The nation state is a 19th century European invention, which may have had some kind of application there at that time. But even in Europe it has been a bumpy ride. Northern Ireland, Basque Country, Yugoslavia. Many European countries are not Nation States: in Belgium half the population is French and half is Dutch. Switzerland is a kilt of languages and concomitant ethnicities (French, German, Italian). The Soviet Union was a Moloch of ethnicities, and even now Russia hosts many languages, cultures and ethnic groups. Two World Wars and many small wars have been the effect. And that is in the homeland of the “Nation State”.
African states have nothing like a nation identity: their borders were drawn up in Berlin in 1883 by Europeans according to the logic of European powers, without a single African present, or without any consideration of Africanity. If the Nation State is a risky undertaking in Europe, its homeland, in Africa it is a non-starter. We have no Nation States. For practical matters we have borders, and we will have to live with them for the foreseeable future. But we should not make too much of them. Patriotism, nationalism, all that is empty phrases in the African context. We should unite more and divide less.
Economically we have been disadvantaged by European colonialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism. Because of our history as well as our non-capitalist background, capitalism does not serve us well. But the capitalists keep coming. They are looking for our raw materials. The Europeans first, later (after the Second World War) joined by the Americans and to a lesser degree the Soviets. Most recently joined by the Chinese, who recently turned capitalist. All these capitalists have their agendas, and they are pursuing them with vigor unmatched by the African victims of the new scramble for Africa: us.
We need to resist these powers that take our resources after buying our rulers. They lay SAPs on us, now renamed “Extended Credit Facility”. They tell us how to run our economies, to privatise left right and centre all the way to public utilities like Escom. We don’t have a say, because we, as African peoples are divided. Divided by borders, in the 19th century drawn up by Europeans. Divided by rulers who defend their personal vested interests, and little kingdoms of patrimonialism, nepotism, Clientelism. Our rulers keep the borders closed, while the Americans united in the 18th century against the British colonialists. While the Europeans spent the second half of the 20th century to unite. While the Chinese have united many ethnicities and cultures for thousands of years. A small country like Malawi cannot defend itself against an onslaught of power from these giants like EU, US, and China. We need to unite with our neighbours, open our borders with them. Harmonise policies. (Bingu picked fights with our neighbours and that has not helped, but he has been dead for years now). Make bilateral and multilateral agreements, in Comesa, in SADC. Our trucks spend days at the border for useless formalities. This is not productive and keeps transports expensive and slow. This drives up prices, and lowers profitability of our businesses, who cannot be competitive this way. It keeps us down.
Huge levies of indirect taxes, import duties, you name it. All that from here to another African country, and the same on the way back. This means we as Africans all lose out (except maybe the corrupt functionaries at the border!). We need to simplify travel, transport. We need to open up so we can prosper with the huge markets in Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and beyond. So we can profit from skills from across the border to make our businesses more competitive. To make our job market more flexible, and to offer our skills to others, and use other people’s skills. To find employment in the huge economies around us. We need to stop thinking in small nation states (invented by Europeans!), and unite with our neighbours to be vibrant and to prosper. And simply cross the lines that Europeans drew on a map in Berlin in 1883.