Post-colonial African state and futures of an African age

Post-colonial African state and futures of an African age

Thursday, April 14, 2016 1:51 pm

Berlin Conference 1884-1885. Google pix

Berlin Conference 1884-1885. Google pix

By Ademola Araoye

The Futures of an African age is a hopeful construct-even if perhaps so far only a Babylonian abstraction. The vision of the futures easily elicits agreement but, paradoxically, remains by no means normatively defined. That lack of a convergent normative definition-in terms of basic ideational structures to underpin consensual understandings across crucial realms of existence, universally agreed inviolable principles and procedures driving the organization of state and society , clearly articulated common assumptions around relationship of the post-colonial state and its society, especially in relation to the limits of the freedom of the state, as well as the construction of a structure of axioms to direct intra societal relationships across Africa’s artificially contrived demarcations. Flowing from these pervasive comprehensive anomie is a dearth of common ideational pivots to direct Africa’s relationship within its own internal constituencies and the undermining of a solidity of its engagement as one formidable, credible monolithic bloc and voice with a world that has proven brutish and nasty to Africa and its children from antiquity. I often refer to that nemesis of African humanity as the hegemonic External Order.

In terms of the construction of a convergent normative structure, Africa unfortunately, is at sea. The misalignments and incongruence on these vital determinants of a normative definition of the futures of an African age explain why the modalities to arrive at what constitutes the end station of the Futures of an African age are constantly being refined and deferred. The attainment of a universally acclaimed character of the futures of the African age has remained an illusion also because the post-colonial African state has become stoutly anachronistic in the context of the transcendental challenges of Africa, including critically a distorted spirituality of its peoples.

The state in Africa has become an impediment to the project of a futures of an African age. Consequently, the post-colonial African state and its various aggregations at the sub-regional and continental levels have been characterized by existential crisis without let since their emergence in the international states system six decades ago. Not even the transformation of the Organization of African Union to an African Union, a symbolic metamorphosis to emphasize a commitment to an era transformative engagement, has impacted on the entrenched destructive internal operative protocols of the organization. In this maligned universe of contemporary Africa rooted in the appropriated freedoms of its peoples in the last six decades, the natural order of things is subverted. The illogic is enthroned. The rational is scantly rationed.

Accordingly, some surmise, and I am sympathetic to their viewpoint, that the periodic refinements of a vision of this futures is merely a cyclical and barren routine of a permanently deferred hope. The challenge then is how to break this vicious cycle of an elusive Futures of an African age. And there is a certain immediacy to this historic task. Again, the challenge of Africa’s Futures recalls the existential dilemmas of a living ghost, a reference to what I term an Aidooian idiom, torn between taking the road to Elmina or, in this instance, should Africa be Cape Coast bound. Both destinations symbolizing two unbridgeable horns of a dilemma. In a more salient expression in the context of this conversation, should Africa in looking to the futures of its anticipated age in the retention of its current configuration or is a de-linkage from, a complete rejection of its failed contemporaneous organizational structures, protocols, values, procedures and arrangements- the totality of the panoply of the structures of mis-governance and associated relationships as well as apparatuses- a critical imperative of a futures for an African age.

In other words, how can Africa move from its status as a consolidated subordinated continental space that is located in the tangential subsidiarity of the enterprises of others. Africa as an appendage to the interest of other forces. In deploying the imagery of a living ghost for Africa, I borrow from the creativity and imagination of Ghanaian playwright Ama Atta Aidoo. Her Dilemma of a Ghost captures the eternal dilemmas of the peoples of Africa in the fruitless romance with its brand of a deprecated and depreciated modernity.

In pursuit of this, every so often a template is designed around the futures of Africa, including the Lagos Plan of Action for Economic Development launched in 1980, thirty six years ago, by the Organization of African Union. Many new but similar templates after, lately Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, by the African Union, successor body to the OAU, was unveiled. Agenda 2063 prides itself as focused on a global strategy to optimize use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans. These two and the numerous strategies in between them are presented with fanfare in a reaffirmation of the determination of the peoples of Africa to achieve what I like to term as the holistic emancipation of its people. That is the constantly deferred end station-ultimately.

To compound today’s attempt at building a compass to permanent emancipation of Africa is the reality that the choice of the Post-Colonial African state, especially in the context of the Futures, as a central theme of reflection presents its own dilemmas. Political correctness in discourses imposes its own strictures-the imperatives to formulate narratives of hope- expressed in the assumed obligation to project what they term Afro-optimism. Thou shall neither hear, nor see, nor sniff evil. Thou shall speak no evil is the preeminent mantra of the continent’s age of horrendous moral abdications. I promise that I shall speak no untoward evil, because the towering inspiration of some of the ideas that drive this continuous search for the challenges to development never spoke evil. He however spoke with unvarnished candour in an age of historic cross roads marked by horrendous turbulence that have become defining milestones of world history. It was world history as Europe groped for the way forward through its two catastrophic European wars.

Francis Rory Peregrine Anderson or better known as Perry Anderson is a British diplomat, historian and political essayist. Renowned as a specialist in intellectual history, he is often identified with the post-1956 Western Marxism of the New Left. His distinctive mark being his preference of continental Marxist essayists and dialectics over those of his British compatriots. That earned him not a small measure of antagonism in the circles of his British compatriot leftist comrades. Even though I confess to having scant credentials of a Marxist, as a bloody McDonald’s and KFC whooping consuming Nigerian international bureaucrat, I take my inspiration for today’s discursive ruminations or better still lamentations from this giant. I am not apologetic about this, I would not be the first to appropriate pivotal analytic concepts from the left into interpretive currents of bourgeois investigations.

Perry Anderson states that one of the basic axioms of historical materialism is that the secular struggle between classes is ultimately resolved at the political level-not at the economic or cultural-level of society. More profoundly though in relation to the question of the post-colonial state and the Futures of an African age is Anderson’s eternal truism around freedom. Anderson is clear that freedom consists in the conversion of the State from an organ superimposed on society into one completely subordinated to it, and today too, the forms of the state are more free or less free to the extent that they restrict the “freedom of the state”.

In effect, freedom entails a constant struggle to achieve an equilibrium or a balance between the powers of the Westphalian state since its formal emergence in 1648 and its society that it has always sought to mold into a nation, then reconstructed into a nationality with supporting narratives to bolster a sense of unity and oneness. The United States of America- the world’s foremost classic modern Westphalian- has deployed this in the concept of the exceptional national character that all nationals are sold on. Italy is one of a cluster of western European states that may be referred to as post-modern states. The crafting of the Italian nationality illustrates this.

Soon after the disparate states of the Italian peninsula was unified to create a single state in the 1860s, Massimo D’Azeglio, the nineteenth-century politician, painter and novelist, uttered the phrase ‘we have made Italy now we must make Italians’. The observation has been interpreted as undergirding the process and success of identity formation in Italy from the time of unification to the current day. The Pinocchio Effect, alluding to the growth impact of the process of nation building in Italy, draws on a remarkably broad array of sources to trace this forging of a modern national identity in Italy. The infusion with nationalist sentiments by D’Azeglio of the topic of an old story for a new people was both successful and pointed: it contained common Risorgimento narratives such as suffering, danger and repression and also an exaltation of individual and collective struggle in defense of the community. Also, the historian Alberto Banti has also argued that through people such as Manzoni, Guerrazzi, D’Azeglio and Hayez, Italians ‘discovered’ or forged the narratives on which is anchored a national community and a common past. This has been the prevalent dynamic in the construction of the nation-state.

Yet the question of the equilibrium between how much freedom society offers the state has proven to be a shifting balance, impacted by the evolving sensibilities of human society and of the emerged lessons of human and global history. Importantly has been the role of technology in diffusing emerging global embryonic sensibilities and forging of common and the expansion of value based identities across national frontiers. Expressions of transnational value circuits such as the Greens, as political parties, purvey a specific common agenda of the global society. There is also Amnesty International as the watch dog of the protection of Human rights in all the nooks and crannies of the globe.



In these enterprises, the specificities and harrowing crucibles of racial history, from slavery, from both the Arab world and Europe, to colonial and contemporaneous neo-colonial dispensation revolving around the very denial of the quintessential humanity of the black race, in the instance of Africa, has impacted the preeminent sensibilities of the people. But this horrific trail from antiquity to modern day has been banished to the sub conscious level at all levels of engagements. The tendency to self-repudiate, including a massive and unprecedented exodus, at the psychical, physical, emotional and spiritual levels, of black identity defectors to whatever assures a semblance of dignity is perhaps the price to pay for survival in a difficult environment of human kind. Yet as the contrived deficits of its social and political organizations reflects, the open manifestations of these sensibilities are reined in by preeminent drivers and local champions of the illogic of Africa’s post-colonial state processes who, as a normative practice, have appropriated the totality of the discursive, spiritual, socio-economic and political spaces across the continent. The failures of the post-colonial African state has had devastating consequences. And worse still, it has a potential to bring to ruin, as manifest in the experience of the last half century, the very concept of the futures of the African age.

I raise this because it speaks to the contemporary circumstances of Africa and of the imperative and centrality of a continental discourse around the axiomatic premises of the continued perceived validity and of the legitimacy of the post-colonial African state. It is imperative in this day and age to interrogate this post -colonial imposing edifice and its complicit state system as the vanguard institutions and instruments of the ultimate objective of the holistic emancipation of Africans. This remains the ultimate goal and the challenge of freedom in all its multi-dimensional ramifications and expressions of contemporary Africa. The current expressions of the post-colonial African state is a historic as they fly in the face of the original thoughts and concepts of holistic African emancipation on the pursuit of the common destiny of all Africans as undergirding the futures of a free and emancipated Africa. Elsewhere, I had alluded to the post-colonial African state as a concrete myth. But a terrible myth for that matter. There is a history to this.

The extant construction of Africa is an important context and a crucial pointer to the evolution of politics in and of African states since independence. This problematic construction reflects the inability of the leaders of Africa in the immediate post-independence era to surmount the fundamental historic challenge in the post-independence era. This challenge was expressed in fractious structures and institutions of a fragile states system that was bequeathed as legacies of colonialism. The main existential dilemma before the continent in 1963 as new states emerged, often variously directed and controlled by the colonial powers, was clearly defined. It was whether in forging ahead in the post-independence era, Africa would maintain the fractious and divisive structure of the evolving continental states system that was based on the outcome of the Berlin Conference of 1884.

At this conference, the imperial powers partitioned the continent according to their national interests. With hindsight the logical option was for Africa to mobilize the will to transcend the contrived divisions and build a strong and viable continental state. The failure of an ideo-philosophically divided leadership of the continent to consolidate the imperial interest driven and colonially designed states system into a one strong and viable continental federation has haunted the evolution of Africa since independence. Such a vision would radically have realigned the continental political geography consistent with the tenets of pan Africanism and in the interests of Africa as a whole.

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