The December 2007 presidential elections troubles in Kenya that saw over 1000 people killed reveals the unresolved “rage” of Africa’s ethnicity, as the Polish-born novelist Joseph Conrad will tell you in his famous “suppressed rage” phrase that fits some of Africa’s deadly ethnic conflicts. Despite attracting charges of racism and paternalism in the Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s observation of Africa mired in something primal and savage may be as relevant as practicable in certain ways as some African ethnic conflicts and bad governments show.
Ethnic conflicts show that African nation-states are not genuinely consolidated, some being creations of Western imperialists. The key challenge is how African elites can work with their European creation to appropriate the various ethnic groups’ histories and traditional values for peace and progress. As Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle makes clear in Compatible Cultural Democracy: The Key to Development in Africa, part of the solution lies in “using modified, indigenous political structures and ideologies.”
In Ghana, the Konkomba and the Bimoba have had occasional bloody conflicts. The Ewe ethnic group feels hated within the nation state and has also suffered bloody chieftaincy conflicts recently. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the story is as fearful and bloody today as Conrad’s 1902 Heart of Darkness. In the Central African Republic, the ethnic conflict has become a forgotten emergency after more than a decade of political instability. In Chad’s mixture of ethnic conflicts, family feud and oil windfall, over 100 people have been killed. Ethnic conflicts are rife in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 250 ethnic groups and over 800 dialects. With nearly two million displaced people living in squalid camps and thousands killed, Sudan’s ethnic conflict ridden Darfur depicts Conrad’s character.
Kenya’s post election conflict reveals Africa nation states’ weak foundation. Despite its pretensions, as Robert Calderisi, author of The Trouble With Africa: Why Foreign Aid isn’t Working recalls, Kenya hasn’t been as cool as the uninformed people think - its foundational ethnic structures are weak. The 1950s land war among the Kikuyu ethnic group (the Mau Mau) saw 50,000 people were killed. In an assassination that traumatized Africa, Tom Mboya, a rising politician of his age group was killed.
To avoid ethnic conflict between the Kikuyu (who had ruled Kenya since independence in 1963) and the Luo, their main rival, the ruling party KANU (Kenya African National Union) chose Daniel arap Moi, an interim leader from the Kalenjin group. Moi ruled for 24 years. In 1992 and 1997, bloody conflicts orchestrated by political leaders to suit their whims were common feature in the Western Rift Valley and along the coast, disrupting tourism.
The Kenyan ethnic conflict also shows that for the past 50 years Africans have suffered from leaders who have a weak grasp of the traditional values, lack understanding of their nation-states or do not value peace. Calderisi argues that in the 1990s, as some of Africa’s states such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia and Zaire (DRC) smouldered, “eight in ten Africans were still living in peace. But it was false peace.” Africans’ false peace emanates from the fact that their traditional values do not drive their nation-states’ progress. In the ensuing confusion, false development processes among the over 2,000 ethnic groups with over 3,000 dialects creates all sorts of conflicts, some dating back to pre-colonial times. The false peace and deadly conflicts also show an Africa with two souls which are not in harmony– the traditional and the neo-colonial.
As African nation-states face severe crises and appear to be crumbling because of the rupture between ex-colonial legacies and African indigenous values, the London, UK-based African Confidential newsletter (January 6, 1995) explained that “There are signs everywhere that the era of the nation-state is fading and nowhere is this clearer than in Africa, where its roots are shallowest. The awkward marriage of the ‘nation’ in the sense of an ethnic coalition and the ‘state’ as the principal source of political authority is coming under pressure from above and below.” The fact is, the roots of African nation-state are not shallow, for it stands firmly in African traditional values. What is shallowest is the “state” as ex-colonial creation, not skillfully and properly weaved into the “nation” as a development project.
In a way, as Jeffrey Herbst analyses in States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control, the problem of state consolidation from the pre-colonial phase to the modern era of independent states is riddled with misunderstanding and many unresolved issues by African elites. As Kenya, Sudan’s Darfur, Central African Republic, the Niger Delta of Nigeria and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo show, Herbst boldly prescribes that African state-builders should work to resolve what had existed long before the European colonialists came to Africa.
While former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, the African Union and the international community work to stop the Kenya election-fueled ethnic conflicts, the underlying challenge is how to stem off the country’s self-destruction in the long haul. That may involve not only Annan and the international community, but the appropriation of Kenyan/African traditional values and institutions into resolving the long-running tensions and conflicts that pre-date Kenya.
The idea isn’t only to avoid “ethnic rage” disguised under false peace but also acknowledging like Pogo, the Walt Disney cartoon character that "We have met the enemy and he is us." Africa’s troubles, as George Ayittey explains in Africa Betrayed should start from its elites’ bad behaviour and their inability to understand the continent from within its traditional institutions and values. That makes the African’s so-called enemy himself/herself first and any other second. The hard reality is that either in the Kenyan elections or the Togolese elections in 2005 that saw over 800 people killed, Africa’s ethnic conflict has much to do with Africans’ pre-colonial conditions as much as its colonial and post-colonial circumstances.
By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Expo Times Independent Sierra Leone
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