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OPINION: ETHNICITY, STATE AND NATIONS BUILDING – WHERE THE PROBLEM LIES

The term “Nation-Building” is both old and new. It has been fashionable in the 1960s, and it is taking a back seat right now. “Nation-Building” always has been a highly complex term, encompassing the description of historical experiences, a set of assumptions about “development” of Third World societies, and the policies of Governments North and South that were driven, among other considerations, by the desire to control and expand their own power. These and other aspects and contradictions of terminology still cloud the discussion about Nation-Building today.

The historical debate about Nation-Building had been closely linked to De-Colonization, especially in Africa, and then spread to other areas and policies, like being applied to Viet-nam during the Vietnam War. After the USA left Indochina and with de-colonization mostly completed, “Nation-Building” lost its appeal, both politically and academically. Now, after the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, the concepts and terminology of Nation-Building are experiencing a revival. In quite a few cases we are witness to processes that actually do build state structures or Nations, often on the ruins of their predecessors. In other instances we observe states and multi-ethnic or more homogeneous societies fall apart and break up, sometimes resulting in situations of civil war and chaos: “failing states”. These cases have brought about a new desire at “Nation-Building”, both internally and internationally. This term has been applied to very many countries during the last decade: Haiti, Palestine, Somalia, Bosnia, the Kosovo, several successor-countries of the former Soviet Union (e.g. in Central Asia), Afghanistan, South Africa are only well known examples.

The question of Nation-Building, therefore, again is of importance – either because it is taking place, or because the lack of it is perceived as a key factor in creating chaos and war.

Historically, we can observe that out of several and quite diverse forms of rule and governance along tribal, feudal, personal and other lines “modern” states (and a corresponding state system) have evolved, which generally are centered around bureaucratic rationality. This trend was linked to a tendency that transferred very diverse and localized societies into “Nations” – that is, integrating groups and communities of people and societies into political entities. The preliminary result was the preeminence  of the “Nation-State” as the model and norm of political organization. Nation-Building has been and often still is an ongoing process in numerous societies. It can take decades, or even centuries to be completed, and the process may be relatively peaceful or dramatically violent.

Sustainable Nation building is linked to specific political preconditions, like a functioning national government and state as agents of change and development. Also seen as crucial was an integration of societies along “national” lines, and the overcoming of “pre-modern” or “primordial” communities, often sweepingly termed “tribal”. In this sense, Nation-Building is a strategy to economic and political development. In recent years, Nation-Building often is perceived not just as a strategy to economic development, but also to political stability, especially in post-conflict situations.

Nation-Building can be an approach to political dominance. This often is an aspect of the two points mentioned before, but is brought up as a separate argument here for its political importance.

WHERE THE PROBLEM LIES

Presently, many classical tools for a sustainable nations building in Africa seem to be lacking. But then, empirically, Nation-Building still is taking place, despite the apparent lack of key preconditions. How do we have to reconsider or reconceptualize Nation-Building under conditions of Globalization? Or is it just a flight from reality to the former days of 19th century Nationalism, into a dream world of national independence, self sufficiency and nationalist ideology?

Globalization is not raising serious questions about Nation-Building on a very abstract level. It  creates very practical problems that have to be considered. Historically speaking Nation-Building generally was an inward-looking process, creating or strengthening psychological, political, organizational and geographic borders. It meant to create mechanisms of political, societal and economic rule and regulation, that were supposed to be achieved besides other things an increase of “national” power and wealth. While this did not necessarily imply an even distribution of both among the citizens or subjects of the Nation or nation state it generally meant a high degree of autonomy for the new Nation. Autonomy was both a goal and a means, as it seemed to guarantee the freedom to act independently in favor of the “National Interest”. Today this road to Nation-Building may not have been closed altogether, but it generally is quite difficult to follow now. Uni-polar political dominance on a global scale after the end of the Cold War makes attempts at Nation-Building often subject to foreign consent – as cases like Iraq, Palestine, Kurdistan and others have demonstrated.

Written by Jomo Iroha, a Public Affair Analyst.

[email protected]



This post first appeared on News In Nigeria, please read the originial post: here

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OPINION: ETHNICITY, STATE AND NATIONS BUILDING – WHERE THE PROBLEM LIES

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