The Quest For National Identity In Africa

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This is the concluding part of a recent article I wrote on Monday, December 11.

It is comfortable to blame the origin of the African Nation state problem on colonialism, but it becomes ridiculous for Africans to continue to blame the outcome of that problem on the problem itself. This is because history has provided ample opportunity for African leaders to provide solutions to this problem and yet they have wasted it, leading to the common cliché that the problem of Africa is leadership. Yes, I must agree, the problem right from the onset is not colonialism, but the ignorant selfishness of successive African leadership.

Colonialism started in Africa in an era of intense social upheavals, when the tribal states rose up against one another and fought long, deadly wars like the Yoruba civil war that ended the Oyo Empire. The conflict situation provided the perfect scenario for slave trade and the Europeans willingly took the opportunity. This condition was not limited to Africa as the Europeans were just emerging from their own revolutions and Napoleonic wars which had led to the birth of many Nation states. The difference is that, while the Europeans were able to solve their problem and broker peace among themselves by themselves, the African states were not afforded that opportunity. A foreign power became involved and many tribes willingly accepted European support against opposing tribes. To me, this was the first mistake made by African leaders, leading to colonialism itself. The second mistake occurred in the years after the indepwwwence.

As expected, the Europeans did not relinquish control of the African states without setting up a mechanism that would allow them to continue to have at least an indirect access to the resources of their former colonies. This they achieved by sowing seeds of distrust and creating a power imbalance in favor of elements that would co-operate with them. In Nigeria, which probably has the highest tribal diversity in Africa, the land was divided in such a way that political representation favored the North, leading to 19 states in the North and 17 in the South today. The first generation of leaders were sincere initially in their quest for development. But the seeds of discord sown by the retreating Europeans soon started manifesting, feeding on the latent selfish interests harbored by the leaders from the beginning. In Nigeria, a regional, federal system was practiced and it was a success initially, until misplaced ambitions and mistrust caused the regional leaders to focus more on winning supremacy for their regions rather than National development. This eventually led to the civil war between 1967 and 1970. The regional system was good because it represents true federalism that enables each region to develop at its own pace by its own resources. The subsequent takeover by the military in Nigeria brought an end to true federalism and entrenched corruption in the system because of the total reliance on oil. Now we have a situation in which the oil from the Niger delta is used to fund the pockets of some corrupt politicians in the North while the vast resources of the North remain under-utilized. Politicians and government officials do not need to embark on any meaningful developmental projects, they just need to have access to the money from this black gold and they continue to stay relevant by funding a network of patronage and sponsorships. That is the major way wealth is distributed in Nigeria, leading to a wide gap between the wealthy and the poor. Unemployment in Nigeria is skyrocketing; the power sector is in decay while transportation has become an arduous, hazardous exercise in the country. The same trend has occurred in many other African countries although Ghana seemed set to retrace its steps.

Haven analysed the genesis of the problem, it is only natural to suggest solutions. It is obvious that the major crisis in Africa that has bred all other ugly problems is that the people seemed not to be represented by the government. Leaders prefer to loot the treasury and amass power to counter opposing forces than to develop the economy and provide better life for their people. The current system does not allow any kind of reform from the government. The only way that things can change is if the people are allowed to determine the basis of their own existence by themselves.

As revolutions spread like wildfire across North Africa and the Middle East, there is a serious warning for African leaders; give back power to the people or else they revolt violently and stubbornly against you with catastrophic consequences for everyone. It is time for independent referendums in African countries. In the 21st century, globalization has changed the way information is disseminated. Social media networks and cable channels have connected people across the world and Africans now know what is going on in other parts of the world, they have an idea of what it looks like to be free in a truly democratic country like USA or Brazil. Governments cannot continue to deceive their people; the people now have yearnings, yearnings for change.

In Nigeria and other ethnically diverse countries, the fear of political leaders is that if freedom of expression is permitted too far, the country will disintegrate. This fear is understandable but not necessary because it is the people that should determine whether they want to be together and not the government who benefit from the state. Even when a country disintegrates, it may become beneficial to the people. In Yugoslavia and Ethiopia, the splitting of the country has brought relative peace and stability to the region after decades of conflict.

The absence of war does not indicate the presence of peace, lack of justice and freedom is a perfect recipe for a future disaster. Instead of silencing dissenting voices, what African governments should do is to organize sincere and effective referendums on basic issues like the unity of the country, the system of government, revenue sharing format, the role of the armed forces and so on. The referendum must be independent of government influence and the results must reflect the true desires and aspirations of the people. The results should not only be fair and true, but they must also be implemented, even if it means removing structures that had protected the leaders. Only then can we embark on any meaningful development and change the course of our history.

If African leaders are sincere in their quest for a better life for their people, then they should yield to the voice of the people. The only alternative to this, I believe is a mass revolution by a people that must have been pushed to the wall. This is not a palatable option as we have seen the mayhem and loss of lives in North Africa and the Middle East in recent times.  If we want to avoid violent revolution then we must make peaceful change, otherwise we are only postponing the evil day.


Ayodele Arowosegbe is a content writer, novelist, and a daydreamer

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