ETHNOCENTRISM IN AFRICA
EMERGING PERSPECTIVES ON THE ORIGINS, FUNCTIONS AND CONSEQUENCES OF ETHNOCENTRISM IN AFRICA
This paper argues that prevailing problems of African societies are defined and distinguished by, among other things, the dominant influence of ethnocentrism or the ideology of tribalism. Its divisive, regressive and destructive nature has greatly stalled progress in Africa.
Ethnocentrism encompasses the wider imperial ideology of racism which perceives development of society and history as both composed and determined by bio-cultural identities of races and tribes, or ethnic groups. These conceptual categories have been critical in the racist justification of the imperial domination of Africa as well as in the reorganization, division, management and control of African societies by the colonial regimes. The potency of ethnocentrism lies in the fact that it was not only developed as an imperial worldview but also as the social policy for colonial administration as well as an ideological mechanism for political action by emerging African elites. Furthermore it was not only deployed as the principal instrument for general propaganda, and indoctrination, in education and the public media but was also greatly cultivated and promoted to the status of social psychology through a number of administrative, legal and social provisions ,as well as prohibitions.
However the essential conceptual categories, and general ideology, guiding the perception of Pan-Africanist movement stand’s in direct opposition to those of the colonialists at every level as well as on each, and every, count or issue. PanAfrican perspectives see and assert the common and united character of African peoples, civilizations, histories and development as a basic defense-against their atomization, denial or distortion. In addition, they assert this collective PanAfircan identity from the point of view of the imperatives of the role of African unity in the liberation and development of Africa. They represent the common claim, and assertion, of the humanity of Africans in opposition to the programme of dehumanization that ethnocentrism represents.
Types of researches conducted on Africa, in terms of topics, issues and methodologies tend to reflect the opposition between imperial perspectives, on the one hand, and African nationalist perspectives on the other.
Despite the fact that enduring socio-economic and political hegemony over African affairs continue to give imperial powers some advantages in the promotion of research activities on Africa it is also true that to a lesser extent, critical and anti-imperial scholarship from many sources, as well as research activities by emerging African academic establishments, are greatly contributing to the deconstruction of the regressive ideology of ethnocentrism with important implications for a broader, more independent, inclusive and creative appreciation of its development processes.
The study surveys the origins, functions and consequences of ethnocentrism, as an ideological expression in Africa, with a view to addressing its effects on the affairs of the continent. It is generally well recognized that regressive communal conflicts have played a very destructive role in Africa particularly from the inception of the decolonization process in the 1950s to the various communal conflicts, and strife, associated with many African countries in the post-colonial period.
However the scope and character of ethnocentrism, and its general persistence as a phenomena, is greatly associated with the extent to which it predominates in many ways in African societies and is reflected at virtually all levels of politics and administrative policies in addition to its role in defining the categories of both educational and media practice on the continent. Indeed the best indication of its predominance on the continent is reflected in the fact that it was virtually the only viewpoint allowed expression during the colonial period, where only censorship and persecution attended opposition to it, or the promotion of non-conformist ideologies. This was further reinforced, in most African countries, by the manner in which the Cold War was waged after independence. The Cold War was waged in Africa in order to prohibit the expression or adoption of any ideology, thereby implying, as well as promoting, the view that ethnocentrism was indeed more of a “reality” rather than a particular perception, or an ideology, of aspects of such realities in Africa
In many ways the generation of knowledge, and the purposes to which such knowledge is put, in Africa has been greatly influenced by the needs of foreign imperial powers towards promoting ideas that favour the division and control of their colonies. On the other hand research inclinations of African nationalists tended to favour approaches which promoted unity and independence. References made to emerging perspectives in the context of this essay therefore need to be seen as reference to the emergence of ideas which are in opposition to imperial ideology in general, and the manner in which these have been developed in the post-independence period specifically. In this regard colonial research in the form of anthropology, indeed ethnography, diffusionist archeology, linguistics and colonial literature were, in general, designed to redefine and reorganize, or indeed reduce, African socio-political and corporate, as well as extant, identities into as many as the languages and, in many cases even dialects, that were possible. This was done in complete denial and evasion of the actual socio-historical, as well as territorial and plural communities, states, kingdoms and empires that were in existence and which completely defied such categorization. They were further done in complete defiance of all the processes and principles of interaction, fusion and integration that defines socio-historical development, in general, as a multicultural process.
The criticism of such an abstract, divisive and ahistorical perspective has tended to define the research orientations of most scholars in many ways opposed to the venture of imperialism, such as Pan-Africanists,, nationalists, Marxists and the Underdevelopment schools of thought, as well as many liberals.
While there are many dimensions to the debates on purposes of research in relation to development in this essay we emphasise their contributions in the manner they promote science at the expense of ethnocentric dogma, as well as the manner in which they promote creativity in development: towards the search for fresh perspectives and methods that help to overcome the problems of ethnocentric stereotypes.
Contextualizing the Ideological Character of Ethnocentrism
Dissatisfaction with, and criticisms of, the conceptual flaws and methodological problems associated with ethnocentrism make it difficult, if not impossible, to approach the terms and concepts of “tribal” and “ethnic” groups, as well as “nationalities”, essentially as problems of definitions. It is more a question of examining, contextualizing and explaining the characteristic assumptions of the most salient categories of imperial ideology.1 Ethnocentrism, and the various conceptual issues associated with it, are not simply the description of an extant, objective and verifiable reality but rather the construction of an image of reality from certain factual elements that are usually abstracted from both the socio-historical and politico-economic context defining them. This is why it is misleading to assume that “ethnic” groups have an objective existence outside, or beyond, the way they are characterized and identified from the point of view ethnocentric ideology. Such an existence needs to be verified, validated and proven to be real rather than simply assumed to be so, as some writers tend to do.2 In the first place, a group of people sharing a common language, as is commonly depicted, do not form an “ethnic” group but rather a linguistic group. Similarly a group of people sharing common customs and traditions, or constituting a cultural zone, are not usually defined or bounded by any particular language but are usually multilingual, comprising a variety of languages and other cultural expressions operating at several, as well as different, levels of political and socio-economic activities in the same zone, polity or society. Indeed due to the intermingling and fusion of different languages each would be found to reflect in its internal structures and vocabulary, evidence of such associations rather than the so-called “reality” of isolation, and linguistic particularism, informing the notion of ‘tribes’ or ‘ethnic’ groups. Similarly various social units such as individual family units, wards as well as diverse categories of settlements and polities would be found to be multilingual in various dimensions. It is therefore misleading to use language as a basis for the separation of communities which are essentially multilingual. In his contributions Young notes that “ethnicity” like “nationalism” is an ideology which takes the form of “history woven as cultural saga”. The ideological nature of ethnicity, he further notes, is reflected in the fact that it constitutes “a coherent set of propositions defining social and political reality, which suggest the imperative of social behavior for those who share it”. He also gave a practical example of how “the missionary version of Kongo history, rather than legends passed down by elders sitting around the village hearth” constitute “the basis for contemporary Kongo cultural ideology”.3
Furthermore the basic assumption that ethnic groups are, in addition, defined by consanguinity, common blood or genetic relations, through some mythical ancestors, is being increasingly laid to rest by scientific investigations in biology as unfounded.4 Similarly historical and sociological researches are increasingly marshalling evidence to the effect that the assumptions that “ethnic” groups are defined by some common and exclusive biological, or cultural, characteristics are but largely mere inventions and fabrications.5 In an important philosophical essay, Gyekye draws attention to the fact that given the extensive nature, and implications, of human historical and sociological trends towards diversification on the basis of migrations, conquests, enslavement, intermarriages etc. the reference to consanguinity, or common ancestral relations, in the definition of specific communities needs to be seen as but a mere fabrication.6 Indeed ethnic categories and explanations, especially in the colonial context, were more of ideological blinkers designed to promote the denial of the existence of independent processes of historical development and changes. They also distorted and subverted the plural, and independent, processes of community formation and development through migrations, urbanization, division of labour, socio-cultural diffusion and the development of social classes in the colonies.7 It is important to note that the presumptions that conflicts result from some form of “ethnic” differences can only be made where a blind eye is turned to the evidence of very similar conflicts arising within the same “ethnic” groups as is the case in, for example, Somalia, or any other socio-cultural group designated as such.
Quite apart from the conceptual problems associated with the concept of ethnic groups it is also formulated and applied to the analyses of African societies on the basis of a double standard. ‘Nationalities’, as similar cultural identities considered to apply only to ‘races’ of a more advanced type, are as such reserved for the ‘peoples’ of Europe. Both concepts, however, suffer from the same defect of attempting to explain social behavior on the basis of some biological presumptions rather than the actual historical and social conditions governing the evolution, and development, of human societies. The essential assumption that a certain primordial, primal, bio-cultural identity exists eternally and is, in a number of ways, the determinant of social behaviour, social relations and historical development in Africa, or anywhere else, is basically wrong and founded only on the basis of certain imperial racial stereotypes. Similarly to parcel, segregate and compartmentalize societies into presumably “hostile” ‘ethnic’ enclaves, on the basis of their cultures, is to misrepresent the latters actual functions in human society as the most important creative, integrative and humanizing influence greatly accounting for the increasing amalgamation of peoples, and humanity, through fusion, assimilation, adoption and adaptation. Culture and the various, as well as diverse, civilizations resulting from it, are basically the reflection of a common human attribute responsible for the creative conduct of man most importantly manifested in the ability to construct, operate and manage societies capable of meeting major human needs for survival, reproduction, security and well-being in the material, psychological and spiritual terms of the word. The notion that cultures or civilizations “clash” rather than fuse and assimilate into one another, at several levels, is a misrepresentation of the various conflicts arising from opposing political and economic interests within, or between, different communities and states. Cultures and civilizations, as human creations, are equally appropriated, adopted, perpetuated and promoted by different societies on the basis of their needs and sensibilities. All the modern educational, civic, technological, scientific and artistic expressions of human progress would be found to have originated, not from one or few sources of certain “civilizations” but rather from the diverse contributions of different peoples of the world, throughout history. The notion that cultures or civilizations clash because of their differences is a misnomer. On the contrary they primarily tend to fuse, merge, amplify and compliment one another towards greater and broader human achievements. Cultures do not clash, people and states, with differing politico-economic interests, do. 8
The insurmountable conceptual problems associated with tribal categories led many researchers to shift towards what was assumed to be less problematic i.e. the term ethnic groups. However the persistence of these problems has led many to further choose to use less loaded terms like “groups” and “inter-group” relations.9 This however tends only to avoid, rather than confront, the problems associated with these anthropological concepts. It needs to be emphasized that the most critical nature of ethnocentrism, like racism, is the belief that all peoples and their cultures can be reduced into some basic, static and primary ‘tribal’ and ‘racial’ groups which does not only define their social behaviour but also explains their being and processes of development. Ethnocentric ideology is not simply an attitude deriving from the tendency to express appreciation, pride and love for ones own cultural identity or heritage. It is not even simply the expression of an opinionated and hostile personal views about other communities, polities or peoples. It is more of an ideological tool that operates in a definite imperial context, defined by political and economic domination, which it seeks to justify, rationalize and facilitate. It is the domineering-mythical, contentious, divisive and discriminatory character of its perceptions, and the conflict generating nature of its implications, that define it more as an ideology rather than the ‘real’ existence of any composite and objective community. Indeed the notion of ethnic groups conflates and confuses the diverse usages, and meanings, of such terms as community, peoples, polities, cultures and kindred groups not only by reducing them to one abstract term but also by introducing certain biological innuendoes into what is entirely a sociological and historical process. It is imperative to note that such ethnocentric perspectives were everywhere advanced on the basis of presumptions which emphasize ephemeral differences as a basis for denying major and unifying attributes such as common histories, cultures, problems and destinies, as a strategy for enforcing separation in opposition to integration and cohesion. Communities in general, and cultural identities in particular, are not only human, multiple and varied but also inclusive, fluid and in a continuos process of change. They include various verifiable groups further redefined, at different social levels, into political, cultural, and economic formats in the context of their histories. Such identities of cultures are formed, defined and redefined due to the fact that they share common territory, state and administration as well as societies, economies and histories.
As critical responses to the observations made above numerous scholars, engaged in the study of African history and social sciences, have cautioned against stereotyping in social imaging, and historical profiling, in favour of focusing on those essential factors, and processes, which can be established to have played some verifiable roles in the formation and character of human communities.
Furthermore, it is also significant to look at the question of identities from the point of view of more scientifically formulated alternatives which see historical communities that are acephalous, otherwise generally referred to as ‘ethnic’ groups, as communal formations that exhibit similar characteristics of social, political, economic and historical features in their development process. In relation to ‘identities’ we need to always examine the difference between self-identification and identification by others. In both cases we need to note the basis, and purposes, for such identifications. We also need to distinguish between formal as well as informal identification, on the one hand, and the processes of scientific characterization and classification, on the other.
In order to appreciate the observations made above it is worthwhile to draw attention to the nature of ethnocentrism and its basic concepts by assessing its evolution, as well as the sources of its conceptual framework and methodological procedures.
European Imperialism and the Origins of Ethnocentrism in Africa
The expansion of the European states into other parts of the world, as well as the various activities associated with this development, between the late 15th C to the closing decades of the twentieth century constitute the circumstances which occasioned the rise of racism as an ideology of global imperial domination. This racism was expressed in general as a new form of world view and political ideology as well as, in various specific situations, a tool for propaganda or opinion moulding in various media.
Imperial domination, according to Fanon, not only divided the world into two: colonizers and colonized or “Natives”, but also defined a relationship between them which was expressed at both the racial and territorial levels, as segregated communities. An important feature of this process was not only the dehumanization of the ‘Natives’, but also their political and economic reduction into ‘the wretched of the earth.10 Another important outcome of this relationship, as the theorists of the underdevelopment school of thought contend, is that imperial Europe developed only by underdeveloping the third world. They thus see the relations between the two in terms of a center-periphery or metropolis-satellite configuration, with the two locked in a structured, and historical, embrace where the development of one is the very condition for the underdevelopment of the other.11 Indeed if the contributions of Mamdani were to be stretched a little bit, his conclusion tend to reflect that the division between citizens and subjects exist not only in the context of particular colonies but also as a major global divide.12 The relationship between imperial powers and their colonial possessions therefore also reflect a relationship between free, independent and ‘democratic’ states made up of citizens, on the one hand, and colonial entities that were dependent, subordinate and dominated, made up of ‘Native’ subjects on the other. The imperial states act, contrarily, as both custodians of democracy at home as well as architects of autocracy abroad13.
Where racism was designed to justify, and rationalize Euro-American domination of the world, the associated version of tribalism was designed to facilitate, and operationalise, imperial domination in the colonies. The notion of a “primitive”, social category referred to as “tribe” or “ethnic” group into which the “natives” were presumably divided, or identified, is a stereotype which proposes that the latter were not only backward, because they are subhuman, but also divided and in perpetual conflict amongst themselves. It is further advanced that they also needed to be saved from this state of affairs, by the white race, and promoted to civilization through colonial control, anchored on the notion of separate and segregated development policies, or apartheid. This is the meaning of the so-called White Man’s Burden.
In addition to the above, studies indicating the sources and structure of racist ideology, have also highlighted its patently imperial character.14 It is important to stress that popular prejudices, ignorance, and indeed even errors, based on the perceptions and outlooks of many incredulous accounts of European privateers: pirates, buccaneers, adventurers, spies, conquerors, mercenaries, settlers, missionaries, plunderers, bounty hunters, philosophers and outlaws, about the various peoples they encountered in the course of their expansion overseas, came to form the basis of the type of identities, or perceptions of other peoples, that Europeans increasingly developed since the sixteenth century. As Gollwitzer noted:
If ever a policy can be stamped as extroverted, if ever a policy developed tendencies of expansion and transformed them into an ideology, if ever a policy tightened the links binding the European states and the rest of the world more closely than ever before, it was imperialist policy.15
Such notions as “Red” Indians, the ‘Dark’ continent, the ‘Yellow” multitude etc. as well as specifically erroneous, or abusive, terms applied in the identification of other peoples such as ‘Pigmies’, Bushmen’, ‘Hottentots’ ‘Kaffirs’ etc became almost ‘normal’ references, or identities, of the peoples concerned. In the second place the ethnocentric identifications fashioned by Europeans constituted a racist perception of such societies of which they themselves had no knowledge of.16 Furthermore these were not even a listing of how such people actually indentified themselves, or were identified by their neighbours, which could have served as a basis for an objective and scientific characterization of the societies concerned. Such identifications were generally based on superficial criteria that were externally obvious in the form of physical and anthropological features, an only language supposedly spoken by the people concerned and the geographical localities in, or around, which they were supposed to be residing. In other words not only are the dominant languages wrongly presented as sole languages but the people are also seen as some sort of a natural, and biological, outgrowth characteristic of particular ecological areas. This led to the colonial type of literature designated as “land and peoples of ….”, leading to certain derivations on the basis of a single language plus land, such as Hausaland, Yorubaland, Igboland, Bechuanaland, Zululand, Kikuyuland etc even though the peoples concerned never characterized themselves, or the environment in which they lived, as such.17 Around these terms were woven various assumptions such as “ethnic homelands” which gradually developed into the ethnocentric stereotypes of so called ‘autochthonous’ or ‘native’ communities which tend to deny the role of immigration, residency, pluralism and fusion in favour of some eternal, or ancestral, attachment to specific areas by given peoples, in the so-called development of African communities.
The methodology of anthropology in general, and ethnography in particular, suffer from a great number of deficiencies foremost amongst which is the extent to which inimical racist assumptions, concepts and categories were uncritically accepted while the basically empiricist methodology applied towards the collection of evidence has its own in-built mechanism for the exclusion of inconveniencing data. For example it conveniently excludes the role of European imperial activities, over a period of five centuries, on the formation, conduct and character of communities in Africa. In addition, as a hypothesis, it disposes itself to a self-fulfilling prophesy which compels it to concentrate not only on differences but to also treat same only in a manner that is, of necessity, divisive. Thus wherever colonial anthropologists came across actual multicultural historical communities, or polities, such as Nri, Aro Chukwu, Ashanti, Fante, Songhai, Ghana, Mali, Bornu, Oyo, Jukun, Dahomey, Sokoto Caliphate, etc. they simply closed their eyes to their multicultural nature and reduced them to some so-called ‘tribal’ groups supposedly characterized, and distinguished, by single languages which are assumed to define their boundaries as ‘isolated’ and ‘conflicting’ entities. Such views were promoted through various segregationist policies and the cultivation of a public psychology, or mentality, anchored in ethnocentrism only18.The formulators of ethnocentric theories were not interested in assimilative, integrative, changing and unifying processes, or the processes leading to the creation of new communities. They were only concerned with those that promoted social segmentation, division, ossification and subordination.
It is also important to draw attention to the fact that imperial ideology could not be assessed only, and entirely, on the basis of what it professes about itself, in terms of the Hamitic hypothesis, the Civilizing Mission or the Modernization and Development theories. Being a predatory undertaking there is the need to look at the manifestation of its goals, conduct and character from the point of view of its operational activities and strategies. Action, as the saying goes, speak louder than words. It is also very important to appreciate the fact that indeed in some special cases silence, or what we choose not to see or hear, might constitute our loudest expressions. From this angle we need to start with the very important observation that all imperial powers operate, in keeping with the dictates of predation, at two levels-one overt and the other covert. The first maintains and promotes a posture of deceptive public openness, benevolence, humanitarianism, transparency and consistency in all matters formal and informal, legal and diplomatic, as well as in internal and international relations.19
The second posture maintains and deploys vast networks of secretive agencies which, in the majority of cases, operate only covertly and outside the law and, as such, usually outside their countries of origin. Such organizations serve as tools for aggression in general and spying in particular. They have come to serve as powerful instruments towards extrajudicial and nondemocratic relationships and have thus been found useful in keeping many post –colonial states, particularly in Africa, in check and under control since the latters assumption of nominal independence.20
The contradictory nature of some evidence and claims associated, in part, with the study of contemporary international relations are sometimes rooted in the conflicting nature of sources available as indicated above. This is why research methodologies which promote the utilization of all available source material, and the critical examination of all relevant theories and hypotheses contingent on any issue or topic, need to increasingly be advocated in contemporary African studies. Objectivity does not lie in a supposed ability to maintain some measure of detachment from the subject we study, it rather lies in the soundness of our theoretical assumptions, the comprehensive validity of our evidence and the logical consistency of our interpretation; in short in the scientific nature of our methodology. This, in turn, means our ability to control our irrational reactions ”without loss of involvement”.21
Even though the increasing deconstruction of racist ideologies has greatly transformed the nature of the content, as well as forms, of todays neo-imperial ideology, it has not changed it’s purposes. Neo-imperial views still seek solely to justify and rationalize interventionism in the affairs of others, even though they deny any such interventions in their own affairs. The essential and consistent character of imperial ideology is the justification of the domination, and exploitation, of its semi-colonial, colonial and neo-colonial territories, in perpetuity if possible. As such it denies for its subjects, directly or indirectly, what it prides most for itself; independence and freedom. This in turn accounts for its double standard in both theory and action. It strives not only to exploit but to also incapacitate its colonies by undermining their creative, productive and functional integrity as a strategy towards inducing their permanent structural dependency.22 On the other hand, for the very opposite reasons, Pan-Africanism strives, as a counter-discourse, to oppose the destruction of these same essential capabilities of the Africans, as their major guarantee for the liberation and development of the continent. Thus in terms of its research focus and objectives Pan-Africanism asserts a common patrimony, problems and destiny as the basis for the general identity of the Africans because, for it, imperial ethnocentrism is only a design to divide, arrest, isolate, ossify and dominate African societies through a predatory process of socio-cultural reductionism, compartmentalization and confinement. The issue of African culture from this point of view is thus more about its existential possibilities in terms of Africas independent political and economic capabilities, towards the creation of a better future, rather than any inane preoccupation with some mythical, and supposedly, innate and inert traditions.23
Character and Functions of Ethnocentrism in Africa
Indeed, the viewpoint of imperialism, in terms of racism and tribalism, sets it apart from most existing theoretical constructs founded on some definite philosophical-cum-methodological framework like the Marxian, Underdevelopment and Pan-Africanist schools of thought. The varied interests of neo-imperialism are usually advanced, depending on the occasion, under very general and subsuming attitudinal, rather than theoretical, terms like pragmatism, realism or liberalism. In a number of cases it simply lays exclusive claims on the virtue of being the only, or at least the absolute, expression as well as representation of all that is human, or associated with human achievements: such as Civilization, Modernization, Development, Humanitarianism, Human Rights, or indeed Democracy. These are not only presented in absolute, rather than relative, terms but they are also depicted as the special prerogatives of the west. It is such exclusive claims on being the superior or ‘complete’ human species that further defines the racist and dehumanizing orientation of imperial ideologies in general. If we examine some other viewpoints associated with the assessment of human history as a whole from any other point of view, including theological perspectives, we see a completely different, more equalitarian and respectful picture of humanity.24 Whereas most of such viewpoints assess peoples, and individuals, on the basis of their behaviour, character and circumstances ethnocentrism insists on a bio-cultural formular, in terms of ‘race’ or ‘tribe’, which is supposed to both prejudge and predetermine their being, as well as behavior and, above all else, the need for their control and domination by superior ‘races’ or ‘powers’ as a pre-requisite to their own development!.
Indeed it is from the perspective of such an analogy that we can best appreciate how uniquely original to imperialist ideology the issue of ethnocentrism is. Not only is it rather impossible to find equivalents in any of the African languages of what is referred to as “tribal” groups it is also not possible to identify any definite society, peoples, polities or communities which approximate to, and confirm, its categories except in terms of its own sordid creations during the colonial period.
It is important to draw attention to the fact that most of the earliest written records of the Greeks and the Arabs did not refer to any of the polities, communities or peoples they identified as societies defined by, or divided on the basis of, ethnocentric considerations. Such outlooks, and policies, are in the main reflected only in European literature of the post 15thcentury. Indeed in the mid fifteenth century Ibn Khaldun wrote his much celebrated, and the first major, theoretical insights on the study of history, from a scientific standpoint.25 In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun referred to two very important conceptual issues which are very relevant to the issues under discussion in this paper. Once more it is important to emphasise that these were views expressed in what has come to be considered as the earliest and most original contribution to the study of history, sociology, political science, political economy and economics.26 In the first place he notes that indeed civilization is a reflection of the “necessary character of human social organization” which is reflected in many different ways in different places and at different times.27 It manifests itself in various forms all indicating diverse human attempts at dealing with their problems in definite societies, at definite times, and in given environments. The second was Ibn Kahldun’s repudiation of the various racist insinuations and assumptions of his time which, however, under European imperial domination many decades later came to form the basis of the so-called Hamitic hypothesis, as well as imperial and colonial segregationist policies.28
Similarly many historical studies of precolonial African societies have now come to establish that so-called ‘ethnic’ societies, or polities, have never existed in Africa as actual historical communities. Historical studies undertaken by leading historians in Africa indicate that the communities which existed in Africa, whether acephalous or in the form of state formations, were not only multicultural and “poly ethnic” in nature but they were also formed through a historical process defined not only by diversity but also the consistent and continual transformation, and transcendence, of many given identities as well.29 Communities generally tended to identify themselves, or were identified by others, on the basis of some outstanding environmental features, distinctive occupational activities or the common names (of persons, things or features) randomly given to their various settlements and polities. This was so because residency, which was in no way restrained, was the basis for community membership whereas immigration, as an important process for growth through the infusion of positive cultural influences, was not only greatly promoted but also eagerly sought for. Identities solely associated with and confined to single languages, around which is woven the concept of “ethnic” groups, such as Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba were characteristically colonial.30 It was rather the diverse migrations, as well as associations, which individuals and groups entered at environmental, social, political and economic levels, as well as the manner in which such relations were articulated and developed, that gave most communities some measure of distinctive peculiarities, including diverse languages, in the context of a generally much wider socio-cultural and politico-economic levels of human integration. An identity was both a reflection, as well as an outcome, of the various forms and processes of interaction at different levels, between many peoples in the context of a variety of factors defining such formations, as well as their eventual transformation.31 it was never limited, let alone confined, to selected and unchanging ‘traditions’, ‘customs’ or ‘languages’.
In their study of the Aro of South Eastern Nigeria, Dike stresses how they applied “models of social action that derived from structural functionalism, from Marxian and conflict theories, from symbolic interactionsim, exchange theory and symbolic analysis whenever appropriate” in order to overcome “such terminologies as ‘savage’ ‘simple’ ‘static’, ‘tribe’ ‘primitive’ which were often used to describe many African societies and which denied any contributions these societies may have made to world civilization….”32
The Marxian contributions can further be seen in terms of two very important conceptual categories. The first is the concept of “social formations” which characterizes societies referred to as acephalous, ‘tribal’ or segmentary as “communal formations” in general. These are defined, more over, on the basis of economic, political and social features as well as indices common, and intrinsic, to them such as communal ownership of land and communal mobilization of labour in the process of production. They are not defined in the negative and on the basis of criteria, or indices, external to them and characteristic only of a different formation-say states in the form of city-states, kingdoms or empires, for example. As such terms like ‘simple’ ‘non-centralized’, ‘non-urbanized’, ‘pre-industrial’, ‘non-stratified’, ‘non-civilized’ etc do not, as they should not, apply. This is because these are two completely different systems of social, political and economic organization in human history.
The second major contribution is in terms of the Marxian criticisms of the Laws Of Formal Logic in the form of the Law Of Identity. Formal logic, in its formulation of the Law of Identity, presumes that “everything is and must be either one of two mutually exclusive things” and proceeds to classify and generalize them only on the basis of their differences, permanency and mutual opposition to each other. The law of dialectics, on the other hand, draws attention to the need to see them as ever changing processes which involve fusion and differentiation, as well as contextualizing them in relation to such more pervasive realities like time, society and history. Thus it concludes on the note that:
While the law of identity correctly reflects certain features of reality, it rather distorts or fail to reflect others. Moreover the aspects which it falsifies and cannot express are far more pervasive and fundamental than those it more faithfully depicts intermixed with its particulars of fact, this elementary generalization of logic contains a serious infusion of fiction. As a result this instrument of truth becomes in turn a generator of error.33
From the perspectives of the Theory Of Underdevelopment two important observations, in relation to the question of identities, need to be made. The first is that it adopts and uses, from Marxist theory, the term “precapitalist formations” as the most significant denominator expressing the common character of all manner of precolonial identities. They further draw the general conclusion that imperial domination did not lead to the development of capitalism in the various colonial territories of Africa, Latin America and Asia but rather to their common underdevelopment, resulting from a process of de-industrialization, structural disarticulation and the extroversion of such peripheral economies for the benefits of their metropolitan centres. Although using a Marxian category they reached a conclusion which is contrary to that of orthodox Marxism which tends to foresee, or indeed prophesy, only the future development of capitalism in the colonized territories.
What we have said so far brings us to an assessment of liberalism and the tendency for it to increasingly become the leading expression of neo-imperial ideology. As we noted earlier the increasing self-distancing of the imperial powers from both racist ideas and direct imperial activities, resulting from widespread condemnation of racial ideologies as well as the corresponding opposition to colonial occupation, have tended to undermine the open, boisterous and direct expressions of imperialism in favour of their more indirect as well as subdued expressions and operations, wherever they continue in some new forms. Liberalism, or “neo-liberalism”, has thus increasingly come to assume the role that racist imperial ideologies sought to achieve, although, without their racial trappings. However liberalism, no matter how it is defined, does not appear to constitute a basic theoretical, or ideological, discourse in the academic or political senses in which the above identified theories, and perspectives, could be presented. Liberalism expresses more of an attitude, a strategem, to existing political realities than an academic concern, philosophical outlook or any consistent ideological expression. It is more of a strategy for the maintenance of existing, and usually dominant, interests by playing a seemingly moderating influence between powerful contending ideological interests usually expressed, in Western Europe, in the form of conservatives and labour or socialists. Its relationship to political philosophy, political economy, history and the social sciences is essentially Eurocentric in the first place. It also generally tends to champion only the minority interests of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois, in the second place. Lastly it also tends to be obscurantist or evasive in most other instances. Infact dubiety and ambiguity tend to also define most liberal, or “neo-liberal”, arguments and standpoints. Its approach in general is selective, in relation to evidence; and dogmatic in respect of its assumptions, ideas and hypotheses. It serves more, given these conditionalities, as a strategy towards imposing its version of reality, or the cover-up of such realities, rather than as a scientific devise for exposing, and explaining, all aspects of the issues concerned. It tends in the direction, as a result of lack of concern with the actual facts, of absolute generalizations (usually in the form of fundamentalist, permanent and universal presuppositions) which, more over, it attempts to explain on the basis of mythical or mystical, and therefore unseen and unverifiable, variables and categories.34
Similarly, it proceeds on the basis of a basic disregard for other viewpoints, as well as a corresponding self-centeredness, usually characterized as Eurocentrism where it, in terms of all human history, inventions, capabilities and values, presents itself as the highest and the best, if not the only source, of such developments. Its explanations of social realities, and history, therefore always tend to converge on a perception of others both as a liability to it as well as the beneficiaries of its self-imposed tasks of “humanitarian” concerns. It is thus only from the point of view of an established superiority, and an associated sense of responsibility resulting in perpetual acts of benevolences, that the relationship between Europe and Africa is always presented. Notions of, and opposition to, exploitation, foreign intervention, subversion, domination and injustice, or the related calls for reparations, are simply considered not tenable or even admissible from such a point of view.35 Despite its tendency to evade and ignore, rather than address, view points and evidence negating its stance it usually also presents it own views in a rather dictatorial, or monopolistic, manner suggesting that they do not only constitute ’universal truths’, and ‘absolute sciences’, but also that there could be no alternatives to them – as is the case with, for example, World Bank and IMF prescriptions! The central principle of imperial ideology is predation ie it is only designed to always mystify in order to achieve, and preserve, imperial control.
Indeed, the linchpin of liberalism is the notion of laissez faire or “free trade” and “non-involvement” in economic affairs etc. Yet despite liberal claims of being ‘pragmatists’ and ‘realists’ nowhere do their ideas correspond to any known historical reality that could be assumed to constitute a basis, or provide a model, for it. Since the 15th century only trade barriers between western nations, as well as monopoly and outright plunder abroad, appear to characterize emerging world economic relations. Similarly nowhere does liberalism articulate a vision of how, and under what condition, “free trade” or any other form of economic “equilibrium” could ever be achieved. On the contrary, its postulations have only served to justify, as well as mystify, conquest and plunder in addition to the imposition of imperial monopolies with such ideologically loaded and false categories as “open”, “competitive” “market driven” etc. In a similar fashion they insist on the imperious rights of western powers to control and “modernize” or “develop” other economies whose development should have been both independent and intrinsic to them, like that of the west ,were the liberals to act true to their professed convictions.
In a characteristic fashion they spawn categories which, on closer inspection, always betray an inherent contradiction occasioned by the need to portray imperial activities in a manner that is contrary to their actual purposes, character and consequences. African achievement is thus, everywhere, presented as the result of some European benevolence while its problems are depicted as intrinsically, peculiarly, eternally and characteristically its own.36 Imperial activities cannot be advanced except through the imposition of violent control over, or direct and aggressive interventions in, the affairs of other nations by the imperial powers. They similarly could not be justified on the basis of the direct evidence of imperial activities in such societies but only through the evasion of the evidence concerned in favour of abstract and unrelated fictional, as well as misleading, constructions37.
Colonialism and The Development of Ethnocentric policies, structures and scholarship in Africa
As noted earlier critical to imperial activities were the essential requirements of justifying its domination by depicting Africans as sub-humans, on the one hand, as well as providing the politico-administrative structures for the management of its colonial territories on the basis of a policy of divide-and-rule, on the other. Not only do these requirements have tremendous ideological implications, they also led to racial segregation and the introduction of “tribal” divisions, or the Bantustanization, of the “Native” African population.
It is also important to draw attention to the fact that it was the aforementioned needs that led to the commissioning of various colonial research activities and programmes. Research activities were always associated with definite social needs, be they political or otherwise. It is these factors that combined to determine the nature of both colonial and anti-colonial researches conducted in Africa. These were expressed in the form of colonial anthropology/ethnography, on the one hand, or the nationalist and Pan-Africanist orientations in the study of African history, and the social sciences that greatly developed after independence, on the other.
Imperial activities in general, and its tendency to divide up Africa in particular, came to play an important role in determining the geopolitical and ideological configuration, as well as conduct, of African politics in many ways. It was this general environment, in terms of the major economic and political relations defining it, that provided the basis for the expression of destructive politics associated with ‘ethnicity’ in many colonial, and post colonial, societies in Africa. In general colonialism facilitated the development of ethnocentric policies, scholarship and administrative units.
- Curving Up Africa into European Colonial Territories
The actual curving up of Africa by European powers from the days of the Berlin Conference in 1884 to the conquest of Africa by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century was characterized, and defined, by certain enduring factors which have come to greatly contribute towards the general tendency to political regression on the continent. These factors do not in any way suggest, as some people tend to believe, that African societies were divided without due regard to their common “ethnic” expressions.38 Indeed, as earlier stated, common language or “ethnic” features never determined the basis for the formation of communities, chiefdoms, city-states, kingdoms or empires in Africa during the precolonial period. Rather what came to negatively affect Africa were a number of political practices, associated with the partition, that have come to constitute a near-permanent feature defining, and defiling, African polities, politics and societies.
The first is that certain processes accompanying the partition came to constitute standing procedures in the political relationship between Africa and Europe despite their very negative and divisive implications. We will highlight two of the most important ones here. In the first place the tendency for European powers to combine together against each and every single African society in favour of their own collective control, since the days of the partition, has tended not only to remain but has also indeed even become greatly reinforced since Africas independence in the 1960’s. Associated with this is the fact that the usual practice of external interference in African affairs that characterized the process of the partition, especially through support for one side against another in local disputes, and associated acts of aggression, do not seem to have abated but have rather intensified despite the presence of the African Union (AU) which should act as the major, if not the only, arbiter in African conflicts in the interest of its unity and integrity. Local conflicts, incited or incidental, have become a major source for promoting division and disintegration on the continent. This is largely due to the absence of an effective African agency responsible for the management, and containment, of such conflicts in Africas interests and towards its security.
The second issue is the manner in which the actual curving up of Africa, and its eventual occupation by different European states, has continued to affect it politically, economically and culturally. The imposition of colonial borders on over fifty colonial territories acquired by different European states did not only lead to its balkanization but it also effectively destroyed the preexisting vast network of regional, as well as inter-regional, integration of the continent that were politically, as well as economically, facilitated by the then existing fluid and open territorial borders. The colonial imposition of prohibitions and customs barriers on trade, communication, transportation, immigration and indeed even socio-cultural exchanges between different communities, polities, societies and regions in Africa foreclosed a process of general integration and development in favour of its overall destruction, and complete subordination, as well as continual compartmentalization into isolated units. This process was further compounded by the introduction of a series of divisive structures, and institutions, which came to be established within each colony, resulting, therefore, not only in promoting dysfunctional divisions at the level of the continent but also within each of the colonies established. Similarly each of these countries, or colonies, was individually subordinated to one European power ensuring that it was economically, politically and culturally tied to its apron strings. We thus have, in addition to individual colonial territories, their grouping into Anglophone Francophone, Lusophone etc. countries. These are in turn collectively subjected to Euro-American control and tutelage. The call by Pan-Africanists for African unity is the logical attempt to surmount these divisions and the problems they signify.39
- Loss of Africas Independence and its Divisive Implications
Imperial divisiveness was not limited to territorial barricades, isolation and containment but also included aspects of ideological attrition and psychological indoctrination designed to isolate and incite the subject population against each other, as well as their collective past, in order to more effectively confiscicate and control their futures.
In this respect the various prejudicial, perjorative, condescending and dehumanizing references to the African person and his indigenous traditions, or the outright tendency to deny him any history, were all but attempts at reducing his essence, as a human being, by way of isolating him from his past as well as “convincing” him of his inherent cultural, and creative, or developmental, incapabilities as a justification for his domination by foreign powers. The battle against this process of mass inferiorization, and psychological attrition, define both the devil in imperialism and the humanitarian soul of Pan-Africanism, despite the baseless and unwarranted criticisms of Negritude by writers like Wole Soyinka.40 Literary output associated with Pan-Africanism reflect, among other things, efforts at confidence-building, and awareness-raising, measures designed to negate and overcome the discriminatory and dehumanizing impact of racism by way of criticizing unhealthy attempts by black people to become “white”, or to mimic the colonizers attitudes, through the consistent opposition to apism, or associated expressions of “colonial mentality”, using “Negritude” and other manifestations of African Renaissance in general.41
The colonial occupation of African societies also led to a form of socio- economic divorce, and division, which has remained central to socio-political conflicts in Africa. The imperial expropriation of all mines in favour of colonial monopolies, leading to complete destruction of local and indigenous mining activities, as well as the expropriation of land from many African pastoral and agricultural communities in favour of white settlers and profiteering foreign companies in most colonies, particularly South Africa, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Namibia etc greatly undermined local productivity and pauperized many. In addition colonial occupation also set in motion a process towards the increasing alienation, commoditization and privatization of communal land despite the fiction of so-called Native “homeland” propagated by ethnic ideologues. Furthermore the tendency towards the destruction of local indigenous industries through, among other things, the conversion of agriculture into an extroverted, mono-cultural activity basically producing raw material for foreign industries also adds to the tendency for this reduced, and de-industrialized, ‘economy’ to become less productive leading to increasing mass poverty. The trend towards widespread poverty and deprivation amidst toxic ethnocentric divisions, and ideologies, combined to generally foreshadow the potential development of regressive socio-political conflicts at various levels.42
Indeed the unproductive and exploitative character of the colonial economy tended to redirect both collective, as well as individual, efforts at economic self-improvement towards the struggle for the control of administrative powers at various levels. This is so because the totalitarian, or “totalistic” and “statist”, control exercised by the colonial powers ensured neither economic freedom nor alternative sources of economic support, or opportunities for advancement, in the colony.43 Colonialism greatly undermined and destroyed a variety of local, indigenous, free and private economic activities, or enterprises, in order to facilitate foreign monopoly control, extraction and repatriation of resources. The colonial administration became the major source of business opportunities due to its massive expenditure of collected revenues, control over local resources as well as its complete regulatory powers over all forms of local economic activities. The economic structure therefore tended to foreclose productive enterprises in favour of state patronage and the despoliation of available resources-the benefits of which, for the same and many other reasons, could not be largely expended or invested locally. Thus consumption of foreign imports, and the repatriation of both legal and illegal funds, tend to only result in an outward migration of both human and material resources with further implications for rural and urban poverty, as well as conflicts associated with the local scramble for public offices in the manner already pre-figured, or scripted, and directed by the colonial state. Where post colonial attempts to restructure the economy fail, and the trend towards local scramble for public offices prevail, only consistent agitations for division, and redivision, of administrative structures in the form of states and local governments, or positions as ‘traditional rulers’, will continue to occur even where there appears to be no logic to such demands. As some commentators observe agitations, unless somehow checked, will continue even up to the family levels.44 it was political conflicts founded under such circumstances that came to take on the form of destructive contests that increasingly led to divisive, indeed regressive, mobilization of local passions and fears rather than any constructive engagement with the problems of nation-building, wealth generation and regional integration, as is the case with the developed nations, or should have been the case with the newly emerging and independent nation-states of Africa.
It is important to also draw attention to how the loss of sovereignty in many ways influenced the tendency towards the extroversion of Nigeria’s colonial elites resulting in its disregard for local issues and public interests, as well as a corresponding disrespect for the rule of law, which have become the defining features of its identity-with grave implications for the solution of both local corruption and external dependency. Colonial conquest and control greatly undermined the role of the local communities, as well as all other forms of locally based and constituted social, political and economic interests , from exerting control over local affairs and politics, as would have been the case in an independent polity. Locally recruited imperial functionaries, such as Military, Police and Native Authority appointees, as well as other colonial officials, owed their positions and were accountable only to foreign colonial powers through their local representatives. After independence the tendency for the colonial elite to become a law unto itself, unaccountable to the local population, therefore began to manifest itself in many forms. Corruption, which tends to subsist on disregard for public interest as well as disrespect for the rule of law, or venality, was thus further anchored in the prevailing character of foreign colonial hegemony which tended to ensure the total absence of popular sovereignty as a necessary basis for its own dominance and inaccountability. Thus one very significant factor propelling the widespread occurrence, and recurrence, of violent communal conflicts in many African countries is the fact that those responsible for such criminal action were never identified and prosecuted in most, if not all, of the countries concerned. Inability to change, diversify and develop the economy, as well as govern on the basis of the rule of law and the Constitution, are thus very important factors impelling unruly as well as divisive politics, and conflicts, in Africa. These disabilities clearly indicate a major failure to undertake the major projects that could lead to both unity and justice through the pursuit of common political and socio-economic objectives in the national interest. Common national interest is mischievously presented as the promotion of cultural homogeneity, or uniformity, in the nation rather than the promotion of the common interests of its peoples, and the basic rights of its individual citizens.
- Colonial Policies of Social Segregation, Exclusion and Discrimination.
Policies of segregation between ill-conceived ‘races’ and ‘tribal groups’ played a very significant role in entrenching, promoting and institutionalizing divisions, and conflicts, in various colonized societies. Indeed the manner in which these divisions were configured, characterized and operated during the colonial times also came to shape the various ways in which so-called ethnic conflicts in the post-colonial period came to eventually manifest themselves as well.
The attempt to organize society along the lines of superficial differences associated with ‘race’ or ‘tribe’ was not only applied by imperial powers in their various colonies around the world but it also constituted the basis of fascist ideologies which many, in particular Hitler, attempted to impose in Europe as well.45 The relationship between culture and politics is both complex and multifarious not least among which is the fact that politics, as a creative process, is also a form of cultural expression. However in the colonial context references to civilization and culture were designed to promote an image of superiority, as a justification for imperial domination, and also serve as a devise for social division and control within the colony.46 It was more than simply “culture talk” in the manner Mamdani put it. The discourse on culture by various Pan-Africanists and nationalists, as a strategic factor in the struggle for liberation and nation-building in Africa, is instructive in this regard. However Mamdanis useful contributions in this respect are outstanding. For various reasons and in a number of ways colonial powers, as he rightly observed, crafted identities which were enforced by the colonial state on the basis of its policies and laws in the occupied territories concerned. This certainly made such identities more of political rather than mere cultural expressions.47 The objective of these efforts were, furthermore, not designed to promote any principle of ‘separate development’ or preserve any ‘tradition’, but rather to undermine independent processes of local socio-cultural integration in order to promote division and foreclose the possibilities of any unified resistance against colonial domination. This act, in turn, helped to rigidify and politicize cultural manifestations in the colony in opposition to their generally social, free, multiple, fluid, cumulative and creative character. The sole emphasis on racio-cultural identities in general, and ‘ethnic’ identities in particular, during the colonial period, was further useful in obscuring the oppressive, unjust and exploitative nature of colonial economic control and relations.
The very manner in which colonial societies were redefined reflected an abiding desire not only to promote division within them but to also ossify them into some permanent, isolated and submissive units of colonial domination. Indeed every single social, biological or environmental factor identified towards the fabrication of ethnocentric identities was viewed only from the point of view of its divisive functions. These were further designed into management principles that would ensure a foreclosure on the benefits of historical processes in the form of unrestricted migrations, settlements, intermarriages, fusion, diffusion and assimilation towards general socio-economic integration. Similarly important factors influencing social development and integration, in all societies and throughout history, were reduced into instruments of division and confrontation rather than cooperation. Thus the common and complimentary character of the environment in general was reduced to its perception as some ‘isolated’ and ‘exclusive’ so called ‘native homelands’. The overarching and inclusive character of cultural features were, in turn, reduced into some permanent, exclusive and divisive ‘customs’ or ‘traditions’ while multilingualism, so much a feature of all societies was reduced to a singular, and socially isolated, criteria of ‘common language’ used to define inchoate “ethnic” groups. Even the factor of a common state, or administration, generally serving as an important criteria in defining common political identities became, under colonialism, only an effective facility for the division of societies and the promotion of conflicts between them. It is also important to note that the confinement of the indigenous ‘ethnic’ societies to something characterized only by certain selected ‘traditions’ or ‘customs’ is not only in association with the task of denying it any history, in the sense of an independent and creative past, but is also an ideological license which ensures the domination of its present, as well as the confiscication of its futures, by identifying the colonizers as the only source for its “modernization”.
It is also important to draw attention to the manner in which colonialism greatly influenced the development of destructive, as well as regressive, elite political activities that were initially expressed in the post-world war II period in the colonies in the form of communal conflicts but which, in a number of places, continued to serve as serious sources of conflicts in post colonial societies.48 Colonialism was in the first place not only a spoil system in favour of foreign trading, financial and industrial monopolies it was also a totalitarian system of control in the sense that it intervened, restructured and operated in every sphere-political, economic and socio-cultural, of the life of the colony in order to gear it towards serving imperial interests.
Under colonial occupation urban, or residential, townships were segregated. Indeed further divisions were made between people sharing same languages and traditions on the basis of their “ancestral roots” or “indigeneship” as well as their religious beliefs. In many ways, and as many studies have shown, the processes of continual segmentation, division and regression in many African countries is not unconnected with the relative persistence of these socio-cultural demarcations which should be completely abrogated in favour of residency, as well as individual citizenship, rights in any democratic context as provided for in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, for example. Only this will promote the required commitment, contribution and dedication of individuals to their localities rather than the latters endless, and destructive, exploitation by those who have turned such ascribed rights into weapons for local despotism, and national spoliation, as is currently the case.49
Indeed it is important to draw attention to views which continually assess whether Nigeria is only a “geographical expression”, or “nation-space” rather than a nation-state or nation in the making. These views also tend to be associated with certain agitations for so-called Sovereign National Conference (SNC) which calls for organization of the Nigerian state on the basis of so-called “ethnic nationalities”.50 This position does not reflect any appreciation of the imperial sourcing of ethnic divisions as highlighted above, or indeed the theoretical discourse on the concepts of “ethnic” groups and “nationalities”, which many of them simply conjoin and refer to as “ethnic nationalities” which they also further tend to assume is simply given. Hardly do these advocates of “ethnic nationalities” realize that only under colonialism, fascism, and apartheid, have ethnicity and ethnic stereotypes ever been advocated as bases, or building blocks, of polities. Democracies are built on the basis of the unconditional recognition of individual citizenship rights, as well as the latters freedom of association and expression.
Indeed, as earlier mentioned, the views expressed by Pan-Africanists and nationalists did not only constitute a counter-discourse but also a corrective and liberating contribution, for both science and society. Its traditions of critical response to the methodology of imperial scholarship has contributed to the supercession of the various limitations of anthropological studies in favour of modern African history and sociology, as well as the increasing promotion of independent studies of the social sciences informed by the evidence of African history.51 In terms of the latter African historiography has also become greatly enriched by the broadening of the sources of historical studies to include the scientific use of oral evidence as well as the more critical studies of African arts, linguistics, languages, literature and archeology. Indeed research into African languages, and linguistics, from African perspectives in general has become a very significant factor in most African universities.52 General development in terms of methodologies and the variety of disciplines established is also greatly enriched by focusing on issues considered to be critically relevant to Africas development. From this point of view interests in the study of Africa’s indigenous cultures, sciences and technologies is increasingly becoming very relevant.53 In addition the study of African philosophy as well as the examination of Africas experiences from its own philosophical points of views is also an important aspect defining emerging perspectives in the development of education, in general, and research in Africa in particular.54 Furthermore gender studies are also assuming increasing importance in research activities.55
The most important contribution of PanAfricanism, however, is not simply in the manner it opposes imperial ethnocentrism in the study of African affairs but rather the manner in which it is constituted as the constructive alternative, and liberating approach, to Africas development. Its focus on Africas independence, unity and integrated economic development greatly promotes both academic and policy research, in an integral manner, from the local to the national, through to subregional and continental levels, dealing directly with issues of common concerns such as regional policy framework, natural resources, demography, migrations, infrastructure, trade, finance and administration from the point of view of their local and continental relevance, as well as towards their collective management, in favour of effective regional integration and development. The approach, in turn, tends to serve as a counterforce to the regressive tendencies that characterize the various colonial territories that were not only internally balkanised but also extroverted and subordinated to foreign powers. This approach further tends to encourage a broader, inward looking, creative, productive and self-reliant approach to common political and economic activities, as well as problems, in a way that could positively change Africa’s fortunes by helping to overcome the regressive politics of ethnocentrism. Indeed ethnocentrism induces retrogression whereas PanAfricanism prescribes progression.
It is clear that illegitimate attempts by bandit militias and privateering political adventurers, to plunder Africas natural resources for their own selfish purposes, in alliance with foreign interests, is becoming increasingly important in the development of conflicts all over the continent in Nigeria, Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan etc. Similarly the incapacity of most African states to formally agree, or fail to implement where they agree, plans for the common exploitation and management of land, water and other related resources of the continent might prove a significant source of further conflicts between, as well as within, them in the not too distant future. Currently many conflicts in most localities are mainly associated with the inability of the states concerned to establish orderly use of resources, or the peaceful mitigation of conflicts arising therefrom. It is worth emphasizing that Africa needs to transcend the imposed limitations of ethnocentrism in favour of constitutionalism and respect for the various laws established, or those that need to be established, for orderly development at local, national, subregional and continental levels. In this respect divisions of the continent based on racial considerations such as’indignenes’ and ‘settlers’ or “Sub-Saharan Africa” and “Black Africa” need to be superceded in favour of terminologies which do not only help us to appreciate the common, constitutional and democratic dynamics of its historical development but are also such that will continually promote the general integration of the continent in favour of its peoples.56 Similarly the imposition of externally formulated policies should be discounted, if independence is to mean anything, in favour of development plans created at the various levels – national and subregional development organizations, as well as the AU.
Ethnocentrism and the Perception of Africa’s Post-Colonial Political Identities
If we cast a glance at the manner in which current Africas political expressions and associations are predominantly presented from neo-imperial points of view, we will find that they are generally done in a manner that either preclude, or evade, the possibilities of their independent political existence in favour of continuous foreign hegemonic control, in their determination. In this regard we will find that there is a tendency to continue to perceive their political and economic outlooks, as well as relations, only in the ethnocentric or imperial stereotypes earlier referred to. In the alternative or, indeed, in addition we might find that they are assessed and explained from various points of views which always attempt to deny them any socio-historical existence independent of their foreign, as well as ethnocentric, determination. These perspectives greatly serve to promote dependency rather than affirm the recognition of, or the need for, independence.
To further appreciate this issue it is important to note that colonial regimes, in addition to creating the divisions noted above, also greatly precipitated divisions along political lines which are usually misrepresented as merely ethnographic or religious. In all the colonized territories the predominant forms of religious and cultural expressions were also divided along the lines of those who supported, versus those who opposed, colonial occupation. In other words collaboration with, or resistance to, colonial occupation were also expressed through cultural organizations or new forms of religious movements57. A number of cultural movements in general, and religious sects in particular, came to support the nationalist movement by participating in many political parties and organizations.58 It is important to also note that some such religious and related cultural opposition groups also tended to express themselves as autarchic and separatist movements on account of the uncompromising persecution, exclusion and violent disposition of the colonial state towards them reaffirming their political unity as well as common opposition to to colonialism.59 Such problems continue to fester in many African countries long after independence mainly because the nature of colonial domination, and repression, has hardly changed. Many studies and commentaries on African politics tend to gloss over such longstanding colonial traditions of political divisions within various religious groups, and communities, which were usually occasioned by the latters disposition to the colonial state. The uncompromising policy of the colonial state is founded on the double standards of patronizing its supporters, on the one hand, and persecuting those who opposed it on the other. Such policies should have no place in any independent and democratic state. Efforts at initiating dialogues and reconciling with all excluded groups ought to constitute the cardinal principle of African states committed to the democratization of their polities.
Inter-religious conflicts tend to occur only where foreign interests, and local elites, incite or promote them in order to achieve some political objectives. There is no records of such conflicts existing or occurring in the pre-colonial, or even the colonial, periods. Even after independence they began to arise well beyond mid-1980s in Nigeria, mainly as a result of intra-elite rivalry associated with the squabbles for office by some officers under certain military regimes. It is clear that these conflicts do not serve any religious purposes or objectives but rather promote the desecration, and subversion, of religion in terms of its moral teachings, philanthropic outlooks and humanitarian concerns. As a result decent religious leaders, and responsible citizens, are countering such trends through the promotion of inter-religious dialogue, and cooperation, at both the national and state levels.60
In line with the observations made above we find that most studies associated with neo-imperial points of view hardly appreciate the need to contextualize local political expressions on the continent in terms of their independent, historical, creative, proactive and visionary political outlooks ie as either reactionary, conservative or progressive. Rather we have blanket, and ahistorical, generalizations that attempt to deny the actuality and, indeed, the necessity for diverse ideological expressions in favour of a claimed lack of the need for ideology-due to the prevalent “reality” of ‘ethnocentric’ identities! In other words colonially imposed ethnic classification is not only used to promote a given stereotype of political identity, and relations, it is indeed deemed to have foreclosed the expression of any other type of political identity or ideology!
Similarly the manner in which existing socio-economic and political interests ought to define political associations, and identities, such as Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Labour, Social Welfarist, Fascist and Communists or Nationalists and many others are usually discounted with reference to Africa in favour of some subjective imperial appreciation of local political activities in terms of whether they are adjudged to be “moderate”, “extremist”, “fanatical”, “fundamentalist”, “pragmatic” “radical”, or, indeed, “terrorist”. The fact of the matter, however, is that not only do these terminologies obscure a critical, factual and objective identification of the substantive interests of the groups concerned but they also serve as a priori judgement which, today, justify imperial impunity in relation to such groups in much the same way that terms like “primitive” “savages” and “war like” served as justifications for unrestrained aggression against various innocent peoples in the past. We need to also recall that hardly had any African nationalist, from Kenyatta to Mandela, escaped persecution and vilification on account of being labelled as ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremist’ etc. by the imperial powers. Such labels therefore tend to serve certain political purposes rather than provide objective, and scientific, categories for impartial analysis. They thus do not express the political interests of the groups concerned but rather impose imperial judgements, and possible rewards or penalties, against them.
Finally it is important to emphasise that the use of ethnocentric terminologies in describing African socio-political realities also serves to continually obfuscate the various types of complex social movements, organizations, parties and processes that are generally associated with its transformation, as well as the struggle for its liberation and development. Indeed African history is replete, at both the international and local levels, with various movements, organizations and parties that did not only assert its common identity but were also dedicated to its common liberation and development. Such movements ranged from many local cultural, literary, political and armed resistances to the more general and popular organizations in the form of trade unions, women organization, professional associations, students unions, religious organizations, indigenous associations etc as well as leading international movements and parties such as the PanAfrican Congresses, Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), West African Students Union (WASU) among many others. It was the collective and coordinated activities of such various political organizations, social movements, civil society associations and trade unions, under PanAfricanist leadership, that demonstrated the positive alliance of Africans at home and those in the Diasphora. Similarly it was in alliance with, or under the inspiration of, the Pan-Africanists that African nationalist movements founded its leading political parties such as National Council For Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), Kenya African National Union (KANU), Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), African National Congress (ANC)and many others which fought for independence at the level of each colonial territory. It is misleading to present African nationalist politics, in terms of the ways it originated or even unfolded after independence, as basically “ethnic”. This does not only run contrary to the evidence but also betrays the tendency for some scholars to persist in unfounded ethnocentric bias even when, and where, the evidence clearly suggest otherwise.61 Ethnocentrism has thus come to serve as a tacit denial of the struggle for independence and liberation from imperial control by the new socio-political forces in the societies concerned. Indeed the arguments that public activities or politics in Africa is basically “ethnic” is a mere assertion which can not be demonstrated with reference to the activities of the political parties, pressure groups, national associations or the various governments involved either in terms of their stated objectives, composition, policies or programmes. Most of such arguments are therefore posited on the basis of mere presuppositions of “ethnic” sympathies or favouritism, which do not constitute evidence enough to warrant such baseless, general and emphatic conclusions.
Indeed PanAfricanist activities defined a global perspective for African political and diplomatic relations far beyond, and long before, the present efforts towards the promotion of cooperation between non-alligned nations and any other form of global association for that matter. It saw the efforts towards the liberation of Africa as an integral part of the liberation, and advancement, of humanity in general. It, through the activities of Africans’ in the diasphora and such PanAfricanists as Mohammed Duse, brought into common political association all those concerned with African, as well as human, liberation from all parts of the world.62
Ethnocentrism is historically associated with the ideological justification of European imperial plunder of the rest of the world, in the form of racism, as well as with the organization and management of colonial systems established in various other parts of the world. Colonies were managed on the basis of ethnocentric policies of social segregation and exclusion, as well as discrimination and control, through the ‘racial’ and ‘tribal’ ordering of most colonized societies.
Ethnocentric concepts of ‘race’, ‘tribe’ and ‘ethnic’ groups, far from being actual descriptions of “reality”, indeed constitute only but distinct, indeed unique, perceptions of reality in a manner not only designed to explain but to, also, organize the latter on the basis of certain biological and cultural variables. These variables are further assumed to be both universal and eternal in addition to being constituted in some given, and definite, relations which predetermine, as well as govern, the conduct and development of human societies. We have seen that research in biology, as well as history and sociology have proved these assumptions, and the stereotypes they have promoted, to be false – constituting only mythical attempts at the explanation of the socio-historical development of human societies.
The ideological stereotypes founded on ethnocentric assumptions have however proven to be pervasive as well as persistent, particularly in Africa. This is because their views, and the policies of public administration and indoctrination founded on them, have remained dominant in the post-colonial societies of Africa as worldviews, political ideologies and public psychology, as well as the official doctrines shaping educational and media practice. This ideological predominance was, in the colonial times, further structured in a manner that divided each locality into excluded ‘native foreigners’ and ‘native indigenes’. This division was in turn designed not only to sanctify the unrestrained exploitation of local indigenes, through the establishment of despotic local agencies described as “native” or “customary”, but to also legitimize and reward all other categories of collaborating local elites on the basis of ethnocentric, particularistic and exclusive claims to public appointments, political and administrative offices, as well as business opportunities. This has come to define what is usually referred to as “ethnic” politics which is basically a localized scramble for state and administrative control which stakes its claims to power and privilege on the basis of divisive, or “ethnic”, criteria formulated by the colonialists resulting in regressive and, frequently, violent conflicts. Unfortunately many analysts have tended to indiscriminately describe any type of conflict be it economic or political in origin or, indeed, even criminal in nature as generally “ethnic” thereby promoting a general incapability towards specific as well as proper comprehension, and solution, of the matter. This situation is further complicated by the fact that the modern African political elites who promote such conflicts do so in opposition to the laws of their land as well as the interests of their people and they, therefore, do everything in their powers not only to mislead public opinion on these issues but to, also, avert the possibilities of the law taking its due and proper course.
The methodology of ethnocentrism, as depicted in such colonial studies as anthropology, ethnography, diffusionist archeology and also linguistics is limited to a crude empiricism, or positivism, whose approach to theory is both uncritical and dogmatic, while its disposition to evidence is essentially selective rather than comprehensive. As a result it uses terms and categories which tend to be ahistorical, abstract, universalistic, eternal and Eurocentric. These, in turn, greatly serve towards the justification, rationalization and organization of imperial exploits. Similarly neo-imperial perspectives, or “neo-liberalism”, also share the same methodology, and functions, although without ethnocentric trappings. Opposition to ethnocentric ideas in Africa were championed by PanAfricanists and African nationalists who tended to assert a common African identity, on the basis of its common history, problems and destiny. PanAfricanism tends to promote a counter-discourse to imperial ethnocentrism in Africa particularly in the manner it promotes the perspective for a united, independent, integrated and common development of Africa for the benefit of its peoples as opposed to their subordinate, extroverted, regressive and exploitative development under the control of foreign powers and interests, as championed by the imperial powers. The correctness of its views is reflected in the extent to which Europe, America, Latin America and Asia strive to promote their own development through policies of regional, and global, integration even as Africa suffers major set-backs to its own programmes of regional integration with devastating consequences.
The uniqueness of ethnocentrism as both the dominant worldview and ideology of European imperialism is also further demonstrated in the fact that it stands apart from most pre-15th C worldviews about history, society and empire whether seen from religious or secular perspectives. In a similar manner all forms of opposition against imperialism also tend to discount, and criticize, ethnocentrism as a necessary and corrective procedural imperative. Thus major theories like the Marxian and underdevelopment schools of thought posit perspectives and concepts which are not only critical of, but also opposed to, ethnocentric ideas. This is because the bio-cultural determinism characteristic of ethnocentrism has been associated with the degradation and domination of man, which is most dramatically reflected in the various acts of genocide it has sanctioned, and promoted, in white settler colonies, in Fascist Europe and particularly Nazi Germany, as well as in Zionist Israel, Apartheid South Africa and many colonial/post colonial African states. Its continuation, in any guise, constitutes acts of oppression against humanity in general, as well as the freedom of the individual in particular.
Ethnocentrism has greatly forestalled the peaceful and democratic development of African states. It stands, outside their formal national constitutions, as a subversive colonial structural and ideological legacy in society, economy and politics. As an ideology it sanctifies and facilitates the plunder and exploitation of Africas resources and peoples, by its ruling elites, in the context of the mono-cultural and dependent economic edifice created for that purpose. Only the promotion of effective, sovereign and popular democracy based on the rule of law, in Africa, will help to overcome ethnocentrism and the ‘ethnic’ conflicts associated with it. This is because only full citizenship rights, constitutionalism and the rule of law will promote the kind of public policy that could transcend inherited colonial structures, and privileges, towards popular sovereignty, the diversification of the economy and enforcement of the constitutions in such a manner that transgression of the law could be punished and substantially prohibited. This will have beneficial consequences that will greatly help to check corruption as well as elite fomented “ethnic” conflicts. The present attempts to punish such crimes though the World Court, at Hague, is a welcome development. However the need to ensure justice and respect for the law must be the full responsibility of both the national governments, and the regional union, in Africa. Every attempt, and any progress, made towards domiciling and Africanizing law enforcement in the region, as well as in each of its various countries, will contribute to a much needed antidote to both corruption and ethnocentric conflicts.
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