Sunday, June 10, 2012

Overcoming the Politics of Identity in Africa

Monday, June 4, 2012

At the opening of the annual Africa Day conference hosted by the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa, Professor Pieter Labuschagne commented on the politics of ethnicity – pointing to the fact that you have over 3000 ethnic groups uncomfortably residing in Africa’s 54 states.

The level of discomfort is clearly evident in the number of ethnic and other identity-based conflicts across the length and breadth of the African continent. These identity conflicts – whether race, ethnicity, religious, or clan – reflect the floundering of the nation-building project on the African continent.

The failure of the nation-state project is seen most dramatically in the issue of secession. Where secession has taken place as in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the two Sudans – intra-state conflict is transformed not into peace but inter-state conflict.

In northern Africa, there are the ongoing tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egpyt. In Morocco conflict persists on the issue of the Saharawis and in Algeria the question of Berber identity is still unresolved. In Nigeria, in West Africa, religious strife between Muslims and Christians are reinforced by their different ethnic and regional identities. Mali has also been torn apart on the issue of a Taureg homeland.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the heart of Africa, remains a conflict-prone area despite the loss of 5 million lives since the 2nd August 1998. Competing identities in a fragile state fuelled by a war economy remains at the heart of this conflict. Here competing ethnic militias like the Hema and Lendu have fought over mineral resources, whilst ethnic groups like the Banyamulenge Tutsis in the eastern Congo see themselves less as Congolese and more as Rwandan as they share the same Tutsi origins with their kin across the border.

Kenya, in eastern Africa, has witnessed the rise of virulent ethnic nationalism between Kikuyu and Luo in the run-up to their last elections. This violent has been temporarily suspended as a result of a political power-sharing agreement brokered. However this agreement looks increasingly shaky as Kenyans hand over suspects in that violence to the International Criminal Court and as the country prepares for elections.

In the Horn of Africa, Somalia represents the quintessential example of where identity politics leads – a balkanized state carved into different clan fiefdoms run by warlords and religious fanatics.

Southern Africa, too, has not escaped this scourge of identity politics. We see it in various forms between Shangaan and Ndau in Mozambique, between Ndebele and Shona in Zimbabwe and between Ovimbundu and Mbundu in Angola.

Whilst ostensibly representing the “Rainbow Nation of God,” South Africa’s nation-building project is also floundering. The xenophobic violence which periodically plagues this country illustrates the point well. We also see it in the charges of racism which the ruling party periodically hurls at the political opposition, civil society, the media, and more recently at artists.

We see it, too, in claims of the “Zulufication” of the African National Congress following Jacob Zuma’s rise to the presidency.

Whilst the African Union attempts to integrate the African continent, whilst some talk of Pan-Africanism, the reality is that one billion Africans increasingly see themselves as belonging to this or that ethnic group, clan, or extol a religious affiliation as opposed to being “Nigerian” or “African”. Until we can build more inclusive states and societies, conflict will persist and the economic potential of this continent will never be unleashed.


Hussein Solomon holds a D.Litt et Phil (Political Science) from the University of South Africa. Currently he is Senior Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Free State. His previous appointments include being Professor in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria; Executive Director of the International Institute of Islamic Studies (2009-2010); Director of the Centre for International Political Studies, University of Pretoria, Research Manager at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (1998-2000), Senior Researcher: Institute for Security Studies (1996-1998) and Research Fellow: Centre for Southern African Studies, University of the Western Cape (1993-1995).

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Anonymous said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Could it be possible that our friend Mike Smith's website is down temporally or is it shut down permanently like was the fate of SAS. Thank you TIA-Mysoa for your contributions.

Boertjie said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Hallo TIA

Take a look at this from the SAIRR...

The guy sounds like a "verkrampte" ! :^) Very politically incorrect.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

@Anon (12:31 PM) – I don’t know what’s going on with Mike’s blog… I also noticed late last night that permission is denied, and that the blog is open to “invited readers only” ??? Only the blog owner could have done this, so I doubt if this is another SAS repeat. According to Mike’s last post he has apparently gone on vacation… Maybe this is his way of protecting the blog from any form of attack while he’s gone.

It messes this blog around somewhat, because there are several links to his articles.

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

@Boertjie – Thanks for the link!
I read the article, and get the impression that it was shortened somewhat. It nonetheless conveys a clear message – “The ANC is going down!” My guess is we’ll be seeing titles in bookstores, in about 10 years from now (maybe sooner) - “The rise and fall of the ANC”.

The big question is: Who will be in power when they’re gone? If it’s the DA then we will have far bigger problems on our hands – similar to what is happening in America right now under the ‘Socialist’ Obama administration.

Boertjie said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

Hallo Tia!

I don't think the ANC is going down just yet. The DA may get more black votes, but I expect the ANC to keep to power as long as most of SA's blacks feel so sensitive about Apartheid. Its this emotion on which the ANC capitalizes when propagating their image of a liberation movement.

However, the signs that they are losing support (albeit slowly) is there : the DA's growth in black support and the rising incidence of service-deliviery protests.

You say if the DA comes to power we'll have bigger problems. Well, I can't really comment on that. However, the trend we are seeing now worries me.

In 2002 the ANC distanced themselves from "kill the boer kill the farmer". In 2011 they support "shoot the boer". In 2012 Zuma sings "kill the boer".

Land reform...originally willing buyer willing seller (albeit with pressure on farmers). Today the green paper on land reform that provides for expropriation that bypassess the Judicialry.

Also the Draft Land Tenure Security Bill that proposes to give farmworkers' extended families the "right" to farm on the farmer's property.

Also, in earlier years, farmmurders indicated murderous polarization loosely scattered among the impoverished black youth. Today the ANCYL is a characteristic hate group. (PAGAD comes to mind).

The ANC is becoming more open about pursuing their NDR-ideology. THis is an exclusionary/revolutionary ideology, which is a genocide-risk factor.

I can go on, but watching these trends makes the DA seem like the lesser of two evils. O yes... and the NDR-ideology is founded in Leninism. I sincerely hope the ANC loses their emotional Apartheid-linked grip on SA's blacks.

Have a nice day!

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