Peaceful vs. violent nation building in Africa

What is nation building? Mostly the concept refers to the process that is followed in restructuring a country that is not functioning properly as it is expected. A good example is of a country that is trying to improve its economy that has collapsed. The term is also be used to mean constructing a nation using the powers conferred to it by the subject so that it could be politically stable and viable. There are various methods that are used in nation building. Some governments use propagandas while others build infrastructure to bring social integration and harmony as well as economic growth. The term mostly fits to the African nations that are trying to shape their territories newly after colonialists divided them without considering ethnic and other divisions in those regions. Nation building can be either peaceful or violent. The main focus of this paper will be to compare and contrast the two categories.

In normal events, every state should be able to provide for its people and should be able to protect the rights of its citizens. One main problem that government face is the challenge of keeping a stable government face is the challenge of keeping a stable government that is capable of meeting basic standards of its citizens. The failure of the government to provide and protect its citizens is what broods violence. Multi ethnic society is one of the factors that contribute to the violent peace making process. There are various methods that can be used in peaceful nation building for example, the party system and signing mutual agreements with disagreeing parties.

One strategy for promoting peaceful nation building is by inculcating the culture of peace in school. By this way, the future generations will get this culture from their predecessors. The concept of nation building as I mentioned earlier was used in decolonization programs but later it shifted to other aspects of life. It process has been and is still an ongoing process.

Violence in nation building is dangerous (Hippler J.2005; 27-43) It was used in countries like Rwanda, Sudan Somali and other African states like in the case of Rwanda where in a bid to take control in nation building a fight erupted between Tutsi and Hutus. A lot of people were killed especially from the minority Tutsi in 1994 under what is now referred as the Rwandan genocide. This conflict also created the problem of refugees. Many people who were escaping from Rwanda went to the neighboring countries as refugees. Many of them died of cholera, dysentery and other diseases.

Another disadvantage of violent nation building is that human rights are abused. For example, in Sudan and Rwanda many people lost their lives, women were raped while others were held prisoners of war. Even children were conscripted in the army.

Violent nation building has also been witnessed in Darfur region in Western Sudan. The crisis is between two ethnic tribes where one group comprises of Baggagra who are Arabs while the other one is comprised of Zaghawa, Massaleit and Fur who are land tillers unlike Baggara who are camel keepers.

This conflict has been caused by shortage of resources. Baggara tribe started it in 2003 while in search of water in the South confronted the non-Arab communities. The conflict has led to about 450,000 deaths. Many diseases have occurred in the region. A lot of people have been displaced and are now refugees either at home or in the neighboring countries. This violent nation building strategy has led to the disruption of economic social education as well as economic institutions. This is because religious institutions that help in integrating people cannot even conduct their businesses and trade freely as they used before the crisis erupted. It should be known that nations develop because of the peaceful environment that they enjoy at home. This why countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan are among the poorest nations in the world

If you have watched the last king of Scotland film that was released in 2006 then, you can truly see the demerits of using violence as a strategy of nation building. The film is about the rise and fall of Idi Amin as president in 1971 and his fall in 1979.

A violent strategy in search of peace promotes terrorism, smuggling of goods and other illegal businesses are conducted. This happened in Uganda when Amin was in a bid to strengthen his position (Hansen H.B. and Twaddle M. (Eds) 1994; 78-85) He smuggled goods across the border and sold illegal firearms to rebels in southern region of Sudan. President Obote ordered for his house arrest but this idea failed to materialize. Eventually Amin staged a coup when Obote went to Singapore in 1971 to attend a commonwealth meeting. According to the international human rights groups, about hundred thousands to three thousand people were killed. Most of these were from Lango, Acholi and other ethnic communities.

Amin forced Asians out of the country, which he proudly described as ‘black man’s country.’ Though many Ugandans approved the move, their departure had serious impact on sugar and textile industries that closed down. Also educational places that were run by Asians were closed. By 1970s Uganda was in an economical mess and even now it is still trying to recover from the ravages it inherited from the rule of Idi Amin Dada.

On the other hand, peaceful nation building has its merits. It is more recommended than violent one. It happened in Senegal after it become independent in 1960. Senghor who was the president took control over Senegal. He made alliances with the local leaders from various tribes. In this way, he was able to set a stage for his country to develop through his gradual reforms strategy. Africans in Senegal were unified by their strong desire to be independent and were determined to restructure their dilapidated nation soon after the French government moved out. From the independence period, leaders have been trying to promote national loyalty. They used the strategy of ‘ethnic arithmetic’ in translating regional loyalties into national loyalties. This strategy saved people from shedding unnecessary blood after they got their independence (Desmond J. Clark and Roland 1975; 123)

In Tanzania, nation building thrived well without resulting to an armed conflict. This can be attributed to the policies of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. A close look at the Tanzanian case, one can clearly see that any nation can develop irrespective of its different ethnic backgrounds with various languages. In Tanzania, media and educational systems were employed to inculcate in people the desire to unite for national development as opposed to regional or ethnic lies. Through Nyerere’s administrative skills, Tanzania had peaceful national development strategies and has never witnessed any violent mutiny except a small mutiny that broke out in his army but was suppressed instantly with the help of British troops. Many African leaders did not approve this idea and referred to it as neo colonialism (Zell Hans M. (Ed) 2006; 631)

As we have noted, countries moving from chaos to order takes time to achieve their dream but if they again embark on armed conflict, the nation building process goes back to square one. In a nutshell, nation building means putting all institutions whether economic, political, judicial, social or medical in a unified whole. It is this interrelatedness that creates a fertile ground for national development. This is what has made countries like Senegal and Tanzania to develop while Sudan and Rwanda are economically lagging behind.



Hippler J. Nation Building: A Key Concept for Peaceful Transformation. Pluto Press.        2005; 27-43

Desmond J. Clark and Roland 1975. The Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge           University Press.1975; 123.

Hansen H.B. and Twaddle M. (Eds) From Chaos to Order: The Politics of Constitution   Making in Uganda. London: James Currey. 1994; 78-85

Zell Hans M. (Ed). The African Studies Companion: A Guide to Information Sources, 4th             Edition. United Kingdom. 2006; 631