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Ethnicity Blights Democratization and Nation-Building in Africa

Feb 4, 2019 | 11:00 GMT
Nigeria's Obafemi Awolowo arrives in London on May 10, 1957.

Nigeria's Obafemi Awolowo played a key role in his nation's independence movement. "Nigeria is not a nation, it is a mere geographical expression," he wrote in his 1947 book, "Path to Nigerian Freedom."

(DOUGLAS MILLER/Keystone/Getty Images)

One of the problems undermining liberal democracy in Africa is ethnicity. In fact, despite the rise of multiparty democracy on the continent, the electoral decision-making processes are often defined by vitriolic rivalries between clans and cultural groupings. While agreeing that ethnicity predates colonial Africa, its prominence today is arguably a by-product of the balkanization of Africa by European powers. The arbitrary borders created at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 confined different ethnic groups to specific states. Many of those boundaries enclosed hundreds of diverse and independent groups with no common history, culture, language or religion....

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