The author of this recent article in Foreign Policy magazine is either misinformed about the human geography and ethnic composition, complexity and fluidity of modern African societies, or is failing to seriously consider the implications of his call for a re-drawing of Africa's map along ethnic lines, or both. Citing what is likely to be a successful referendum by the southern Sudanese to create their own ideologically defined nation-state in the southern half of Sudan, Zachary illogically goes further and advocates pursuing divisions in other African nations along ethnic lines:
"Countries could finally be framed around the de facto geography of ethnic groups. The new states could use their local languages rather than favoring another ethnicity's or colonial power's tongue. Rebel secessionist movements would all but disappear, and democracy could flourish more easily when based upon policies, rather than simple identity politics. On top of that, new states based on ethnic lines would by default be smaller, more compact, and more manageable for governments on a continent with a history of state weakness."
The 53 nations of Africa contain over 2,000 ethno-linguistic groups accounting for a total population of over 800 million people. To redraw the map of Africa in a manner that places this large number of ethno-linguistic groups into distinct nations based on ethnic affinity is an absurd suggestion given the physical dispersion, social mobility and inter-ethnic marriage of Africans within and between their current nations, and the various long-standing political alliances and shared ideologies that transcend ethnicity and in some cases, nationality. Even if this monumental problem was somehow surmounted, careful scrutiny of the linguistic and cultural diversity on the continent would require the creation of as many as 500 new African countries - a mind-numbing idea to contemplate if there ever was one. Imagine a ribbon of a country spanning the entire breadth of the Sahel, from Senegal to Sudan, with the predominantly nomadic Fulani or Taureg as its empowered ethnic group!
The southern Sudanese first and foremost seek political autonomy and religious freedom which are ideological freedoms. They do not sek autonomy because they are ethno-linguistically different from the northern Sudanese, although they are. What will bind the new state of southern Sudan will not be ethnicity as much as it will be principles of political self-determination and religious choice.
Sudan's division does not justify a breaking up of Uganda or Kenya, for example, along ethnic lines. Because there is likely to be an ideological split in Sudan does not mean a split along ethnic lines is called for elsewhere in Africa. The political grievances of certain groups in Uganda and Kenya are dwarfed by over a half century of oppression of the Christian and animist southern Sudanese by the Muslim Arab-speaking groups of northern Sudan. What may be a good ideological solution for Sudan would likely be disastrous for Uganda and Kenya if it was undertaken on the basis of ethnicity.
The "federo" called for in Uganda and "majimboism" touted by some in Kenya, forms of federalism or devolved central power, will serve only the political and economic desires of certain members of the largest ethnic groups in those respective countries. For example, to convert the Kingdom of Buganda into a nation-state that includes the current national capital, Uganda's major political and financial epicenter, and the country's only international airport would be a boon for the Baganda but disastrous for other groups within the new nation's borders, as well as for the rest of Uganda.
In Kenya, to divide the country into the proposed 47 counties where leadership in each county is restricted to the dominant ethnic group is a formula for greater discord and violence over resources than the country has seen in the past. One Kenya writer puts the problem this way (Document is in Every Sense a Majimbo Constitution):
"Counties will be nothing but majimbo where ethnic majorities will take the lion's share of power and resources and ethnic minorities, the crumbs.
"Under the new constitution, a Luo will never be governor in Kiambu, Kikuyu in Mandera or Kalenjin in Siaya.
"As various ethnic communities take over exclusive governance of their counties, Kenya as we know it will cease to be.
"With negative ethnicity firmly in the saddle of county politics, ethnic minorities will be accommodated in the counties of ethnic majorities but on terms of second class citizenship."
The countries of Africa have each woven a national fabric that continues to grow in strength and meaning. To divide them up along ethnic lines will strengthen not weaken the destructiveness of tribalism. Such balkanization will weaken Africans in world fora, not strengthen them. I think Africa is better served through sub-regional integration where a number of current nations form new entities united by common economic and political interests.
Continuing the search for common ideological ground and insisting on leadership accountability, as difficult as the growing pains of nationalism in Africa have been and continue to be, are likely to be much more successful than ethnic assessment and re-grouping for addressing the needs of Africa's millions and their hundreds of thousands of multi-ethnic communities, villages, towns, districts, regions, and nations. This way the various nations of Africa have the best chance to find broader ideological ground and greater economic common interest to form nation-state groupings. Such confederations will reduce the number of African nations but will provide greater economic strength to those new consolidated nations that are formed. This will, in turn, provide Africans greater influence in the global market place and political arena.
Zachary's understanding of the realities of Africa and its people is very much in need of revision.
Fewer, not more, nations will serve Africa best.