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Mamdani: How Nigeria\'s Political System Hinders Emergence Of Common Citizenship

MAMDANI: How Nigeria\'s Political System Hinders Emergence Of Common Citizenship



Sunday, 21 March 2010 19:44 KAMAL TAYO OROPO AND ARMSFREE AJANAKU ONOMO Features - Policy & Politics


* Something Is Wrong With Idea Of Failed State
Mahmood Mamdani, the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government in the Departments of Anthropology and Political Science at Columbia University in the United States was recently in Nigeria, where he was guest lecturer at the 60-birthday celebration of poet, Odia Ofeimun. In this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO AND ARMSFREE AJANAKU ONOMO he provides details on the challenges of the postcolonial state in Africa, asserting that there is something wrong with the concept and categorization of "failed states," to which many critics say Nigeria belongs. Excerpts:
How familiar are you with Nigeria?
I have had a reasonably good interaction with Nigerian academics and students, and I have followed Nigerian scholarship because Nigeria is one of the places I taught about in my courses since 1995. So I try to follow debates and discussions, and of course, I follow it with a particular interest, which is shaped by my own preoccupation, and my particular interest is in the question of political violence, civil war, colonialism, post colonialism, and the efforts to build a nation. That is why my lecture (delivered on Odia Ofeimun's birthday) was looking at two major sides of civil wars; political dislocation in Africa (using the case studies of Congo and Sudan). I was asking questions, and trying to know if there is something there from which Nigerians, Ugandans can learn, something of general interest and application.
As a country that played prominent roles in the liberation of Southern Africa, and in the resolution of conflicts across Africa, would you say that Nigeria has fulfilled expectations of its role as a regional power or police?
Nigeria has played a positive role for several reasons. I will say the reasons apply not just to Nigeria; they also apply to South Africa because these are two big countries in Africa, one predominantly because of its population, the other predominantly because of its economy. But both realize that they can't make it alone. Even European countries recognize that they can't make it alone, and they came up with the European Union. Even the United States realizes that it cannot make it alone, so it came up with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I think for Nigeria and South Africa to make it, they have to create a safe neighbourhood; not only a safe one, they have to create a neighbourhood, which is reasonably autonomous, and free of outside interference.
So, even though the Americans may want Nigeria to be a regional policeman, the fact that Nigeria becomes a regional policeman does not necessarily mean it must be America's policeman in the region. I have seen in Sudan, for example, the impact of Nigerian diplomats in the African Union, and I have seen that the main thrust of their influence has been to call for an African resolution of African problems. The thrust has been to say that there must be a limit to outside interference. In that sense, I think there have been positive developments.
The negative thing of course is that Nigeria has been unable to police itself. Actually, if you take the political record of the Nigerian political class, this country should have ceased to exist a long time ago because it is a dismal record. But the country exists. For someone like me, I come to Nigeria, maybe once a year for conferences and something of that sort, and I am struck by how different the picture is. Outside of Nigeria, the political news is privileged, but when you come inside, from the day-to-day life, you see that the people don't live by politics. So, you have events like yesterday (last Tuesday, Odia's birthday), which brings together cultural icons, and you would see that they come from different parts of the country.
You have a very strong cultural elite in Nigeria, which is in sharp contrast with the weak political elite. You have a reasonably strong business class; you have a middle class and professionals with a vision of Nigeria. So, I am struck by the fact that the society is holding together, because of the energies it is able to marshal from different sections of the population, in spite of the failure of the political class. Of course, it is the failure of both the political class and the critics of that class because when the critics get into power, there doesn't seem to be any difference. That is indicative of a larger problem.
Talking about the inability of Nigeria to police itself, there are similar problems from Nigeria to Sudan; even South Africa has its own problem of xenophobia. Some have argued that the continent fared better under colonialism. What is wrong with the continent, it cannot be the politicians alone?
Look, when somebody says that these countries fared better under the colonial masters, of course, it is an offensive statement. But you have to ask what informs that misguided, and deliberately mischievous statement. There is something in their experience, which makes them make that incredible statement. I would say that the credible part of the statement is that under colonialism, there was an effective centre. Today, we don't have an effective centre; it doesn't mean that colonialism is better; it means that we have to create an effective centre.
What does it mean to create an effective centre; some people think it means to create a dictatorship, a strong power. I don't think so; I think it means to create a national citizenship. The entire political project of colonialism was to prevent, to forestall the coming into being of a national citizenship. It was to create political institutions, which were not even regional, but tribal, and this was summed up in this institution called the Native Authority. So, every African colonial state was created as a tribal federation, not just South Africa; every state was patterned with the idea that the national territory was a composition of tribal homelands, and each homeland was being ruled by a the Native Authority. The rights of the people who live in the homelands are based on tribal identities; the only rights are customary rights. There are no civic rights, and customary rights include the rights to learn, and the rights to participation in governance, meaning whether you could compete for the position of a chief or not, the requirement is, you must be indigenous to that tribal homeland; that was the colonial project.
More than that, unlike with religion, nobody can convert; the lines are firm. The lines were never firm before colonialism, all over Africa. I know in Uganda, that one could become a Muganda; you could come from somewhere else, you speak Uganda, you married to Uganda, your children are Baganda; they were not fixed boundaries. People talk of one of the problems of colonialism as having created fixed boundaries inside Africa. But that is not the only problem, there is the problem of the boundaries inside each country; fixed boundaries between tribes, fixed ethnic boundaries, not just on the ground, but also blood boundaries. Colonial powers claimed that this was Africa's tradition and the law was called customary.
In my view, colonialism began as a racial discrimination project, a civilizing mission, but it was not tenable because the privileged were too few and those who were out of the system were too many. Then the system in the 20th century created a second layer of discrimination, and that was what they called tribe, not ethnic group. Ethnic group is cultural, it is about language, it has a long history. Way before colonialism, people had their own languages and their cultures, but the idea of transforming this into a political allegiance and make it the basis of discrimination by saying that any piece of land, it is only those with a particular identity called customary (that have rights to the land) and the others would not have rights, even if they were born there.
The problem after independence, I think is typified in Nigeria, and I will give you my example. Nigeria had a Civil War, and then it had a Constitution after the war. The constitution was supposed to be an antidote to the war, and the provision, which was supposed to be the antidote, is what we call Federal Character. It said very reasonably that key institutions in the Nigerian federation should reflect the federal character of Nigeria. That is fine. What are the key institutions. The army, the civil service, and federal universities that is also fine.
What does it mean to reflect federal character? It means that every part of the Nigerian federation, every state must have representation within that institution that is also positive. What does it mean to have representation? It means the weight of the population of the state must be reflected. Now comes the difficult question, which is: who in the state has the right to compete for these positions? And the answer is: only those indigenous to the state. Who is an indigene or how do you define who the indigene of a state is? Is it anybody who was born there or of a father who was born there? This, in my view, creates political dynamite.
Nigeria is a market society; markets move people, not just goods. A worker becomes unemployed, he moves to get a job somewhere; a peasant is landless, he moves, if a university graduate can't get a job in his locality, he moves; a businessman moves, too. You have an industrialist who also moves, but the political system penalizes those who move. Even though they move inside Nigeria, and that they are all indigenous to Nigeria, the system treats those who move as not indigenous because they move across these hard and fast boundaries established in the colonial period. I am not talking of cultural boundaries; I am talking of administrative and political boundaries.
Those who move are penalized because the political system and the economic system are in contradiction.
So there are two solutions, either you abolish the market system, which is not an option, or you reform the political system. That every state in the federation should have fair representation in every federal institution is good. In my view, anybody who lives in that state should be able to compete for that representation, not just the indigenes. Historically, there are two ways to define rights; either by blood, that is the racist idea, or you define rights by residence, where you live. Which is a better indication of a person's loyalty, where they are coming from or where they are? Where they are gives an idea of where they want to build their future; where they are coming from is important, but it is past.
From your position, and knowing that there are majority and minority ethnic groups, the minority groups could lose their lands due to influx of people from the majority groups, thus erasing their identities?
Absolutely correct; but that is the credible part of federal character. Federal character was implemented as an affirmative action programme for those who had been left out, left behind or treated unequally in the colonial dispensation. That was the attraction. What I am saying is that there is an intended consequence and an unintended consequence. The intended consequence is that because affirmative action has become the sole preoccupation of Federal Character, it is preventing the development of a Nigerian citizenship. So, we have to take into account the unintended consequence, the cost, and weigh it against the intentions.
Maybe you are right by saying that even as we build a Nigerian citizenship, we must build it with certain provisions of qualified protection. In the middle of the 19th century, colonialism faced a huge crisis; revolts in India, and in 1857 there were revolts in West Indies. And the colonial masters began asking how they could stabilize the enterprise because an enterprise, which is excluding the majority, is doomed; sooner or later the majority organizes as a majority. And the solution for them was to turn the majority into minorities; they implemented it in Africa between the Sahara and the Limpopo. Those were the parts they colonized after the Berlin Conference.
The British claim was that in African colonies, there were no majorities, that there were only minorities. And that was true because they (the British) created them. How did they do that? In every place they identified groups; the claimed to protect them against the majorities. So, colonialism was put forth as a regime of protection, an affirmative action regime whose political objective was to prevent the development of a majority. But we can't throw the baby out with the bathe water; we must save the baby, but the bathe water is unclean.
VARIOUSLY Nigeria as well as some other African states are being described as failed states; what would qualify a country for such classification?
I think something is wrong with this idea of a failed state. I am a teacher, and I know that a teacher who comes into the classroom, looks at his students and say to them that they are failed students, is a failed teacher. What is a failed state? It is a state that cannot maintain order; so, it doesn't take anybody bright to know that there is no order where there is fighting. But that is not the point. The point is not to tell us which is a failed state or which is not a failed state, thus repeating and telling us what we know. The point is to tell us why there is no order in the place; what is the historical process that brought us to this destination? What is the cause? Saying it is a failed state doesn't give you a cause; it gives you a stigma, and blames the patient. That is the problem with the failed state notion; it is like a teacher telling his student that he (the student) is not good. What happened in the classroom? Something must have happened, something must have gone wrong. So, we should be thinking of that history, which brought us to the point where the centre is so weak that we cannot create order. We also need to understand the tendencies that pull the political system apart are so strong, so that we can think of an antidote. Most of these things (like the failed state verdict) are given as judgment from a height, which are meant to stigmatize.
Those who hold the failed state view will point at what is happening in Jos. What are the possible ways out of the bloodletting going on there?
The problem is a deep one. This political culture has become so entrenched that it has become a mindset; so, it is not just a question of leadership. There is a leadership problem, but the real problem is that the people respond to their leaders because they think their leaders are right when they tell them that some people are indigenous and the resources rightfully belong to them, and that the others are outsiders. The people respond to it; they think it is true.
How do you change this? Of course, you have to remove the sense of threat, first of all; you have to convince people that a common citizenship is not going to be at their expense. Again, you have to start, at the end of colonialism, to convince people that they have a reason to be in Nigeria. Why should an indigene of Plateau State want to be a Nigerian if Nigeria just means to them a Hausa Fulani encroachment, etcetera. You have to give them a reason to be Nigerians.
I think this will involve a protracted political process; it will involve reform of the legal system, the Constitution, temporary guarantees to those who feel threatened, not a permanent regime so that affirmative action does not become a permanent feature of the political and social landscape. That would be understood to be a temporary feature with certain outcomes, which would remove the rationale for it. It (process) can't be foisted from above because it would be resisted; it would involve the building of a consensus in Nigerian society. It would involve necessarily, elements more than the political class; it would have to involve all the literate classes, in other words, all those who can be part of a discussion, which is beyond face to face. It is the springboard of an initiative.
I remember attending the centennial celebration of the Sokoto Caliphate in Abuja and I was so struck by the fact that there were two starkly opposite views in that meeting. One was that the British ended the promise of the Sokoto Caliphate; the other view was that the British saved us from the danger of the Sokoto Caliphate. In the same country, there two views; the British is the saviour, and the British is the problem. If you shifted it to the colonial period, the two sides would change their argument; those who saw the Caliphate as the danger would see the British as artificially maintaining the Caliphate, and the other side would say the opposite.
In a way, we have to recognize that all of Africa was organized according to the apartheid system because the principle of the apartheid system was racial privilege and ethnic fragmentation; these two things went hand in hand. The British are the real innovators of apartheid, the Afrikaners were just stupid enough to give it a name, and so call attention to themselves, but the British were the originators. The South Africans realized that they don't have a common history; so, they had to create a common understanding of history.
Nigeria has to create a common understanding of the Sokoto Caliphate. The Jos-Plataeu indigenous is whoever came before the Sokoto Caliphate, and non-indigenous is whoever came after that. The real dividing line is not British colonialism; the real dividing line is Sokoto Caliphate. If you go to Congo, all the Luba from Kasai, who came to Katanga before Belgian colonialism, are considered natives of Katanga, even though they are culturally Luba. All those who came in the colonial period are considered non-indigenes.
We all know about the British and Belgian involvement in the killing of Patrice Lumumba, but what we don't talk about is that British and the Belgians got the opportunity because of internal failures in Congo, and Lumumba's failure to address them adequately. The internal failure was the secession of Katanga and South Katanga. Both were based on a confrontation between different indigene and non-indigene tribes, and I say tribes because I want to locate the political unit, rather than the cultural unit. Lumumba ordered the troops to end the Katanga secession, and the troops on their way stopped in South Kassai to take sides in the conflict between the indigenes and non-indigenes. There was slaughter and killings, and Dag Hammarskjold (UN Secretary-General) accused Lumumba of genocide, and then Kassavubu dismissed Lumumba. At that point, Lumumba's mistake was that he took sides in a local conflict.
In a local conflict, there is nobody who is right and nobody who is wrong. In Jos, one side talks about its traditional, cultural and customary rights, and the other side says: 'these are our democratic rights, we are Nigerians, this is our country, we are not in a foreign country. They are both right because we have a system, which acknowledges both rights. We don't just acknowledge culture as culture, we seem to acknowledge culture as the basis of political rights, and that is what the British brought in. So, it is not a question of right and wrong, it is a question of changing the rules of the game, and that is why I have said it is a more serious problem.
Your call for the reform of the political system brings to mind the issue of ownership of the system. With a Nigerian elite which seems to be at loss as to what it takes to run a modern state, should we not be talking about changing those who run the system first?
It is a chicken and egg argument; (Karl) Marx once asked a great question; who is to educate the educator? Who is to reform the system? Where will this elite come from when our entire experience has been that every opposition that joined in the critique of government displays the same character of the previous government when it becomes government? So, what do you change first? You will have to take advantage of the fact that political aspirants are in the opposition, and introduce new rules, so that when they get to government, they can be held accountable by this different set of rules or they are held accountable for implementing the different set of rules. You can't wait for the right people to be in power because the right people will never be in power; nobody will stay right under these rules. Of course, there has to be some leadership, but you can't count on it. Unless institutions are supportive of a particular kind of leadership, the leadership will not survive institutions.
Does that validate the position of Barack Obama who said what Africa needs are strong institutions, and not strong men?
(Laughs derisively) Just compare Obama's speech in Cairo to the Middle East with his speech to Africa; they are two different speeches. The speech in Cairo says: "we are sorry for what we did;" the speech in Africa says: "forget about what we did and talk about what you did." For Americans to talk about Africa's problems being African is an excuse for avoiding America's problems. But for Africans to talk about Africa's problems is not an excuse, it is a beginning.
Looking at the roles of the Americans as the world police, many would argue that they have remained hypocritical?
I think the Americans have a more serious problem than just being hypocritical. Look at it particularly in Africa; American presence in Africa is above all, military. America today has nothing more to offer to Africa except for AFRICOM (Africa High Command) -- more soldiers, more military alliances, more war on terror and more militarization. That is a real problem because they are competing against the Chinese, the Brazilians, and the Indians. Everybody they are competing against is offering non-military goods; infrastructure, development; they are offering a joint enterprise in which they hope to benefit, but they realize that since they are outsiders, they can only benefit if the insiders benefit. That has always been the outsider's point of view that unless you deliver some benefits to the insider, you have no chance. The Americans have nothing to offer; Barack Obama has a nice rhetoric, but he is confronted by strong and well-established military institutions.
We seem to be witnessing the emergence of the Chinese as a global power; which of the two would you be comfortable with as a super power, given historical antecedents of the two?
I don't know; there is an article in the Financial Times, which asked: "Is China the America of the 1890s or is it the Japan of the 1980s. Because, the Japan of the 1980s, the Americans thought was the new rising super power, but suddenly it turned out to be ephemeral. The America of the 1890s was the new rising super power.
I don't know enough about the situation to tell you with confidence, which is the new rising super power, but I think what we can say with confidence is that whether there is a new rising super power or whether there are multiple powers, or which of the multiple powers would make it at the end of the race...we know the one that is falling behind. That is the US because its competitive edge is its military. And I think, its universities, its educational system, which is so flexible and so open to innovation, is beginning to close, with the war on terror. Not too much, but it is beginning to close a little bit. It is problematic; if your leaders are militarizing, you can't offer the world the leadership; you would be offering them problems. Half of the military expenditure in the globe is America's.
In assessing the war on terror, some would argue that those being branded as terrorists today were once friends of the Americans; what could be responsible for the shift in alliances, such that friends of yesterday and now the terrorists of today?
My view is that we have two different things that need to be separated; one, we have national movements, who are fighting in their own territory, with their own objectives, and they intend to establish their own rule of law. Whether it is the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Hamas, whether it is in Lebanon or Palestine, these are movements within national territories. They have a certain legitimacy, and a right, which non-nationals don't have. The Americans don't have the legitimacy in Afghanistan, but the Taliban have, which to me is simple, in an age of imperialism; that is the starting point.
Then you have those who cross borders to use violence to implement a particular programme; that is terror, and that is both non-state terror and state terror. So, it is both Al Qaeda, and the Americans. And of course, if you know, historically, one is a child of the other, but they have parted ways. But that is a separate problem; the problem of non-state terror is not a big problem; it is not a bigger problem than the mafia was. I really don't see it; it is more of a police problem, not a military problem. But it has been used as an excuse for a military build up, but as you can see from all the airport screenings, it is a police problem, and not a military problem.
You seem to be saying that the war on terror is wrong?
I mean, the war on terror is built on false premises because non-state terrorism has no territory; it is a mafia type problem, they operate from different territories. It is opportunistic, operating wherever there is an opportunity to operate from. It is a police problem, and it is solvable as a police problem. Beyond that, it is a political problem because unlike the mafia, Al Qaeda has a political resume, which is a result of unsolved issues, legitimate grievances. Al Qaeda's allegiance to it may be opportunistic, it may be not, I don't know.
Coming back to Africa, you were at some point a victim of the antics of Africa's strong men, but on (Robert) Mugabe, your view was that there has been a narrow focus on him; what should have been the correct approach to the issues in Zimbabwe?
As you said, I have been a victim of strong men, one of my biggest surprises when I went back to Uganda in 1979 was to realize that nobody I met said to me that the Asian expulsion was wrong, the most I heard was that it was wrongly done, that it should have been done differently. The biggest shock of my life was to realize that most people supported the Asian expulsion and it made me think of why? They didn't support (Idi) Amin, they opposed him but they supported the expulsion. Then I realized that there was an unsolved issue; Amin was the demagogue who was able to take advantage of an unsolved issue, and Mugabe is the same.
There is an unsolved issue -- the land question in Zimbabwe. Mugabe, as the demagogue, was able to take advantage of the land question. Zimbabwean society is divided between those with an allegiance to land, and those in the urban areas, and they are 50-50 voting in the elections. Although the oppositions says the elections were rigged, but if you take the opposition results, it is still 50-50, just two points more for the opposition. Then you know that the society is divided; it is in a civil war type situation. So, the problem can't be one person, and those who focus on one person as the problem, I think are becoming part of the problem. Of course, he (Mugabe) is part of the problem, but if you think that by removing him you will solve the problem, no, you may worsen the problem.Дадаць дакумент у свой блог ці на сайт 2014-07-19 18:44
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