It’s the latest in nation hipness. It’s the fashion statement for global mapmakers. It’s the must have of the Eastern European border walks everywhere. Even Paris Hilton thinks it’s hot (okay, I made that one up). Yes, it’s the declaration of independence that all the rage right now. And Kosovo is the hot new independence date. She just declared herself independent and ready for a date with any ideology of her choice. What is this all about and when will Africa grab her slice of the independence cake?
It seems as if everyone has had their chance to declare themselves independent over the last decade or two decades. The World Bank looked at 129 countries when they did their World Development Report back in 1988. The 2007 report had 181 countries. Almost growing faster than the world population I think.
Of course there will always be a spurned lover. Kosovo breaking up with Serbia has not gone down well with the Eastern European family. Serbia is refusing to accept that the relationship is over. And his bigger aunt, Mother Russia, isn’t taking this lying down either. We haven’t seen the end of this stormy relationship yet. Hey, they courts still need to decide whether they can divorce or not. And we know that the UN court has never been the fastest in delivering a verdict.
But what’s with all this independence all of a sudden? Well, it is partly because the borders were artificial (like most borders). And it didn’t take into account people and their differences. The borders of the mind. They just grouped people together and forced them to live with each other. It was okay for a while, but people still had their differences. They just managed to live together and have fun together. And there were other things to worry about – like Mother Russia coming to town for a stay.
But the world kept on telling them that each individual is more important than the group. So people started believing that they are all different. And started hanging out with people they thought were more like themselves. Language, food and culture. Whatever they felt could hold them together. And they jumped on the chance once Mother Russia left the building.
Of course it also helped that people were told that they should get a little something for themselves. It’s at the heart of capitalism. Not saying it is wrong. Just that it tells people they should get something for themselves first and the group comes later. And this was translated into getting your own piece of land and some goodies you can call your own. Politicians jumped on this. What’s better than running your own country. Tell the people that they are being exploited by others and that they deserve their own country and bang – you have the immaculate conception of a nation. Something from nothing.
It’s made even easier if the country you belong to goes to war. You don’t want war. So why should you be pulled into all this. Best way to get out of war? Declare yourself independent. Tell everyone you want nothing to do with war. Who will fight you on this? Except of course those who are in war, but that’s a minor detail. Kosovo pulled this one on Serbia. Serbia was out beating up family members and Kosovo got a bit worried that they might be next. Like breaking up won’t send them over the edge?
But why isn’t this happening in Africa? Have you seen the borders lately? The borders between African countries today are products of colonial era boundary-making. Africa’s boundaries were, for the most part, arrived at with no reference at all to the social or cultural characteristics of the people they divided. Have you noticed all the straight lines? More than 40% of Africa’s border follow straight lines and another 30% curved lines. It was drawn with a ruler and a bendy straw. That’s what they mean by divide and conquer. Just cut it up with straight line and bendy bits – I’ll take this side and you take that side. And those borders divide people. More than 170 ethnic and cultural groups are divided by these artificial borders. (Of course this makes for a great sociological experiment for those academics out there.)
Every now and again we hear groups want to break away in Africa. The most ridiculous being those few white ‘boere’ in South Africa that wants to have their own country called Orania. But they are a small fringe group and not a reflection of the broader Afrikaner community in South Africa. We just don’t have declarations of independence happening often in Africa.
Maybe it is because we still believe in people more than individuals. Maybe it is because we are always fighting each other or loving each other. We can’t make up our minds so we don’t have time to think of independence. We are too dependent on each other to declare independence.
Or maybe it is because no one actually cares whether anyone in Africa declares independence. I was lying earlier when I said almost no one tries to declare independence in Africa. Every country has its own group trying to declare independence. It’s just that they can’t get it right. But they don’t have oil and they don’t act as a buffer between Uncle Sam and Mother Russia. People just don’t care if you try to declare independence in Africa. You think anyone would have cared if Kosovo was in Africa?
But maybe it is also because we do see ourselves as African. We know we can be Nigerian or Ethiopian or Kenyan or Congolese or whatever. And we’ll support our teams when we play each other in soccer. But we also know that we are one. We have something in common that no border can stop. You know it when you walk into a shebeen in Soweto or a bar in NY. Put two Africans in a room and we will be drawn to each other no matter where we are or how many other people are hanging out at the drinking hole. We know we are one on this continent of ours. We are in no way perfect. We always fight with each other and struggle each day. But we know each other and trust each other more than we trust or know ourselves. And way more than we trust anyone from outside our borders…
We know that you can never really be independent. How independent are you? You think Kosovo will be independent? Think again. They will have to pick their friends carefully and build new relationships. No man is an island – and the same goes for countries. You can’t make it on your own. Independence is a fallacy. It doesn’t happen.
But be careful. There might be an independence coming your way soon. You never know if your neighbor wants their own little piece of land to call their own. And be especially weary if they eat different food and speak in a funny language or accent. Be careful. The next Global Independence Day might be coming to a town close to you.