Did Colonialism Lead to Cultural Instability in Africa?

Africa is, and will always be the greatest continent in terms of ethnic plurality. Historically African societies have functioned through traditional family values that placed importance on lineage, the clan and the tribe. Before colonialism, the confederation of groups with diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic identity formed the African Kingdoms.

In my latest book chapter, I argue that Africa before colonialism had cultural stability. This is to say that there were less ‘clashes’ of culture among people practicing different traditions.

Unfortunately, the scramble, invasion and partition of Africa among colonial powers completely altered the Africa we have today. Ethnic or cultural groups from different kingdoms were divided by new colonial borders. This division created an opposition to collective identity within and without. The breakup of ethnic identity is listed among psychosocial and political causes of conflicts that undermine development in the African continent. In this chaos, there is a constant struggle between ethnic identities versus the state identity. Jo-Ansie van Wyk. argues that within states, ethnic based exclusion, marginalization and the over exploitation of African resources by colonizers has rendered Africa economically weak and divisive. When it comes to trade for example, Africa intra-regional trade is estimated at about 10% compared with 40% in North America and 60% in Western Europe.

Due to Africa’s poor economic state, one may conclude that perhaps neo-colonialism which is the control of less developed countries by developed countries has had negative consequences for Africa. Kwame Nkrumah rightly viewed neo-colonialism as an imperial design that was the final and most dangerous stage of colonialism as colonisers kept a firm grip  on economic projects of the continent.

The huge inequality among those in power (those who belong) and the poor of the poor (those who are different) is also a cause for concern. Africa has failed to overturn colonial legacy and contemporary neo-colonial projects due to the non-complacency of dictators and numerous projects of ‘human suffering’ perpetrated by African leaders themselves on their people.  This is the worst evil as it is multiplying conflicts and revolts at both ethnic and state levels.

Africa should attempt to reconstruct a homogenous state identity. Rwanda is a typical example of a state that is building on the state identity (Rwandan) as opposed to the heterogeneous ethnic identities of being ‘Hutu, Tutsi or Twa’ after the ethnic cleansing (genocide) of 1994. Such is an example to emulate.


***Featured image | church genocide memorial, Rwanda | Dylan Walters | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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