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The modern african nation state

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Ethnic conflict in Africa is as old as the continent itself. There has been little over time that has been able to ameliorate this problem and to further exacerbate it, there is the small and significant problem of modernity.

For some reason, the differenced between the world today and the world of yesterday has bee unable to reconcile itself in particularly war-torn areas of Africa. Colonization is one contribution to the current state of modernity versus ancient practice in Africa and another is the cultural differences between these colonies and Africa as she has always been.

Countries and people create their own identity, belief system and lifestyle that is best suited to their environment and their beliefs. For instance, life in Russia may be completely different to life in Algeria and the two cannot live in the same manner, completely disregarding their surroundings.

The foundations of the African continent were therefore built on ways of life that served their environment and the way they were forced to live. Many foreign entities were brought to the continent that were so alien to the population that it could not be understood in the same way as the European West understands it.

Tthe idea of politics was perhaps a little foreign to the people of Africa who still resided in tribal unions and partitions rather than in political realms. No one person could be seen as sovereign leader of the entire land and therefore not group could be seen as ruler either.

Then of course comes the definition of civilization which is bound to differ depending on your perception of the word. Colonies may have brought their brand of idealism to Africa under the guise of expanding and civilizing the nations, but what really became of it was the production of a massive changeling.

The factional and tribal existence of the people of Africa became a mannequin version of the West rather than an individual albeit rudimentary form of existence.

Countries of the European States had already abided by the Nation State ideal and had already identified the fundamentals of democracy but had not yet understood the existence of factionalized and tribal congregation. It is easy enough to control a nation if they are under one ruler-ship, which is clearly not what the African people had in mind.

The nation-state under the colonial rule also enlisted the argument of freedom to the people whom they had earlier enslaved. In The African Repository it is described how the African people were seen as slave material by virtue of their differences (American Colonization Society, 32).

The slave trade is described herein as a ‘ bloody banner’ used callously by the immigrants to the area that saw the behavioral differences as meaning that the people were of a lesser civilization (American Colonization Society, 32). Further than this issue, lies the traditional cartographic separations that we used by the inhabitants of Africa prior to colonial invasion.

Today and after the colonies reached Africa, zones were already created to fit and serve traditional boundaries in the continent. Identity was very much a part of the cartographic representation of African inhabitants and this is evident in cultural artifacts (Austen, 2004).

Muslim and Western beliefs only entered these areas after the 8th Century BCE and infiltrated the way in which these people organized their lives (Austen, 2004).

What is clear is that prior to this colonization, African society was not divided by country or belief but with the influx of settlers bearing crosses and religious implements this became a necessity. The division is seen in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean Africa where Islamic colonies laid claim to the upper part of Africa.

The separation of lands was at odds with cultural boundaries in the sense that Western civilizations created areas cartographically and demographically in order to collect taxes and create ‘ bureaucratic agencies’ (Austen). The problem arose when different ethnic groups were counted in single bureaucratic areas (Austen).

Today we still see the side affects of this in the ongoing violence in Sudan and Ethiopia. Ethnic groups had been separated by their own volition to control conflict between and within the groups, however, when they were controlled as state regions, they were all seen under one umbrella.

Colonial mapping of the area was not predominantly for natural purposes or to protect historical features, but rather to create nation states by which the conquering colony could better control revenue coming in and going out of the area (Austen). What is a strange phenomenon is that after the countries won their independence they decided to keep the original boundaries created by the colonies.

This is possibly due to the revenue systems that had already been fixed by these colonies, but as we see it is possibly not an effective method of controlling factional and ethnic disagreements. The issue here is that while ethnic differences and consequent conflict, scientifically and for geographical purposes, the boundaries that are currently set are the only ones that make geographical sense.

One way to control this ethnic conflict is proposed by the separation of the economic and the political system, but this is not a permanent solution as the state as an institution is by default required to connect all other institutions on order to create a stable nation.

This means that all institutions within the nation state have to be compliant with one another otherwise a conflict of interest occurs within political groups.

Geographic and demographic data surrounding the boundaries of African nation states are different. To separate countries and form boundaries, this is usually done by finding natural boundaries that act as border points or points of reference.

However, in countries that have previously had their own political reference, such as Sudan and Ethiopia, groups of conflicting factions are contained within a single jurisdiction. This means that there is no relationship between the sovereign state and the political sympathies that lie within it.

The problem once again lies in the imposition of foreign legislative and political ideals on people who have an entirely different method of controlling their own environment. The result is inevitably an uncomfortable relationship between ancient belief and modern convention.


American Colonization Society. The African Repository. American Colonization Society, New York Public library, 1829 (digitalized 2006). http://books. google. co. za/books? id= KyASAAAAIAAJ

Austen, Ralph. Mapping Africa: Problems of Regional Definition and Colonial/National Boundaries. Fathom Archive, University of Chicago, 2004. http://fathom. lib. uchicago. edu/1/777777122619/

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