LETTERS : Remove Africa's colonial borders

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The Independent Online
From Mr David Ndii Sir: Richard Dowden ("A map does not a nation make", 9 January) goes to great lengths to defend the colonial borders. The fact that territorial disputes between states are rare does not mean that the artificiality of the borders has nothing to do with the conflicts. We Africans do not identify with them, so why should we fight over them?

He correctly observes that internal conflict is caused by the politics of exclusion. It is precisely because our nation states are artificial that politics of exclusion are so pervasive. Africans have no "social contract" with the state. The state does not provide any sense of security. Like its colonial predecessor, it is a predator state. Our affinities are, in order of importance, to family, clan, tribe, continent and state - in Kiswahili, we say "sisi wa-Afrika" (we Africans) to refer to the identity beyond the tribe. That is as it should be.

Mr Dowden wonders how 10,000-odd war-mongering tribes could possibly have evolved into modern states without European intervention. I am amazed that many people in this country use this caricature of precolonial Africa without realising how offensive it is. It is not enough that Europe stole our history, we ought to be grateful for the gift of modernity! There is a fundamental difference between the European and African views of modernisation and technical progress. For Europe, technical progress invokes a strong sense of accomplishment, ignorance about its social and environmental consequences notwithstanding. Organising technical progress needs strong and efficient bureaucracies. But technological wanderlust is not part of our value system in Africa.For us, modernisation is fate. The failure of our modern states is a reminder of our stolen history, and of living other people's destiny.

There is nothing ludicrous about Africans wanting to shift colonial borders. But what Africans are actually talking about is removing borders. Regional integration in Africa is imperative. First, it will help dissipate the rigid ethnic identities fostered by colonialism and artificial states. Second it will weaken the predator state by reducing the attractions of absolute power. Third, interaction through trade and free movement will strengthen African identity.

The modern African state is now a hostage of fortune. We hope that its weakening is the beginning of the end of 100 years of European political intervention in Africa. Should it wither away, we shall not miss it.

Yours faithfully, David Ndii St Antony's College Oxford 10 January

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