For Love of Country

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By Derek Mutiso

How Patriotic Governance Can Save Africa

Africa is a vast and diverse continent rich in resources and boundless potential. Its natural beauty has always enchanted travellers and explorers from far and wide. With its growing population and rising incomes, the continent has become a destination for multinational corporations seeking new markets for their goods and services.  

In the approximately six-and-a-half decades following independence from colonial rule, the states of sub-Saharan Africa have made great strides economically, socially, and politically. It’s exciting to imagine where we will be as a continent in the decades that lie ahead. However, as we grow and improve steadily, we should remember that no great success is achieved without challenges

Despite the beauty and potential within our borders, the quest for effective governance remains an enduring challenge. From the legacies of colonialism to the complexities of modern geopolitics, Africa has grappled with many issues on its path to progress. 

State institutions and organizations within our continent are notably less developed than in other parts of the world. Africa has an impressive 3,000 indigenous tribes and around 2,000 languages and dialects. Still, our diversity is a double-edged sword. Political instability, characterized by coups, plots, tribal conflicts, and various forms of violence, has always been prevalent in some parts of the continent.

Many years after we achieved self-governance, there are still nations in Africa that struggle to maintain complete control over their populations, organizations, and activities within their territorial boundaries. Ethnic divisions are pervasive across many countries, with some facing the imminent threat of political disorder stemming from such divisions and, in a few cases, escalating into civil warfare. 

There have been instances where governments temporarily lost control over significant portions of their territory and population. Countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Sudan, Guinea, and Congo have experienced periods where their central governments relinquished control over important areas during conflicts.

Sub-Saharan African democracy, despite experiencing political shifts, continues to lag behind other regions in terms of average ratings. Its performance could be better compared to the average of all developing countries. This situation should concern all Africans who wish to solve the demanding challenges of today and build a better future for the continent.

It’s no secret that in many African countries, citizens identify themselves first by tribe and then by country. The continent needs a patriotism renaissance. A patriotic attitude that unites them as citizens of their respective nations plays a vital role in advancing their societies. This attitude needs to be cultivated right at the top, at the helm of our leadership. Africa needs leaders who put the interests of their state above those of all others. 

To move forward, we must look back into the past and see why we do things the way we do. The legacy of colonialism still lingers over African countries, and Kenya is no exception.  

The Colonial Legacy and Its Effect on Kenyan Statehood

The Berlin Conference in 1884 and subsequent agreements shaped the Africa we know today. In the case of Kenya, the conference caused the amalgamation of over forty independent communities into a single territorial entity without consulting the local populace. These boundaries divided communities and fuelled inter-ethnic competition and conflicts, shaping nationalist struggles and post-colonial politics.

The colonial boundaries had dire ramifications, dividing cohesive communities like the Maasai and Kuria between Kenya and Tanganyika (later, Tanzania), the Somali between Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and the Luo, spread across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Additionally, the Teso and Samia found themselves split between Kenya and Uganda. 

The colonial state resorted to authoritarian measures to maintain control over Kenya’s diverse populace. The tyrannical nature of colonial administration, marked by military expeditions, genocide, forced migrations, and the imposition of indirect rule, marginalized indigenous leadership and centralized power in the hands of colonial authorities.

Kenya’s current society bears the imprint of its colonial past, with a blend of pre-colonial, colonial, and global economic structures. It suggests that colonial boundaries, administrative systems, and economic policies partially disrupted and restructured pre-colonial communities, leading to enforced ethnic identities and authoritarian governance. Our post-colonial state has perpetuated ethnicized politics and failed to democratize, exacerbating inequalities inherited from the colonial era entirely.

Despite gaining independence primarily during the 1950s and 1960s, numerous African nations have persisted on the detrimental trajectory outlined during the Berlin Conference.

Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere asserted: “We have artificial ‘nations’ carved out at the Berlin Conference in 1884, and today we are struggling to build these nations into stable units of human society… we are in danger of becoming the most Balkanized continent of the world.”

Even after attaining independence, Africa inherited a legacy of political division that proved challenging to overcome or effectively manage.

Patriotic Governance in Practice

When we visited Tanzania for the first time some years ago, we were struck by how many things we had in common. The most apparent similarity is our shared language, Swahili, which over 60 million Africans speak. We also share similar foods and cultures. One significant difference, though, is that during our entire stay in Tanzania, no one asked me what tribe I belonged to. In Kenya, this is usually one of the first things an acquaintance tries to discover, whether directly or indirectly. 

I also noticed that the locals rarely spoke their mother tongues during their daily interactions, even though Tanzania has a whopping 120 tribes. That’s three times more than we have in Kenya, mind you! The reason for this is simple. Tanzania’s leaders, after independence, focused on building a united and cohesive nation – Instilling a sense of common statehood amongst the populace. The Swahili language, a second language for many Tanzanians, was a typical, unifying factor. Tanzanians were taught to love themselves, their country, and their common statehood. Our brothers across the border have enjoyed peaceful coexistence with each other ever since.

Peace is just one of the numerous benefits African nations can gain by having patriotic leaders. In times of crisis, patriotism serves as a unifying force, transcending differences to aid fellow citizens in need. The advantages of a patriotic mindset are manifold:

  • Unity and Social Cohesion: It fosters a shared identity and purpose, promoting social harmony despite diversity. This unity strengthens communities, bridging gaps in a divisive world.
  • Civic Engagement: A patriotic spirit motivates active participation in governance and civic activities, enhancing democracy through voting, volunteering, and public discourse.
  • Global Perspective: Balanced patriotism encourages appreciation for one’s country alongside recognition of global interconnectedness. It promotes cooperation with other nations, and fosters peace, understanding, and global citizenship.
  • National Security: Patriotism instils a duty to defend the nation against external threats, safeguarding its safety and sovereignty.
  • Patriotic governance – is vital for African countries to navigate challenges, foster unity, and ensure collective progress.

More than 60 years after independence, it is time for introspection. While it is impossible to turn back the clock, Africans would do well to reflect on what has happened since. Teaching the real history of the continent’s subjugation would help counter the myths of “ancient hatreds” that are believed to fuel the conflicts on the continent. 

Africans could decide to get together on the continent to debate and decide on the relationship they want with the rest of the world rather than always having that dictated to them from abroad. 

Patriotic leadership, grounded in a genuine commitment to the well-being and sovereignty of African nations, will be instrumental in steering this collective introspection and shaping a future where Africa determines its destiny on the global stage. We need to learn to love ourselves and our countries. Only then will we see real growth.

The author is a business writer and project coordinator, Omeriye Foundation Email; [email protected]

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