Culture and politics in Africa: legitimizing ethnicity, rehabilitating the post-colonial state

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This article deals with the interconnections between culture and politics in the context of the ongoing crisis of the post-colonial African state. It seeks to reassess the role of ethnicity in the debate on the rehabilitation of that state. It starts from the premise that ethnicity, the most effective socio-political agent in African politics, cannot be suppressed. It argues that ethno-cultural identity is not inherently inimical to the broad territorial community. The ethnic group is not only a platform from which to pursue exclusive ethnocentric interests and goals; it is also an area in which a moral debate is engaged concerning the proper relations between individuals and society. The territorial state can become an arena for a debate between diverse ethnic value systems which can result in a bargained, appropriate territorial order. This would confer upon the post-colonial state the legitimacy it lacks. This can be achieved only if ethnic groups are recognized as legitimate participants in a political-moral process leading to a broad, territorial consensus. A state premised on a multi-cultural rather than nation-building ethos is the appropriate locus for such a process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-380
Number of pages21
JournalNationalism and Ethnic Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996


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