AFRICAN STUDIES QUARTERLY

Volume 10, Issue 4
Spring 2009

Sara Dorman, Daniel Hammett, and Paul Nugent (eds.). Making Nations, Creating Strangers: States and Citizenship in Africa. Boston: Brill, 2007. 277p.


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Making Nations, Creating Strangers is part of the African Social Studies Series. It consists of a collection of more than a dozen papers from those presented at the ‘States, Borders and Nations: Negotiating Citizenship in Africa’ conference held at the University of Edinburgh in 2004. The papers examine the processes through which nations are made, citizenship is defined, and the political expressions of those constructions. They are grouped into five sections: 1) an introduction on citizenship in Africa by the three editors, 2) two case studies of inclusion, exclusion and conflict in Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 3) three papers on land and belonging, focusing on Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, 4) a section on nations building boundaries which explores the politics of language in Cameroon, nationalism in Tanzania, and race in Zimbabwean politics, and 5) an exploration of citizenship, in a paper on South Africa and two others for Africa as a whole. One-third of the essays were contributed by scholars based in Africa, with the remainder from Canadian, British, and American authors.

The contributors note that citizenship laws in Africa have received little scholarly attention and they seek to examine the many possible outcomes across Africa as its people negotiate their colonial histories, patterns of inequality, population pressure, land shortage, and entitlement to resources within the boundaries of individual states. Their approaches, though often not articulated in methodological sections, include interpreting and reflecting upon relevant primary and secondary source materials and interviews with African leaders, United Nations officials, immigrants, and ordinary citizens.

Several themes reoccur throughout the book, including the following: strategies used by states to unite diverse people and promote nationalism; the politics of inclusion/exclusion as well as approaches employed by political leaders to define those who are or are not rightful members of the state; the use of education and the media to frame, and if necessary, remake the past to control the future; social standing, belonging, and using immigrants, from settler-colonists to more recent arrivals, as scapegoats; the centrality of the ability to access or possess land in determining who ‘belongs’ in a state; the role of ‘guerrillas’ and insurgents in gaining supporters and shaping debates over rights and belonging; and, the failure of the end of the Cold War and the ‘decade of democratization’ (1990s) to end to violent conflict or ensure lasting political stability.

In no country are immigrants viewed neutrally. Even in Côte d’Ivoire, where immigration has been valorized for promoting economic success as well as viewed as indicative of the moral superiority of Ivoirians who welcome outsiders in the spirit of pan-Africanism, fraternity, and generosity, national identity cards have been used to determine voting and land rights, as well as who may seek the highest political office. In the DR Congo, Hutu and Tutsi ‘outsiders’ viewed as faring better economically than local inhabitants are subsequently mistreated by political leaders, even though by law some of these former Rwandans qualify for Congolese citizenship. Migrant farm workers in Zimbabwe, like migrants to Côte d’Ivoire, have been labeled as morally suspect or “less virtuous” (p. 116) than indigenous groups. The question of who is Tanzanian has been debated for decades and into the 21st century; at the heart of the query is whether resident South Asian Indians are Tanzanian or if they should give up their economic privilege to qualify.

Although long-term residency has served as a major determinant of potential citizenship in African countries, other factors have been used as markers of belonging. In Cameroon, the Anglophone minorities have been treated as second-class citizens and non-sedentary groups have been labeled as non-autochthonous, because they move over land rather than being ancestrally rooted to it. In South Africa, Nigeria, and elsewhere, people owning private property or living in urban areas have been politically privileged, while rural dwellers have been viewed as second class “‘subjects’ rather than as citizens able to engage in civil society” (p. 125).

Making Nations, Creating Strangers indicate that the more rigid categorization of people by ethnic background and occupation arose during the colonial period, but that post-independence leaders have used and manipulated these categories for their own benefit. There is a call by the authors, directly or implied, for Africans to broaden their notion of citizenship beyond individuals with claims to ancestral lands within state boundaries to include non-indigenous and non-sedentary people and incorporate them at all political levels in the name of democracy, nation-building, and sustainable development. At the same time, several contributors note that the use of language/ethnicity, long-term residency, and other claims to citizenship in African countries are quite similar to those which have been used on other continents throughout time. Furthermore, some of the contributors also note that constitutional reforms, although needed, may prove insufficient to resolve present-day inequalities if corruption and patronage remain widespread.

Though the essays in Making Nations, Creating Strangers are well-written and informative, with several being written by leading experts in the field, the inclusion of an essay on the impact of oil on statehood would have been welcome. Oil states such as Angola, Sudan, and Guinea Bissau receive virtually no mention and the essay on Nigeria does not address how oil plays into citizenship and identity. Furthermore, refugees receive only the briefest mention, yet their large numbers and unique position as “non-citizen others” (p. 255) who have experienced varying degrees of social integration into their host countries position them as worthy of greater coverage in a volume which delves deeply into bounded states, citizenship and identity. Making Nations, Creating Strangers contains two high quality maps, but no photographs, tables or charts.  The essays are pertinent to current events in Africa, and could serve as readings for upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses on African politics or international relations.  Additionally, the book should be useful for anyone with an interest in African politics and identity as it relates to statehood.

Heidi G. Frontani and Kristine Silvestri
Elon University