Mali and the Berlin States of Afrika

21 Jan

Thoughts from the memoir of  Nwanatifu Nwaco

While most European states are based on the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 on territorial sovereignty, almost all African states originate from the General Act of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 regulating colonialism.The state system in Africa is an imported model lacking the sociological realities or the domestic power relations of Europe to get it implanted in Africa. African states are in contrast failing to develop into sovereign nation-states if compared in terms of institutions and state capacity to the older states. As such we must accept that States vary in how they are formed, so do their sources of legitimacy. The origins and sources of legitimacy of African states are different from those of European states formed along ethnic lines.

We all know the OAU/AU charter of 1963 and other international conventions and charters complicate issues  with their stance  against secession and the restructuring of borders manufactured at Berlin, which reiterates that states are to desist from expansionism and shall maintain the boundaries they inherited at decolonization. This in itself a very “Unwilsonian” point, as regards the 14 points that aroused nationalist demands after the 20th century World Wars. The African states have been forbidden after their urgent independence to revert to their pre-colonial contexts and frontiers or to renegotiate their territorial boundaries to merge or reunite divided ethnic groups still trapped in several neighbouring states.

The separatist map of Africa: interactive

The separatist map of Africa: interactive

The colonialists were evidently only interested in the economic gains attendant to colonization, to consider the tribal and nationalistic lines of affiliation inherent in the pre-existing African social sphere. This negligence led to ill-considered partitions of the continent usually dissecting tribes and indigenous nations as far as it suited the economic gains of the colonial power. Perhaps a landlocked Tuareg homeland and country isn’t such a bad idea, given that colonialism had split and trapped this Tuareg nation in several Sahara republics. If the unfortunate Islamist come terrorist component was deleted from the Tuareg scenario, the condition will be a perfect struggle for self-determination which by South Sudan’s example has much credit and reason.
The Malian case replicates itself all over the mother continent, where before colonization city-states and interdependent communities existed along empires. The criminalization of secession wedded strange bed fellows which had hitherto annexation coexisted in peaceful suspicion. Multi-ethnic states are long-term possibilities if African states can build equal representation governments and institutions, but in a political system where patriotism and power source ethnicity as a point of departure, foundation and pillar on which power and legitimacy rest. Hence African leaders and institutions face the difficult task of maintaining several nations within a single state and have resorted more to ethnic foundations which ensure loyalty, as in the military and civil service to maintain national cohesion and independence. Where these are lacking regime security takes centre stage over nationhood with the sole option being to resort to the international community for survival.

The dangers of reshaping national boundaries to coincide along ethnic lines has the danger of creating many aggressive resource-less petty states or resourceful self-reliant states in proximity to each other. A Tuareg state of Azawad could be such a kind state. Examples of potential states abound. As such, Africa is ripe for another phase of nationalism and decolonization of itself from its own self.
The next question is whether the Westphalian states who created the Berlin states can panel beat them. It seems easy but it is not, since the successor states of the colonial creations have evolved into unique political systems and political cultures. Gunboat tactics worked in the past, but to continuously approach today’s African state with the same colonial panacea of yesteryear is futile and no amount of bombardment can deliver the much-needed cosmetic surgery on the deformed face of nation-state-building.
Lightening strikes same spot four times yet lesson not learned. The toughness and resilience put on display by a supposedly rogue militia in Mali in the face of a conventional and very well armed and disciplined French forces, bears stark resemblance with those in Iraq, Afghanistan and other scenes of armed response to militants against the USA and the NATO coalition.The African Union, European Union, United Nations, and Arab League were encountering a hazardous reality in the war zones while negotiations to install peace have proved inefficient to curb the protracted conflict in the sub-region. I believe it is time the wrongs he or call them the deliberate mistakes of Berlin be reviewed.
Now how does one vanquish an enemy to whom death means victory?

4 Responses to “Mali and the Berlin States of Afrika”

  1. Karol Ndurut January 21, 2013 at 09:15 #

    Insightful and resourceful. A must read for all Africans trying to unravel the puzzles and complexities caused by Colonisation and Neocolonisation.

    • nwaco March 16, 2013 at 01:44 #

      Thanks very much for your constructive comment Sir.

  2. Edmond Che N January 21, 2013 at 09:49 #

    Nice article, but how practical can the Berlin conference be reviewed considering the non-diminishing interest of external players in Africa’s affairs?

    • nwaco March 16, 2013 at 01:44 #

      Thanks very much for your constructive comment Sir.

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