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Nationalism, Africa

Nationalism, Africa

Nationalism, a universal human construct, has been studied extensively because of its resiliency as a major societal force. The literature on nationalism is complex, conflicting, inchoate, contradictory, and at times paradoxical, sentimental, and perplexing. It is not surprising that because of its multifaceted nature and manifestations, nationalism has become notorious for its indefinability. Although nationalism has universal properties, it also exhibits unique characteristics that are determined by historical forces—political, sociocultural, and economic.

Nationalism is such a powerful force in human affairs that even those who regard it as an unmitigated disaster created by human genius have themselves sometimes resorted to nationalistic sentiments, perhaps in moments of frustration and weakness, to make their points. The truth is, like it or not, nationalism will never fade away. The fad of internationalism, regarded by some as a more progressive and rewarding movement, is increasingly becoming a forlorn hope.

This entry is a modest effort to present the meaning and dimensions of nationalism in modern Africa. This restriction in no way supports the views of those who argue that modern African nationalism is a phenomenon that started after 1935 and that Africans learned it from the colonizers. The antecedents of the movement are as old as African history itself. However, its modern manifestations, no doubt complicated by the impact of Europe, are more relevant to contemporary Africa.


Generally, European colonial administrators and early Western scholars did not fully understand, and could not appreciate the existence of, African nationalism as a major political and socioeconomic force. Thus, Lord Milverton's (Arthur Frederick Richards, 1885–1978) view, expressed in 1956, that African nationalism was "just the craving for power by a small group of individuals," reflected a general European sentiment on the subject (Kohn 1965 [A], p. 9).

When by the 1960s the regaining of African independence had become a fait accompli, two British imperial historians, John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, embellished the same sentiment rather flamboyantly but equally incorrectly. For them, the majority of Africans who were "peace loving" and "good natured" saw colonialism as a good thing and generally welcomed it. The few who resisted it were atavistic and backward-looking individuals who were engaged merely in "romantic, reactionary struggles against the facts, the passionate protest of societies which were shocked by a new age of change and would not be comforted" (Robinson and Gallagher 1962, p. 640). The authors were, however, perceptive enough to recognize that these earlier movements differed from the later and "defter nationalisms" that "planned to reform their personalities and regain their powers by operating in the idiom of the westernizers" (Robinson and Gallagher 1962, p. 640).

Several later Western scholars continued to argue that African nationalistic resistance was directed against the cruel forms and seamier aspects of the European presence and not against colonialism as such, and that individuals and groups resisted colonialism for selfish motives and not because of any nationalistic impulses. Recent historiography, however, shows that African resistance movements were a natural reaction against the imposition of alien rule; that they were propelled by a desire to protect African sovereignties; and that when they failed to do so, the advocates of resistance resolved to regain their independence by conciliation, force, or both.

Modern African nationalism, then, began as an attempt by African nationalities to not submit to European rule during the scramble for Africa. When that failed, the nationalities, now grouped under new multination states created by colonialism, reorganized under the leadership of the new, more radical Western-educated elite (the nationalists) to terminate colonial rule. And when that succeeded, the nationalists began to wrestle with the difficulties of solidifying the multination states that they inherited.

In the final analysis, modern African nationalism was initially a response to European political, socioeconomic, and biological imperialism. It was, in the words of K. A. Busia, "a demand for racial equality" that "is its most conspicuous attribute" (Kohn 1965 [A], p. 13) or in those of Ndabanigi Sithole, "a struggle against white supremacy" (Kohn 1965 [A], p. 13). Even so, what is most fascinating is the movement's later hardheaded pragmatism, which, having grudgingly accommodated the European presence, moderated its anticolonial posture and used the framework provided by the colonizers to attempt to construct a developmental synthesis. It is hoped that this synthesis will make Africa more relevant in a competitive and even callous modern world.

Indeed, as Godfrey Uzoigwe wrote: "The genius of African nationalism … is its superb pragmatism which enabled it to beat Europeans at their own game and allowed them to depart with honor. African nationalism triumphed over colonialism because it won the game of collaboration" (Uzoigwe 1975, p. 383). In other words, African nationalists won the support of grassroots people and that of other elitist and resisting groups who, hitherto, had been passive toward colonialism. Once that happened, European colonizers had no group with whom to do business except African nationalists, whom, generally, they resented. Even in those parts of Africa where the colonizers had depended on the support of prefabricated European collaborating groups—Algeria, Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, Southern Africa—it was becoming clear by the 1960s that the game was up and that it was time to create an exit strategy. It was to the credit of Africa's victorious nationalists that there was no attempt to humiliate the westernizers.


Modern African nationalism may be profitably studied under three broad categories that, paradoxically, conflict with one another: micronationalism, mezzonationalism, and meganationalism.

Micronationalism. This is the nationalism of Africa's original, pre-twentieth-century nationalities, however, they may have evolved by the time of the European scramble, partition, and conquest of Africa at the close of the nineteenth century. These nationalities, which earlier scholarship erroneously called tribes but which recent scholarship describe as ethnic groups, are estimated to number about three thousand. They ranged from the ancient empires, kingdoms, and societies of the Nile Valley and the Horn of Africa, which have been in existence for thousands of years, to those of Africa south of the Sahara, which trace their origins back hundreds of years.

Micronationalism demanded the complete loyalty and devotion of all citizens—not always successfully due to the existence of contentious issues that influenced the nature of their relationships—because of supposed common origins expressed in consanguinity, culture, language, religion, history, historic charters, geographical contiguity, or a combination of all or some of the above. Once consolidated, a nationality, usually made up of independent communities, became apprehensive and suspicious of stranger elements. This attitude accounted, perhaps, for the absence of the notion of naturalized citizenship in Africa.

Some scholars regard the later multination states created by colonialism as the best paradigm for studying modern Africa, since the so-called original nationalities as presently constituted are fictitious. They are regarded as fictitious because, being creations of European colonialism, they do not deserve to be regarded as original African nations. Admittedly, in several areas European boundary-making, during and after the partition, did tinker with the territorial integrity of Africa's original nationalities, but it did not completely erase their essences. After all, these nationalities were in existence long before the coming of Europe, and were functioning on the bases of historic charters, social structures, political cultures, and pan-associations that bound them together. These nationalities were thus distinguished from their neighbors, and cannot be said to be fictitious colonial creations. It is important to note that African countries today are faced with the problem of nationalities of varying intensity, some of maximum severity (as in Nigeria), some of medium severity (as in Uganda), and some benign (as in Ghana).

It was these original nationalities that challenged the European conquest during the phase of primary resistance, the aim being the prevention of colonization. This first stage of European confrontation with the African nationalities and communities was largely complete by the first decade of the twentieth century. The confrontations, lost by the African nationalities, have been well studied. Being attempts by resisters to protect their lands and sovereignties, it is incorrect not to regard them as expressions of nationalism. The resistances took various forms and were not always physical. There were, for example, groups like the Baganda in present-day Uganda who used cooperation with the invaders to cut deals for themselves in the colonial dispensation. There were also those like the Banyoro, also in Uganda, with whom no deals were possible. However, both cooperators and resisters were incorporated by the colonizers into larger territorial states, often with new names invented to encompass the new aggregations that became the current multination states.

The failure of the primary resistance movements, far from signaling acceptance of foreign domination, was followed in many of the new states by secondary resistance movements. These movements used guerrilla-style hit-and-run tactics, or, as in the case of the Banyoro, passive resistance to continue to oppose foreign domination. By the 1920s these revolts were also mostly over. Colonialism had become a fait accompli.

However, between the 1920s and the regaining of independence, Africa's defeated nationalities regrouped in the urban areas of the new nations to form voluntary ethnic organizations. These organizations enabled individuals to adjust to changes brought about by colonialism and, more importantly, to create a niche for themselves in the sociocultural, political, and economic arithmetic of their new countries. To be sure, they were not yet in the business of seeking the overthrow of colonialism, especially before the 1950s. There were, indeed, groups like the Hausa-Fulani of northern Nigeria that for a period in the 1950s opposed the regaining of independence by Nigeria because of fear of southern Nigerian domination after independence.

And even after independence was regained, the resiliency of Africa's original nationalities was apparent. The result, in part, is the chaos that Africa is experiencing today. The 1963 charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now called the African Union (AU), included clauses affirming the inviolability of the colonial boundaries and requiring that member states not interfere in the internal affairs of other states. These clauses were an admission that the new nations had not yet solidified and that the forces of micronationalism were strong and needed to be curbed. Africa's postcolonial history shows that the forces of micronationalism, far from being curbed, are more resilient than ever. The effort to dismiss them as "tribalism" has so far failed to gain serious traction. All over Africa, devotees of the original nationalities are bent on receiving what they perceive to be their fair share of the "national cake." That is why ideology tends to count less than ethnicity in the final analysis, and why it matters from what group the president of an African country comes.

Mezzonationalism. This is the nationalism of the new multination states that were created by colonialism. Mezzonationalism challenged colonialism at three levels: political, economic, and sociocultural.

Politically, mezzonationalism may be seen as a subtler continuation of the earlier secondary resistance movements that failed to stop the consolidation of colonial rule. Initially, adherents of this form of nationalism used constitutional means to challenge the absolutism, the flaunted omniscience, the vaunted omnipotence, the arrogant arbitrariness, and what mezzonationalists regarded as the vengeful character of the colonial state. They were encouraged by the aftermath of several crucial developments that occurred during the climax of colonialism (1914–1945). These included World War I, the rise of Soviet Communism, Italian Fascism, German Nazism, the Great Depression, and World War II. The goal of mezzonationalism was to regain not the independence enjoyed by Africa's pre-European nationalities but an independence that eventually would be based on the continent's new multination states.

Before 1945, there was no concerted effort to overthrow colonialism. Indeed, as C. R. L. James (1901–1989) indicated, such a thought was not contemplated by himself, George Padmore (1903–1959), or Jomo Kenyatta (ca. 1899–1978) as they met in London in the 1930s to ponder the fate of Africa. In short, they did not believe that by the 1960s most African states would have become independent. Colonial protests, therefore, before 1945 sought greater participation in colonial governance and the general amelioration of the colonial state.

In the interwar years (1918–1939), African nationalists were emboldened by clauses in the Treaty of Versailles that expressed the new notion of colonies as a "Sacred Trust." They were also encouraged by President Woodrow Wilson's (1856–1924) fourteen points, which eloquently endorsed the right of small nations to self-determination. The interwar period further witnessed the resurgence of Afrikaner nationalism in South Africa and the rise of settler nationalism in various parts of Africa. These European collaborators with colonialism demanded and got generous concessions from their respective governments, concessions that further ignited African nationalist protests.

Another major impetus in the development of African nationalism during this period was Italy's unprovoked invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in 1935, an aggression that united Africa and its diaspora more than any other event. The complacent attitude of the European countries and the League of Nations toward this invasion gave Africans food for thought.

The Atlantic Charter of 1941, between the United States and the United Kingdom, also encouraged this new form of nationalism in Africa. By this charter British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) declared on behalf of their countries to "respect," after their victory in World War II, "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live." And yet in November 1942 Churchill declared that he was not prepared to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. African nationalists retorted that if it was wrong for Germans to control and govern the French, it should also be wrong for Europeans to control and govern Africans, but this view made no impression on the Allied powers. This hypocrisy helped to demonstrate to African nationalists that Europeans had no intention of leaving Africa soon.

The aftermath of the war, especially the creation of the United Nations (UN), changed that perception. The charter of the UN, which replaced the discredited League of Nations, was anticolonial; it replaced the "mandated territories" of the League of Nations with "trusteeship territories." Further, each colonial power was required, despite stiff opposition, to make annual reports on each of their colonies to the UN. In addition, colonial peoples could send delegations to the UN to air their grievances. A major aspect of the aftermath of World War II was, indeed, the weakening of colonialism and the colonial system. This was the reverse of what happened after World War I. While the colonial powers and colonialism emerged stronger after World War I, they emerged very much weakened after World War II. In fact, colonialism was in decline globally. African nationalists, aware of these developments, worked diligently after 1945 to build greater political consciousness among the African masses. Once they were able to do so, it became clear that the days of colonialism were numbered.

Economically, the role of nationalists in Africa was limited. They were, however, able to use the economic difficulties that Africans faced during this period to try to win the masses to their side. The post-World War I economic boom was short-lived. The years 1921 and 1922 witnessed an acute economic crisis, followed by an unprecedented economic boom from which the African colonies also benefited. The ten years of boom, burst, and boom (1919–1929) were followed by the Great Depression (1929–1933), which affected the colonies most adversely.

Africa's nationalists capitalized on this adversity. Their diatribes resonated well with the masses because it had become clear that the economic policies of the colonizing nations were not geared toward African economic development. The colonizers' policies: (1) discouraged industrialization and the acquisition of Western managerial skills; (2) maintained low capital investment in the continent, with the exception of South Africa; (3) encouraged the export of African raw materials at prices determined by the colonizers, and the importation of European manufactured goods at prices also arbitrarily determined by the colonizers; (4) made use of forced labor, often undisguised, to ensure that Africans participated in the colonial economy on terms favorable to the colonizers; and (5) encouraged land alienation, the plantation economy system, low-wage labor, unfair taxation, and blatant exploitation by the European commercial companies. The reality was that the colonial economy, as an extension of the economy of the respective colonial powers, had either destroyed African economies or transformed and subordinated them. This led to African unrest expressed through strikes and boycotts of foreign stores. Of course, the African nationalists carefully ignored the beneficial aspects of this economy because they were in the business of convincing and galvanizing Africans to change from passivism to activism in their fight to undermine colonialism.

Socioculturally, mezzonationalists realized, unlike the colonizers, that African colonial society was not a blank slate upon which Europeans wrote whatever they pleased. Mezzonationalists refused to accept the notion that the relationship between Africans and their colonizers amounted to the relationship between the exiled nobleman Prospero and his brutish servant Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest (ca. 1611), a relationship between gods and lesser mortals. It is true that the colonial period witnessed what may be described as the triumph of Albinism, that is, white supremacy, a euphemism for racialism, which was engaged in the "noble" goal of the "civilizing mission." The clear implication, of course, was that what was African was inferior and uncivilized and what was European was superior and civilized. The great mission, therefore, of the colonial enterprise at the sociocultural level was to rid Africans of the seamier side of their cultures, which the westernizers believed had degraded them, and to gradually regenerate the Africans through the process of westernization.

African nationalists saw clearly the dichotomy between theory and practice, and they denounced the underlying philosophy behind the colonizers' mission. In short, that philosophy was regarded by them as unadulterated racism. That was why Busia and Sithole described racism and white supremacy as the major forces that characterized African nationalism. That was why mezzonationalism opposed racial segregation, whether of the Afrikaner apartheid variety or of the other varieties, however nuanced they might have been. That was why African nationalists preached the ideal of Negritude, the beauty of being black, and mocked the "been tos"—those who after a fleeting acquaintance with European culture in an European country returned to their own countries and began to dress, talk, and carry themselves in a comical effort to out-Europe the Europeans. Some African nationalists stressed cultural purity, but where that was not possible, they stressed the boycott, or as Nigerian activist Mazi Mbonu Ojike (1914–1956) put it rather felicitously, to "boycott the boycottables." And some, who may be described as cultural maximizers, hoped for a cultural synthesis of the best of the old (African) and the new (European).

Throughout the colonial period, these views notwithstanding, there was a continuity of African institutions—which some nationalists exploited as a counterweight to colonial culture. The colonial society, then, was characterized by three cultures—(1) Western, which acted as the superstructure; (2) African, which acted as the substructure; and (3) mixed, that is, culture practiced by those who were no longer at ease because, having been unable to fully assimilate European culture or fully abandon African culture, had found themselves in a morass of cultural and intellectual confusion. In fairness to mezzonationalism, it generally acknowledged the beneficial aspects of Western education, Western Christianity, Arab Islam, and particularly the role that Christianity played, unwittingly, in the development of nationalism. But it also noted the complications that these forces had brought with them, their hypocrisy, and their tendencies toward a suffocating, totalitarian holism that blinded them to some of the noble and beneficial aspects of African cultures.

African mezzonationalism used a variety of media to articulate grievances. These included newspapers and periodicals, literary output in the African languages, student unions, ethnic unions, youth leagues and youth movements, trade and labor unions, and political party organizations. Notable among these media was the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), formed in 1920 by Casey-Hayford (Gold Coast) and Dr. Akinwade Savage (Nigeria). Members of the NCBWA were gentlemen and constitutionalists, and their movement flourished between the 1920s and 1930s before it was overtaken by events. Since the NCBWA was elitist and purely urban, its impact was limited because of lack of popular appeal. Generally, the pace of African anticolonial movements accelerated after 1945.

Mezzonationalism faced three major obstacles. The first was the colonizers' counterpoise intended to undermine it. When it became clear that the momentum generated by Africa's nationalist movement had become irreversible, European colonial governments began to create what they described as a "responsible middle class" to whom political power would be "safely" transferred—that is, those whom they trusted to protect their interests after independence. They also decided to slow down the process of decolonization by giving way in small steps. And most importantly, they adopted the usual and effective tactic of divide and rule.

The divide-and-rule tactic became very purposive when the colonizers discovered that the ethnic unions and trade unions, which had merged to form political parties, had also developed conflicting agendas. The trade unions, for example, supported the faction that was in alliance with conservative trade unions in the colonial countries against those who were allies of radical unions funded by socialist countries. The trade unions also succeeded for a while in using traditional rulership and indirect rule to curb the aspirations of the Western educated elite; when that tactic collapsed by the 1930s, they turned to ethnicity and settler nationalism to achieve the same goal.

Mezzonationalism's second obstacle was created by micronationalism. This was a major concern, but as the anticolonial movement gained strength after 1945, the ending of colonialism seemed to take precedence over all else. The admonition of Ghanaian statesman Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), "Seek ye first the political kingdom," seemed to have had a particularly strong appeal. Even so, in negotiations leading to the transfer of power, efforts were made to protect not only minority interests but also those of the micronationalities. There was, at least, a temporary unity that obscured real problems that were soon to arise in the postcolonial state. The great achievement of micronationalists, mezzonationalists, and the colonizers was their ability to construct an acceptable modus vivendi before colonial rule was officially terminated.

The third obstacle to mezzonationalism was that posed by white settlers. Nationalistic settlers demanded independence from their respective metropolitan governments in the fashion of South Africa in 1910, promising to look after the interests of the majority of nonwhite Africans, just as white South Africans had promised but conspicuously failed to deliver. African nationalists were aware that the successive South African governments, far from being sanctioned for their deliberate failure, were supported by European and American governments for a variety of essentially selfish and, sometimes, racist motives. It is in this context that the nationalist armed struggles that characterized the 1960s and early 1970s should be understood.

The arrogant and generally racist settlers were apparently unaware of, or unconcerned about, the absurdity of their position. They believed that while it was right for them to govern themselves in Africa as a minority group and wrong to be governed from Europe, it was right and proper for them to govern the African majority. Indeed, Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith (b. 1919) and his Rhodesian Front had the confidence to declare the independence of white Rhodesians unilaterally in 1965 and were shocked when their action was universally condemned. When they were forced to face reality by a combination of nationalist armed struggle and international pressure, Smith saw it as a betrayal; his memoirs, interestingly, are titled The Great Betrayal (1997).

In Kenya, although the Mau Mau Revolt of the 1950s was a military failure, it was the catalyst that made possible the independence of Kenya in 1963. In North Africa, the brutal ebullition of the French-Algerian colons (settlers) was suppressed by a combination of the armed struggle of Algerian nationalists and the government of French president Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970). In Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, independence had also to come through armed struggle and international pressure. This was the case in Namibia and South Africa as well.

Mezzonationalism took longer in these countries than in the others to regain independence—and had to resort to long-drawn armed struggle to do so—because the settlers, although a minority, were nevertheless strong enough militarily and numerically to deal effectively with African nationalist armed resistance. But even so, not even the strongest and most numerous of the settlers—in South Africa—were strong enough to halt and reverse the awesome march of African nationalism.

Meganationalism. The interests of this type of nationalism are regional, continental, and biological. Inevitably, these interests conflict with one another, as well as with those of micro- and mezzonationalism. The issue of whether meganationalism can be legitimately regarded as nationalism may be a nice point, but since this form of nationalism was and still is a powerful expression of anticolonialism, protection of geopolitical and economic interests, and racial solidarity, its credentials as a nationalistic movement are as good as any other.

Regional nationalism in Africa manifested itself in the creation of such regional geopolitical blocs as the Brazzaville Group (moderate and pro-French), the Monrovia Group (moderate and largely English-speaking), and the Casablanca Group (radical and opposed to the moderates). These groups, however, had one thing in common: the unity of African states as a powerful force against neocolonialism and as a positive organization for African political, economic, and sociocultural development. They differed on how this goal could be best achieved. Unfortunately, this division sometimes degenerated into incivility and name-calling. Self-designated moderates castigated self-designated progressives and radicals as "socialists," "communists," "militants," and "dictators;" and the so-called radicals dismissed the so-called moderates as "sluggards," "traditionalists," "feudalists," "stooges," and "agents of imperialism." Western ideological and intellectual divisions thus became major factors in the development of meganationalism.

Continental nationalism, epitomized by the OAU, was not isolated from these divisions. It is to the credit of meganationalism that the OAU was formed at all. The most important exponents of continental unity included Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904–1996, popularly called "Zik of Africa") and Kwame Nkrumah. The OAU charter, modeled on that of the UN charter, continues to guide the relationships between African states and between Africa and the rest of the world. It is a document remarkable for its tameness. It had to be so because it had to take into account the interests of mezzonationalism and the continent's international geopolitical imperatives.

The OAU suffered from other difficulties. It was handicapped by the economic and military relationships of some of its members with the former colonial rulers. In addition, the organization was torn by ideological differences within its ranks. And, in spite of the declaration of nonalignment and positive neutrality, by nonaligned nations meeting in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955 in an effort to stay out of the Cold War, there was a perplexing but, perhaps, understandable inconsistency in the postcolonial foreign policies of African states, especially during the Cold War, with moderates generally supporting the former colonial rulers and radicals generally supporting the socialist countries of Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

Biological nationalism is a form of nationalism that exhorts people, in the famous appeal of Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) to the German people, to "think with your blood." The assumption is that consanguinal (blood) relationships, based on some vague common ancestry, should take precedence over other interests. So long as people have been imbued with that state of mind, it did not much matter how pure or watered down the blood is. Thus, proponents of settler nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and the Arab League—all expressions of biological nationalism—were appealing to their supporters to think with their "bloods."

The nationalism of Pan-Africanism and the Arab League (an organization of Middle Eastern Arabs and North African nations founded in March 1945) are discussed here in biological terms because of their emphasis on racial solidarity—Pan-Africanism perhaps more so than the Arab League. It is true that the formation of the OAU de-essentialized the racial factor, which has been its cornerstone, by limiting membership to independent African states. The result was the inevitable sidelining of black Africans in the diaspora, who founded and led the Pan-Africanist movement until the 1950s, and the inclusion of North Africans, who emphasize their cultural and consanguinal relationships with Arabia.

It was not surprising that the sixth Pan-African Congress, which met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1974, did not fare well. Since then, efforts to revive the movement have been unsuccessful. The new Pan-African movement, which aims to bring race back to the forefront and has produced what it calls its "Black Agenda," has largely been ignored. What is clear is that Pan-Africanism, whether of the old or new variety, faces a serious dilemma because of its inherent contradictions. First, it has failed to reconcile the tensions between the continental unity ideal and the demands and realities of national independence. Second, it has been unable to articulate how a movement in a continent comprising six different racial groups could be taken seriously if it is concerned with the interests of one race, which it purports to stand for the whole. Third, it has been unable to find a proper role for Africans in the diaspora all over the world, to whom the Pan-African movement genuinely wishes to appeal.

The Arab League, too, faces contradictions. First, it is estimated that about 70 percent of so-called Arabs inhabit the African continent and yet the focus of the Arab League is not Africa but the Middle East. Second, North Africa faces a major crisis of identity created largely by European colonialism. The Arab League's biological nationalism is, in part, a response to the European impact. But this crisis has become exacerbated as Arabism, Pan-Africanism, and Westernism compete for the allegiance of North Africans.

The third contradiction within the Arab League is the paradox represented by the Egyptian political leader Gamel Abdel Nasser (1918–1970). On the one hand, he contributed much toward the struggle for the independence of Africa; on the other hand, more than anyone before him, he emphasized the Arabness of Egyptians and of North Africans. Before Nasser, "Egyptians," writes Peter Mansfield, "did not regard Egypt as an Arab state at all" but as "primarily" and "African" state whose "interests … were localized in the northeast of the continent" (Mansfield, 1969 pp. 114-115). For Nasser's successors in Egypt, and for other North African leaders with the notable exception of Libya's Mu'ammar Gadhafi (b. 1942), Africa seems to be a gigantic footnote to their interests in the Middle East, their formal participation in African organizations as African states notwithstanding.


To summarize, meganationalism, in all its manifestations, is basically a reaction against European domination and racism. With the regaining of independence, its antiimperialistic rhetoric has become considerably moderated. The emphasis now is on the reinvention of Africa in such a way that it will achieve the ultimate goal of economic and political unity. Such unity will enable the continent to attain a level of economic growth, military strength, and intellectual achievement so that it can become a force for good in world affairs.

Mezzonationalism, too, has moderated its antiimperialistic tone. But, having replaced the colonizers in government, the African leadership has become much burdened by its inheritance. Africa's leadership inadequacies, coupled with the mess left by the colonizers, has led African governments to pursue policies that have galvanized the forces of micronationalism, which are now threatening the corporate existence of many African countries. The conclusion, then, is that it is important to revisit the crucial role of micronationalism in the future political, economic, and sociocultural development of African countries. The new approach will no longer be premised on ethnicity as an unfortunate, back-ward-looking, and divisive force, but rather on its positive attributes, because diversity in unity is preferable to a nebulous and chaotic unity.

see also Anti-colonial Movements, Africa; Assimilation, Africa; Decolonization, Sub-Saharan Africa; Organization of African Unity (OAU); Pan-Africanism.


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