Border Control

As if reading my mind on nationalism and borders, and writing about South Sudan, Jeffrey Gettleman broaches the idea that the state in Africa can be beside the point. 

In hindsight, it is clear that the old boundaries often hurt prospects for state building.maybe Africa is moving toward an understanding that smaller units can be better — that the Pandora’s box should have been cracked open long ago and the colonial-era borders adjusted to carve out smaller, more governable units.

It sounds like the mapmaking decisions of 1963 were born out of a belief in convenience. After decades of highly inconvenient conflict, I’m beggared to think why the modern African Union can’t imagine anything different. Gettleman is onto something by probing the politics there.

At the New Republic, we called what follows the “to be sure” paragraph:

“Africa doesn’t need a new map,” he said. “It needs new forms of leadership. In particular, it needs leaders who use national resources to benefit all citizens.***”

With that, Mr. Kiai agrees. In the end, the Kenyan human-rights advocate said, Africa’s problems are about governance and “the narrative of the state.”

“No country becomes a nation without a common accepted narrative that goes beyond individuals,” he said. “Hence the U.S. and its Mayflower, Tea Party, the War of Independence, the Wild West stories. When there is a narrative that provides a sense of sharedness, then the sense of nationhood cements itself.”

As an American, I’ll disagree with Kiai for believing the Tea Party and American manifest destiny to signify anything other than the relentless individualism that has been America’s best brand for 200 years. More importantly, I don’t see how “a sense of nationhood” has anything to do with African individuals grabbing onto the bottom rung of the economic ladder and continuing to climb.

***Womp, womp. Citizens are resources, too!