The paper is a critical, and multi-disciplinary, perspective on the problems of nation-building in Africa. Many writers who attempt to explain the crises associated with nation-building in Africa since independence tend to limit themselves to the simplistic notion that this crisis is only, or indeed mainly, a reflection of the lack of competent leaders on the continent. These perspectives tend to ignore the harvest of competent and capable leaders associated with the nationalist movements that were responsible for the independence of their various countries. Such views also tend to discount the evidence of other weighty factors like the mono-cultural economic structures resulting from Africa’s colonial heritage, as well as the documented cases of foreign interventionism aimed at subverting Africa’s independent, patriotic, PanAfricanist and competent leadership in favour of surrogate, ethnocentric and self-serving elites who are beholden to foreign interests. As a result such perspectives tend to underrate or indeed ignore the active involvement, or foreign interventionism, of the former imperial powers under the current leadership of the USA in Africa’s internal affairs since independence.


Looking at the subject before us we will find that the diverse ideological, and theoretical perspectives evident in its evaluation, in themselves, reflect a diversity of interests that need to be identified and brought to light. Nation-building, from whichever perspective we look at it, is above all else a historically specific as well as visionary, constructive, creative, transformational, self-determined and patriotic activity. It is not the same with the predatory and self-serving spoil systems characteristic of ancient empires, or the specifically European colonial spoil systems either in their old or new forms.

A survey of the literature on this topic indicate some widespread assumptions which have come to constitute what could, more or less, be referred to as the dominant  and basically external, or foreign promoted, explanations. This is the idea that the problem of contemporary African states, leading to the widespread crisis or “failure” of nation-building is to be found in corruption, incompetence and mismanagement associated with African rulers per se. (Ayittey, 2005; Meredith 2005; Dowden, 2009; Acemoglu, 2012). While this, no doubt, is a factor which is clearly relevant in explaining Africa’s problems it cannot be the sole reason, or indeed even the major reason, for the explanation of the crisis of nation-building. It needs to be understood that the entire debate and literature on neo-colonialism, to which many African nationalists such as Nkrumah, Cabral, Nyerere, Sekou-Toure and Samora Machel, as well as scholars like Samir Amin, Walter Rodney, Chinweizu, Y. B. Usman, and Ngugi Wa Thiongo have made substantial contributions are all part of the struggle to resist foreign imperial efforts towards forestalling the attempts by African nationalist regimes from transforming inherited colonial economic structures, into diversified and independent ones. This is why the attempt to reduce these issues to a so-called externally defined bad leadership perspective only begets more questions: what constitutes African leadership? and what, also, accounts for its inherent and extraordinary tendencies to corruption and incompetence? In order to account for the extraordinarily corrupt nature of leadership in some African countries, at certain times, we need to identify the very factor which makes such an extraordinary level of corruption possible and why this is different from the level of corruption in other societies, or in the same African societies under different conditions. Various researchers have identified venality, and impunity, as important factors underlying the development of corruption in Africa. Impunity is in turn associated with the interventionist role of western powers in African affairs especially in the manner they oppose popular and independent regimes, and intervene to undermine them, in favour of puppet, or surrogate, regimes beholden to them.

It is important to observe that in many cases the very important factor of foreign interventionism in Africa, which has been identified by many scholars as a key element responsible for its present predicament hardly features in the viewpoints of those referring to “African leadership” as the major source of “Africa’s problems”. Critiques of the “failed state”, on account of “Africa’s leadership” perspectives, have drawn attention to the fact that this viewpoint fails to take into account the various successes recorded by PanAfricanists, and African nationalists, in the struggles for nation-building in Africa as well as the galaxy of patriotic national leaders of political, intellectual, entrepreneurial, unionist and communal denominations associated with these successes (Mamdani, 2004; Mutiso and Rohio, 1975; Onibonoje, 1976; Bello, 2010).

Similarly such critiques have also drawn attention to the failures of all policies and projects imposed by the imperial powers through the IMF and the World Bank on Africa. They further observe that no responsibility has ever been admitted, or accepted, by these bodies in a manner that would warrant any major reviews. Despite the problems noted it is also observed that these same agencies have also achieved successful returns on their activities and endeavours in Africa, whereas Africa has always failed to achieve its own professed objectives. This situation thus portrays a one—sided, and an unequal, indeed predatory, relationship (Abdul Raheem, 1996; Ake, 2001; Nkrumah 1996; Payer, 1974; Rodney, 1976).

Attempts at explainings Africa’s so-called “poverty”, “instability” and state or leadership “failures”, along with the violent conflicts associated with such, will always remain baseless, meaningless and misleading so-long as they are calculated to exclude, and exonerate, certain interests through the use of a methodology which obstructs the consideration of Africa’s historical legacies, and current realities, in terms of how its earlier enslavement and colonization, as well as present day domination and exploitation by the western imperial powers, actually affect it. The attempt to explain the contemporary crises of Africa’s post-colonial development, variously characterized as only occasioned by   ‘political instability’, ‘state failures’ and ‘bad leadership’, solely on account of the corruption and mismanagement of surrogate African leaders, as we argue subsequently, negates the most important fact that such leaders work hand in gloves with foreign imperial interests and powers.

Methodological Issues

An important dimension towards the study of socio-economic or political phenomena in general, and African affairs in particular, is the question of objectivity. Objectivity could be viewed from three different angles: a just and fair humanitarian, legal or intellectual, in particular scientific, perspective of the issues concerned. Discussions of politics, in general, and the ideologies informing same, in particular, cannot be scientifically approached and objectively treated if we are not able to adopt a perspective that is fair, comprehensive and evidence-based as well as capable of identifying, and explaining, diverse ideological standpoints.

It is important, therefore, to appreciate the extent to which power relations between Africa and European imperial powers tend to always affect the nature of studies crafted and conducted on their relationships in various fields. This is clearly reflected in the one-sided nature, and interests, of most of the educational disciplines established through the agency of colonialism especially in the forms of ethnography, anthropology, diffusionist archaeology as well as Eurocentric and ethnocentric perspectives on history, literature, religion and the social sciences (Ake, 1979; Mafeje 1971; Blyden, 1967; Amin, S. 1989; Preiswerk 1978). This is in addition to the apologetic, as well as evasive, studies sponsored by associated imperial interests such as the World Bank, the IMF and the self styled “donor agencies.”

It is equally important to observe that another level of influence open to the imperial powers under colonial occupation was that of outright censorship of studies, and opinions, which were not acceptable to them. Indeed the tendency towards the censorship of literature, expressions, relations and activities not acceptable to the colonial powers continued in many ways even after the independence of many African countries. This could be seen in the wider, and more violent, context of political and ideological repression pursued in Africa since independence, particularly in the form of the so-called “cold war” and the opposition to the proposal on New International Information Order at the level of the UN. (Mamdani, 2004; Mareheth, 1974; Okpoko, 2009).

Of recent various attempts are being made by western “donor” countries to influence the direction of research, and opinion moulding, in Africa through the direct sponsorship and funding of various activities, institutions, facilities, agencies and individuals into operating on the basis of the general problems and perspectives, or templates, identified and prescribed by them. This has almost heralded the end of the era of nationalist, and problem solving, research from independent African points of views.

Another important issue in the discourse on African affairs is the tendency, by the western powers, to insist on the non-inclusion of their role, conduct and activities in matters connected to Africa particularly where this is likely to implicate them in one form or another. It is usually argued that focusing on the role of such ‘external’ relations will detract from the more urgent tasks of attending to the corrupt practices of African leaders or, indeed, paying attention to the “peculiar” and “unique” racial, or cultural, nature of the problems of Africa. However it needs to be noted that paying attention to the role of other factors, in this case imperial interventionism, in explaining African affairs need to be seen only in additional, rather than exclusive, terms. Similarly focusing on so-called racial and ‘cultural’ factors in a manner presumed to be exclusively ‘internal’ to Africa as a basis for explaining its development sounds more like a fallback on the discredited theories of racialism and the practice of racism. We need to look at the issues under consideration from comprehensive socio-historical perspectives without any attempt at excluding the consideration of any other relevant factor. Such an attempt at the exclusion of some factors would only amount to a foreclosure on the investigation of certain aspects of the issues concerned- a form of an indirect censorship, or cover-up, in favour of foreign imperial interests as some writers have attempted to do (Ayittey, 2005: 1-xxvi; Acemoglu, 2012; Dowden, 2009).

Three important factors are immediately apparent if we are to treat the subject matter in a comprehensive manner. The first is the need to differentiate negative foreign interventionism in Africa from the wider, and more positive, international support, cooperation and relations with foreign nations. This, we believe is clearly discernible on the basis of the fact that the latter is in support of, rather than in opposition to,  independent African initiatives and interests. Secondly foreign interventionism, by its conduct, is not only an act in disregard of international law but it also fuels impunity in local African politics. Finally foreign intervention also redefines what has generally been referred to in the literature on “failed states” as “African leaders” into “agents of foreign powers in Africa”. It is impossible to discuss the political, cultural and economic nature of leadership in Africa, or the character, causes and dimensions of corruption in contemporary Africa where we turn a blind eye to the role of foreign interventionism in the affairs of the continent.

In the discussion that follows we draw attention to the fact that the key problem for Africa has been foreign imperial interventionism, which, in various forms, utilizes a diverse range of agencies, institutions and organizations in order to control, or influence, both the internal and external politics of African countries as well as their economies. The available data on the subject of imperial interventionism in Africa is both of a primary nature as well as wide-ranging in the form of revelations by undercover agents, information from declassified documents of foreign countries as well as the very recent WikiLeaks exposures among many others. It is therefore, on a factual basis, incontrovertible.

Acts of interventionism in Africa are defined by certain important factors. In the first place the independence of most-African countries redefined colonial occupation, in particular, and imperial relationships, in general, as illegitimate making their continued retention, or extension, contrary to national constitutions as well as international law. Where they thus continued against the law they tend to become more and more defined as acts of impunity. This, in turn, expresses a contradiction between the real politik of the imperial powers geared to control and domination, on the one hand, and their ideological or public relations rhetorics, on the other. This contradiction is occasionally identified as discrepancy between words and deeds, as hypocrisy vs democracy. In the field of realpolitik, however, this is expressed as impunity, generally, as well as subversive and covert activities, in particular, between the imperial powers and the newly independent nations (Mazrui, 2010; Mareheth, 1974; Stockwell, 1979).  The unprincipled, inconsistent and dubious nature of imperial perspectives is itself a confirmation of the fact that its self-justifying rhetorics stand apart from, and opposed to, its predatory designs and activities. As such these are generally defined by a standing double standard, double-speak and double-dealing.

A second important dimension of imperial interventionism is that it assumed a united, global and multilateral dimension under the leadership of the United States of America (USA) since the end of the Second World War. This is illustrated in the manner in which the alliance of former imperial powers, and settler colonies, along a more or less racialist line in the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), under the leadership of the United States (US), came to constitute a global hegemonic force both at the level of the United Nations (UN), as well as in the conduct of bilateral and multilateral international relations worldwide.

In addition, the process of intervention is prosecuted in a variety of ways. It could be overt or covert. It could be in the form of diplomatic, military, political or economic pressures. It could be direct or by proxy. All these are geared to the strategic goals of controlling Africa’s local economic resources, enforcing economic structures conducive to the achievement of foreign imperial interests, as well as imposing control over the processes of local policy formulation and implementation.

Finally Euro-American interventionism in Africa has so far been expressed at two major levels. The first, following the independence of African countries and designed to “rollback” such independence in favour of western control was undertaken under the general banner of the so-called “cold war”, which was anything but cold in Africa. The second wave of interventionism is the one undertaken by the same powers since the end of the cold war. This is a bit more ambitious programme for the total recolonization of the continent as it is designed to ensure wide-spread regime change in all those nations where such is desirable. The cases of Libya, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Egypt etc. are clear examples. Alongside this it is also geared to the disestablishment of regional, and subregional, structures representing independent African organizations like the OAU, AU, ECOMOG etc. In opposition to these independent organizations we witness the establishment of American military bases, in the form of AFRICOM, as well as western controlled regional security outfits like the African Crises Response Initiative (ACRI), as a substitute for ECOMOG in West Africa, in addition to New Economic Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD) which is not only a baby of, but also completely under the control and directives of, Western powers.

This contribution further draws attention to the need to continually apply three essential principles in the conduct of such discourses. The first is the need to draw, as broadly as possible, on the essential evidence pertinent to the discussion in general. This means the need to bring into focus the historical evidence of Africas nation-building processes, in the form of PanAfricanism, as well as related practices of nation-building in its various countries. The second is the need to evaluate all relevant theories in the light of evidence, as well as on the basis of their own logical consistency. Finally there is also the need to discuss the issues under consideration in the context of both national constitutions and on the basis of relevant international declarations or laws.



Significance, Typologies and Processes of Nation-Building.

Nations, or nation-states, are polities or political communities. However not all sorts of polities are nations or nation-states. It is important to note that vestiges of earlier, or ancient, types of communities and polities such as gyrontocratic and feudal forms of political institutions operate, wherever they are found today, under the general control, determination and directives of nation-building political-elites.

Nations, and nation-building processes, constitute the most significant and defining organizational and management principles of our modern world. They determine the essential features of all modern polities, as well as define their relationships as a global union of states in the theatre of international relations.

There are diverse perspectives on the dimensions of nation-states, nation-building and nationalism. This is to be expected, partly because of the diverse range of problems and issues, that different nation-states have to grapple with in the course of their development.

Another factor provoking controversy on the notion of nation-states is the subjective, supremacist, narcissistic and Eurocentric perspective usually brought into the discourse on the subject by ideologues with such persuasions. This, as we will highlight subsequently, has greatly promoted the predominant influence of ethnocentric ideologies in international, as well as national, politics at the level of various colonies, in addition to the latter’s relations with the imperial powers (Amin, S. 1989; Preiswerk  and Perrot, 1978).

The above issues notwithstanding, it could be argued that all nation-states are products of modern development collectively differing in many remarkable ways from the polities and societies that preceded them in history, and thus sharing certain definitive and common features between them.

In the first place they all came into being through opposition to one form of imperial domination or another. Secondly their essential organisng principle, expressed in their constitutional objectives, is the achievement of freedom for themselves, as political entities, along with their citizens in a manner that promotes democracy anchored on national, and popular, sovereignty. Similarly, they all dedicate themselves towards working for peace, freedom, equality and development at both the national and international levels. Finally they are, in a number of cases, greatly influenced by immigration, and economic protectionism, policies in a manner that is unique and greatly different from the historic multicultural states and empires that preceded them (Pfaff, 1993: 59).

While the above might constitute some common features characteristic of all nation-states the circumstances of their creation also stamp them with differing characteristics, in terms of their internal composition as well as external relations with other nations, as is obvious in the differences to be observed between, as well as within, the following categories of nation-states:

  • Imperial European nation-states: Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain etc.
  • European settler colonies, states and countries: USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and Israel.
  • Revolutionary socialist nation-states: Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam etc.
  • Independent anti-imperial nationalist states and countries: India, Pakistan, Brazil, Zambia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, Ghana, Iran, Nigeria, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Libya etc.

The above typology brings into consideration a number of issues which are characteristic of modern states, in particular their socio-cultural, political, territorial and economic conditions.

Once again, on the basis of the above, we could say that such differences notwithstanding all modern nations make attempts to build themselves on the basis of the following essential considerations:

  1. Sovereignty in internal matters, as well as in foreign relations, in addition to the conduct of participation in global institutions. Significant in this regard is control over natural and human resources as well as the general control, and regulation, of national political and economic activties.
  2. Promotion of regional and global alliances such as Pan-Africanism, Non-Alligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in respect of Africa, or the EU in Europe. In todays supranational world national interests can hardly be achieved where they are not supported by broader and wider regional, as well as global, processes of political, economic and cultural alliances.
  3. Promotion, at the national levels, of such unifying policies as constitutionalism, multiculturalism and political, or ideological, pluralism.
  4. The eternal struggle towards nation-building is designed to ensure its sovereignty through the development of democracy, on the basis of popular sovereignty, as the popular expression of nation-hood in the polity.

The processes of nation-building identified above have led to some “successes” in some nations of the world. Why have they tended to “fail” in Africa?

Explaining the Crisis of Nation-Building in Africa

If we state that nation-building ‘failure’ in Africa is simply and basically due to the incompetence, corruption and mismanagement of African leaders we commit a generalization which does not only leave many questions unanswered but also raises many others as well. This is, in the first place, because leadership cultivation, conduct and operations is an essential, and indeed leading, component of the nation-building process. Where the latter actually fails, the former will be deemed to be part and parcel of that general failure as well. In this case so-called leadership problem could not be expected to explain the general failure of nation-building processes because it is part and parcel of the process, and ought to fail where the process in general fails.

Secondly various studies indicate that the African leaders under reference were mostly serving as western agents in their different countries while, those African leaders who remained independent stood the risk of being assassinated, overthrown or in many other ways sabotaged. In many cases serving African leaders were said to be in the employment, and on the pay register, of certain foreign secret services (Meredith, 2005; 294). In addition to this Africa’s ruling ideas, policies and structures in most, if not all, of the countries under reference were imposed, and promoted by the western powers. These could be seen in terms of inherited monocultural economies, as well as the more recent imposition of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) in addition to programmes of so-called “deregulation” which are predetermined, and predestined, to promote the interests of the imperial powers at the expense of their victims.  It is in consideration of these facts that rulers of such countries could not be described as simply African leaders but rather as African surrogates, or agents, of the ‘leading’, or misleading, western powers (Bello, 2010; Fawole, 1998; Ikoku, 1980).

Thirdly, rather than the ‘failure’ of nations, what we are indeed witnessing is but cases of failed scholarship which tend to proceed by refusing to acknowledge, let alone address, the major and prior explanations of the crisis of nation-building in Africa advanced by a majority of its nationalists as well as a multitude of independent scholars. Such writers do not only neglect the evidence of history but also refuse any attempt at the critical evaluation of their own concepts and categories in favour of isolated, and selected, empirical ‘facts’ in a desperate bid to give propaganda, founded on wishful thinking and prejudice, the status of scholarship. Such failed scholars avoid the original and primary contributions of Africa’s nationalists and intellectuals, as well as the actual evidence of Africa’s history, in the same manner that any mythology, pretending to be the truth, ought to avoid each and every evidence that threatens to expose it as but mere falsehood. (Acemoglu, 2012; Ayittey, 2005; Dowden, 2009 Meredith, 2005)

It is important to draw attention to the fact that all the available evidence testify to the initial successes recorded by PanAfricanists as well as nationalist movements in all parts of Africa, as well as in the diasphora. It was such successes that profoundly contributed to the subsequent nationalist achievements in all the African countries. All of the post-independence states of Africa showed an initial ability to mobilize the general public towards nation-building and development as reflected in the self-determined, and driven, achievement of national independence, democratization, republicanism and constitutionalism which made it possible for the region to register some measure of independence at the level of international relations through the OAU, NAM and other multilateral organizations. These nations were also able to initiate some measure of independent economic policies, programmes of economic diversification and above all else promote trends towards some degree of industrialization while they were under the control of nationalist regimes, movements, parties and popular forces immediately after their independence. Some of these countries included Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Egypt etc.  The kind of states being referred to as “failed” only came into being where the nationalist leadership had been overthrown in favour of surrogate leaders beholden to policy impositions, dictations and general tutelage from the Western nations. It is therefore important to draw attention to the earlier nationalist successes which have been “rolled” back by the Western alliance to produce the present states resulting in the conditions that are generally characterized as “failed”. The fact, therefore, that surrogate leaders rely on foreign powers to install and sustain them in power needs to be taken into account towards explaining the so-called “failures” of such states.

PanAfricanism, and the African nationalist movements, account for the following political achievements:

  • The earlier independence of Haiti; the establishment of Liberia and Sierra Leone in addition to the massive support garnered for the independence of Ethiopia in opposition to European serial invasions.
  • Popular movements, at several levels, among which were the ex-slaves and missionaries of West Africa, like Rev. E.W Blyden, who played a key role in the opposition to both TransAttantic Slave Trafficking and colonization, as well as towards the evolution of PanAfricanism and nationalist oriented African Churches. There are also the PanAfricanist congresses in the U.S and UK which constituted the first international political, and diplomatic, thrust of the struggle against imperialism and racism under the leadership of W.E.B Dubois, and Marcus Garvey, among many others. Furthermore there is the literary flowering, and expressions, of Africa’s struggles, against racism among which Negritude constituted an important part under the leadership of people like Aime Cesaire and Senghor.
  • The extension of PanAfricanist Movement into Asia occasioning the subsequent development of a united front in the form of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). This is particularly due to the contributions of leading PanAfricanists like Mohammed Duse.
  • The achievement of independence in many African countries, between the Mid 1950’s and 1975, as was the case in Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania etc.
  • The establishment of relatively effective constitutional, federalist, democratic and republican regimes in many independent African countries, following their formal independence, before the second wave of interventionism undermined them especially from the late 1980’s onwards.
  • The establishment of the OAU in 1963 which, despite its problems, was quite able to coordinate a common African agenda, and diplomacy, which greatly helped the continent to liberate its remaining settler colonies, in addition to asserting a common diplomatic front at international levels against imperialism and racism, leading to the collapse of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
  • Initial successes of many liberated areas of the Portuguese colonies, under the control of the various liberation movements, towards the transformation of the conditions in their respective countries before the wave of foreign interventionism greatly disrupted them. Such countries included Guinea Bissau, Angola and Mozambique.

It is important to stress that these successes were also possible due to the widespread, and diverse, levels of support African countries were able to marshal from well-meaning international organizations, associations, political parties, states, multilateral organizations as well as progressive establishments and individuals, in the world. Indeed it was such support that greatly contributed to the successes of Africa’s independence and liberation movements in their confrontation with European imperial powers.

Both before, and after, independence the tendency for African regimes to move in the direction of increasing independence in terms of policy formulation, foreign relations, economic diversification etc. was countered through the promotion, and the prop-up, of local monarchical, military or civilian dictators by the imperial powers. This process, after independence, led to the evolution of interventionist policies of terrorism in the form of economic sabotage, assassinations, political overthrows, military invasions, economic blockades, economic sabotage and many other acts of subversion against all independent-minded African rulers, and their governments, in favour of regime change. Where overthrown such leaders were generally replaced by conformist, compliant and servile rulers, as well as regimes. Some of such rulers that were either assassinated, invaded or overthrown included Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel, Sekou Toure, Amilcar Cabral, Murtala Muhammad, Thomus Sankara, Muammar Gaddafi etc. Conversely the failed leaders under reference would all be found to be anti-nationalist and beholden to foreign powers in one way or the other. Such is exemplified in the case of Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Houphoet Boigny of Ivory Coast, Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, Kofi Busia of Ghana, Anwar Sadat and Husni Mubarak of Egypt, Bokassa of the Central African Republic, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso as well as Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria (Meredith, 2005; 218. Bello, 2010; 21).Under the rulership of such ‘leaders’ nationalist and popular orientations in politics, as well as processes of independent policy formulation and implementation, were gradually undermined in favour of policies imposed by foreign powers in the form of IMF Loans and their conditionalities; Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP), Deregulation, ‘Privatization’, ‘liberalization’ etc. designed to secure and promote foreign economic, political and cultural interests. Such policies were not only imposed in complete disregard of duly formulated National Economic Development Plans but also in utter disregard of duly formulated, subregional and regional economic plans like those of ECOWAS and the AU. In the case of the latter we can cite The Lagos Plan of Action for the Development of Africa 1980-2000, and also the document Jointly produced by the UN and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on “African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation: a Popular Version” in 1991, (Fawole, PP. 170-178; Payer, 1974)

Prevailing Challenges to Nation Building in Africa

From what we have said so far it is obvious that part of the conditions for successful nation-building is having a group of independent, patriotic, selfless, dedicated and capable leaders. In other words the evidence of world, as well as Africa’s, contemporary history point to the fact that nation-building has only been successful where, among other things, it has been led by informed political leaders who are also independent of foreign control and committed, as well as accountable, only to the popular national support that is the basis for their coming to power. Nation-building has never been achieved, anywhere in the world, by “leaders” who are also surrogates, or agents, for the achievement of inimical foreign interests. This is why all Nation states take great care to ensure that neither their political leaders, nor their political activities, are unduely and indirectly influenced by foreign nations or, indeed, by local self-serving cabals. The crises of Africa thus stem from the extent to which its independent political processes have been subverted in favour of externally teleguided politics and controlled economies. This is most clearly reflected in the systematic campaigns against nationalist political parties, as well as popular movements, undertaken by dictatorial regimes with foreign support, all over Africa (Mamdani 2004; Nkrumah, 1965; Daley, 2007).

In order to appreciate this situation, further, we will draw attention to some of the major contributions that contemporary and patriotic African statesmen, members of the intelligentsia, politicians and activists are making towards the attainment of the goal of successful nation-building. These are abiding and successful efforts at nation-building which have been deliberately side-lined by failed writers commissioned to dwell on the setbacks arising from the subversive activities of surrogate rulers in order to generate a climate of psychological despondency, and despair, designed to cover up, rationalize and promote the destructive character of foreign intervention in Africa since the 1960s.  It needs to be noted that the idea of a “good governance” agenda, that is teleguided by foreigners, as a standard prescription against what has been described as “bad governance”, or “Africa’s leadership problems”, is a ploy for foreign interventionism that presents only more problems.

In the first place this is not a solution to the so-called problems of leadership but rather an attempt at the legitimization, as well as actualization, of the schemes for the further recolonization of Africa. It cannot lead Africa out of its present problems. It can only serve the interest of those powers that have crafted it in much the same way that all earlier prescriptions have only served those who crafted them to the detriment of Africa. In order to appreciate this we only need to look at how their key operational principles, and strategies, stand in opposition to both democratization and economic development in Africa.

The level of impunity underlying the relationship between the Western proponents of the policy of “good governance”, illustrated in wanton interventionism, stand in direct opposition to respect for national constitutions or the observance of international law. They preach “democracy” in weaker nations and deny it at international levels, as well as in the U.N., where the autocracy of the powerful rule the world by veto rather than on the principles of democratic votes and representations. They preach democracy in weaker nations and yet arrogate to themselves the right to impose the ruling ideas, and development policies, on the same nations rather than allow them to determine these democratically, for themselves. These are imposed at the expense, and to the detriment, of locally and independently formulated development plans. They claim to be interested in “transparency” and yet their countries are the principal sanctuaries for the laundering of the proceeds of corruption belonging to “failed leaders” from Africa. They claim to work only for “peace” and yet they are the sole maintainers of military bases all over Africa, and are also behind every violent conflict on the continent. They claim to be interested in Africa’s “economic development” and yet work only to obstruct the diversification and industrialization of its economies, as well as their mutual integration and independence.

At a more general level there is also the systematic and relentless subversion of Africa’s regional integration processes as well as its collective interests, in many ways, by the combined force of the USA, EU and NATO as is exemplified in the war they waged against Libya, in particular, and the subversion of all independent programmes of regional economic development in Africa in general. Of particular relevance is the extent to which an imperial collective dominant in the UN Security Council, EU and NATO, stands united against each and every isolated, poor and weak African country in any bilateral, or multilateral, relations. This situation becomes worse with every case of balkanization, as the experiences of Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, and particularly those of Eritrea and South Sudan, graphically illustrate.

The standing EU and NATO policy is that of keeping control over Africa’s natural resources, in addition to maintaining imperial hold over Africa’s economies through the agency of the UN, World Bank and the IMF wherever necessary. This quest has become all the more urgent in view of the possibilities of certain African countries promoting a more independent relation with such newly emerging world powers like China, Russia, India, Malaysia, Brazil etc. Added to this is the increasing disinvestment climate promoted in Africa due to the massive extraction and repatriation  of wealth by western governments, and corporations, as well as the criminal laundering of looted funds abroad by corrupt African rulers. These expose the hollowness of the western-led campaigns for so-called ‘job creation’ and ‘poverty alleviation’, on the one hand, as well as for economic ‘development’ and ‘democratization’ on the other.

In particular, national interests and nation-building principles, in the form of independent local political movements and parties, indigenous interests, independent social movements, constitutionalism and pan-Africanism have been systematically, and consistently, sidelined and repressed. In view of this tendency towards the constriction of cultural, political and economic spaces in favour of foreign interests, there is a significant resurgence of the politics of sectionalism, signifying that surrogate national rulers are only capable of promoting, much like their foreign patrons, ideologies that are not only subversive but also conducive for local scrambles and despoliation, rather than nation-building. This, as many writers have said, is informed by the functions of the characteristically imperial and divisive ideas, as well as structures, of ethnocentrism.(Mafeje, 1971; Mamdani, 2002 ;Preiswerk and Perrot 1975; Usman, 2003; Daley 2007; Schalks, 2002; Bello, 2013).

The on-going deconstruction, by Africa’s academics, in all disciplines, of ethnocentric imperial ideologies is perhaps one of the greatest developments in the evolution of Africa’s political philosophy, as well as a major theoretical support to nation-building on the continent. Various scholars such as Diop , Mafeje, Mamdani, Gyeke, Dike, Usman, Ajayi, Nnoli, Ake, Ranger, Ngugi, Prah and Davidson, in addition to many others, have been able to make very important, and ground breaking, contributions on the basis of historical research, as well as theoretical evaluation, which greatly confirm that ethnocentrism, and with it the ideology of racism and tribalism, were indeed not only a substantial fabrication but also the prejudicial policy instrument used by the imperial powers to achieve their common political, administrative and doctrinal objectives of divide-and-rule in their various colonies. As a result these have come to constitute significant sources of division, and conflicts, in contemporary Africa. They have in many ways proved to be the Trojan Horse left behind, and actively promoted, by the colonialists in opposition to nation-building, regional integration and peaceful development in Africa for a good number of reasons. They have affected, and redefined, African politics in many negative ways, a few of which we will highlight hereunder.

Most of the studies on ethnocentrism in Africa draw attention to the fact that this was a characteristically colonial system of divide and rule which tended to promote autocracy, exclusion, division and conflicts. Studies conducted elsewhere in the world, at the global levels, also tend to confirm these findings. For example studies conducted by the UN in the early 60’s came to the conclusion that racial categories are “not so much a biological phenomenon” as they were “social myths” “(Ki-Z erbo, 1990: 102). In a similar study on European nationalism Pfaff noted (1993; 53) that not only is the notion of the “ethnic” a mythology but that whereever it was imposed by foreign powers, as was the case in eastern Europe and Africa, it tends to lead to division, or regression, and conflicts. Quoting Acton, Pfaff (1993) noted that not only is ethnocentrism “a retrograde step in history” but also that:

The combination of different nations in one state is as necessary a condition of civilized life as the combination of men in society ….. A state which is incompetent to satisfy different races condemns itself; a state which labors to neutralize, to absorb, or to expel them, destroys its own vitality; a state which does not include them is destitute of the chief basis of self-government

Pfaff further draws the following conclusion: “the idea that nations have a racial origin (or, to employ the current expression, a singular ‘ethnic’ origin) is generally untenable”. Similar is the conclusion arrived at in the various African studies which have identified ‘ethnic’ groups as imperial “inventions” and “fabrications”, or stereotypes. (Mafeje, 1971; Ranger & Hobsbawm, 1983; Bello, 2013).

The extent to which ethnocentrism becomes the dominant, and hegemonic, ideology in any African country, as well as at the level of the region in general, is a function of the extent to which foreign powers, and their local lackeys, have gained domineering political control at the expense of independent, nationalist and PanAfricanist forces. It is important to note that ethnocentrism, by design, negates and defies multiculturalism, as well as pluralism and constitutionalism.

Another important reason for this state of affairs is the fact that while nationalism is committed to sovereignty, as well as constructive and creative change of the colonial status quo, in favour of Africa’s integrated development, local politicians that are submissive and subservient to the continuation of the neo-colonial status-quo are generally beholden to ethnocentric ideologies. This is because the ideology also serves the interests of inter-elite, as well as intra-elite, scramble leading to rivalry and recurring divisions, at various local levels. It is due to the manner in which divisiveness is used to justify political opportunism, at the expense of community building and integration, that it leads to increasing, as well as continuous, division, redivisions and subdivisions in African countries at every level – right down to the family level!.

Over the last ten years we have witnessed how the development of corruption and intra-elite rivalry, anchored on various ethnocentric divisiveness for certain undeserved privileges, rather than contributions to nation-building, on the bases of diverse appeals to “origins” such as “indigeneity”, “customs”, “traditions”, “tribes”, and “faith”, which stand opposed to constitutional injunctions anchored in citizenship rights, human rights and the law, have led to lots of conflicts and loss of lives in Nigeria (Alubo, 2006; Imobighe, 2003). These conflicts are thus not only criminal in nature, in the manner they are variously incited and executed, but also constitute the greatest disservice to the promotion and development of human relations, as well as genuine African cultures, at the levels of community, locality, nation and region. They constitute serious, and persistent, infringements of international human rights laws. While in some parts of Africa, and at the level of international relations, these are beginning to be legally addressed Nigeria is yet to take any definitive stand, or make any progress, on the issues (books of impunity in Africa ….).

Many studies have drawn attention to the fact that impunity is driven, in Africa, by both the foreign imperial powers and its corrupt ruling elites. Judicial processes are subverted in favour of political interests and schemes. “Justice” is not aimed at punishing the culprits, and compensating the victims, but rather towards shielding the criminals in favour of ‘reconciliatory’ and so-called ‘peace’ activism and commissions, or power-sharing arrangements, which are incapable of establishing justice and deterring offenders. (…/the fight over impunity). Justice is essential to the promotion and sustenance of a peaceful environment. So it must not, and cannot, be denied under the pretext that peace is being promoted.

The negative impact of ethnocentrism and the politics it breeds, briefly referred to above, is on account of the fact that racial and tribal concepts were crafted purposely by the colonialists in order to promote separation, exclusion and discrimination rather than integration and inclusion, or justice. They have as such promoted viewpoints, ideologies, public psychology and policies, in short a doctrine,  that is both fissiparous and disintegrative (Gyeke, 1979; Mamdani, 2002; Mohammed, 1979; Usman, 2003; Schalk, 2002; Bello, 2013). Such a doctrine denies, as well as opposes, two important considerations necessary for constructive community building anywhere and at all times. The first is that it denies both the multicultural and dynamic nature of the evolution of human societies and social categories, based on the diverse processes of migrations, intermarriages, fusion and integration in favour of an assumed process that is supposedly made up of eternal bio-cultural categories which are, moreover, seen as inherently separate from, and exclusive of, one another. As a result it implies and promotes a perspective of ethnic purity, separateness and the possible need for cleansing exercises where such might arise. The second is the fact that such a view is not only based on stereotypes, informed by prejudices, it is also further utilized for the purposes of a priori judgements of whole groups of people. Moreover such a priori judgements, of whole groups of people, is not based on the outcome of certain conduct or activities associated with them, but rather on certain bio-cultural stereotypes, which are wrongly assumed to be common only to such groups as well as capable of explaining their conduct or behaviours. The concept, moreover, is applied to Africa by the imperial powers on the basis of a double standard. In other words such a faked, toxic and disintegral approach is not applied in the description, evaluation or analysis of western societies, communities or peoples.

Exemplary Leadership Role Of Africa’s Nationalists And Intellectuals Towards Nation-Building And Regional Integration

The loose, or probably mischievous, use of the term leadership to describe, essentially, all people in position of authority in Africa has a number of drawbacks. Predatory systems of control imposed by the imperial powers and operated through a variety of locally hired, or employed, agents could not be described as “leadership” in the same sense that independent, popularly determined and patriotic nationalist movements could be described as genuine African leaders committed to the struggle for its decolonization, integration and self-determination.

It is this fact that defines nation-building as a phenomenon that is not simply rooted in, or a recreation of, a presumed mythical and ethnocentric past of nations. It is necessarily constitutional, democratic and pluralist process geared to the independence of both the local population, and the polity, from any system of domination of whatever denomination-whether ancient or modern, as well as African or foreign. It is for this reason that national constitutions are structured around three related issues all of them a search for independence and freedom: national sovereignty geared towards the achievement of individual citizenship rights based on processes expressing popular sovereignty, or democracy under the rule of law.

It is therefore significant that attention is drawn to three very important factors governing the actual situation of African nations in line with the observations made so far. In the first place nation-building in Africa can only be successful where it is based on the earlier achievements of Africa’s nationalists and intellectuals towards assuring self-determination, economic diversification and integration as well as the capacity to formulate, and implement, policies in a manner that would justify referring to governments in Africa as democratic institutions that are truly “of Africa, for Africa and by the Africans”.

It is also important to note that a general survey of Africa’s contemporary history clearly portrays some patterns in the development of its various countries, as well as the region in general, since independence. To begin with all the countries performed relatively well initially in terms of the generation, formulation and implementation of policies relating to their various national activities, as well as regional integration. We also similarly observe externally initiated processes, by Africas former colonial powers under the leadership of the USA, geared towards contesting, or a “rollback” of, the independent status of African countries. This involved three interrelated strategies. The first is, as many writers have indicated, through the preservation of exploitative colonial structures in each individual country in opposition to their possible dismemberment (Nkrumah, K. 1965). The second is through the process of establishing, in each country, new mechanisms geared to establishing control of both policy formulation and economic activities through a policy of external indebtedness, and other such traps, in order to facilitate both the financial fleecing of such countries as well as effecting control over their decision making processes (Payer, 1974). Finally there is also a concerted effort to undermine independent regional, and subregional, organizations in favour of Western imposed, as well as controlled, organizations and military bases. It is worthwhile to cast a cursory look at these processes more closely.

In the first place mineral ownership, production and processing in African countries, ceded to the control of imperial companies since the days of colonial occupation, have remained unchanged to this day. This is the major reason accounting for the destruction of local mining activities, as well as the processing and manufacture of various minerals, signifying the role of foreign colonization in the de-industrialization of Africas local economies. Similarly the mines were expropriated from Africans and handed over to foreign companies-an act which European and American multinationals desperately strive to preserve, despite the independence of African countries.

In the second place, in many African countries where agricultural land, and livestock, had been violently expropriated and handed over to settlers, and foreign companies, there have been concerted attempts by the imperial powers to ensure that no new policy is formulated after the independence of these countries in order to revise, revisit or in any manner do justice to such established cases of plunder. This is particularly illustrated in such countries as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Ivory-Coast, Kenya, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola.

In the third place in a number of countries which were the earliest to gain independence, and where foreign settlers were not established in any significant numbers, the effort has been to disestablish their independent, or nationalist, regimes in order to supplant them with compliant ones-in many cases under the leadership of military officers loyal to the imperial powers, or as a form of promotion for loyal local employees of the World Bank and the IMF from given countries. Such countries include Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast etc. As recent events are confirming such a “roll back” process does not only consist of the imposition of selected candidates as chief executives, by foreign powers, but also the introduction of elaborate regulatory processes for undermining the possibilities of independent nationalist politics in general.

In the fourth place we also witness how processes of destabilization, exercised through the application of multiple forms of interventionist pressures, are brought to bear on specific African countries which stand opposed to foreign tutelage in one form or another. Such acts of destabilization are particularly relevant because they are based on the promotion of civil strife, civil wars and terrorist movements, as was the case with UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique. These were designed to subvert the economic achievements of these countries in order to ensure that they were not allowed to demonstrate the possibilities of an independent process, or course of development, as a prescription against foreign economic control. (Mamdani, 2004). Presently such a strategy greatly accounts for the numerous civil strifes and conflicts, leading to balkanization, in many African countries.

Prospects of Nation-Building in Africa

The present efforts towards so-called ‘good-governance’ cannot work in the favour of Africa because it is not an independent initiative. It is an imperious prescription. It has thus neglected the essential issues in nation-building and the so-called development it promises, as Claude Ake rightly pointed out, was never intended in the first place (Ake, 2001). For nation-building to be successful it must achieve, and be based on, the critical objectives of national sovereignty, constitutionalism, unity, citizenship rights, national development plans and practical issues of regional integration which are outside the purview of the so-called ‘good governance’ agenda. Nation-building is an independent and self-determined process. Democratization and the associated struggle for popular sovereignty, human and citizenship rights, cannot be otherwise.

Clearly the question of development in Africa must be able to transcend the limitations currently imposed on it by foreign interventionism, local impunity, inherited colonial economic structures and the tendency to disintegral divisiveness, partially occasioned by the prevailing dominance of  the ideology of ethnocentrism. These need to be overcome through building on PanAfricanist, as well as nationalist, achievements in respect of Africas sovereignty, at popular, national and regional levels, towards creating a regional structure that could independently mediate local conflicts within, as well as between, African countries and also check foreign interventionism in favour of both popular and national sovereignty. Constitutionalism: multiculturalism, political pluralism, economic diversification and industrialization on the basis of regional integration, as well as a common and united African stand at international levels in terms of diplomacy, would appear to constitute the most essential building blocks for the successful development of African nations as opposed to their present neo-colonial status: incapacitated, divided, dependent and extroverted.

From what we have said so far it is obvious that the so-called failure of nation-building in Africa cannot be dissociated from the manner in which some of its surrogate elites have colluded with foreign powers to subvert it in every possible manner as well as turn it into a wild goose chase by reducing it to a self-serving ethnocentric squabble rather than a nationalist, and PanAfrican, process of socio-economic and political integration geared towards achieving the total independence and development of Africa. Efforts aimed at redressing these problems ought to focus on the most essential features of nation-building if they are to become successful. In this regard it is important to note that unity is, first and foremost, defined and promoted through the pursuit of the common interests that are codified in our national constitutions, laws and development plans, as well as in such other agreements that have been duly entered at regional and international levels. Development and security mean, essentially, the ability not only to promote but also secure such common interests as defined in the relevant instruments signifying common national agreements and objectives. To see nation-building from a basically ethnocentric perspective, as merely a relation between “ethnic” groups, is to miss the original, creative, dynamic and common features of the process in favour of stereotypes which could only lead to confusion and dysfunctionalism in society. Building nations in Africa, as Fanon noted, must not only strive for genuinely high-minded  humanitarian, PanAfricanist and nationalist ideals, designed to achieve social justice, but must also promote equality and freedom between nations and peoples devoid of both racism and avarice (Fanon, 1968; 312).

The primary objectives of nation-building, in this age of supra-national states must, in the manner stipulated in Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, be pursued on the basis of regional unity and integration. In addition the pursuit of national unity, integration and development ought to be anchored in the principles of citizenship rights. Respect for the constitution, and international law, need to be promoted in place of impunity. Similarly essential conditions for authentic national, and regional, development that are mindful of multiculturalism and political pluralism, need to be seen to inform executive action at all levels, geared to the promotion of social justice.


Nation-building in Africa, or anywhere else, has never essentially been an exercise in the preservation and administration of any, or a galaxy of, “primordial ethnic” groups. It was always a struggle to create new as well as independent, and sovereign, nation-states anchored in the universal principle of popular sovereignty and citizenship rights.

Similarly nation-building was nowhere ever simply designed to recreate the precolonial past, from whichever point of view this is perceived, or to basically preserve the colonial status quo, in whatever guise, but rather to change it in favour of the development of a new society with constitutional promises and opportunities that guarantee liberty, development and integration in order to promote justice, establish equity, find peace and secure prosperity for all citizens.

In addition nation-building cannot be the same with the imposition of externally formulated economic ‘development’, as well as a ‘good-governance’, agenda by world imperial powers at the expense of independent, and self-determined, national development processes and plans. Nation-building cannot but be the work of independent citizens expressed through the exercise of popular sovereignty.

It is also significant to note that Haiti has decided to be part of the AU. It is imperative that the AU promotes greater relations with the African public as well as Africans in the Diasphora through the initiation of diverse policy principles designed to address the needs of the continent at every level as well as in each sector. Common African policies on research, education, information, security etc., in addition to the various proposals on economic integration, will need to be further activated and propelled through wider popular involvement, and participation, in the region. Such policies also need to inform the national programmes and activities of each African nation as a member of the Union.

In line with the exemplary conduct of one of the awardees, of Daily Trust, African Award, AbdulRaheem T., we must not only all work on this together but also do so in the spirit, and towards the achievement, of the goals of PanAfricanism. Patriotic African elites need to organize locally, actualize nationally and integrate regionally.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the moment, we need to promote relevant platforms of the type that has brought us here today, as well as network their activities in a manner that will make them a significant force in the conduct of affairs at the level of countries, subregions and the region in general.









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