African Identities: a New Perspective

African-Identities-cover-f-sMost of the ideas that have been exposed in various posts on this blog have now been brought together in a longread, called “African Identities: a New Perspective”. This longread is published as a free e-book through Smashwords.com and available from most e-book retailers.

In this polemic longread, I take a critical look at the differences in the discourse about Africa and about Europe. Comparing Africa and Europe 130 years ago and today, the book contains a passionate plea for greater respect for the different African cultures and languages and contends that a lack of such respect is one of the main factors impeding Africa’s development today.

The book looks back at the past 130 years of African history. The period between 1885 and 1950 was the period of colonization. The period between 1950 and 2015 was a period of decolonization and independence. The book tries to answer the question why the progress in many parts of Africa has been relatively slow.

Starting point is ‘the curse of 1885‘: the Berlin Conference, where Africa was carved up without any African involvement. The book shows how Africa has always had to deal with ‘second-hand’ European ideologies and how Europe has introduced different words in dealing with its own people, different from what is being used for Africans. The longread examines these ideas and demonstrates their effects on Africa.

It shows how even today, when talking about African cultures, outdated and partly racists concepts are used. It introduces a more modern definition of culture and discusses the Hofstede model of describing cultures using various dimensions. The book calls for a study of African cultures using these modern theories. It points to the importance of nurturing languages and linguistic diversity – something which is happening in Europe, much more than in Africa.

The author points out how traditional anthropology and ethnolinguistics present a fragmented picture of African cultures. It calls for an African approach to social science that makes use of modern theories of culture and intercultural communication and that looks in an unbiased way at where the differences are between the peoples of Africa and where the commonalities lie.

The book examines the origins and the content of the idea of the Right to Self-Determination and points out that in the decolonization process, that right was not respected. The author examines some of the reasons why things happened this way. He points to differences in the discourse about Africa and about Europe. In Europe, different ethnic groups are named as ‘peoples’ – whereas in Africa, such groups are called ‘tribes’ – an inherently racist form of reasoning that classifies Africans as being more primitive than Europeans.

Geopolitical and (racist) cultural ideas combined with ideas on African socialism, together form a potent but toxic cocktail, leading to the current consensus that sees ethnically more or less homogeneous nation states as necessary and good in Europe and in many other parts of the world – but not in Africa. A central thesis of the book is that this is one important explanation for Africa’s lack of progress, explaining to a large extent the nepotism and corruption so prevalent in Africa to this day.

The longread goes on discuss a few of the absurdities of African reality today, focusing on Nigeria, the Gambia, Botswana and the Hutu-Tutsi ethnic disaster. This latter is contrasted with the discourse about Croats and Serbs in Europe.

In order to overcome the ‘curse of 1885’, the author calls for:
-A study of African culture using modern theory of culture and intercultural communication;
-A study of African languages from an African perspective, looking not only at differences but also at commonalities and at possibilities for convergence, at any rate leading to a renaissance of African languages;
-A Panafricanist perspective that does not gloss over differences but that respects and cherishes them, seeking to heal the wounds that were inflicted by the curse of 1885 and that is grounded in an appreciation of the uniqueness of all of Africa’s many peoples.

For some of Africa’s failed states, such as the Central African Republic, there seems to be no other option than to start to question the traditional borders. For some other countries, it might be possible to work towards models that would allow for increased regional autonomy. This requires a progressive type of nationalism, one that is not xenophobic, but that does not deny the fact that people are rooted in their own language and culture.

Let’s look at Eritrea

eritrea-free2My posts are published now on ‘Africa on the Blog’.

On 20 November 2015, a post was published entitled “Let’s look at Eritrea“.

In the post, I try to understand why Eritrea, more than twenty years after it gained its independence from Ethiopia, is one of the largest exporters of refugees. I examine the history of the country and show how Eritrea was a combination of various lands, conquered by Italy at the end of the 19th Centry. I describe how independence was achieved after the end of the Cold War.

In the post, I point to three factors that may explain in part the miserable state the country is in today:

  • the distrust between the current leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia, who know each other only too well;
  • the bitter history of war and cruelty in the area;
  • the experience of discipline, acquired in the war, but which has now become overly onerous and oppressive;
  • corruption.

I conclude by pointing out that this is one more country whose borders were formed not through any involvement of the people living in the country, but purely through colonial machinations. The national identity, insofar as it exists, was formed not because of any positive experience, but through a shared experience of brutal oppression.

Something radically different and better will be needed, if this cycle of despair is ever going to be broken…

When will the peoples of Africa get the right to self-determination?

self-determinationMy posts are published now on ‘Africa on the Blog’.

On 19 March 2015, a post was published entitled “When will the peoples of Africa get the right to self-determination“?

In the post, I examine the history of this right, which was enshrined in the UN charter in 1945. I argue that the meaning of ‘self-determination’ is fairly clear. However, the meaning of what constitutes a ‘people’ is not so clear. However, it is clear that the borders of the territories in Africa that were under colonial domination (i.e. almost all of Africa) never corresponded to boundaries between peoples. Therefore, I argue that unlike in some other parts of the world, the majority of the peoples of Africa have not yet been able to exercise their right to self-determination.

When will they finally get this right?

Americanah – a book review

americanahMy posts are published now on ‘Africa on the Blog’.

On 5 February, a post was published reviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 novel, ‘Americanah‘. The book gives valuable insights into what young, bright Nigerians can go through, in their own country but when moving to the UK or to the US as well. Because the book illustrates in a literary way many of my own insights (and because it is well-written and a joy to read), I can wholeheartedly recommend this book!

Africa’s curse of 1885

My posts are published now on Africa on the Blog.

On 7 January 2015, a post was published called ‘Africa: the curse of 1885‘. In it, I point out that the current borders within Africa were basically decided by European leaders at a conference in Berlin in 1885, 130 years ago. I call this the curse of 1885.

When African countries started to become independent around 1960, African leaders decided to stay with the colonial borders. This was also accepted by Europeans. In the post, I examine the various reasons why, from a European perspective, this was so. I identify three types of reasons:

– Geopolitical: staying with the status quo gave former colonial powers the best conditions for maintaining their spheres of influence and keeping countries as much as possible outside of the Communist sphere of influence.

– Cultural: there were mistaken beliefs that the African ‘tribes’ were primitive and might disappear, leading to nation states in a similar way to what has happened in Europe.

– Idealist: in progressive/socialist circles, borders were seen as less relevant anyway, because nationalism was seen as a bad thing and it was felt that the future workers paradise would be internationalist anyway. This disregards that protection of ethnic and cultural identity is a basic human need and right, not denied in many African countries.

For some countries, to overcome the curse, it will be necessary to challenge the existing borders. For other countries, it may be possible to work to a situation where there is greater recognition of individual languages and more respect for cultural differences. South Africa, with its 11 official languages, is a step in the right direction towards a situation where also in African countries, debates like the one about independence for Scotland from the UK becomes possible.

The post starts by showing the map below, by Swedish Artist Nikolaj Cyon. It shows what Africa might have looked like if colonization had never happened…

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Let’s look at Gambia

My posts are published now on Africa on the Blog.

On 5 December, a post was published called “Lets look at the Gambia“. In the post, I give a brief description of Gambia. I point at the history of the Gambia and its role in the slave trade, as brought to live in the book “Roots” by Alex Haley. The current borders are a heritage from that time and have nothing to do with what would seem logical to the country now living there. But in fact, most of the people in the Gambia are Mandinka and it would not be so difficult to imagine a more logical country, that would encompass Mandinka-speakers in the Gambia, in what is now part of the Casamance region of Senegal and of Guinea Bissau.

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This could even be part of a larger country of Mandingo speakers in the region.

I point out that the fiercely anti-homosexual President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, started off poor when he staged his coup d’etat but is now a very rich man. He is ethnically a Jola, and seems to care only for himself, his family and the Jola people. I point out that this pattern is seen in many more countries in Africa. My thesis is that this pattern is due in large measure to that great design flaw that Europe has imposed on Africa: the problem of its illogical borders. Discussing this is a taboo, one which I argue should be challenged.

Moving between cultures – the fun and the difficulties.

My posts are published now on Africa on the Blog.

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On 26 August 2014, a post was published called ‘Moving between cultures – the fun and the difficulties’. The post follows on from my post of a day before on ‘What is culture?’. In the post, I look at what happens when people move to a different culture from their own. I give the example of ‘Beauty’ and the adjustment she has to go through when moving to a culture with a different standard in the area of punctuality.

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I continue to argue that similar adjustments are needed in other areas. People have to change their ways in order to stay true to their own identity. This can cause conflicts when moving back and forth between cultures and it is good to be conscious of this.

However, moving to a different culture also has its advantages.To some extent, the problems and advantages are similar to all human beings and not unique for Africans in the diaspora.