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Reviewed by:
  • Borders, Nationalism, and the African State
  • Harvey Glickman
Laremont, Ricardo Rene , ed. 2005. Borders, Nationalism, and the African State. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers. 351 pp. $59.95 (cloth).

It probably sounded like a good idea when pitched to the Carnegie Corporation: let's compare "the consolidation of borders, the building of state institutions, and the creation of national consciousness" (p. 1) in eight African states with the historical experience of several countries in Western Europe and the relatively recent experience of Yugoslavia and see what we come up with as determinative variables. The innovative contribution of the project would be the use of public-opinion surveys in African states. Additionally, ideas would be tested against two major contemporary analytical themes: globalization, and grievance or greed issues as causes of civil wars.

The resulting published volume comprises six thought-provoking essays (four by country experts) that barely refer to one another, whose interrelationships are surface-scratched by the editor in his introduction and conclusion. An overriding conclusion of the reader's journey may be that the subject requires a multivolume series or a multiyear effort to test explanations, rather than settle for modesty, such as, "When borders are not consolidated, when effective political institutions have not been created, and when nationalist projects remain incomplete, the result is instability, and a tendency toward civil conflict or warfare" (p. 2). [End Page 139]

In the volume's execution, only four African states were written up: Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo, and Sierra Leone. The major questions that seem to guide the study, although they are not stated so simply, are: Why are these artificial, ex-colonial borders so sticky? What is the relationship between creating strong state institutions and loyalty to an emerging sense of nationhood? Are federalism and multiethnic cooperation feasible when the concept of the state is under siege? Unfortunately, in company with many such attempts, clear answers are difficult to discern.

The European and African cases are examined through the lens of "historical sociology" to reveal sequences of national identity formation, stability of borders, and stabilization of state institutions. Laremont, who teaches political science and Africana Studies at SUNY–Binghamton, offers (pp. 15–24) a summary of the European experience for comparison with Africa, allowing the case studies to break whatever new ground will be revealed. His conclusions (pp. 315– 324) evenhandedly summarize the chapter case findings. Sudan may be on the brink of fundamental change in creating a sense of one state, although considerable sentiment endures in favor of secession in the South. In Ethiopia, the dominant Tigray group approves of their government's performance, but among the major ethnic groups, "there is significant divide on the question of identity" (p. 316). Investigation of the Democratic Republic of Congo provides the surprising results that ordinary people seem committed to the idea of the territorial integrity of the Congo despite the decline of public services and public safety: "This surprising result demands more research" (p. 316). In Sierra Leone, we discover serious rifts between Mende and Temne, and a shift of power from Krio dominance.

The major value of the volume lies in the sensitive and authoritative cases. Francis Deng reprises his multifarious writings on his home country of Sudan to summarize historical divisions, continuing identity conflict, and multiple attempts to end almost continuous civil strife. A unique segment of his essay is the public-opinion survey among Sudanese in-country and abroad on issues of statehood and national consciousness (pp. 65–80). "The trends illustrated by this survey, while broadly reflective of significant differences among the three groups, nonetheless reveal creative tensions that have helped develop and strengthen integrative forces of identity and unity" (p. 80).

Edmond Keller, a long-time authority on Ethiopia, digs into the practice of ethnic federalism, reviews the practices of putatively devolved federalism, and offers perhaps the book's most detailed survey of public perceptions of service delivery, ethnic or national identity, and citizenship (pp. 115–128). Although the present Ethiopian government "is making some headway in engendering a sense of Ethiopian identity," the system exhibits the earmarks of an ethnic oligarchy in practice (p. 130).

Herbert Weiss, with Tatiana Carayannis, tackles the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1978
Print ISSN
0001-9887
Pages
pp. 139-141
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-19
Open Access
No
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