Book chapter

Nationalism in African Politics (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

African nationalism's origins are found in anti-colonial protest and the artificial boundaries of post-colonial states. But it has proven a resilient force in African politics, alongside the colonially engineered states, with few border changes in the post-independence period. Despite the artificiality of the new states and nations, only a few new states emerge, with most political conflict aimed at ensuring inclusion within the state's original boundaries. The experience of decolonization has led nationalist politics to be coalitional in form rather than ideological, bringing together diverse groups. Nation building strategies are deployed after independence to promote unity and development while depoliticizing, homogenizing, and gendering the nationalist legacy. Memorialization and iconography are deployed in this cause, but unevenly. The decades after independence are marked by single party or no-party rule in which the nationalist generations hold on to power. After the end of the cold war, when multiparty elections resumed in many states, and with the aging nationalists increasingly unable to maintain their hold on power, identity-based politics was transformed into an often violent politics of belonging, identifying some ethnic and racial groups as more fully national than others. In states that experienced liberation wars, the generation that led the struggle proved particularly resistant to handing over power, basing their claims on their nationalist credentials and seeking to discredit others. Yet generational and technological change ensured that subaltern groups, through creative and social media, as well as political movements, continued to claim, contest, and transform national imaginaries.