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Age of freedom or post-‘Berlin-state’Africa?

Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

2014-05-29, Issue 680

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The immediate emergency that threatens the very survival of African peoples is the ‘Berlin-state’. After decades of failure, Africa must now build inclusive states where women and men live as co-operators and co-creators in fundamentally transforming their society.

In 2064, fifty years away, the Igbo people and the rest of the world will be making final preparations to commemorate a century of the Igbo genocide. This will take place on 29 May 2066. It should be recalled that on that dreadful mid-morning of Sunday 29 May 1966 and through the course of 44 subsequent months of indescribable barbarity and carnage not seen in Africa since the German-perpetration of the genocide against the Herero people of Namibia in the early 1900s, the composite institutions of the Nigeria state, civilian and military, embarked on the murder of Igbo people. 3.1 million Igbo or one-quarter of this nation’s population were murdered during the genocide.

The Igbo genocide is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. It inaugurated Africa’s current age of pestilence. Singularly and quite dramatically, the genocide shattered the capacity of this post-conquest state to capitalise on the vast invaluable resources of multinationality and multiculturality emplaced at such a critical phase to engineer a determined reconstructionary and redevelopment programme of the country after the devastation of 60 years of the British occupation.

To understand the politics of the Igbo genocide and the politics of the ‘post’-Igbo genocide is to have an invaluable insight into the salient features and constitutive indices of politics across Africa in the past 50 years. Africans elsewhere remained largely silent on the gruesome events in Nigeria but did not foresee the grave consequences of such indifference as subsequent genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan (latter three in the Sudan) and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in other wars and conflicts in every geographical region of Africa during the period have demonstrated catastrophically: Liberia, Mali, Libya, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, southern Guinea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Central African Republic, Nigeria (Boko Haram insurgency in north, northcentral regions). The haunting killing fields have indeed stretched, almost inexorably, from Igboland to the rest of Africa…

Just as the Nigerian operatives of mass murder appeared to have got away without censure from the rest of Africa, other genocidal and brutal African regimes soon followed in Nigeria’s footpath, murdering a horrifically additional tally of 12 million people in their countries considered ‘undesirables’ or ‘opponents’ since the Igbo genocide in January 1970. These 12 million murdered in the latter bloodbaths would probably have been saved if Africans and the rest of the world had intervened, robustly, to stop the initial genocide against the Igbo people. Surely, the world could have stopped this genocide; the world should have stopped this genocide.


Forty-eight years and 15 million murders on, Africans now realise, finally, that there cannot be any meaningful advancement in their fortunes without abandoning this post-(European)conquest state, this ‘Berlin-state’, essentially a genocide-state. This state is the bane of African existence and progress. Yet, thankfully, just as in Berlin, in 1884-1885, when conquering Europeans drafted their gruesome charter for the occupation of Africa, states are not a gift from the gods but relationships painstakingly formulated and constructed by a discernible group of human beings that inhabit an ascertainable geo-historical territorial expanse on earth to pursue worldviews and interests envisioned and articulated by these same human beings. The state, any state, therefore, is transient; in contrast, human beings, people(s) endure.

Aimé Césaire once told interviewer Annick Thebia Melson (‘The liberating power of words: An interview with Poet Aimé Césaire’, The Journal of Pan-African Studies, Vol. 2, No 4, June 2008, pp. 2-7) during one of those illuminating discourses of his on history: ‘History is always dangerous, the world of history is a risky world; but it is up to us at any given moment to establish and readjust the hierarchy of dangers’ (2008: 7). It is indeed in the very course to disrupt and ‘readjust’ this hierarchy in this age of pestilence in the ‘cursed’ (to quote Basil Davidson) ‘Berlin-state’ in favour of Africa and African peoples that the constituent Africa nation or people (Igbo, Darfuri, Gikuyu, Wolof, Ibibio, Bakongo, Jola, Mongo, Akan, Luba, Ndebele, Mende, Luo, Herero, Serer, Bamileke, etc., etc) – so long maligned, so long impoverished, so long brutalised, so long humiliated and dehistoricised with often unprintable epithets (t****, n****, n*****, n******, p********, b******, w**, sub-*******, sub-*****, e*****, c***, c******, m*****, d******, h*******, f******-b******, b****, m***, b********, c*******, b*********…), so long massacred, is recognised, at last, as the principal actor and agency of its being and geography.

So, for all African peoples or nations, the unambiguous message on the unfurled banner for their freedom march in this next one-half of a century couldn’t be more confident and focused: ‘We are because we are free; We are free because we are’. Abandon the ‘Berlin-state’ now. Create your own state today, now. Now is the time! This nation, this people, can and should create its own state if it so desires. Freedom. It is its inalienable right. (, accessed 1 May 2014.) It does not therefore have to explain to anyone else why it has embarked on this track of freedom. It can now decide what precepts, what aspirations, what trajectory, what goals, it has set its new state to embark upon. As Césaire deftly puts it in the interview referred to, the challenges of the times become the ‘quest to reconquer something, our name (sic), our country … ourselves’ (2008: 2).


Thus, the pressing point to reiterate here is that the immediate emergency that threatens the very survival of African peoples is the ‘Berlin-state’ encased in African existence coupled with the pathetic bunch that masquerades here and there as African leaderships but whose mission is to oversee this enthralling edifice. African women and men will sooner, now, rather than later, abandon this fractured, fracturing, conflictive, alienating and terror contraption. Africans must now focus on real transformation – the revitalisation and consolidation of the institutions of Africa’s constituent nations and polities, or what Okwuonicha Nzegwu has described, succinctly, as the ‘indigenous spaces of real Africa’ (Nzegwu, Love, Motherhood and the African Heritage, 2001: 41). In these institutions and spaces of African civilisation lie the organic framework to ensure transparency, probity, accountability, investment in people, humanised wealth creation, respect for human rights and civil liberties, and a true commitment to radically transform African existence.

The future for the constituent nations and peoples of Africa couldn’t be more reassuring on the morrow of that which, since 1 January 1956, has been classified as the post-(European)conquest ‘Berlin-state’ or genocide-state of Africa. All successor states, organically constituted, really have their work cut out. Their mission is not to begin to construct states that are merely post-genocide or post post-conquest/post post-‘colonial’ states (cancelling out, in some mechanical venture, that which was ‘Berlin-state’ Africa here and there!) but a realisation, a reclamation of that which makes us all human and part of humanity. The new states have an opportunity to begin to build a new civilisation where human life, fundamentally, is sacrosanct. This is an inclusive state where women and men live as co-operators and co-creators in fundamentally transforming their society. This is a state that accepts and accords full rights to all minority groups. This is a state where people enjoy the rights to differ and to dream dreams and dream different sets of dreams as they choose. This is a state dedicated to furthering and nurturing the resilience of its people and to enabling them pursue their highest creative endeavours. This state continuously strives to remove all limitations in the paths of its people and committed to making life better and better and better. This is a state that primes its people to flourish. Finally, the long drawn out nightmare of nearly 200 years, since 1884-1885, is over and truly Africans do stand poised on the eve of a new beginning.

*Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is visiting professor in graduate programme of constitutional law, Universidade de Fortaleza, and author of Longest Genocide – Since 29 May 1966 (forthcoming, 2015)



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