Many of my generation, my friends and intellectual buddies have been surprised that decades after independence, after colonialism and neo-colonialism have been cast aside as topics of the past, we are now scrambling to our history books to revisit the Berlin Conference and the Partition of Africa. This after we have in the very recent past focussed on topics like development, the free market and its limitations, the rights of citizens in a democratic state and the like.
Last Sunday while watching a TV program for Ugandan secondary school students on NTV, a rather flamboyant teacher asked ” To what extent were economic factors ( it changes to political and social factors) responsible for the partition of Africa” a common question in O’level exams. He even called Otto Von Bismark a man of peace.
I was laughing and protesting at the same time. I am an advocate for a a curriculum tailored to today’s realities. However I just received an email from Professor Mahmood Mamdani who heads the Makerere Institute of Social Research pointing to his article on the Al Jazeera website which references the Berlin conference in the conversation about the situation in Libya, the Arab spring and the era of competition between global powers for influence in Africa.
I agree with Mamdani here that public policy is certainly the first line of the defence of the nation right now. And also that threats to stability from external forces in Africa is real because of economic reasons. None the less even as my generation responds to this I am yet to see the clear ideological arguments that characterised the previous period of instability in Africa during the cold war, or the resistance to colonialism.
Some Ugandan thinkers like Andrew Mwenda have tried to debate the merits of intervention by NATO in Europe. Many will follow this path and look at how NATO can succeed or fail in Libya.
It appears that nationalism with post-modern features may be the destination. What I reject is this idea that what is happening today in many countries cannot be resisted both externally and internally. I think that African intellectuals more than ever must take sides in this conflict that goes beyond Libya.