Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Sudan, Africa, Independence, Unity, and Getting a Grip

This is not a political blog. But this post may seem 'political.'

The Lemming isn't "apathetic" in the dictionary sense of not caring - that's explained elsewhere ("About the Lemming ").

In other words, the Lemming has opinions. Some strongly held, others not so much.

One of these opinions is that people all over the world are
  • Different
  • Alike
The "different" part is fairly obvious, for anyone who takes a good look at the folks in various places. Think about it: when was the last time you heard of someone mistaking a Swede for a Kenyan, or either for a Korean. And that's just appearance. Over the last uncounted toll of generations, we've developed a vast and fascinating variety of ways to handle our lives.

Bottom line? Someone growing up in New Jersey isn't going to think and act quite the same way as someone who calls Botswana home. Someone from Thailand would consider both to have, well, foreign ways.

United Africa? Someday, Probably

Another of the Lemming's opinions, based on a degree in history and an interest in what's happened over the last few thousand years, is that the largest government units have been getting bigger. On average.

It hasn't been a smooth progression. For example, when the Roman Empire collapsed, about fifteen centuries or so back now, one whacking great political unit turned into a whole lot of little ones.

In general, though, if you look at the way folks have been organizing themselves on a millennium-by-millennium basis, we've gone from family groups, to small regional units like city states, bigger ones like kingdoms, then the occasional empire, and now outfits like the Africa Union and European Union.

There's even been an attempt to unite all nations: the United Nations. That outfit is still around, and probably will be for a while. In the Lemming's opinion, the AU, EU, and UN are attempts - most likely well-intentioned ones - to establish the sort of governments we'll have: later.

Africa's History is Important: So is Europe's

By about half a millennium ago, European warlords had hacked out a system for running their part of the world that was the foundation of the nations we see there now.

They were doing pretty well, with technology developed after Rome stopped being a reliable source of fresh horses other supplies. Which is another topic.

If Columbus hadn't gotten funding in 1492, in the Lemming's opinion, it would have been someone else. The time was right for Europe's leaders to start looking beyond their borders.

That's when European culture started to matter to a lot of folks living elsewhere.

European Colonialism

Having done time in American academia, the Lemming learned that we're supposed to loathe and despise European colonialism. You've probably read how awful it was, so I'll skip that part.

Then, roughly during the 20th century, European and (Euro-) American leaders decided that it was okay for those colonies to be independent. Frightfully decent of them, in the Lemming's opinion.

Good Intentions Paved the Way to Africa's Nations?

The Lemming prefers to believe that the folks who carved up Africa 'for the Africans' had good intentions. For what it's worth, the World War I winners indulged in 'nation-building' elsewhere, too:
Haven't heard of Pashtunistan? That nation doesn't exist: yet. Pashtuns weren't consulted when their part of the world was divided along the Durand line. They didn't forget who they were, though, and there's an effort today to get Pashtunistan established. They may succeed.

Meanwhile, back in Africa, the 'natives' there were given as much of a say in the "enthusiastically clueless nation-building of the treaty of Versailles" as 'natives' in eastern Europe and the Stans.

What if Space Aliens had Conquered Europe?

The way the Lemming explained to his kids what often happened to Europe's colonies follows. It's not a one-to-one match with reality, but it's 'good enough for a story.' Remember, this is fiction - intended to present post-colonial cluelessness in a fresh way.

Let's say that space aliens found Earth about the same time that Columbus got back from those islands.

Longbows and catapults were no match for death rays, fractal bombs, and lepton inhibitors. Or whatever the space aliens came up with in the 500,000 or so years' head-start they had on us. Yet another topic.

About a century ago the space aliens gave Earth back to the natives.

On the space aliens' terms.

When the former masters carved up Europe, they put Belgium, the Netherlands, and parts of what's France and Germany in one 'nation;' another part of France and Italy in another, and the western part of France lumped in with the British Isles and western Scandinavia.

In the real world, descendants of Vikings and their victims are cobbling something they call the European Union together. But they've had centuries to get used to the idea of living next to each other, and are developing ways for settling differences without killing someone.

That was Fiction: Africa's History, Alas! Isn't

The folks who decided where national borders should go in Africa didn't - the Lemming trusts - intend to force national 'unity' on folks who really, sincerely, didn't want to cooperate. That's what seems to have happened, though.

Africa's nations - for the most part defined by European powers - started getting independence at a great rate about a half-century ago. Considering the way national boundaries were determined, it could have turned out a lot worse.

Or a lot better.

Here's what got the Lemming started with this rant:

The "International Community" Doesn't Want More African Nations?!

"Will Sudan split set an African precedent?"
Africa, BBC News (January 6, 2011)

"On Sunday the people of Southern Sudan will vote on whether to become an independent nation. There is every indication they will vote in favour of cutting their links with Khartoum and become Africa's 54th state. BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut considers whether this will increase demands from other African regions for independence.

"The slogan adopted by the Africa Union - the body representing the continent - is simple: Africa must unite.

"In the 1960s the leaders who brought Africa to independence were faced with a terrible dilemma.

"Most of the borders they had inherited had been drawn by the European powers who divided the continent in the 1880s, during what was known as the 'scramble for Africa'.

"They cut through ethnic groups, dividing peoples and even families. The countries threw together men and women who had differences of language and religion.

"Yet Africa's leaders decided to accept these frontiers: Unpicking them would have set every new country against the other. The independence borders were treated as sacrosanct.

"'Increased paranoia'

"So does the referendum in Sudan mark the end of this principle?

"Southern Sudan would not be the first new post-independence country to be recognised in Africa. Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1993. But the Eritreans could argue that they had been an independent state under the Italians and that Emperor Haile Selassie had violated a United Nations resolution when the territory was annexed as just another Ethiopian province in 1962.

"So, it is said, Eritrea does not break the African injunction on new states. But a string of territories might argue that they have a case for secession...."

"...There has also been progress towards providing the African Union with a military capability drawing on regional forces.

"There are already African troops in conflict zones including Darfur and Somalia. The crisis in Ivory Coast is the next test of how far this has developed and to what extent the international community is prepared to support institutions like the West African grouping, Ecowas.

"All of the continent's nations still recognise the African Union as their representative body on the global stage.

"Certainly the international community does not want to see Africa splintering into fragments...."

The BBC did a pretty good job, in the Lemming's opinion, of presenting the situation as if what the folks in Africa do with their governments should be largely a concern for the folks in Africa. And giving a pretty good background on what's been happening, in terms of independence and unity.

'Too Many' African Nations?

It's that last sentenced that set the Lemming off: "...Certainly the international community does not want to see Africa splintering into fragments...."

Okay: so the "international community" doesn't want Africa to have a lot of independent nations. For starters, that'd give folks in Africa a whole lot more representation in the United Nations, than if they had just one 'official' spokesperson. Maybe the Lemming is being too cynical.

Vaguely-related posts, not in this blog:

Oversimplified? Absolutely!

If you think this post leaves out details - including some important ones - of the situation in Sudan and other parts of Africa: the Lemming agrees.

Africa is a big continent, with a long and complex history. The Lemming wanted to concentrate on one point in this post: that, in the Lemming's opinion, folks living in Africa, or Europe, or wherever, aren't all that different.

But we're not all alike: and bad things can happen when even well-intentioned meddlers try making decisions for folks in another culture.

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