By Makau Mutua
Several weeks ago, I opined on Twitter that Somalia, the most dysfunctional state in Africa, must either be dismembered, disaggregated, re-aggregated, or abolished altogether.
I immediately received flak and opprobrium from all manner of pedestrian commenters. Much of the commentary was emotionally charged without any redeeming argumentation. I wasn’t surprised, or offended. That’s because as a student of the African post-colonial state, I fully comprehend the irrational affection that many of us have towards the legal fictions – nonsense on stilts – we call our states. We mistakenly believe that post-colonial states, or any states, are irreversible. I have news for the social media pugilists who went to war with me – it’s not only Somalia that should be terminated, or re-imagined.
I have argued before in my legal scholarship that many African post-colonial states are legal and moral nullities. Virtually all “our” states were slapped together without rhyme or reason by European colonial empires. The imperialists didn’t create the states for our benefit, but for the express purposes of colonising us to extract our resources and oppress us. Thus the internal logic of the African artificial imposed state was corrupt and bereft of salvation.
Once physical colonialism ended, the international legal and geopolitical systems became the guarantors of the post-colonial state. African states became – and remain – wards of global hegemons. Simply put, we don’t own ourselves, or the states we live under. We are beggarly, unoriginal, and dependent.
Which begs the question – why do we jealously protect and fiercely defend that which we didn’t create? Can we through our own cartography normatively and on the African map reconstruct the African state to make it our own? Or are we forever condemned to live under what the White Man concocted for us? This is a more poignant question especially for those African states that have been unable to cohere into nations, or viable political societies. In Africa, I can think of a few basket cases. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one. So are Rwanda and Burundi. Many more teeter on the brink of collapse. Others have no reason to exist. Why should Chad, a sprawling desert, be a state?
I often wonder why The Gambia, a tiny sliver of land, should be a member of the United Nations. Or why Lesotho and Swaziland, both charges of South Africa, should be independent political entities. What difference would it make to the people who live in Kenya if the country was confederated with Uganda and Tanzania? Or if Burundi and Rwanda were absorbed in Tanzania? We know this – African elites are the ones that fiercely guard the “independence” of the state. Yet ironically, it’s the same elites that have retarded the African state and prevented it from maturing into a nation. It’s they who hold Africans hostage in their own land. It’s they who sell Africans to the global hegemons.
Although the disgust my critics expressed when I called for Somalia’s dismemberment was understandable, it should’ve been tempered by a wider perspective. For one, Somalia isn’t alone. What’s more, some African states – including Somalia itself – have self-dismembered. Somalia is today an incoherent mess of little state-lets.
VANISHED IN FLASH
The government in Mogadishu has no writ over the country. It’s a figment of global powers and the United Nations which hold on to the totems of statehood even when evidence suggests that Somalia is a lie as a state. Eritrea was hived off from Ethiopia. South Sudan was chopped off from Sudan. New map-making is going on even as the so-called international community resists the re-articulation of the post-colonial state.
The quagmire that’s Somalia isn’t an African one alone. There are many states outside Africa that have either been dismembered, disappeared, or re-aggregated. East Germany is no more. Nor is West Germany or Czechoslovakia. There used to be a superpower called the Soviet Union. We all know it vanished in a flash in the early 1990s to be replaced by 15 independent states. In an earlier era, Poland disappeared from the global map several times. There was no state called India before the British imperialists made it up. Pakistan and Bangladesh are toddlers as states. The mighty United States of America itself didn’t exist until 1776. Nor did Canada or many Latin American or Central American states.
States aren’t permanent political creatures for all time. They’ve come and gone. Today, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a historical anachronism that’s coming apart at the seams. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have expressed separatist ambitions. They want to escape the suffocating thumb of England. Spain, the once mighty empire, is desperately fighting to keep Catalonia and the Basque country. Quebec wants out of Canada. If these old and once dominant states are under threat of dismemberment, how can one be upset when I call for Somalia to be re-thought? What more evidence do we need to conclude that Somalia can’t be viable? Let’s be pragmatists and end Somalia’s long nightmare.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.