Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Rethinking the state in Africa … Whose state is it?

(Professor Ifeanyi Menkiti)
Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Universidade de Fortaleza (paper presented at conference in Wellesley College on “Rawls in Africa” in honour of Professor Ifeanyi Menkiti’s  outstanding career as professor of philosophy at Wellesley for 41 years, Saturday 10 May 2014)
The most reasonable principles of justice are those everyone would accept and agree to form a fair position John Rawls
Political instability undermines human and economic development. And the more that economic and human development is undermined, the more disordered the political situation becomes, creating a vicious circleIfeanyi Menkiti
IN A BACKGROUND paper Professor Menkiti circulated last January on the theme of focus for this conference, from where the quote above is derived, he refers to Kwame Nkrumah’s much popularly expressed assertion, “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto you” 
(, accessed 18 January 2014) and notes that “Nkrumah, in hindsight, appears to [be] more right than he imagined though not for the reasons he imagined”. I couldn’t agree more with Professor Menkiti and it this “though not for the reasons” that Kwame Nkrumah “imagined” that I wish to reflect on in my paper today. I will situate the presentation within the overarching banner of the Rawlsian reference above.
(Thelonious Monk Quartet, “Misterioso” [personnel: Monk, piano; Johnny Griffin, tenor saxophone; Ahmed Abdul-Malik, bass; Roy Haynes, drums; recorded: live, Five Spot Café, New York, US, 7 August 1958])
Failed state(s)?
The concept “failed-state” carries an understandable melodramatic import! It refers to the inability or failure of a state to fulfil some of its key roles and responsibilities to its people(s) and others domiciled within its territory and consequently to its neighbour(s) and the wider global community of states. According to the latest Washington-based Fund for Peace think-tank’s annual research publication, “The Failed States Index 2013”, there are 12 indicators at which state failure materialises and these can be grouped into three broad spheres or categories with respect to the impact on the lives of the people(s): social, political and economic (Fund for Peace, “The Indicators”, [accessed 2 July 2013]). 

African countries, unsurprisingly, fare most poorly at each and across these 12 crucial variables at the centre of the fund’s research, but particularly in the following, with the inescapable crushing consequences on the lives and wellbeing of the peoples:

1. legitimacy of the state

2. rise of fractionalised elite

3. chronic and sustained human rights violation

4. uneven economic development

5. poorly, sharp and severe economic decline

6. massive movement of refugees or internally displaced persons

Thus, the highlights for Africa in the fund’s current research make for depressing reading and are as follows (Fund for Peace, “The Failed States Index 2013”, 
[accessed 2 July 2013]): 16 out of the world’s “worst 20 states”; 20 out of the “worst 30 states”; 34 (well over one-half of all the continent’s so-called sovereign states) of the “worst 54 states”. It is not inconceivable, given this rate of state failure, that in the next six years, by the time the beginning of the next decade, 2020, “54 out of the worst 54 states” in the world could be in Africa!

For the purposes of this paper, the following two key empirical determinants of state failure are keenly explored: (1) the state’s inability to provide security and (2) the state’s inability to provide essential social services. Let us elaborate on each of them:

1.  The state’s inability to provide security to its population – This situation may have arisen because the state no longer exercises control across part/parts or all of its territory. Factors such as catastrophic breakdowns in vital internal sociopolitical and economic relations, intra-regime fractionalism and rivalries, external invasion and occupation of territory, and unmanageable natural disasters would contribute to the failure. It could also be due to the state’s violation of the human rights of the people(s) including a deliberate state policy to embark on the destruction of one or more of its constituent nations/peoples/religious groups, etc., etc.

2. The state’s inability to provide essential social services  (communication infrastructure, health care, education, housing and recreation, development of culture) to its people(s) or the state’s deliberate policy to deny or partially offer such services to some of its constituent nations/peoples/religious groups… This failure could be the consequence of a state’s dwindling fiscal/material resources or just sheer incompetence in its management capacity. Alternatively, this inability points to the staggering nature of corruption and largely institutionalised norm of non-accountability in the access and control of public-owned finances by state officials and their agents.
Christopher Clapham has argued that the concept “failed-state” is “one of those categories that is named after what it isn’t, rather than what it is” (Christopher Clapham, “Failed States and Non-states in the Modern International Order”, paper presented at conference on failed states, Florence, Italy, April 2000,

THIS IS VITAL in the discourse to the effect that a state, such as Nigeria or Sudan for instance, that embarks on the genocide of its population or does not provide basic services for its people or immanently churns out successive regimes that fleece the collective wealth of the country can hardly merit such a definition in social science. All we need do to highlight the obvious flaw in applying this concept in Africa is to reflect on the fact that crucial state functions such as the provision of security, rule of law, a rationalising but flexible structure of management, accountability and open and unfettered competition, especially with respect to regime change, have not been in operation in any African state since the conquest and occupation of most of the continent by a constellation of European countries in the 19th century. Tragically, in the 57 years since the concerted African drive towards the restoration of its independence resulted in the supposedly 1956 breakthrough in the Sudan, followed soon in 1957 by Ghana, the situation has not changed significantly in Africa for the realisation of these attributes of the state.

Ultimately, the major limitation of the use of the “failed-state” concept to assess the catastrophic situation in contemporary Africa is that it confers an unjustifiable presumption of rationality to an enterprise in which a spectrum of outcomes ranging from perhaps “failure” to “outright failure” to “disaster” is predetermined; it is assumed that those who run the state in Africa (Obasanjo, Idi Amin, Taylor, Moi, Habre, Doe, Gowon, Mobutu, Ahidjo, Jonathan, Rawlings, Obote, Babangida, Mengistu, Abacha, Mugabe, Mohammed, Banda, Abubakar, Bokassa, Jammeh, Eyadema, Buhari, Toure, Museveni, Yar’Adua, Biya, Al-Bashier …)  are aware of this test and its evaluative scruples and, like any rational participant, would want to succeed … If they do not do so well, at some instance, so goes the logic, they will try to improve on their previous score and, hopefully, do better … Success is always a possibility! It is on the basis of this possibility that Roland Oliver concludes his own controversial contribution to this debate. If one, for a moment, ignores the gratuitous racism and paternalism embedded in the premise of Oliver’s contribution as well as the highly contestable analytical category on which it is hinged, which I will be focussing on shortly, Oliver notes: “With its overriding population problem, Africa can hardly expect to achieve First World standards of economic development within the next century [i.e. 21st century] but with just a little more day-to-day accountability, it could at least recover the confidence to continue the uphill struggle with more success” (Roland Oliver, “The condition of Africa”, Times Literary Supplement [London], 20 September 1991: 9).  On the contrary, there is limited indication on the ground that African state operatives currently or indeed in the past 57 years have approached statecraft as a challenge to succeed in transforming the lives of their peoples. “Success” is never a goal set along the trajectory of their mission. To that extent, Oliver’s conclusion is, ironically, quite optimistic. Furthermore, it should be noted that given the evidently limited concerns on just “measuring” the scoreboard of performance, “failed-states”’s discourses tend to overlook the much more expansive turbulence of underlying history – the kind of project that is being mounted here in this presentation.

So, rather than relations that bring benefits to many of its people, the state in Africa has “evidently been a source of suffering”, to quote Clapham (“Failed States and Non-states in the Modern International Order”), an imagery consistent with Basil Davidson’s description of the impact of this state on the African humanity as a “curse” (Basil Davidson, Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State [London: James Currey, 1992]).  Richard Dowden also uses a health metaphor to capture the legacy of the African state when he notes, alluding to its genesis: “[this European]-scissors and paste job [has indeed caused Africa] much blood and tears” (Richard Dowden, “Redrawing the outmoded colonial map of Africa”, Independent [London), 10 September 1987]). For her own observation, Lynn Innes is in no doubt that the state in Africa  has created what she describes as a “deeply diseased [outcome]” on the continent (C.L. Innes, Chinua Achebe [Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1990: 151]). The health metaphor stretches even to the psychiatric as Thomas Pakenham observes: “One has only to think of the bloody … wars that followed decolonisation to see the craziness of these lines drawn on maps in Europe by men ignorant of African geography and history” (Thomas Pakenham, “The European share-out of the spoils of Africa”, Financial Times [London], 15 February 1988). Chester Crocker points to the fundamental problem of the state in Africa. It is “not the absence of nations; it is the absence of states with the legitimacy and authority to manage their affairs … As such, they have always derived a major, if not dominant, share of their legitimacy from the international system rather than from domestic society” (Chester Crocker, “Engaging Failing States”, Foreign AffairsSeptember/October 2003: 37). It is this question of alienability that is at the crux of this grave crisis.

THESE REFERENCES help to underscore the lack of consensus among scholars studying the “failed states” of contemporary Africa on the terms of the evaluative parameters of this enterprise including the crucial constitutive timeframes of assessing and therefore concluding when this or that African state “began to fail” or/and when indeed it “failed”. There is a tendency by some experts, including the Fund for Peace, which we referred to earlier, to arbitrarily circumscribe the limit of the focus of interrogation to the so-called African post-conquest epoch (i.e., post-January 1956 – following the presumed restoration of independence in the Sudan from the British conquest and occupation) with the underlying presumption that the state, as formulated and constituted on the eve of the “restoration of independence”, has a definitive and enduring internal logic to its being. I would wish to question this presumption in this paper by arguing that, to the contrary, quite a number of African states were already “failed states” on the eve of the so-called restoration of independence. Furthermore, there is a surprising “missing link” in these studies. Fund for Peace and others do no interrogate the intrinsic capacity and performance of any of these African states on their pivotal role in the global economy all the while, essentially the primary reason for their existence – since their creation. An exploration and a restoration of this “missing link” is very important as we shall realise shortly, and is therefore the primary concern of this paper. It will enable us answer the question posed in the title of this presentation: The state in Africa – Whose state is it?

Contemporary Africa works!

Africa has uninterruptedly been a net-exporter of capital to the Western World since 1981. The thundering sum of US$400 billion is the total figure that Africa has transferred to the West in this manner to date (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature, 2011: 41-42, 176-177). These are legitimate, accountable transfers, largely covering the ever-increasing interest payments for the “debts” the West claims African regimes owe it, beginning from the 1970s. A 2010 study by Global Financial Integrity, another Washington-based research organisation, shows that Africa may have also transferred the additional sum of US$854 billion since the 1970s (“this figure might be more than double, at [US]$1.8 trillion”, the study cautions  “Illicit financial flows from Africa: Hidden resource for development”,
[accessed 25 April 2013]) through illegitimate exports by the “leaderships” of corrupt African regimes – with Nigeria, a state that I have argued severally failed in 1945 whilst still under British occupation (see, for instance, Ekwe-Ekwe: 136), topping this league at US$89.5 billion. In effect, the state, in Africa, no longer pretends that it exists to serve its peoples.

ADDITIONALLY, and this might appear paradoxical,  trade figures and associated data readily obtainable indicate that these African states of seeming dysfunction have performed their utmost, year in, year out, in that key variable for which their European World creators established them in the first place: redoubts for export services of designated mineralogical/agricultural products to the European World/overseas. There are no indications, whatsoever, that any of these countries has found it difficult to fulfil its principal obligations on this accord – not genocidist and kakistocratic Nigeria, no. 16 on the Fund for Peace’s current failed states index; not genocidist Democratic Republic of the Congo, no. 2, which has 80 per cent of the world’s reserves of  coltan,*** refined columbite-tantalite, critical in the manufacture of a range of small electronic equipment including, particularly, laptop computers and mobile phones; not genocidist Sudan, no. 3; not Chad, no. 5; not even Somalia, the world’s  no.1 worst state. This is the context that that seemingly contradictory aphorism, “Africa works”, becomes hugely intelligible. Appositely, the raison d’être of the “state” in Africa is not really to serve its people(s), African peoples; it is, on the contrary, to respond, unfailingly, to the objective needs of its creators overseas. And to that extent, Africa, contrary to popular, predictable perception, is a success, is working!

For instance, thanks to the continuing inordinate leverage that Britain and France, the two foremost conqueror-states of Africa, exercise in these fundamentally anti-African principalities tagged “the state” in Africa, both European countries have a greater secured access to Africa’s critical resources today than at any time during decades of their formal occupation of the continent. France, right from the post-World War II leadership of Charles de Gaulle to the current François Hollande’s has such glaring contempt for the notion of “sovereignty” in the so-called francophonie Africa, ensuring that France has invaded most of these 22 African countries 51 times since 1960 (for an excellent study on French hegemonic control of the finances/economies of these countries, see Gary Busch, “Africans pay for the bullets the French use to kill them”, [accessed 15 May 2013]). As for Britain, sheer greed and opportunism appear to be the guiding principle to attaining its unenviable position as the leading arms-exporter to Africa, including Africa’s leading genocide-states (See, for instance, journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo’s candid insight on the subject in a BBC interview, “UK arming African countries”, [accessed 12 May 2013]).  

Indeed, France and Britain have never had it so good in Africa. This is the background to which the brazenly racist epithet “sub-Sahara Africa” is operationalised currently (see Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe,“‘Do you still read or hear of “sub-
Sahara Africa”?’ … ‘What is it anyway?’ ... ”, [accessed 14 June 2013]).

Those crucial African capital exports referred to earlier, legitimate or/and illegitimate, are funds of gargantuan proportions produced by the same humanity that many a commentator or campaign project would be quick to categorise as “poor” and “needy” for “foreign aid”. In the past 30 years, these funds could and should easily have provided a comprehensive healthcare programme across Africa, the establishment of schools, colleges and skills’ training, the construction of an integrative communication network, the transformation of agriculture to abolish the scourge of malnutrition, hunger and starvation, and, finally, it would have stemmed the emigration of 25 million Africans, including crucial sectors of the continent’s middle classes and intellectuals to the Americas, Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world since the 1980s.

The African drive

YET DESPITE these grim times of pulverised economies and failed and collapsing states in Africa, we shouldn’t ever forget that those who still ensure that the situation on the ground is not much worse for the peoples than it is, are Africans – individuals, working alone, conscientiously, or working in concert with others or within a larger group to feed, clothe, house, educate and provide healthcare and some leisure to immediate and extended families, communities, neighbourhoods, villages and the like. For example, the surgeon who not only works tirelessly in a city hospital, with very limited resources, but uses his scarce savings to build a health centre and an access road in his village with subsidised treatment and prescription costs; the nurse who travels around her expansive health district, unfailingly, bringing care to the doorsteps of the people who neither can afford nor access it physically; the retired diplomat who has mobilised her community to set up a robust environmental care service that has involved the construction of public parks, regular refuse collection and some recycling, after-school free tuition for children with a planned community newspaper in the pipeline; the coach transport operator who lays out scores of his coaches to ferry survivors of a recently organised pogrom 350 miles away to safety; the civil rights activist and intellectual who rallies members of his internet discussion groups within the course of a month’s intense campaign to successfully apprehend a contractor who was about to abscond with millions of (US) dollars worth of public funds meant for a crucial upgrade of an international airport initially built by the community; a stretch of individuals’ programmes of scholarships for students at varying levels of school life, provision of staff salaries in schools and colleges, maintenance of libraries and laboratories in schools and colleges, construction and maintenance of vital infrastructure in villages and counties, etc., etc. These are the authors busily scripting the path of the renaissance Africa.

To cap these phenomenal strides of Africans, the 25 million African émigrés mentioned earlier presently constitute the primary exporters of capital to Africa itself. Africans now dispatch more money to Africa than “Western aid” to the continent, year in, year out. In 2003, according to the World Bank, these African overseas residents sent to Africa the impressive sum of US$200 billion – invested directly in their communities (World Bank, “Migrant Labor Remittances in Africa”, Africa Regional Paper Series, No. 64, Washington, November 2003: 12). This is 40 times the sum of “Western aid” in real terms in the same year – i.e. when the pervasive “overheads” attendant to the latter are accounted for (cf. Fairouz El Tom’s recently concluded informed research, “Do NGOs practise what they preach?”, [accessed 15 May 2013]). 

IN A SENTENCE:  The African humanity currently generates, overwhelmingly, the capital resource that at once sustains its very existence and is intriguingly exported to the Western World. It is precisely the same humanity that those who benefit immeasurably from this conundrum (over several decades and are guaranteed to benefit indefinitely from it, except this is stopped by Africans) have consistently portrayed, quite perversely, as a “charity case”. The notion that Africans are in any way dependent on a European World/Western World or any other overseas’s “handout” is at best a myth or at worst an all-out lie – perpetuated by a circle of academics and in the media who in fact in the not-too-distant-past would have been in the vanguard “justifying”/“rationalising” African enslavement or/and the conquest and occupation of Africa.

Surely, this historic big lie of characterisation can no longer be sustained. Africa is endowed with the human resource and capital resource (in all its calibration and manifestation) to build advanced civilisations provided Africans abandon the prevailing “Berlin-states” of dysfunction that they have been forced into by the latter’s creators as we shall be elaborating soon. Thus, Africa’s pressing problem in the past 57 years of presumed restoration of independence has been how to husband incredible range of abundance of human and non-human resources for the express benefits of the peoples rather than it being fritted away so criminally.

Population and food and future

There has often been a “politically correct” rhetoric bandied about incessantly by some in academia, media and elsewhere who discuss this grave crisis of contemporary Africa in the context of population (as a useful background to this rhetoric, see, particularly, Roland Oliver, “The condition of Africa”: 8, already referred to, and David Attenborough below). Africa, it is concluded in these assertions, requires some “decrease” in its population and/or population-growth as an important measure towards achieving a “solution”. On the contrary, as we now demonstrate, Africa is, indeed, in no way overpopulated. The population argument is usually advanced on a number of fronts. First, there is a “theory” that the given landmass which presently defines Africa and its various so-called 54 nation-states cannot sustain the existing populations, but, more critically, the “projected populations” in years to come. We shall examine the degree to which this “theory” is able to stand up to serious scientific scrutiny first by comparing Africa’s landmass vis-à-vis its population and those of some of the countries of the world.
Africa’s population is currently one billion covering an incredible vast landmass of 30,221,533 sq km or about four times the landmass of Brazil or more than the combined landmass of Argentina, the United States, Western Europe, India and China (all the statistics here on countries’ population, landmass and the like are derived from The World Bank, World Development Report 2012 and United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2012). Ethiopia’s landmass is 1,221,892 sq km, five times the size of Britain’s at 244,044 sq km. Yet Britain’s population of 62 million is three-quarters that of Ethiopia’s 83 million. Focusing on these Ethiopia statistics, particularly, the basis and conclusions of naturalist David Attenborough’s recent discussion on this subject could not, indeed, have been so comprehensively disingenuous (see Hanna Furness, “Sir David Attenborough: If we do not control population, the natural world will”, The Daily Telegraph, London,  18 September 2013, [accessed 23 March 2014]).

As for Somalia, it is 2.6 times the size of Britain but has a population of only 9 million. Sudan and South Sudan provide an even more fascinating comparison. Whilst both countries are 10 times the size of Britain, they support a population of 45 million – about 70 per cent the size of Britain. In fact the Sudans have a landmass equal to that of India which is populated by 1.22 billion people – i.e., more than the population of all of Africa! Britain is one-tenth the size of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has a landmass of 2,345,395 sq km, similar to the Sudans and India. In other words, the DRC is about ten times the size of Britain but with a population of 71 million, nine million more than the population of the latter. Even though the DRC landmass is about twice that of all of Britain, France and Germany (1,275,986 sq km), it has just about one-third of these three west European countries’ total population of 208 million. Inevitably, the evidence does beg the question as to where this population really is! Where are these overpopulated Africans?! Where are they?

Second, let us examine similarly sized countries. France has a landmass of 547,021 sq km close to Somalia’s. However, France’s population of 65 million is about seven times the population of Somalia. Similarly, Botswana is slightly larger than France at 660,364 sq km but with a population of 2 million, a minuscule proportion of France’s. Uganda’s landmass at 236,039 sq km is about the size of Britain’s 244,044 sq km. Yet with a population of only 33 million, Uganda is about half that of Britain’s. Similarly, Ghana’s landmass of 238,535 sq km makes it approximately equal to the size of Britain. Ghana is however populated by only 25 million people, far less than one-half Britain’s population.

SOUTHERN WORLD to Southern World comparisons can also prove useful in exposing the fallacy of either Africa’s “large population” or “potential explosive population”.  Iran’s size of 1,647,989 sq km is about two-thirds that of Sudan and South Sudan combined. Yet its population, unlike the Sudans’ 45 million, is at least one and one-half times as large at 75 million. Mexico´s landmass is 1,943,950 sq km. This is approximately the same size as the Sudans but with a population of 115 million, Mexico is two and one-half times the former. Pakistan´s landmass of 803,937 sq km is just about Namibia’s 864,284 sq km but Pakistan’s population is 174 million while Namibia’s is 2 million! Even though Bangladesh’s 143,998 sq km-landmass makes it roughly one-eight the size of Angola (1,246,691 sq km) as well as that of South Africa’s (1,221,029 sq km), Bangladeshi population at 159 million outstrips Angola’s 13 million and South Africa’s 50 million. If we were to return to our earlier comparisons, Angola and South Africa are about 4-5 times the size of Britain but with one-fifth and four-fifths respectively of the latter’s population. We must ask the two earlier questions yet again: Where are these overpopulated Africans?! Where are they?

Crucial reminders: rich Africa

Finally, we should turn to the question of resource, its availability or lack of it, and therefore its ability or inability to support the African population – another component of Africa’s “over-population” fallacy. Well over 50 per cent of Uganda’s arable land, some of the richest in Africa, remains uncultivated. Were Uganda to expand its current food production significantly, not only would it be completely self-sufficient, but it would be able to feed all the countries contiguous to its territory without difficulty, and GM free too! The overall statistics of the African situation are even more revealing as with regards to the continent’s long-term possibilities. Just about a quarter of the potential arable land of Africa is being cultivated presently (FAO and IIED, “What effect will biofuels have on forest land and poor people’s access to it?”, 2008). Even here, an increasingly high proportion of the cultivated area is assigned to so-called cash-crops (cocoa, coffee, tea, groundnut, sisal, floral cultivation, etc.) for exports at a time when there has been a virtual collapse, across the board, of the price of these crops in international commodity markets. In the past 30 years, the average real price of these African products abroad has been about 20 per cent less than their worth during the 1960s-70s period which was soon after the “restoration of independence”. As for the remaining 75 per cent of Africa’s uncultivated land, this represents 60 per cent of the entire world’s potential (John Endres, “Ready, set, sow”, The Journal of Good Governance Africa, Issue 6, November 2012: 1). The world is aware of the array of strategic minerals such as coltan,*** cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, industrial diamonds, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, titanium, uranium, and of course petroleum oil found in virtually all regions across the continent.

AFRICA REMAINS one of the world’s most wealthy and potentially one of the world’s wealthiest continents. What is not always associated with the profiles of Africa is its vast acreage of rich farmlands with capacity to optimally support the food needs of generations of African peoples indefinitely. In addition, the famous fish industry in Sénégal, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana for instance, Botswana’s rich cattle farms, west Africa’s yam and plantain belts extending from southern Cameroon to southern Sénégal, the continent’s rich rice production fields, etc., etc., all highlight the potential Africa has for fully providing for all its food needs. Thus, what the current African socioeconomic situation shows is extraordinarily reassuring, provided the acreage devoted to cultivation is expanded and expressly targeted to address Africa’s own
 internal consumption needs. Land-use directed at agriculture for food output must become the focus of agricultural policy in the new Africa, as opposed to the calamitous waste of “cash-crop” production for export and/or the more recently observed “land-grab” – parcelling away of land to foreign governments and organisations – occurring across the continent (on this, see the excellent work of Emeka Akaezuwa’s “Stop Africa Land Grab” movement,[accessed 14 May 2013]).

It is an inexplicable and inexcusable tragedy that any African child, woman, or man could go without food in the light of the staggering endowment of resources in Africa. Africa constitutes a spacious, rich and arable landmass that can support its population, which is still one of the world’s least densely populated and distributed, into the indefinite future. There is only one condition, though, for the realisation of this goal – Africa must utilise these immense resources for the benefit of its
 own peoples within newly negotiated, radically decentralised sociopolitical dispensations which must abandon the current murderous “states” or “Berlin-states” as they should be more appropriately categorised (Ekwe-Ekwe, Readings from Reading: 27, 41, 44, 69, 200). These principalities that dutifully go by the very gibberish names of their creators (Nigeria, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, Central Africa Republic… whatever!) are an agglomeration of inchoate, inorganic and alienating  emplacements that have been an asphyxiating trap for swathes of African constituent nations with evidently distinct histories, cultures and aspirations. 

John Rawls: “outlaw state” or “rogue state” or genocide state and that expanded focus on interventionism from “liberal people”

We now no longer require any reminders that the primary existence of these principalities is to destroy or disable as many enterprisingly resourceful and resource-based constituent peoples, nations and publics within the polity that are placed in their genocide march and sights.  Here, the example of the Igbo people of  Biafra, southwestcentral Africa, cannot be overstressed. This is one of the most peaceful and industrious of peoples subjected to the longest-running genocide of the contemporary epoch by the Nigeria state. The Igbo genocide is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. It inaugurated Africa’s current age of pestilence. During the course of 44 months (29 May 1966-12 January 1970) of indescribable barbarity and carnage not seen in Africa since the German-perpetration of the genocide against the Herero, Nama and Berg Damara peoples of Namibia in the early 1900s, the composite institutions of the Nigeria state, civilian and military, murdered 3.1 million Igbo people or one-quarter of this nation’s population. Britain, presumably one of the societies aspiring to the Rawlsian conception of “well ordered societies” (John Rawls, A Theory of Liberty, 1999: 4-5), and home of “liberal peoples”, actively supported the Igbo genocide politically, diplomatically and militarily – right from conceptualisation to execution (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Britain and the Igbo genocide – now for the pertinent questions”, [accessed 4 May 2014]). Given that genocidist Nigeria state is clearly equivalent to Rawls’s characterisation of the “outlaw state” or “rogue state”, a serious crisis indeed arises how a “justifiable war” could be waged against such a state (John Rawls, Law of Peoples, 2002: 81, 93) whilst ignoring the expanded focus on a separate kind of state, Britain, representing a “liberal people”, which is simultaneously deeply involved in the prosecution of this genocide.

TO UNDERSTAND the politics of the Igbo genocide and the politics of the “post”-Igbo genocide is to have an invaluable insight into the salient features and constitutive indices of politics across Africa in the past 50 years. Africans elsewhere remained largely silent on the gruesome events in Nigeria but did not foresee the grave consequences of such indifference as subsequent genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan (all three in the Sudan) and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in other wars in every geographical region of Africa during the period have demonstrated catastrophically. Just as the Nigerian operatives of mass murder appeared to have got away without censure from the rest of Africa, other genocidal and brutal African regimes soon followed in Nigeria’s footpath, murdering a horrifically additional tally of 12 million people in their countries considered “undesirables” or “opponents”. These 12 million murdered in the latter bloodbaths would probably have been saved if Africans and the rest of the world had intervened robustly to stop the initial genocide against the Igbo people.

Post-“Berlin-state” Africa: Freedom – create your own state today, now

It is abundantly clear that the factors which have contributed to determining the very poor quality of life of Africa’s population presently have to do with the nonuse, partial use, or the gross misuse of the continent’s resources year in, year out. This is thanks to an asphyxiating “Berlin-state” whose strategic resources are used largely to support the Western World and others and an overseer-grouping of local forces which exists solely to police the dire straits of existence that is the lot of the average African. As a result, the broad sectors of African peoples are yet to lead, centrally, the entire process of societal reconstruction and transformation by themselves. Surely, an urgently restructured, culturally-supportive political framework that enhances the quality of life of Africans is really the pressing subject of focus for Africa.

One immediate move that states across the world, especially Britain, the leading arms exporter to Africa, and the rest of the West, Russia and China and others can make to support the ongoing efforts by peoples across Africa to rid themselves of such frighteningly genocidal and dysfunctional states is to ban all arms sales to Africa. This ban must be total and comprehensive. A total and comprehensive arms ban on Africa will radically advance the current quest on the ground by Africans, across the continent, to construct democratic and extensively decentralised new state forms that guarantee and safeguard human rights, equality and freedom for individuals and peoples. Africans have both the vision and the capacity to create alternative states – for them it is an imperative upon which their survival is based.

FORTY-SEVEN years and 15 million murders on, Africans finally realise that there cannot be any meaningful advancement without abandoning this post-conquest state, this “Berlin-state”, essentially a genocide-state. This state is the bane of African existence and progress. It is in the longer-term interest of the rest of the world, especially in the West, to support African transformations initiated by the peoples rather than the “helmspersons”/“helmsconstituent nations” ostensibly entrenched in the hierarchical architecture that maps the typical continent’s genocide-state. Just as in Berlin in 1884-1885 when conquering Europeans formulated their gruesome charter for the occupation of Africa, states are not a gift from the gods but relationships painstakingly formulated and constructed by groups of human beings on planet earth to pursue aspirations and interests envisioned and articulated by these same human beings. 

Aimé Césaire, the poet, playwright and essayist, once told an interviewer (Annick Thebia Melson, “The liberating power of words: An interview with Poet Aimé Césaire”, The Journal of Pan-African Studies, Vol. 2, No 4, June 2008, [accessed 26 February 2014]) during one of those illuminating discourses of his on history: “History is always dangerous, the world of history is a risky world; but it is up to us at any given moment to establish and readjust the hierarchy of dangers” (2008: 7).  It is indeed in the very course to disrupt and “readjust” this hierarchy in this age of pestilence in the “cursed” (Davidson, 1992) “Berlin-state” in favour of Africa and African peoples that the constituent Africa nation or people (Igbo, Darfuri, Gikuyu, Wolof, Ibibio, Bakongo, Jola, Mongo, Akan, Luba, Ndebele, Mende, Serer, Bamileke, etc., etc) – so long maligned, so long impoverished, so long brutalised, so long humiliated and dehistoricised with often unprintable epithets (t****, n****, n*****, n******, p********, b******, w**, sub-*******, sub-*****, e*****, c***, c******, m*****, d******, h*******, f******-b******, b****, m***, b********, c*******, b*********…), so long massacred, is recognised, at last, as the principal actor and agency of its being and geography.

So, for all African peoples or nations, the message on the unfurled banner for their freedom march couldn’t be more confident and focused:  “We are because we are free; We are free because we are”. Abandon the “Berlin-state” now. Create your own state today, now. Now is the time! This nation, this people, can and should create its own state if it so desires. Freedom. It is its inalienable right.
( [accessed 1 May 2014].) 

IT DOES NOT, therefore, have to explain to anyone else why it has embarked on this track of freedom. It can now decide what precepts, what aspirations, what trajectory, what goals, it has set its new state to embark upon. As Césaire deftly puts it in the interview referred to, the challenges of the times become the “quest to reconquer something, our name (sic), our country … ourselves” (2008: 2). 

Thus, the  pressing point to reiterate here is that the immediate emergency that threatens the very survival of African peoples is the “Berlin-state” encased in African existence coupled with the pathetic bunch that masquerades here and there as African leaderships but whose mission is to oversee this enthralling edifice. African women and men will sooner, now, rather than later, abandon this fractured, fracturing, conflictive, alienating and terror contraption. Africans must now focus on real transformation – the revitalisation and consolidation of the institutions of Africa’s constituent nations and polities, or what F Nzegwu has described, succinctly, as the “indigenous spaces of real Africa” (Nzegwu, Love, Motherhood and the African Heritage, 2001: 41). In these institutions and spaces of African civilisation lie the organic framework to ensure transparency, probity, accountability, investment in people, humanised wealth creation, respect for human rights and civil liberties, and a true commitment to radically transform African existence.

***Refined columbite-tantalite, coltan, is critical in the manufacture of a range of small electronic equipment including, particularly, laptop computers and mobile phones; 80 per cent of the world’s reserves of this mineral is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is being currently subjected to a genocidal conflict where 5 million people have been murdered since the 1990s.

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Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe


  1. Prof., I discussed the theory of state formation by Diop with my students last week and we covered the range from the African Mode of Production type of state that was peaceful and welfarist to the genocidal state of minority classes ruling over the majority. Your theory of the post-genocidal state offers hope that the state does not necessarily have to wither away, it can be democratized.