people have critically looked at the racialist, or tribalist, nature of the organizing principles at basic community levels. This has greatly contributed to the development of some policies of discrimination and exclusion in addition to the proliferation of more states, and local governments, or the agitation for "federating units", founded on the basis of "ethnic nationalities". These constitute nothing but the uncritical reproduction of colonial ethnocentric principles in the creation and organization of political and administrative structures.

Ethnocentric principles indeed, as of necessity, induce "inter-group" conflicts as well as policies of ethnic cleansing. In a recent paper one of Nigerias leading political scientists, Bolaji Akinyemi, draws attention to the fact that one of the major mistakes affecting Nigeria's federalism is the notion that it should be based on the "ethnic nationalities" rather than on the basis of functionalist, democratic and constitutional principles. Such divisions, he noted, have only been promoted to support destructive elite squabbles, leading to endless subdivisions of the polity, for the benefits of certain individuals and cliques, as well as to the increasing detriment of the polity and its peoples. Added to this dysfunctional character of federalism it is to be noted that even the earlier Republican status of the country has been compromised, as is evident in Nigerias decision to provide military base for the U.S.A, as well as supporting NATO campaign against Libya, both of which opposed the stance of AU on the issues.

A second level of observation relates to the discourse that has attended the publication of Achebes recent publication on the Nigerian Civil War in Nigeria. Much as this is not a review of that discourse it is important to draw attention to at least three important issues that have so far accompanied and defined it. The extent to which the work is able to generate this level of discourse, and the constructive manner in which the author stated his own views, attest to Achebes credibility as one of the leading, as well as patriotic, Nigeria's and Africas intellectuals. He has promoted on open discourse, as opposed to other members of the Nigeria elite that have only incited sectarian, divisive and violent conflicts. The future of Nigeria lies in our ability to promote the open, constructive, honest and independent discussion of our own problems. This is the essence of democracy.

An important observation is the fact that Achebe based some his own interpretation of the civil war on ethnocentric considerations rather than on the basis of the available evidence, and a rational theoretical frame work that is true to the historical circumstances. Many of his critics have also attempted to defend the figures he criticized on the basis, mainly, of similar ethnocentric afflictions. Our elites, if they are to lead effectively, must do everything to avoid the negative influences of sectionalism in their judgements and utterances in favour of principled, factual and considered judgements. We need to recognize that the objective cognition of our past in general, as well as the contributions of our past leaders in particular, are important to us in common. We can choose to learn and build on their positive contributions, or continue to wallow in negative and counter productive sectionalist acts. Awolowo, Azikwe,Sardauna of Sokoto, Balewa etc. were each Nigeria's nationalists and we do them, or ourselves, no favour by insisting only on a parochial appreciation of their personalities. Nigeria has to truly own them, appreciate them and learn from their contributions, as well as their mistakes, if we are to develop good leadership for the country. Indeed in this regard Achebe himself is more than just a symbol for any kind of "ethnic identity". He is a great African, and Nigerian, figure whether we agree with him or not.

Finally it is important to draw attention to the specific, and exemplary, response from General Yakubu Gowon which further demonstrates his standing as one of the greatest Nigerian, as well as African, leaders. His declaration to the effect that he is willing to account for his tenure in office at the International Criminal Court (ICC), is a positive indication of good leadership and character. How many of such Nigeria's former, or serving, leaders could be able to seriously offer any similar pledge? In fact on the basis of the various accusations on the ground, most of them would do well to account for their actions, at whatever levels. It is imperative, if the democratization process in Nigeria is to mean, and prove, anything that all the chief executives of the federation, beginning with chief Olusegun Obsansajo, are seen to account for their tenure, as well as address all accusations against them, in the nations judicial courts.

We also need to properly look at the manner in which positive cultural attributes, such as languages, religions and customs, or traditions, of our peoples are being politicized, and subverted, to serve very negative and destructive purposes which stand in opposition to the very essence of both culture and religion. It is gratifying to see that religious leaders, and followers, are working hard to put a stop to such negative trends in order to enhance the moral, philanthropic, peaceful and unifying principles of all religious beliefs.

The present efforts towards so-called 'good-governance in Africa is hardly working because it has neglected the essential issues in nation-building and the so-called development it promises, as Claude Ake rightly pointed out, was never intended in the first place. For nation-building to be successful it must achieve and be based on the critical objectives of national sovereignty, constitutionalism, unity, citizenship rights, national development plans and practical issues of regional integration which are outside the purview of the so-called good governance agenda.

Clearly the question of development in Africa must be able to transcend the limitations currently imposed on it by foreign interventionism, local impunity, dysfunctional economic structures and the tendency to disintegral divisiveness partially occasioned by the prevailing dominance of the imperial ideology of ethnocentrism. These need to be overcome by building on PanAfricanist, as well as nationalist, achievements in respect of Africas sovereignty, at both popular and regional levels, through a regional structure that could independently mediate local conflicts within, as well as between, African countries and also check foreign interventionism in favour of popular and national sovereignty. Constitutionalism: multiculturalism, political pluralism, economic diversification and industrialization on the basis of regional integration, as well as a common and united African stand at the international levels in terms of diplomacy, would appear to constitute the most essential building blocks for Africa's nations successful development.

At present in terms of its essential ruling relations, structures and ideas the question of both development and democracy is flawed because they are imperial and neo-colonial.


Nation-building in Africa, or anywhere else, has never essentially been an exercise in the preservation and administration of any, or a galaxy of, "primordial" and "ethnic" groups. It was always a struggle for independent, and sovereign, nation-states anchored in the universal principle of popular sovereignty.

Similarly nation-building was nowhere ever simply designed to recreate the precolonial past, from whichever point of view this is perceived, or to basically preserve the colonial status quo in whatever guise, but rather to change it in favour of the development of new constitutional opportunities that guarantee, and promote, peace, justice, equity and prosperity for all citizens.

The search for a solution to the problem is already underway and it is on account of that fact that we are all here today.

In line with the exemplary conduct of one of your awardees, AbdulRaheem T., we must not only all work on this together but also do so in the spirit, and towards the achievement, of the goals of PanAfricanism. Patriotic African elites need to organize locally, actualize nationally and integrate regionally.

It is also significant to note that Haiti has decided to be part of the AU. It is imperative that the AU promotes greater relations with the African public through the initiation of diverse policy principles designed to address the needs of the continent.

Meanwhile in the spirit of the moment, we need to promote relevant platforms of the type that has brought as here today, as well as network their activities in a manner that will make them a significant force in the conduct of affairs at the AU

Being a paper submitted to the 10th Daily Trust Dialogue as a Guest Speaker on the theme of "Nation-Building: at Transcorp Hotel, Abuja, Nigeria on January 23rd, 2013.

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