…Despite our struggles, we are still stuck in the 19th century and our souls continue to revolt in rejection of the realities carved by aliens with neither context nor consent.
By Olúwáṣèyí and Adejumo David Adebayo
This work is in collaboration with Adejumo David Adebayo. He provided the research used for this piece which is the first of many contributions to Àṣírí Ọ̀rọ̀. There are a few maps presented throughout the article, please spend a few moments digesting them.
African Nations and Civilisation were disrupted 138 years ago at an event in Berlin, Germany called the Berlin Conference, Congo Conference or West Africa Conference. Today’s boundaries, which are a legacy of the colonial era, and the resulting languages through which we express our realities also follow these colonial claims over our respective existence as Africans.
These claims continue the centuries of humiliation where even today we lack any true nation on the continent which reflects the wishes of the indigenous people, their ethnicity, culture and civilisation. Though a limited few are free of this curse, the sovereignty of Africa’s true nations which was stolen continues to be held hostage.
In most of these African countries with white settlers, colourism exists in addition to apartheid that favours white settlers against the indigenous people. In these states, creating a racial consciousness towards promoting Black/African solidarity as a common factor becomes a necessity. During this period, ethnic consciousness is jettisoned or reduced for the sake of solidarity against a common white settler threat, until such a time when the threat posed by this alien group and their hegemonic status is nullified.
But in West Africa, white settlers were unable to entrench themselves despite repeated attempts at carving a colony to settle. Therefore, the absence of a settled white population and its resultant threats has led to a more pronounced ethnic consciousness over race.
Foundations of a Nation
A nation is born from commonalities of groups that exist within its bounds. Observing the different nations of the world across different continents, a pattern emerges especially in terms of the economic success and stability of such nations. A common pattern with these nations is the homogeneity of their societies. Although, a Mono-Ethnic country is a rare find, however, the stability of nations can be observed to correlate to how homogenous they are.
To be homogeneous is to be of the same or a similar kind, it is not the absence of difference. Homogeneous countries consist of groups with shared history, roots, ideology, spirituality, culture, civilisation, etc. All this and others work together to form a binding force, a myth, and a civilisation on which a nation is built. It’s not a lack of differences but the presence of a high degree of similarities that reduce the complexity of these societies because they are more likely to agree on the fundamental principles that will guide their collective consciousness towards a shared goal. There are always others in such societies as you observed in nations across the world but one group, one identity, one ethnicity, one civilisation forms the bedrock of these nations around which others gather.
An interesting observation of note is that in most of these nations, they are named after the major ethnic block that dominates the country with their language, culture, history, spirituality and civilisation. Some examples are Finn – Finland, Russian – Russia, Indo-Aryan – India, Albanian – Albania, Lithuanian – Lithuania, and Nauruan – Nauru, just to name a few. The full list of countries and their ethnic composition can be found here.
The principle of homogeneity can be found in many nations formed by indigenous people across the world and to this day differentiates them from the colonial corporations that litter the subcontinent of Africa. In East Asia, Japan is home to the Japanese, Korea to Koreans, and China to the Chinese (over 90% of the more than 1.4 billion population belongs to the Han ethnicity).
In most African countries, a clear majority ethnic block does not exist as states are split between different groups with very little in common beyond relative geography and skin colour. At times, these groups are ancient antagonists who are still in a state of war today. This is why Africa is not known for inter-state conflict but is synonymous with intra-border wars. This pattern is not unique to Africa as the same has been observed throughout history in similar cases exemplified by the recent experience with Yugoslavia and the current Ukraine debacle.
In Africa, the root of this is alien, external, colonial and neocolonial. The Berlin borders were conceived at the 1884/5 Berlin conference. A conference whose result didn’t consider the existing realities, identities, history, culture, animosities, ethnicities and consent of the indigenous people, language, civilisations, borders and nations that existed across Africa then.
The opportunity cost of “Beauty in Diversity”
Africa is the most diverse continent and this conference institutionalised the distrust which is inherent in human nature which borders and distance continue to be the only known remedy. Despite our struggles, we are still stuck in the 19th century and our souls continue to revolt in rejection of the realities carved by aliens with neither context nor consent.
Considering the degree of ethnic diversity in countries across the world, a pattern can be easily observed. Comparing countries, continents and their successes, it can be seen quite simply why some countries may fall behind and struggle to achieve success compared to those success stories we consider the first world.
From previous studies, Africa is the most ethnically diverse continent with its nations equally carrying the same fate. With the world’s 20 most diverse countries, we can easily correlate the degree of instability that has become synonymous with the continent to the degree of ethnic diversity of the countries found in it. Although there are many contributing factors, this is primarily a result of the colonial legacy born as a consequence of the Berlin conference.
It is important to note that our actions/inactions perpetuate this reality even today despite compounding evidence both lived and historic that point to the deficiencies and ineffectiveness of these borders. Also, it shows a lack of imagination in the leadership on the continent and how they are so intent to kick these issues down the road. It’s a keg of gunpowder that will ultimately explode as we’ve seen in Ethiopia’s case.
In total opposite to their preaching of “beauty in diversity”, the most homogenous societies are Japan and the Koreas. Likewise, European nations enjoy a high degree of ethnic homogeneity. Strong democracy, a stable society, and a peaceful region correlate with ethnic homogeneity. In contrast to their misadventures in Africa and much of the world, several now-global ideas about the nation-state, about national identity as tied to ethnicity and about nationalism itself originally came from Europe.
For centuries, Europe’s borders shifted widely and frequently, only relatively recently settling into what we see today, in which most large ethnic groups have a country of their own. Even certain small ethnic groups like a Sammarinese from the Republic of San Marino (a population of about 34, 000, became independent in year 301 from the Roman Empire), and a Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae from the Federated States of Micronesia (a population of about 105, 000, became independent in the year 1979 of living memory from the USA), both with a nation of their own. Ironically, it is the same group largely responsible for the state of confusion African countries are in, that are largely repulsed by the thought of restoring what was or realigning the borders to a state more conducive to the reduction of strife and competition between ethnicities within the Berlin borders.
From the study of ethnic diversity, internal conflicts appear to be more common in highly ethnically diverse (greener) countries. This might make some intuitive sense given that different groups with comparable “stakes” in their country’s economics and politics might be more willing or able to compete, perhaps violently, over those resources. In the case of Somalia, maybe worsening economic conditions or war make people more likely to further divide along ethnic factions. Good economic conditions and an abundance of resources may reduce these internal conflicts despite the degree of diversity, but that does not mean an absence of conflict or competition. It simply offsets the worst of it to the future at such a time when the conditions are bad enough to allow for them.
A case study of Nigeria
Nigeria, likewise many other African countries fall in the category of the state with the most ethnic diversity. In Nigeria, ethnicity and nationality are two opposing frameworks. It is a country where ethnic consciousness reigns supreme due to the reality of its history as a heterogeneous country without a clear majority ethnic/ethnolinguistic/ethnoreligious group to serve as the core. Evidenced by the realities from the days of regionalism, a major singular ethnicity with its culture, language, spirituality, ideology, and civilisation would have been more likely to create a more stable, peaceful and successful nation than what we have now.
The three largest Ethnicities in Nigeria are Yorùbá, Hausa-Fulani and Igbo, each with its unique language, culture, spirituality, ideology, and civilisation. Three opposing and conflicting fundamental principles with little to no commonalities in many aspects and an unwillingness to assimilate into the principles of the others.
In more homogeneous societies, it is easier to rule more democratically or otherwise depending on the desires of the people. This is because, despite disagreements, the threshold of disagreements morphing into conflict/violence is quite high. Such societies share a bond that can be considered similar to that of a family, with which despite the differences that may exist between them they can easily reach a compromise without the need to utilise violence. These differences at times can be fundamental but as in a family, they have a way of eventually working things out without rarely resulting in conflict. This can be observed with the predilection of the Yorùbá today to set up a table whenever a crisis rears its head, a lesson learnt in blood over the 16-year-long Kírìji war between different Yorùbá sub-ethnic kingdoms.
Identity comes with many complications regardless of how much of a social construct we hope for it to be. As is the case of Ukraine, sometimes an ethnic group can fragment with a section determined to be separate and different from the wider group. In times past, this desire is more easily respected and such groups are afforded the freedom to express themselves in all its implications. But today, the trapping of the so-called “modern states” has served as a prison to cage different groups of people with very little to no commonalities and at times with ancient animosities. They are caged within a “country” with a shared border and through a set of miracles beyond human nature/understanding, they are required by the powers that be – who institute these realities in Africa’s case, to create a success story of a nation.
It’s okay to be different
Diversity does not necessarily correlate with conflicts, but in a country like Nigeria, it is hard not to draw such direct correlations as it’s quite glaring. Nigeria’s diversity coupled with interests has led to nepotism, discrimination, supremacism, hatred, toxic political relationships and instability as evident from its incapacity to move beyond the events of 1966 and the glaring realities that accumulated till today. Although these differences existed during the era of regionalism, it was aggravated by the advent of a unitary structure which costs the constituent nations the semi-autonomy they enjoyed during that period.
It has been repeatedly noted that the regional system was bound to fail as crises were cropping up due to the absence of a clear borderline, conflicting fundamental principles, and near-total autonomy of each region. Perhaps the regional political players understood a bit of this but failed at extending regionalism to the security architecture. If such had been done, we will likely not be here today.
In Europe, states with no clear majority ethnolinguistic group like Switzerland, Belgium and in some ways the United Kingdom (UK) exists. However, the system through which they are governed is not unitary like in Nigeria and each ethnicity has a great deal of autonomy. Despite this, there are still self-determination movements in Belgium and across the UK towards achieving further autonomy from the collective. Without at least a version of these systems, Nigeria’s situation will not improve but rather worsen and eventually lead to a cataclysmic collapse as observed in its exponential slide into barbarism.
Across West Africa, a separation between what is West Africa from the Sahel is a must. From the study of Africa’s climate zones, the borders of what should be considered West Africa can be found in the humid tropical zone.
In Nigeria, the Northeast and Northwest are predominantly Sahel in geography, demography, culture, language, and civilisation. They have an unmistakable similarity to the civilisations of Niger Republic, Mali, and Burkina Faso along with their ethnoreligious values, pro-Islamic civilisation, geography, culture, language, climate, and more. The North-central or Middle-belt of Nigeria has more similarities with Southern Nigeria – the Southwest, South-south and Southeast. These similarities express themselves in their traditions, history, language, culture, civilisation, and more. Although, it must be noted similarities do not connote sameness.
Africa’s Indigenous Nation States
A restoration of what was is a reality we cannot escape. If not today, its day shall come tomorrow. The indigenous people must be afforded the freedom to express their unique identity, culture, language, spirituality, and civilisation, and to have the capacity to protect themselves from the excesses of others within a defined border that assures their self-preservation.
This freedom is theirs to take. As we cannot tell the oppressed how to react, it’s a burden we carry collectively to seek a pragmatic solution that respects the individual freedom of these civilisations which were upended and trapped within alien carved borders without their consent.
A possible reflection of the ethnolinguistic grouping (as shown in the map above) of Nigeria is a path. A realignment along the ethnolinguistic path may serve as the nearest checkpoint we could fall back to. It also provides the minimum viable nations with the most stability. Across these lines are civilisations with millennials of history that have been inherited by groups within these sections who are unwilling to assimilate into others.
To be homogeneous is to be of the same or a similar kind, it is not the absence of difference. Homogeneous countries consist of groups with shared history, roots, ideology, spirituality, culture, civilisation, etc. All this and others work together to form a binding force, a myth, and a civilisation on which a nation is built. … There are always others in such societies as you observed in nations across the world but one group, one identity, one ethnicity, one civilisation forms the bedrock of these nations around which others gather.
The wider region of West Africa can further develop along the principles of economic integration, a degree of collective political consensus for peaceful conflict resolution, and a military alliance in the spirit of NATO to serve as a collective security assurance among the parties and as a deterrence against any external aggression towards the region from either within or outside the continent.
The sham of multiculturalism
Angela Merkel once remarked on the sham of multiculturalism and its dangers. It is important to enforce once again that these experiments being carried out across Africa have been done for an eternity across Europe, America and the rest of the world. The results had always been the same inevitable fate of violence, chaos and distrust, while its solution remains to allow different groups their autonomy to exist in ways satisfactory to them.
“Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies and therefore remains a ‘life lie,’ ” or a sham, she said, before adding that Germany may be reaching its limits in terms of accepting more refugees. “The challenge is immense” she said. “We want and we will reduce the number of refugees noticeably.”
In America, through migration and settler colonialism, the result is the near destruction of the indigenous people in the North of the continent – America and Canada, and the re-population (still ongoing through immigration) of those areas which also serve to dilute the indigenous voices. In the south of the continent, the effects of that history are still evident today.
We must not wish upon ourselves this fate nor should we through our dogmatic belief in realising the colonialist dream enforce it upon ourselves.
It’s okay to be different.
It’s okay to be you.
It’s okay to feel like, indifferent and hate towards others.
It’s okay to be as human as every other group across the world.
It’s perfectly reasonable to want to be independent of others on lands that are yours.
As an African, it’s okay to be just another human being.
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