Academic journal article African Studies Review

Ethnicity and Sub-Nationalism in Nigeria: Movement for a Mid-West State/Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria/Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Ethnicity and Sub-Nationalism in Nigeria: Movement for a Mid-West State/Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria/Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria

Article excerpt

ETHNIC POLITICS AND ETHNIC CONFLICT

Michael Vickers. Ethnicity and Sub-Nationalism in Nigeria: Movement for a Mid-West State. Oxford: WorldView Publishing, 2001. 410 pp. Maps. Tables. Figures. Bibliography. Index. £49.95. Cloth. £24.95. Paper.

Godfrey Mwakikagile. Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria. Huntington, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers, 2001. 237 pp. Appendixes. Index. $59.00. Cloth.

Rotimi T. Suberu. Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute for Peace, 2001. 208 pp. Maps. Notes. Index. $14.95. Paper.

The politics of ethnicity have long been a fact of life in modern sub-Saharan Africa. Politicians are elected, power is wielded, contracts are awarded, and government largess is handed out on the basis of tribal affiliations. Thus the competition to be the most powerful ethnic group, or "tribe," as they are known in Africa, is tremendous. Unfortunately, such ethnic rivalry has too often been not only divisive and corrupting in countries that can ill-afford it, it has also been extremely deadly. One has only to look at the Nigerian Civil War, in which over one million people, most of them Ibos, died between 1967 and 1970, the 1994 Holocaust in Rwanda, when an almost equal number were killed in a far shorter period of time in the bloodletting between the Hutus and the Tutsis, and the carnage that is still occurring in Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and any number of other hot spots on the continent.

In Africa perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, ethnicity is a powerful force. An individual identifies with his ethnic group rather than his country. The outside world may see a Kenyan, but the person, if asked, would consider himself a Luo first. Only when he is outside Kenya would he answer to "Kenyan." The same is true for an Ijaw Nigerian or a Shona Zimbabwean. Even when a person is "enlightened" enough to consider himself a citizen of his country rather than a member of a tribe within that country, there can be countervailing forces that ensure that the tribe's interests are predominant over the individual's. The journalist Blaine Harden describes just such a circumstance in his at times hilarious vignette on Kenya, "Battle for the Body" (1990).

The reasons behind this predominance of the ethnic group over the state were the subject of a penetrating 1975 study by Peter Ekeh that is still included in current anthologies because of its relevance to today's Africa. Ekeh concluded that the problems are caused by the existence of two "publics," the state and the tribe, with the tribe as the "moral" public, while the state is "amoral." Therefore, "while most Africans bend over backwards to benefit and sustain their primordial publics [i.e., tribes], they seek to gain from the civic public." This establishes a competition between the state and the tribe, which the tribe, with its greater moral imperative, eventually wins. The commitment of loyalty to the tribe at the expense of the state ultimately leads to the inefficiency of the public sector, corruption and tribalism, all of which continue to plague Africa today. Three recent books continue in Ekeh's analytical footsteps, albeit from different directions.

Vickers's book describes beautifully that rarity in Africa: cooperation among several tribal groups under a single dominant one to assert themselves and attain an essentially militant ethnic goal and relative sovereignty through nonviolent means. He describes how the minorities of the Nigerian midwest were able to overcome their ethnic and political differences and band together under the aegis of the Benin-Delta People's Party (BDPP) to obtain their goal of a Midwestern Region in Nigeria in July 1963. This achievement is even more surprising when considered against the background in which it took place: repeated initial failures, both before and after independence in 1960; the lack of enthusiasm for the idea from the rest of Nigeria and the British, the Nigerian overlords at the time; the rivalry among all the Nigerian ethnic groups which escalated into civil war in 1967, a scant four years later; and the problems and ethnic tensions within the coalition assembled by the BDPP itself. …

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