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Friday, May 11, 2018

Africa’s contested past

Africa’s contested past - History Extra

"The tough business about creating a nation state is that the quickest way to do it is to have lots of wars. That's how England and France became nation states - by defining yourself against an enemy. The problem for African leaders in the period of decolonization was that the rest of the world wouldn't allow you to do that. So effectively would intervene, particularly after the end of the Cold War, will try to intervene to prevent conflicts. It's a hard business constructing nation states.

If you can't have wars, then you've got to find another way to do it. And I think in some ways part of the problem here is that African elites haven't been particularly kind of sensitive to the difficulties of doing that... with the obvious exception of Tanzania virtually all African states and legal systems talk a European language: English, French, Portuguese. But that has caused enormous problems in terms of building a nation state when that language is usually, I think, without exception not spoken by more than half the ordinary population...

In the 1950s people thought that South Korea was a basket case and they were optimistic about Africa. South Korea is now a major industrial producer. It produces every kind of sophisticated product you can think of. No African country does that...

The divide and rule stuff - there's some truth in that but I think that's rather exaggerated, If you look at, for example, what colonial education officials were saying in the late colonial period they were arguing that we've got now to tell these people that they're now part of this wider entity. It's not actually divide and rule talk at all - it's almost the opposite. How do we hand this over to people who see this as their common home...

The early post colonial African elites desperately wanted to be modern. Verging to the part of mimicry. Think of the parliaments with people in wigs, heavy red. The ultimate absurdity of Emperor Bokassa being crowned Emperor of the Central African Republic in a copy of Napoleon's coronation of 1804...

Amongst people who are interested in Africa in academia, sotto voce I think there's an increasing shift against aid. 20 years ago if you said, let's get rid of aid, you'd be regarded as some sort of fascist... It just induces dependence...

The Chinese role in Africa is quite healthy because the Chinese don't talk the language of aid, they talk the language of interests, what have you got, what have we got, can we exchange? The reason why Africans like that is not just about political conditionalities, it's partly, that's just to treat people equally in a funny kind of way... But then African countries or their governments have got to fight their corner and they've got to fight for their interests and not just dig stuff out of the ground and put it in ships and sell it to other people"


If colonialism was so bad (somehow only for Africa), how come people didn't realise this in the 1950s and were optimistic?
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