I only recently realised how artificial an entity the Ukraine is. In Soviet times, “USSR” and “Russia” meant much the same to most of us. My discovery was that the Crimea was given by Krushchev to the Ukraine when Soviet leaders were likely to change the boundaries of constituent republics, autonomous regions or other entities that made up the USSR without consultation. They were behaving just like the colonial administrators who drew the boundaries with which the African states came to independence.
In both cases, whatever state structures and boundaries may have existed in a previous stage in history, few of the postcolonial African states and few of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union had any of the attributes of a modern European state. I emphasise “European” because few such states exist anywhere outside Europe. Egypt, Iran, Japan and Thailand I can name, and Ethiopia, India and China, though they have many of the attributes, are not nation states like Britain, France and Italy.
So it is little wonder that when, mostly in the 1960s, Europe's former African colonies became independent and the United Nations expected them to look like “modern” states if they were to have seats in the General Assembly, they faced a mammoth task, not of building nations out of nothing, but of creating state structures that could accommodate different cultural and ethnic groups, most of which spilled over into neighbouring and equally new states, within boundaries determined by neither political, nor economic nor, quite often, geographical considerations.
For example, Botswana contains only a minority of the speakers of the Setswana language, with other groups making up some 15% of their population. Until independence in 1968 the administrative capital was Mahikeng, in South Africa. Many states are more complex than that. South Sudan separated two years ago from a colonial Sudan with a black population of animists and christians in the south dominated by muslim Arabs in the north. Its border with what remains of the Arab Sudan is still not completely defined, a dangerous situation after decades of war between what are now two states.
Some have done remarkably well in only 50 years; Tanzania has created a viable state out of a mixture of ethnic groups with no common language, whose economic development had been neglected by German and then British administrations in favour of other colonies with more obviously exploitable resources. On the other hand, the Somalis express their unity by opposition to having foreign political structures imposed on them; the British and Italians failed, the Americans and the UN failed, the Ethiopians and Kenyans are probably creating more problems for themselves by taking the up the task in the name of the African Union.
When the likes of Cnn or Sky Tv talk as if Africans have just come down from the trees, someone needs to remind them that Africans came down from the trees some four million years ago, have in the last 100,000 years sent out a diaspora who populated the rest of the world and Africa remains more diverse than the whole of that diaspora. Understanding that diversity remains a big task.
10 novembre 2014