This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Bordering On The Absurd

From Jan 2009

Some little space has been occupied in online discussions in recent days on the actions of people in power a century or fifty years or so ago, people who carved up the planet like a pie, as though the people actually living in the countries they were carving up didn’t exist. While most of the discussion is centred around Occupied Palestine, of course, there’s much more to the carving up and the damage that’s been done than only in Palestine. There’s Africa, for example.

Now Africa’s also known as the continent that most people seem to have given up on, except as a place to be sucked dry of all the resources it has to offer. So many – far too many – of the countries are failed states mired in war and corrupt governments that are led by brutal dictators who stay in power because they allow their economy to be looted by this or that Western country. And when they outlive their usefulness, there is a military coup to dispose of them.

Or else there are truly nasty civil wars, where gangs of murderous militia roam around massacring people in frightful ways, and famine stalks the land as people flock to refugee camps and starving pot-bellied, stick-limbed children make it to the pages of Time or Newsweek. Africa is the Dark Continent, and it’s all the fault of them savage jigaboo nignogs. Isn’t that true? It must be, because the civil wars etc began only after the colonial powers quit. So it must be the fault of them savage niggers, right?

Or maybe not.

Look at the map of Africa. Look at all those countries with borders drawn as though by a ruler through the land.

Can one ever imagine any such borders not to be artificial? People don’t segregate themselves so that a ruler-drawn border can be placed between them. It’s never worked, even in Europe where German-speaking people live in France and Poland, Switzerland has French and Italian speakers, and Russian speakers are the majority in half of Ukraine. And this is Europe, which originated the concept of the nation-state.

Africa was always sociologically far different from Europe. The average sub-Saharan African society was always based not on language, but on the tribe. Even African kingdoms were basically controlled by specific tribes, like the Ashanti Kingdom and the Zulu Empire. The tribe was the centre of all life for the African, and tribal affinities were his only affinities. With that cultural baggage – and of all baggage, cultural baggage is probably the hardest to discard, harder certainly than religious baggage (look at the culturally widely varied forms of Islam for example) – when a person from one of these tribes is put in charge of a nation, he does not feel as if he represents his nation. He feels that he is a representative of his tribe, and it is his tribe to which he owes his loyalties. So long as he can line his own pockets (and who is above the temptation for corruption, once there’s an opportunity to be corrupt without fear of the consequences?) he has every reason to promote his tribe. Even if the tribe is a minority, its members will fill all official positions and top military posts (this is also an insurance against coups, naturally). Those officials will themselves feel that they have no responsibilities to the nation, but only to themselves first, and them to their tribe, and extend patronage similarly.

The nation-state was always an imposition, therefore, on Africa.

First, it was an imposition because it made it possible for particular tribal groups to dominate nations, thereby making the other tribes of those nations
restive and rebellious (with reason, since they would feel themselves sidelined and neglected) and lay the ground for civil wars where old tribal animosities, sharpened by recent grievances, would be worked off. This we see everywhere in West Africa, especially in horrible civil wars like Liberia and Sierra Leone. And let’s not even begin on Rwanda…

Second, it was an imposition because the nation state, as I said, was a concept alien to Africa and forcing various ethnically quite different tribes to live together under one administration was a disastrous idea, for reasons I already mentioned.

Third, it was an imposition because those ruler-drawn borders, meant entirely for colonial administrative convenience, split apart tribes and clans and left them separated from their own brethren, and made what would have been one large and homogeneous people, for instance, into small fragmented minorities, neglected and despised, in a variety of countries (somewhat similar is the fate of the Kurds in West Asia).

Then there is that fact that a tribe living, say, in an area richly endowed with a particular natural resource – bauxite, for instance, which is aluminium ore – will quite naturally resent it if a government packed with members of another tribe, in a capital hundreds of kilometres away, takes all the profits from that ore and gives nothing in return. And you can be doubly sure that if outside forces decide to interfere, with an eye on those bauxite deposits, there will be a civil war of spectacular dimensions, which will suck in more and more players on one side or the other. Look at Congo, which has been at civil war for about ten years now. And – like anywhere else – tribes that feel neglected and exploited try to “revive” their “tribal culture” – in fact, this is always the worst aspect of that culture, which would normally have been long jettisoned. During the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, for instance, the rebellious Kikuyu tribesmen would have to take an oath that included, among other things, a solemn promise that they would not let their daughters remain uncircumcised (vide Mau Mau From Within by Donald Burnett and Karari Njama, the latter a former Mau Mau general).

If now the tribes of Africa were allowed to reorganise themselves into autonomous groupings only loosely under redrawn nation-states, sending representatives they choose by their own methods to national assemblies, where each tribe is given its due weight, you’d probably find an Africa shedding its Dark Continent tag so fast it wouldn’t be recognisable any more. But that would also mean there would be less scope for exploitation by outside powers, and less armament sales, and fewer profits for dictators in the pockets of multinational corporations, who stay endlessly in power after organising fake elections, like what happened in Kenya last year, resulting in major conflict.

Besides, the System would resist it tooth and nail, the System that includes tribes in power, and the aid agencies that would be out of a job, and the exploiters, and the others who make a profit out of conflict.

Meanwhile, Africans will continue to die of disease and famine and conflict (more of all of these as the effects of global warming kick in more and more), and the only ones happy will be the exploiters and their stooges.

Damn those colonial bastards with their rulers and pencils. May their ghosts be ceremonially cursed by witch doctors for eternity.   

No comments:

Post a Comment