Jan 04 2012

In African politics, smaller is more beautiful

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:05 PM

Seccession, or making African countries, smaller and more responsive to their polities, was perhaps the biggest story of 2011 in a region where the top-down, unitary nation-state remains the default option. My own preferences — for more nations in Africa, smaller nations, more geographically coherent nations, and even ethnically-coherent nations — are well known. The birth of South Sudan, in the summer of 2011, served as a powerful reminder that redrawing Africa’s map is a living project, not an exercize in empty speculation.

Opponents of redrawing Africa’s map come from many perspectives, including the “progressive” desire f0r Africans do endure no more political harm. Adam Hyde, a doctoral student in international development at the London School of Economics, reminded me of the risks involved in any rejiggering of African borders in an essay of his own, which he brought to my attention this week.

Hyde argues against cutting down the size of African nations, many of which are physically large by global standards, grounding his position in a single, simple proposition: “the reality is that separation often leads to increased conflict.” Yet conflict is also spawned by maintaining the current borders of some conflict-riddled countries, such as Congo and Nigeria (to cite only a couple of obvious cases where refusal to accept the need for splitting nations into smaller parts is leading to persistent, long-term conflict).

Even worse, Hyde’s position reflects the egregious double standard that often infects the reasoning of many staunch advocates of political stagnation in Africa. Hyde is entitled to argue in favor of denying africans what the people of the former Yugoslavia have achieved.  He is entitled to tell the people of Czech and Slovakia that their achievement cannot be duplicated by any Africans. He is more than welcome to explain to the denizens of South Sudan that their new nation shall not teach the world anything new.

Analysts of African politics continue to deny Africans the chance to achieve better lives, and better institutional arrangements, based on the spurious notion that they cannot risk creating new sources of instability. Yet other people, and nations, can and do. Are not Africans normal? Are they not entitled to the same freedoms, to construct and deconstruct their political arrangements, as Europeans?

The answer is yes, yes, yes.

My declaration is by no means unqualified. Look I’m married to a Nigerian. I know secession is not a panacea. I know that in a country, such as Nigeria or the Congo, sub-national strife often reflects as well as obscures other problems. For healthy nations, big or small, many factors must come together, along side the process of “right-sizing” African nations. But because re-thinking African borders is not a panacea for what ails African politics, the legacy of political borders inherited from colonial masters need to be tolerated, indefinitely, at any cost. Dare to dream a little. In sub-Saharan Africa in the midst of an economc boom of global import, imaginative ways of thinking about the future should be encouraged.

And that includes thinking about the birth of new nations.

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