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July 30, 2003


I honestly don't believe we (or any entity) can address the issues of Africa without addressing this fundamental issue: are the current nation-state delineations acceptable? We've seen this in the Middle East, and it's worse in Africa. The nation borders are colonial precepts that did not take tribal continuity into account. Actually, they did. I believe many nations were carved out to divide tribes for purposes of control.

My opinion is the current boundaries must stay. Since all African nations are now recognized by the UN (I believe - I can't find an exception) each has sovereignty, a critical component to improvement, monetary access, and telecommunications infrastructure. Attempting to re-incorporate ancient tribal dominions will, in my opinion, create a maelstrom of confusion, and set back the real work. The real problem is compelling each nation to respect the rights of the minority tribes, while ensuring the true representation of the minorities. THAT is democracy, and it's damned hard to engender.

My opening shot of a ground rule. Please feel free to despoil/dispute/demean.

Posted by at July 30, 2003 02:11 AM

I agree. I also think it will be just as difficult to instill a sense of nationality over tribe in much of Africa. Until, say, the average Zimbabwean has a sense of national belonging that is more important than tribal belonging, it will be difficult to instill any kind of an open government.

Posted by: zombyboy at July 30, 2003 04:46 AM

I question the use of the term "democracy." Democracy is just a method for passing laws. What's needed is for the majority to respect the rights of the minority. That means there must be a limited government. The proper term then is "liberalism" in the classical sense.

Mixing up democracy with liberalism can lead to muddled thinking and mis-placed priorities.

Posted by: Sean Hackbarth at July 30, 2003 05:59 AM

I agree that the current national boundaries should not be changed, even if they are articifical or were artifical at one time. Wouldn't trying to rearrange the national boundaries based on tribal loytalty be like redrawing the boundaries of the nations of Europe based on tribal loyalty to say the Franks, Celts, Gauls, etc.?

Posted by: Patrick at July 30, 2003 04:33 PM


No, because Eurpoeans no longer see themselves as members of those tribes.

Posted by: Prometheus 6 at July 30, 2003 08:40 PM

ok, but I'm thinking about how they came to see themselves as part of the larger nation-state rather than as members of tribes or regional groups. I guess some have only been recent, right? (e.g. Germany and Italy)

Posted by: Patrick at July 31, 2003 01:13 AM

ok, but I'm thinking about how they came to see themselves as part of the larger nation-state rather than as members of tribes or regional groups. I guess some have only been recent, right? (e.g. Germany and Italy)

Posted by: Patrick at July 31, 2003 01:13 AM

I agree.

Realistically, the existing lines are what everyone has agreed to deal with. All governments in Africa agreed shortly after decolonialization that existing boundaries stayed.

One reason Biafra got so little support was no one wanted to see a successful tribe breakaway. If the Ibo won, then would the next country grab a province out of two or three countries, say the Fang in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon, or the Masai in Tanzania and Kenya?

Do I think the existing system works? I think there's a certain custom to it by now. People refer to themselves as being from specific countries, and then if you ask the tribes, they'll tell you that, too.

The problem is as you said minority representation. Nigeria, for example, has fiddled around forever with geographical boundaries of its own internal provinces, actually coming up with pretty clever floating boundaries and the like. It still doesn't work all that well. The Ibo and Yoruba are two large Christian tribes that live near the coast and have all the oil, and the majority Muslim Hausa run the country (and neighboring Niger) from the interior.

As I've said, the existing boundaries is far from a perfect system and a lot of blood has been shed defending this concept. But I think with time it may catch on.

That doesn't mean I don't think federalism a better idea -- I do. The French had the right idea with large areas with individual states within -- for example, French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa were each individual units comprising a big chunk of Africa. But an American-style federal system (outside of being tried and failing in Nigeria) is a pipe dream for now. In the long run, though, it could work. Everyone is stuck with existing boundaries, but it comes at a high price. The highest may be Angola, where the two tribes (one allegedly communist, the other alleged not) have fought for decades.

Posted by: IB Bill at July 31, 2003 03:19 AM

I'm not disputing that the various tribes of Europe came to see the various political entities of Europe as defining their identities.

I'm saying that redrawing the political lines in Africa along tribal boundaries would not be like doing the same thing in Europe because Africans have not reached the point where they define themselves as by those political entities yet.

Then again, the breakup of Yugoslavia indicates that it is possible, no?

Posted by: Prometheus 6 at July 31, 2003 03:42 AM
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