Have Ethnic and Religious Identities Assisted or Hindered the Political Process in Post Colonial Africa Essay

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Ethnic Religion Identity Politics Nigeria

Ethnic and Religious Identity Division and the Political Process in Nigeria

To a large degree post-colonial Africa has been forever and inextricably changed by the colonial experience. Though there is clear evidence that ethnic and religious identity was entrenched as a source of potential conflict, prior to colonization the examples of conflict were regional and relatively minor. This is supported by Thompson in the case study on Nigeria, where it is noted that much of the defined ethnic identity was in fact supplied by the British government, as were the ethnic and geographic boundaries that are still present today. These boundaries in Nigeria, established for the ease of administration on the part of the British colonial government, as well as the ethnic identities associated with them now constitute the definitions of which ethnic groups dominate the political process and who by default is left out of such dominance.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Have Ethnic and Religious Identities Assisted or Hindered the Political Process in Post Colonial Africa Assignment

Colonialism taught Africans that ethnic and religious differences could be used as a basis for institutional discrimination through the example of the "us and them" mentality of the colonial entities. In many places in Africa the infrastructure that was developed during colonial rule, the separation of the elite from the "other" meaning the rest of the populous of the nation was entrenched and well supported. It therefore goes without saying that African governments would base their neo-colonial systems on standards associated with their colonial past, as well as their colonial educations. Therefore, much of the diversity of African nations has not been recognized as valuable and can therefore be said to undermine progress, allowing ethnic and religious differences to determine the ruling class and the rest of the population as not only separate but allowably discriminated against, stifling a democratic political process. This is not to say that ethnic and religious difference are the hindrances but that the colonial experience set up these nations to develop their political systems as models of the colonial governments that vacated their posts when independence was achieved. This is still true even when these nations seek and achieve revolution, as often the new guard, of an opposing ethnic or religious identity is poised to enjoy the power and privilege of the ruling class that they have successfully ousted and often simply falls into a similar routine allowing power and privilege to corrupt and this seems to occur again and again on both a large and a small scale. There is clearly no question that the consensus of the literature is that Africa is behind in political development and in its bid to fully entrench a political agenda that serves the majority, even in Nigeria, the most develop, wealthy and populated of the African nations.

Africa lags behind all the other regions, of the world on all of the basic human needs indicators -- employment, food,, safe drinking water, sanitation, health care, education and housing. Moreover, the majority of the peoples of Africa are trapped in the abyss of abject poverty and its consequent deprivation and misery. However, elite members of the various ruling classes in Africa, their families, friends and supporters have all of the material comforts of life courtesy of the neo-colonial state.

The legacy of the colonial states and divisions, in the development of a post-colonial Nigeria, leave even members of the three main ethnic majorities reeling from issues of ethnic and religious identity, many seeking to reinvent their historical underpinnings as valid as well as to be recognized by the larger body in the political process.

"Africa needs a democratically reconstructed state that would be relevant to the lives of the vast majority of Africans."

Following the European colonisation of Africa, many hitherto independent groups of people were forcefully amalgamated to produce the present states in the continent. This accounts for the polyethnic and multicultural nature of all African states. However, the experiences of colonialism, which bordered on the nature and impacts of the different colonial policies and the legacies of the colonial era even in postcolonial years, have left many African countries conflict- and crisis ridden. Many of the conflicts, literature revealed, revolve around such issues as the right to identity, right to internal self-determination, right to group existence, right to land and to the control of resources, among others.

When Nigeria and others look for examples in the world, they see only the deconstructed colonial bias and do not have reason to define their own identity as a nation separate from the administrative and ethnic identities associated with colonialism.

There is in other words no place like Africa, as the majority of the history involved relatively peaceful coexistence of hundreds neighboring ethnic and religious groups that interacted, prior to British amalgamation as neighbors with differences and identities that were tolerated to a large degree, with each dominating its own local independent political identity. Yet, the drawing of strict borders of the nation as well as the administrative districts of that nation, for the ease of administration, created within the nation, as well as other African nations conflicts that arise from a lack of diverse ethnic and religious recognition and the expectation of the masses to identify as a culminated ethnic force, even when their internal diversity and thousands of years of history run contrary to this.

Furthering this difficulty is the fact that all the major religions are present in the lineage of the diverse cultures of Africa, Nigeria specifically has Muslim and Christian, though all other major world religions and some specific to Africa can be seen and are represented in Nigeria. At the rise of the 21st century challenges were made specifically in Nigeria to embrace Islamic law as the law of the people, looking for an alternative to the canned form of colonial democracy currently dominating the nation. In 1999-2000 twelve states in northern Nigeria declared Islamic Law (Shari'ah) as the criminal law of the state for all Muslims.

This challenged the national legal system but also served as warning to the nation and others that ignoring diversity for any reason will likely create legacies of division. Sadly, the representation of an ethnic minority as Muslim and therefore subscript to Islamic law did not amalgamate the political scene. In fact it further fractionalized it as the conflicts of diversity in beliefs that are present in the Islamic world were simply transplanted into the North Nigerian culture, as enforcers and others went around defining and designating some who self identified as Islamic heretical and marginal as a result of their reformed or non-reformed beliefs and lifestyles.

Those who had sought and supported the ideation of the rule of Islamic Law as a force for the galvanizing of the ethnic and religious identity of the nation, at least in its Northern states were sadly awakened tot the fact that ideations of Islam and their progressive social and political wills marked them for surveillance and criminal investigation by enforcers.

This turn of events did not amalgamate and create a collective body of alternative for the nation or even the regions of its enforcement but simply added one more additional identity to the conflict. This is in combination with the fact that the religios majority in Nigeria is not Islamic, nor are they Christian, but both clearly exist in the nation and again the diversity rather than an asset is a divisive force, regionally and nationally. In a work discussing Christian identities in Nigeria this point is also brought to light, as it discusses a new (not historical) Christian movement in the nation. The work also clearly mentions the Islamic revival in the North and the Christian (Pentecostal) resistance to it:

It is the general view in the country that the benign approach of the traditional Christian churches to the dictatorial affiliations with Islam by the country's past leaders would not have been able to counterbalance the bias toward Islam without the engaging presence of Pentecostal Christians. The recent resistance to the implementation of sharia rule in some of the northern states by their governors and the vibrant counter-approach by Pentecostal leaders, who have constantly called attention both to the right to worship for all Nigerians and the constitutional reality of Nigeria as a religiously neutral country, is a good example.

Though clearly the Islamic law answer was not a fundamentally homogenizing response to a full out rejection of colonial type social, legal and political rule a new emerging Christian conversion membership showed to be one of the most ardent rejecters of the attempt by the northern states to universalize and replace colonial political standards. The rejection of the Islamic law foundation and the skirmishes that were a result of it again gives an example of the failure of any one political and legal identity to be embraced by Nigeria, or for the most part most African nations.

There is a clear sense that some sense of Pan Nigerian identity or even Pan African identity may need to supersede the old political and social boundaries of colonial… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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