Is the Post-Colonial State in Crisis?

RECENTLY a friend was bemoaning the fact that too many a time, political analysts in Namibia tend to ignore some of the fundamental questions of our time.

He had in mind the whole notion of capitalism as the accepted economic system and, of course, its outgrowth – the state. I understand where he was coming from – himself a Marxist in his heyday. I don’t know whether he is still one or not. In this piece, I’m not going to attempt to respond to his concerns.

My interest here is whether the post-colonial state in Africa is in a crisis or not. And it is here where my problem starts. Why? Because some people would argue that there is no such thing as a ‘post-colonial’ Africa. They would rather talk of neo-colonial Africa instead. One can even argue that a good part of the continent exhibits its pre-colonial nature.

In his rather controversial book: “Africa and Curse of the Nation State”, Basil Davidson argues that Africans, after independence, adopted European political systems and values willy-nilly and uncritically without redefining them to suit Africa’s own unique conditions and value systems. Thus the inherited colonial state was taken as a given by the new African elite and its handlers for example adopting a unitary political system, which in retrospect, is becoming dysfunctional as several African examples now clearly demonstrate.

On the other hand we have the concept of the ‘Africanisation of African politics’. This is the view that argues that as the colonial experience retreats further in the distant past with successive generations, the colonial experience becomes less relevant and Africans will rediscover and resort to their past. Professor Patrick Chabal, for example, aanced that view some few years ago.

Thus, if we are to understand the African condition and its crisis then we have to situate it within those seemingly divergent views about the continent. At a first glance the concept of post-colonial, neo-colonial, pre-colonial and the notion of ‘Africanisation’ might seem divergent. But if one looks at the fault-lines that are pulling some of the countries on the continent apart, then the four come in handy to explain our crisis.

These fault-lines are: tribalism, clanism and religion. Let me here make a quick caveat which is to say Africa is a continent with diverse cultures and historical experiences. So, I hope you will excuse me if I generalise or alternatively be anecdotal. But let me throw in some of the countries that are currently being affected by what refers to as the fault-lines defining the crisis of post-colonial African states. They are currently: Nigeria, Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

So how are these selected countries epitomising the continent’s problems? The problems in Africa seem to follow the same pattern. For example, just when we thought that one of the most veracious rebel forces, the M23 in the Eastern DRC, which killed, maimed and raped and looted en masse, has been defeated and its remnants are being integrated in the DRC army here enters Boko Haram. Boko Haram, unlike M23 or even Al Shabaab, is a very complicated rebel force which has been battling one of the largest the armies in Africa.

Boko Haram is fighting for an independent Islamic state in the north of Nigeria over which the Nigerian military seems not to have any control. Since 2009 (some say 2002) Boko Haram has killed people in their thousands and destroyed property. But the most dramatic and sad event is the abduction of more than 200 school girls (of between 16-18 age) gone without any trace. But in a recent video Boko Haram said the girls would be on sale. Unable to solve this on our own, the Nigerian government has now turned to the West (the former colonisers) for assistance.

The other religious-inspired conflicts are the ones in the CAR that has pitted a majority Christian and a minority Moslem population. In Egypt, the ongoing sectarian conflict there is the divide between political Islam and secular Islam. The divide between the Mosque and the Coptic Church in Egypt has not been so sharply defined as to lead to a civil war but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is milk and honey. The problem in Africa’s youngest nation, the fault-line is of a different nature.

In South Sudan, which fought a bitter civil war to divorce from its mainly Moslem north, the current brutal civil war there must be understood in tribal terms and in the context of each group vying for the control of the country’s lucrative oil resources. In the collapsed state of Somalia and the failed state of Sudan the problem must be seen through the lenses of clan politics.

Thus, all the elements of ‘Africanisation’ of politics which in a sense means pre-colonial people going back in traditional lager, reliance on the former colonial masters and the failure to redefine the post-colonial state role come into play in many of the conflicts on the continent.

Source : The Namibian