The Challenge of Nationalism in Post-Colonial Africa: Does Nationalism Make or Mar Africa? Essay Sample

The Challenge of Nationalism in Post-Colonial Africa: Does Nationalism Make or Mar Africa?

African countries, having acquired political independence, had many doubts about choosing the further main strategic path. Being focused on overcoming underdevelopment, the newly emerged countries had to bother about protection of national sovereignty. Despite having acquired the territorial independence, the African countries continued to be in the economic and political dependence on the leading countries. It was a basis for unequal participation of the countries of the West and the East in the global division of labour, which led to African peripheral position in the world politics. Despite the dependence of African countries upon their former colonial powers, they gradually turned into a sovereign subject of international relations, which was reinforced by their membership in the United Nations. It enabled the governing elites of the African countries to choose further development of the country. There is a problem of how the choice was made and what it led to. The history of post-colonial Africa is the story of both civil and international conflicts. Due to the lack of experience of life and work in the conditions of democracy in the preceding colonial and post-colonial periods, the African society had to expect anti-democratic movements and acts of anarchy under the slogans of nationalism and democracy. In the context of weak class differentiation and strong racist traditions, basing on the tribal society beliefs and a high level of political confrontation, there is a high possibility of further establishment of new authoritarian regimes. The process of post-colonial development causes an increase in socio-political activity, political consciousness and political culture of the broad layers of the population. Nationalism is one of the consequences of the post-colonial development. It can be both a strong side of the society adding to its development, and a devastation side, which will continue encouraging social degradation and collapse. Focusing on Africa in discussing the challenges of the post-colonial society, the analysis of positive and negative facets will be provided in making the final statement whether nationalism makes or mars Africa.   

Nationalism development in Africa started during the period when its territories were parts of the British and French colonies. In 1950s and 1960s, when Africans began to struggle against the colonial power, a wave of political change touched Africa and the colonial system was broken, having allowed the territories to gain independence. It became possible after African people united to restore their sovereignty. Thus, nationalism in Africa emerged as the process of the struggle for freedom from European domination, which led to the emergence of new nations, as well as economic and political transformation of the continent. It is important to state that the notion of nationalism has a very contradicting nature. That is why the analysis of nationalism in post-colonial Africa cannot be considered without the understanding of the situation that occurred on the territories before decolonization. Being colonies, the states still tried to conserve their identity to remain Africans.

Overall, nationalism can have both positive and negative aspects. Despite the fact that nationalism is perceived as something negative in the contemporary world, the African history shows that nationalism is an absolutely necessary part of social development. Nationalism is not the only way out, but in some cases it encourages people for actions, which lead to social development. Of course, every nation should honor, respect and follow their customs and traditions, unique culture and language. However, when nationalism becomes violent and promotes the ideology of “purification” and “uniqueness” of one particular nation, the rise of one national culture over another, the disrespect to another identity, cultural traditions of national minorities and similar issues, it cannot be accepted in any form, it cannot be justified by any ideology. Such ideas and movements only harm the world community. Nazism and extremist ideas create risks for social development. Having considered the example of African nationalism development in the post-colonial period it is possible to find the remnants of positive and negative sides of nationalism’s development and identity, which brings segregated consequences on different layers of population and ethnical belonging.  


Nationalism is a very complicated and contradicting notion, which requires a detailed analysis. Nationalism is primarily a political principle, the main idea of which is the coincidence of political and national units. This principle can help in explaining nationalism as a feeling and movement. The feeling of nationalism is a feeling of resentment provoked by the violation of this principle, or a feeling of satisfaction due to its implementation. Nationalist movement is inspired by the feeling of nationalism, which can be ruined in many ways. The boundaries of the country cannot cover all the relevant representatives of the nation. At the same time, while covering the representatives of the nation in the frames of one country, it is possible to include strangers. The third variant of the situation’s development is that both the boundaries of the state cannot cover all the representatives of the nation and some of them include representatives of another nation. Moreover, a nation can live without mingling with strangers in many states without having their own national country. There is another form of violation of the principle of nationalism. In case the government belongs to another nationality, it is considered a crucial and unacceptable political norm. Such situation can be a result of a merger of the national territory between more states or by the dominance of foreign groups. Also, such process as decolonization supported by the struggle for independence can be considered as a reasonable cause of violating the principles of nationalism.

Political sense of nationalism initiates the most vehement debates. On the one hand, being a tool for achieving national unity and independence, it is considered to be a progressive and liberating force. On the other hand, it can be used as a tool of violence, armed expansion, and wars in the name of the nation. Therefore, it may be reasonable to consider nationalism as a holistic political phenomenon, described as a collection of “nationalisms”, a set of traditions, which recognize the political importance of the nation in their own way. It is important to understand that the nature of nationalism is explained by the circumstances which preceded national movement, and the political goals it pursued. When nationalism is developed as a reaction to the dominance of the conquerors and colonizers, it is certainly the liberating force associated with the ideals of independence, justice and democracy. However, when nationalism appears to be a product of the collapse of social and demographic changes, it usually turns into isolationism, provoking racism and xenophobia.

The focus of the current study is selected not by chance. The analysis of nationalism in the already set countries is a result of propaganda. That is why, understanding the reasons of nationalism in the countries with long-term history cannot explain the reasons of its development. Moreover, such studies will not give a clear picture of what nationalism is and what consequences it brings to the countries in general. African countries are relatively new states, which obtained independence not many years ago. Another interesting fact is that African countries acquired independence under the political principles, not under the national ones and the role of national identity in the development of these states will be considerable. Despite the fact that the main purpose of the current study is not to analyze its reasons but to see its effect on the country, the emergence issues will be touched upon since the problem of nationalism have not occupied the African countries yet and this aspect is still studied under the pressure of time and the constant changes that currently occur.

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The History of Nationalism Development in Africa

Nationalism has developed in African countries during the period of post-colonization. It became an issue of racial capitalism, which emerged from the greater political projects contradicting apartheid. Fifty-five years have passed since the time when the African countries have acquired independence. Having been divided into political countries, nationalities were not taken into consideration. As a result, nation-state countries did not coincide with national borders. According to wa Muiu: 

Various ethnic groups were divided between different countries as is the case of the Somali who are in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. The Masai were also divided between Kenya and Tanzania. The Hausa were divided between Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

Being a colony, African society considered themselves as the Africans, but with the split of colonies the division was observed. Adibe imposes an idea that the problem of national identity appeared with the process of decolonization since being a part of a colony, African considered themselves as Africans’ without any division. The embodiment of nationalism in the nation-states begins after the ethnical groups understand that the goals they pursued while searching for independence were not achieved in the way they wanted and thus their expectations were ruined. Significantly, the expectation of different layers of the population varied due to the level of personal development and education.

A special attention deserves a fact that the countries with higher economic development have higher level of nationalism than the countries with lower economic achievements. This is explained by better education and urbanization of the nation, which leads to a higher rate of awareness. Nowadays, African countries do not have a set and stable vision of their position in the surrounding world. They do not understand their place and role in the foreign politics. However, political and intellectual life of the country leaves their imprints. Having started its development from the education, national identity shifted towards politics and economics. The decolonization history has started with personal understanding of becoming a separate state. Having appeared under the conditions of having new boundaries, it was obvious that the population had to reconsider themself, they had to understand new identity within new frames and to accept the fact that having become independent they had to form their life in the presence of national pluralism.

The history of post-colonialism in Africa has begun with acquiring independence, which was followed by violence, ethnic wars, terrorism, religious conflicts, and constant regime changes. Having appeared in one and the same country, people did not considered themselves as the members of the newly emerged society. They did not identify themselves as a part of the nation-state, most African people consider themselves a part of their ethnic identity and only after it referred themselves to any of the countries. Therefore, the emergence of nationalism in Africa occurred in the circumstances of misunderstanding and confusion. The problem of nationalism in Africa and, therefore, the contradicting consequences it has on the states, is based on the absence of the common ground for national identity development and this path was passed by system of trials and errors. Thus, the nationalism as it is seen in the contemporary Africa is rather contradicting and to understand whether it makes or mars Africa, it is essential to grasp the main idea of nationalism and national identity and Africa.

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Having considered Nigeria as an example of the history of nationalism development in Africa, it should be started with the times when it was a part of the British colonial system. Being an extremely diverse country with hundreds of ethnic groups, the country was also divided by the religious sign, involving Muslims and Christians. Belonging to British colonies, Nigeria at that time already started its state formation. Having divided the state into regions, national sign was the basis for this division. The local state clearly understood that national segregation can cause many problems if inappropriately treated. However, even such division did not satisfy all layers of the population and minority expressed their dissatisfaction with raised tension inside the regional division. Therefore, this example shows that national identity in Africa can be based on inner conflicts within the territory. Other examples of nationalism exist when the issues of personal identity are rooted in the tribal division (Kikuyu). The whole African continent is focused on nationalism and national identity since the problem remains open. Being present in the relatively new states, nationalism has not obtained the frames it should. Therefore, the understanding of nationalism in post-colonial Africa should be gained starting with the acceptance of its history and specification of each process on the territory of past colonies to see what is going on and how the colonies influenced social formations.

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Nationalism in Post-Colonial Africa

Speaking about nationalism in post-colonial Africa, it is important to mention, that the process of post-colonial national identity developed in three stages. The first stage was the declaration of independence. However, having acquired legal freedom, African countries received many problems connected with the states formation, which led to neocolonialism, the second stage of the national identity formation. At this stage the African community assimilated with the previous colonial countries. Having no personal understanding of government, state formation, educational system and many other facilities required for state functioning, African governors based their solutions on the past experience of European states. Having gone through this stage, African countries have entered the third stage of the formation of national identity, which is characterized by the raised level of nationalism which highlights the desire of the African community to acquire national identity and to understand themselves as the part of the world. Being an isolated continent, Africa must develop self-reliance in the frames of independently taken nation-state.

The feeling of the new identity and nationalism development is an essential part of any nation which develops under the process of post-colonialism. Under the circumstances, people experience the need to remove the blockage and rethink their personal identity. However, the process of national identity rethinking is impossible without the close analysis of the past. Imperialism, slave trade and colonialism are three main processes that show a great amount of influence of the modern African national identity. Diving into history, it is obvious that the notion of Africans was related to Ethiopians, who were sold in slavery. Therefore, identifying themselves as Africans, people relate themselves to the history of the region despite their social, political, and ethnical belonging. It is impossible to rethink personal belonging to a particular race. Therefore, racial belonging still remains the center of rethinking the personal identity. The “native question” remains the center of human consideration in post-colonial Africa. People need time to reconsider them as a part of new society, which only begins its formation and development.

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Nationalism in the African countries is expressed in several means. Falola has offered the following varieties of nationalism, “in the image of the other” and “Africa for Africans”. Each of these types of adds to positive and negative features of the society’s development. Analyzing the period in African history immediately after decolonization, it can be remembered how African society acquired Western education, political process, social needs, “judiciary, police and bureaucracy”. However, such state of affairs was not acceptable to some people and in showing their nationalism they preferred to refer to some Western features only trying to develop personal system. Such type of nationalism was not aggressive and in the process of natural assimilation, Western and European characteristics would fade on the background on national African features. However, the supporters of this nationalism wanted to create ideal African society of their vision, immediately having borrowed some ideals from outside.

Another form of nationalism offered by Falola is a more aggressive one, based on the idea that Africa should be developed under the national flags, without referencing to any other countries with their ideas and practices. Having a desire to build an absolutely different Africa without any Western influence, the supporters of this stream made a decision “to create an assertive, patriotic elite with a desire for empowerment and solutions in African traditions and values”. Nationalism is a way how one person sees him/herself in the surrounding world. Personal and corrective identities are the components of nationalism. Seeing the situation from the current perspective, it is important to understand that aggressively minded people can hardly bring any benefit to the country. Living in the modern world of globalization, the assimilation of cultures and the presence of different nations within one political state is a normal situation.


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Despite the fact that African national development was influenced by the European countries, one of the significant differences of African nationalism from European one at the beginning of its development is the way how it was understood. African nationalism was not based on identity; it was developed in line with the aspects contradicting with the European nationalism. Living under the colonization of European countries, African people tried to confront themselves to European in their search for nationalism and initially they did not recognize their identity. Having divided nationalism into spiritual and material domains, African people focused on religious development, which further formed their cultural vision of the issue.

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