Monday, March 16, 2009

The African Nation?


Is there an African nation? Where is it? Are there African nations? If so, where are they?
I submit that the African nation does not exist and has never existed. There is the African race, but it is not a nation. There are many African nations, but these are what we have learned to defame by calling them tribes. These so-called tribes were the true nations in pre-colonial Africa. What nowadays are called African nations, are not nations at all; each is just a country under the jurisdiction of a state. It is fashionable to call them nation-states, but that is at best a courtesy.

Why is it important to determine whether or not Black Africa is a nation? Pretending that Black Africa is a nation when it is not would be as delusional as leaning on a walking stick without noticing that it is made of ice. When things get warm the ice will melt and you’ll be leaning on air. Alternatively, if a builder lacks cement blocks and, in desperation decides to call heaps of beach sand by the name cement blocks, he will soon find that he can’t lay the heaps course on course like he could actual blocks. For lack of the factors that make a population cohere into a nation, the African nation, being a pseudo nation, would disintegrate under pressure, just like an ice stick in warm weather. For example, suppose you had an army of the so-called African nation. And half your army were Black Muslims each of whom said in his heart: “I am a Muslim and I worship Allah and I follow the way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I have no relationship with you, except that your skin is black. The lightest Arab is closer to me than you. If there were to be war between Muslims of any shade of color and the darkest of black people, I will be on the side of Muslims.” If a Black African army is filled with such people, what chance has it of defending Black Africa from the Arabs? Such is the danger of fashionably pretending that there is an African nation when, in fact, it doesn’t yet exist. We should all take to heart Nyerere’s warning: “It is no part of transforming dream into reality to pretend that things are not what they are.” –[Nyerere, “Dilemma of the Pan-Africanist” in Langley ed., Ideologies, .p. 347]

Now back to the question: Is Africa a nation? In attempting to answer this question scientifically, rather than sentimentally, we would be helped by starting from the following statements from three different disciplines: Cultural anthropology, Historiography and Biology.

Lets hear first from cultural anthropology through Cheikh Anta Diop:

“The cultural identity of a people [is] centered on three components—linguistic, historical, and psychic.”
--Diop, in Great African Thinkers, p. 268

Also according to Diop, the psychic factor is the domain of poets, singers, storytellers. Note the example of the brothers Grimm who, by collecting German folk tales in their Grimm’s Fairy Tales, laid the psychic foundation of German national identity; also note the role of the epic Kalevala in fostering national identity in Finland; also the role of the Mahabharata epic in fostering Indian national consciousness, and the role of the William Tell legend in the national identity of Switzerland. Similarly, the Old Testament has been an indispensable anchor for Jewish identity; for the Japanese, the Nihon gi or Chronicles of Japan, which was compiled in 720 AD and the Kojiki or Records of Ancient Matters, which was compiled in 712 AD, with their collections of myths, legends, historical accounts, songs, customs, divination and magical practices of ancient Japan, have provided the psychic bedrock of Japanese national identity.

Let’s next hear from historiography through Jaques Barzun:

“What makes a nation? A large part of the answer to that question is: common historical memories; . . . a common language, a core of historical memories with heroes and villains; . . .a nation is forged into unity by successive wars and the passage of time. . . . It takes a national war to weld the parts together by giving individuals and groups memories of a struggle in common. Needless to add, nationalism can arise only when a nation in this full sense has come into being.”
–[Jacques Barzun, Dawn to Decadence, pp. 775, 776,695, 435

Finally, let’s hear from ethology, the biological science of animal behavior, through Robert Ardrey:

“A biological nation is a social group …which holds as an exclusive possession a continuous area of space, which isolates itself from others of its kind through outward antagonism, and which through joint defense of its social territory achieves leadership, co-operation and a capacity for concerted action. It does not matter too much whether such a nation be composed of twenty-five individuals or of two hundred and fifty million. It does not matter too much whether we are considering the true lemur, the howling monkey, the smooth-billed ani, the Bushman band, the Greek city-state, or the United States of America. The social principle remains the same.
--Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative, pp. 210-211

What Diop, Robert Ardrey, and Jacques Barzun together tell us is that a nation is made by shared language, historical memory of struggles carried out together, and a shared body of myths, legends, epics, songs etc., and demonstrates it nationhood by outward antagonism and the defense of its common territory.

It doesn’t take much reflection to grasp the fact that by these criteria, there is no African nation as yet, and there never has been. The African nation, though talked about in some Pan-Africanist circles, remains only an aspiration. The languages are diverse; there is no shared body of myths, legends, epics, songs etc; and the historical consciousness has never been fostered.
Unsurprisingly, we do not behave like a nation. We do not defend our joint territory. If there was an African nation already in existence today, it would have manifested its nationhood by collectively defending the portions of the common Black African territory that have been under attack by Arabs for the past half century, as in Mauritania and Sudan. In particular, an all-Black-African army would have gone to defend the people of Darfur from Arab attack since the ethnic cleansing began there. But the rest of Black Africa has left the Mauritanians and Afro Sudanese to their fate, as if they were aliens, and their fate did not concern the rest of us.

The behavioral test of territorial defense aside, the contrast between India, China, Arabia on the one hand and black Africa on the other, should highlight the fact that Africa is not and has never been one nation. India was politically unified in the 4th century BC and had shared a common culture for centuries even before that; China was politically unified in the 3rd century BC and has shared a common history and culture ever since. The Arabs became a nation through Mohammed when they finally, and for the first time, shared the same religion and political leadership, and then dispersed, in a burst of imperial aggression, from the Arabian peninsula and spread to occupy the lands from the Persian Gulf westward to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Thus, the Arabs became a nation 14 centuries ago and have shared a common historical consciousness ever since then. In contrast, it was only in the 20th century, with the European conquest and colonization of all of Africa, that Black Africans first began to think of themselves as one. And they have yet to be unified politically or culturally, let alone in religion.


Every one of these Black African countries of today is not a nation but a noyau, i.e. “a collection of individuals held together by mutual animosity, who could not survive had they no friends to hate”. Every one of the Black African countries today is populated by people of many pre-colonial nations and is like a refugee camp into which the populations of many genuine nations have been herded by force.

What would it take to make nations out of these colonial concentration camps that the Europeans carved out in the late 19th century during their scramble to conquer Africa? And what would it take to make the African race into a nation? Lessons could be learnt from Ashanti, Zulu, India, China. A shared struggle against our Arab enemies would be a good start for a common historical consciousness.

But is it much use trying to turn Black Africa into a nation this late in time? I don’t think so. The tasks before us in this 21st century can be accomplished without Black Africa becoming a nation. Fostering Black African unity through various methods is more feasible and desirable. It would be much easier to turn SADC and ECOWAS into nations, into modern superpowers, than to start doing what India and China did three millennia ago by conquest.

Copyright © by Chinweizu 2008
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