Friday, October 21, 2016 2:29 pm
By Ademola Araoye
The sizes of African states, together containing 1.16 billion people, have proven to be the single most impactful or biggest impediment to Africa’s development and emancipation. Ordinarily, the size of a nation may not matter. But the arbitrary division of Africa has clearly been at the heart of the many intractable challenges confronting the continent. These include horrendous governance paradigms, roguery as a norm in the public space, continental governance led by the most iniquitous individuals, and, consequently, pervasive conflicts in African states. The most devastating ill is the capture of the state by individuals and a few families and the perpetuation, by coercion of the population, of the reign of the family dynasty.
These profound deficits of Africa are traceable to the division of the continent into mostly unviable little personal or clan fiefdoms. These have consequently led to complete incapacitation of African peoples to counter overwhelming external influences driving the internal processes governing their lives and from which they are alienated, in the service of the hegemonic forces. This state of affairs has been consistent with the long term strategic plans of the creators of the African state. Unfortunately, the human foibles of Africa’s leadership from independence in the 1960s to date have ensured that the continent has remained stuck in this historic quagmire. In fact, in our age and the generation before us, the most significant folly of Africa has been the great derailment of 1963, when Africa’s mostly egocentric leaders and often serving as mouth pieces of neo-colonial forces erred in their validation of the division of Africa carved out by the European powers in Berlin 1884. Half a century plus a decade after, the gravity of the folly of 1963 has become glaring. In 2016, the prognosis for Africa is not reassuring, especially in light of the current phase of the evolution of the Nigeria state.
The implosion of Nigeria would sound the very final death knell for the flickering residual hope for Africa. Africa must consolidate itself into one viable continental political unit. It is the only way forward, if Africa is to capacitate itself to overcome the historic challenges that have plagued it from antiquity.
Otherwise, nations come in different sizes and configurations. China, the world’s most populous country, has a population of 1.357 billion bounded by 14,000 kilometers of coastline. India’s population is 1.252 billion while the United States of America has 316 million people. There are small sized countries too. Fewer than 40,000 people live in Tuvalu, Palau, San Marino, Liechtenstein, and Monaco. Meanwhile, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, American Samoa, Greenland, and the Cayman Islands each have less than 60,000 people. But these small sized countries have come to terms with the limits of their national aspirations. They do not moan if they do not win a single laurel at the Olympics, even if some manage an improbable trophy or two once a while.
They often exist for a limited scope of reasons that serve the interests of the powerful within their and the circles of those that exploit their beauty and sovereignties for clearly defined gains and dividends. Most African countries, especially the many hopelessly tiny ones, serve these same purposes, but they are disguised by their creators as serious enterprises to assuage the egos of their often megalomaniac leaders. In reality they are mere proxy spaces. Much of francophone Africa, and enclaves such Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea only survive to advance the interest of France or their metropolitan controllers or preeminent donors respectively. Their sovereignties are just as fictive as the island resorts for the rich. The only difference, given the peculiar evolution of Africa, is that the stakes for Africa are higher. The integrity of the humanity of black communities, economic and social development, peace, security and stability are all at stake. For Africa then, size matters. The size of the African state space is crucial. It is, in fact, critical for long term development and stability.
The sizes of countries are the outcomes of choices made and the interactions of individuals and groups that pursue their strategic agenda under certain constraints. In Africa’s case, the original choices were imposed. The imposition was validated by Africa’s early leaders, many of them serving in proxy roles in their neo-colonial status and context. However, the sizes of African states also reflect the personal interests of elites, especially political leaders who have turned the governance of their small holdings into sources of private family wealth. After the 1963 conference, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere recalled that many of the leaders were simply happy to return home still as Presidents.
That was the important consideration for many. Even now, maintaining the status quo is a necessary condition to perpetuate the business enterprise of state presidency. Their sovereignty is fictive conferred only by international legal sovereignty that is respected for as long as it suits the hegemonic forces. Consequently, the miniature sizes of Africa’s state spaces, originally designed more in the interests of the metropolitan creators of the state, pose a challenge. The situation of Africa demonstrates that the impact of size on the fortunes of a people is contextual: in the context of a longitudinal span of its history, including its interactions with the external hegemonic order.
Against this background, 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 are ahistoric as they fly in the face of the original thoughts and concepts of holistic African emancipation through the pursuit of that one common destiny under one common roof 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.
Or would African leaders sacrifice their individual crave to be champions in local and obscure capitals that now litter the firmament by showing courage and conviction by rejecting the inherited partition of Africa. At this 1884 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 a mostly egoistic, self centered and ideo-philosophically disparate 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 the continental public good of Africa as a whole. The crisis in post colonial African states began almost immediately as these colonial political units emerged by fiat in the global inter-state system as independent political actors claiming the attributes of bogus statehood and its implied sovereignty.
As a result of the historic folly, the current configuration of the Africa geo-political space housing a myriad of 56 ostensible sovereign states, quasi states and absolutely sheer non –entities has remained an immovable impediment to any meaningful projections of Africa’s interests. The geo-political reality is daunting. Only five African states, namely Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt , Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Africa each houses more than 5% of Africa’s population. The projected population of these states as at July, 2015 ranged from Nigeria’s 184,264,000, representing 16% of Africa’s population to South Africa’s 55 million people at 4.77% of the continent’s people. 43 per cent of Africa’s population is concentrated in these five states.
Twenty-six African states or 38 per cent have a population of less than 5 million. 26 per cent of African states have a population of less than 2 million. 30 or 54% of states and political entities in Africa hold just about or less than 1 per cent of the population of the continent. Nine states representing 16 per cent of states in Africa have a population of less than a million. On the average, when the five major most populous states are put aside, the average population of the African state is just about 12 million. By today’s standards and given the historical context of Africa in the scheme of global affairs, about 60% of African states are highly unable to extract some value in their own local environments and hopelessly out of reckoning in the global competition for extractive value. The status quo of a badly configured little state spaces in Africa is thus preferred by elite neo-colonial states. This would sustain the enabling environment to dominate the barely viable political entities that parade themselves as states.
The manipulation of these spaces by hegemonic forces include instigating conflict and dominating the mediation processes to ensure that the outcomes are favorable for their continued dominion over the spaces in trauma. Recent examples are the conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others.
The implications are that the modal Africa state is insignificant in the larger scheme of global developments. Half a century into the so called independence of post-colonial African states and two decades into the post liberation in Southern Africa, the African geo-political landscape is configured to ensure that the continent remains out of relevance in meeting the challenges of the futures of an African era. The internal configuration of the small African states has consolidated its irrelevance the global scheme of things. In fact, many of the political non entities are condemned to a permanent dependency status thriving on residues of value disbursement from powerful states to retain their fictive sovereignty. This dependency has had grossly fatal implications. It is often responsible for conflicts in the state spaces of Africa. Conflict is definitively integral to the character of the African state.