Debating Nationalism in #Africa

lumumba-Photi quote*by the AfSol Blog Team

During its 5th Anniversary, The Tana Forum opened the floor for Formers Heads of States, diplomats, experts and invited participants to discuss the theme of Africa’s Place in the Global Security Agenda. Amongst its different activities is the annual Meles Zenawi Lecture Series; this year’s lecture under the moderation of Dr. Monde Muyangwa, Historian and Professor Elikia M’Bokolo presented the legacy of Patrice Lumumba of Congo.

Patrice Lumumba, in the 1950s, was a key independence leader of the Congo, now the DRC. At the age of 35, he was the youngest African Leader to be elected to office. Only seven months as the President of the country he helped liberate, Lumumba was brutally assassinated in Katanga. Yet, as Prof Prof. M’Bokolo, pointed out in his lecture, there is much to learn from the charisma of this young Pan- African leader among which his strong belief in nationalism.

Patrice Lumumba was convinced that colonization had the effect of amplifying, sustaining aggravating ethnicization. He believed that this was not natural to Africans. In Lumumba’s own words

“These divisions, which the colonial powers have always exploited the better to dominate us, have played an important role — and are still playing that role — in the suicide of Africa”. African Unity and National Independence speech, March, 1959

He saw tribal violence during municipal elections of 1957-1958 as a manifestation of ethnization. Lumumba was thus in search of the cementing factor that would forge Congolese nationalism. One of those factors was the proclamation of the Congolese State as a secular state making religion a privilege of each individual. Another initiative was the creation of the Mouvement National Congolais (National Congolese Movement), on January 2nd 1958, a non-popular party as a way to surpass the different layers of identity.

At the dawn of 21st century where we are observing a certain trend of balkanization of the continent with a series of secessionist movements:

  • How can African leaders bring about and preserve national unity in their respective states?
  • How can national identities be sustained in Africa in a context where ethnic, tribal and religious identities are the primary defining identities.

All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact research@ipss-addis.org.

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