Prof. Pascal TOUOYEM
African dynamics of ethnicity. Aspects of a theory of the multinational state
The ethnic factor is central in the African state order and thus merits a heuristic and critical approach in the sociology of knowledge. The notion of the ethnic unit definitely is not above suspicion, also not in the African analytical discourse. Bearing, as it does, a host of connotations, some of which are quite biased, it finds itself at the core of polemics, hampering the serenity and analytic distance we are trying to maintain here. The notion of ethnicity is even that suspect, that one might not emerge from it with clean hands. But on the other hand that might form its main advantage, to force those who study it to continuously question their partisanship. Homo tribalis being the insuppressible dimension of Homo sapiens africanus, it might well be an aspect of Homo sapiens anywhere in the world. This work is an attempt to analyze what resides underneath the positive appearances and to render public what is hidden and what normally eschews rational analysis.
The direct and clear goal of this study is to make understandable and in a way decode this ethno-identity question in terms of an enterprise of the state itself as part of a crisis in black African modernity. This book hopes to partially answerthe strong cry for reliable data, analyses, structural ideas and responses about Africa, an answer that is placed in the realization of new alternatives, which are credible in ourera of African transformations and in the major geopolitical revisions of this day and age.
This aim is approached via the following themes: How can we discern for contemporaneous as well as future Africa the form of the state in its cohabitation with ethnicityin a positive way? That is the fundamental question. In fact, this presupposes another question, and generates a series of subsidiary ones: Why and how does the form of the state determine the basic interethnic relations in Africa today? In what ways will the state be able to assure – counter to all present political modelling – the continued cohabitation of its ethnic groups, and to what ends? How to get out of the spiral of conflicting ethnic cohabitation, which puts the state at the mercy of inter-clan hostilities? How can we rebuild the African state on these two pillars? In short, how can we reconcile the notion of an institutional state with a dominantly ethnic national conscience?
The inherent and less obvious aims of this kind of interrogation seem to lie in the ideal type of an African state. A realized blueprint for of an African state that would result from a harmonious and dynamic ethnic cohabitation, surely will contribute to the capabilities of citizens or ethnic groups to build an modern nation-state. Thus, as a hypothesis, one could postulate an interethnic social contract in the style of Rousseau. But in order to be plausible, such a contract presupposes that ethnic groups possess the juridical capacities to form themselves a supra-ethnic community. Within such a community each ethnic group would enjoin a contract with both itself and with the social whole to form a multiethnic state. The implementation of such a state can only be visualized in terms of a ‘governance under the tree’, in order to be socially legitimate.
In contrast to received wisdom in which ethnicity is routinely seen as a ‘historic anomaly’, the phenomenon does constitute an epistemic resource as well as a political engine, through which the foundations and mechanisms of a state in decline can be highlighted and evaluated in the present African political scene. In such a way the reasons for its residual foundingin modernity – or a radical one conform neo-modernist theses –can be identified, and the relationship of black African postmodernism with this historical nexus might be specified.
The title, African dynamics of ethnicity, has to be kept in mind. It develops the concept and the aim of the project along various lines: rationality, hermeneutics and dialectics. Especially, it permits to grasp the highly problematic situation of modern African states, in which the ethnic reality continues to be a determining, even stifling dimension of individual and collective existence, imposing a heavy mortgage on the normal functioning of these states. These dynamics allow us to see why our continent is so rich in failed states, which are even collapsed or in a state of collapse. The insights in the disorganization, disintegration and even ruin of these states, translates intoone anthropological dilemma of the modern state in Africa: how to placate an institutional model based on individualism with a deeply communal realism.
Yet, behind this terminology of crisis, disintegration and anarchy, people live socially meaningful and creative lives in Africa. A complex picture of that cultural life is slowly emerging. Recognizable forms of development coexist with the original trajectories of its genesis as conceptions of identity are being generated or reformulated. From the deep fountains of endurance and imagination an extraordinary power of resistance is at work in Africa, against the seemingly brute forces of destiny. More than ever, we need new ways to describe and interpret our perception of these realities, new kinds of expressing their potential and especially a new form of discourse to describe these African dynamics as well as the experiences of those who are at the heart of these transformations.
In this way the title hints at a method, a way to proceed and improve on the dogmatic heritage of those scientific pretentions that seemingly guarantee ‘objectivity’, and a ‘scholarly’ ‘neutrality’. The new challenge of African thought is to be descriptive, criticizing the logic of conflict on the one hand, and on the other elucidating the alternative logic of relationship in the actual practice of resistance and peace building. It should be flexible enough to cede a place to a rationalist dogma, implying an intercultural approach, as thesevarious logics are more alive, rooted and acute– albeit not exclusively so – in actual life. For us it points at an analytical renewal that bears upon the dominant perspective, and whose questioning puts us at the heart of modernity.
Thus African thought takes into consideration the intercultural foundations of the actual world and anyway aims at situating itself in the subsidiarity of universal politics. There is an urgent need for a new anthropology and a new African way of thinking. In this logic the research of the interdependence of African states should be allotted priority in continental historiography. This option in itself could constitute a factor for peaceful coexistence and interethnic cooperation. Another possibility for harmonious cooperation between the ethnic groups resides in the integration of the state in a supranational, regional or continent-wide space. If pan-Africanism is thus revived by the theory of universal interdependence, the African state in its reestablishment should also redefine itself as a subsystem of a regional or continental model, the same way the ethnic groups are called upon to become subsystems of a modern nation-state. In whatever manner this is done, the quest for the communal well-being and social harmony is indissolubly linked with peace. The various ethnic units can see this as a sine qua non for their dynamic cooperation in the rebuilding of the modern state, national or supranational.
This study employs a threefold dialectic:
The first part: The playing field of modern politics in Africa; the basis of the political order of nation-states on the continent; processes of state formation and identity construction. These form three chapters. The general idea that emerges is to stop seeing the ethnic unit as a historical anomaly, but rather as a epistemic resource and political dynamo that can explain and evaluate the foundations and mechanisms for the functioning of degrading states in Africa, all in the light of a global and cosmopolitan evolution from hegemony to intercommunication.
The second part: Statehood under the scrutiny of identity logics; crisis of the perception and signification of ethnicity; these themes are treated in three chapters that, in turn, offer a searchlight on four aspects. The first is the power crisis in the bosom of the states, the second the self-hiding of ethnicity on the basis of a trans-state world that in fact produces such a regrouping. The last two themes are the triumph of global marketing and of international relations, and paradoxically, the way in which this global crisis is transcended by the revalorization of national and citizen definitions of self in the transnational scene.
The third part opens new perspectives on the ethnic cohabitation in contemporaneous African politics, sketching some preconditions for the construction of a multinational African state. Also in three chapters, this part offers a true plea for a multinational African state, i.e. a trans-ethnic state open to the world. Here ethnicity constitutes a basis for restructuring African societies and a pathway to find a place for a ‘common constitutional heritage’ in the multiethnic societies and in the ways of governance in present-day Africa.
The general conclusion aims at an ontology of alterity and intercultural integration as a normative dialectic of liberty, responsibility and peace, an attempt to answer the basic problem. This concerns an alternative for the present dominant state model, as the latter serves neither its own long term interests, nor that type of development that Africa needs for its continued existence. The integrating pluralism thus is proposed as an aspect of legitimate governance, a ‘governance under the tree’, actually a ‘governance of peace’, which, in effect, is a viable ‘intercultural alternative’ as a ‘radical alternative of interculturality’ that does not rest on a single point of reference. Intercultural identity develops from ethno-identity primordialism, emancipating to attain a universal human experience. It is in this intercultural tension that the existential question ‘being-in-oneself-with-the-other-in-the-other’s-world’ is solved.
As objectification for this phenomenon, i.e. the definition of ‘being’ from ‘appearing’, phenomenology has shown itself an apt model for the intellectual mastering of the ethnic factor in the full splendor of its social manifestation. The greatest goal to achieve is without doubt to be able to save the pertinent research objects from oblivion. Here I want to share my basic conviction, to reestablish our conceptions on the basis of a of a global reorientation of African political thought in its needs, wishes, quests, hopes and fears.
This book tries to avoid soteriomania (there is no Messiah) neither does it ground itself in resentment (the West is to blame), nor in bad conscience (it is all my fault). It also is not a quest for a negro-identity (pan-negrism with its various avatars) and not a development to catch up (with the West), and also not a political model to emulate (the democracy of transit), but it simply bets on the category of the possible, to attain the not-yet. The author sets out on a route of a prospective plural discourse whose preconditions have to emerge; it is a not-yet (nondum) whose actualization in Africa demands an audacious and prudent approach, hybris and phronesis. It is a question of ethics, anthropological, ontological and in the end grounded in actual practice.