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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, '09, 1:18 am 
Since a few of you seem interested, I'm posting this topic about the research I've done for my senior honors thesis, and it's a research lead I'll probably continue while I'm getting my Master's degree. So, here is an overview of what I'm doing.

The main focus of my research is why the country of Botswana, just north of South Africa, has been a thriving democracy free of any ethnic strife and civil wars while much of the rest of Africa...well, hasn't. Doing this has entailed research beyond just Botswana though, as understanding one country doesn't mean a whole lot without context. So I've also researched about political theory regarding racial and ethnic relations, as well as Africa's history with colonialism and post-independence politics, both of which are significant in contemporary ethnic tensions on the continent. I've also researched a fair bit on two cases where states have had problems, and the two here are Sudan and Somalia. Briefly, the Sudan is a case of genocide. The fighting and genocide in Darfur and other southern areas of the country is well reported on in western media, so many people are aware it's happening. What the media doesn't do well is explain causation. Somalia is a case of total state collapse. It has not had a central authority since 1991, and if a central authority DOES form, it will likely be a Muslim fundamentalist government because Islam is the only actual institution that exists there. Somalia doesn't get much attention from western media, in terms of what's happening and why, despite it being a completely failed state. The political theory and failed cases I've done most of the research for and much writing. Botswana itself is the part I've written and researched least thus far. The reason for this is because so little is written on Botswana because it is stable, and no one studies stability. It has been a multiparty democracy since independence from Britain in 1966. It was the ONLY one in Africa in 1980s, and today, remains politically and economically stable. This is quite a contrast to some of its neighbors, notably Zimbabwe to its east, with is massive cholera outbreak and political strife with Mugabe not leaving.

That, in a nutshell, is what I'm writing about in my thesis. I didn't give a whole lot of info for now so this post isn't obscenely long like some others I've been posting lately. Plus...there's just so much detail, I'll have a hard time deciding what details to put in. So instead, I'd rather hear what those of you who are interested want to know. Anything someone wants to know, I'll do my best. :)

Posting this is also going to be a big help to me as well, as talking about this with other people often helps me straighten things out in my mind, articulate them better and such things. So you guys might be really helpful to me in this way. :yes:


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, '09, 10:27 pm 
Very, very interesting topic, Caged Wolf! I have heard a little about Botswania, but really not enough to know anything much. I would like to hear more about that. I find it interesting that they are so "stable" and the other places are almost the opposite. I have heard a lot about Darfur, mainly due to all the celebrities like George Clooney who are trying to help there in some way. I feel very sad for those people and find it hard to understand why all the help they seem to be getting doesn't seem to help very much. I don't really know all that much about this subject as a whole, but as I said, I do find it interesting because these are people living (or trying to live) in the same world in which we do. It hurts to hear and see of their sufferings. Looking forward to any discussions on this subject and any views anyone might have.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, '09, 11:40 pm 
Well, what the heck, I have some time, I'll answer a few of the things you mentioned. :)

Silver_Surfer1 wrote:Botswania


Don't know if that's just a typo or not, but it's Botswana, not Botswania. :wink:

Silver_Surfer1 wrote:I find it interesting that they are so "stable" and the other places are almost the opposite. I have heard a lot about Darfur, mainly due to all the celebrities like George Clooney who are trying to help there in some way. I feel very sad for those people and find it hard to understand why all the help they seem to be getting doesn't seem to help very much. I don't really know all that much about this subject as a whole, but as I said, I do find it interesting because these are people living (or trying to live) in the same world in which we do.


I'm not surprised that you've heard about Sudan and Darfur. It's hard not to be aware of it, but in all honestly, I consider Somalia in even worse shape and it saddens me that it's largely ignored. As an aside, Somalia and Sudan are ranked as numbers 1 and 2, respectively, in the Failed State Index.

There's a lot that's happened to lead to the genocide, so I'll try to be as concise as possible. Sudan's run by a military dictator, Omar al-Bashir, right now. He's from the northern part of the country, which is dominated by Muslim Arabs. The southern part of the country is populated by black Africans. The government is run by Arabs from the north, as shortly after independence, there were a series of civil wars. A democratic government was established afterwards, but it was overthrown by al-Bashir in 1989 and he's ruled ever since. What's gone on in Darfur and other areas of the south is that there was a rebel upsurge. Al-Bashir, naturally, wants to maintain power and to do this he sent the army and militia down there to squash it by any means necessary...such as genocide.

Now, the Sudan should NOT be so poor. The place has an ENORMOUS oil deposit in the south, as well as other natural resources, also mostly in the south...and that's a massive source of contention. The oil revenue, for the most part, has been used by al-Bashir to buy off his rivals and generally maintain his power, as well as enrich the northern part of the country. The south has been left horribly underdeveloped by al-Bashir on purpose. But the oil deposits make a possible division of the country into two new countries, or any regional autonomy setup, controversial. The people who actually live in the south where this oil is are getting practically nothing, leaving them in perpetual poverty. People there have rebelled because they have no power, politically or economically, and as a result, you've got a case of genocide. There's a lot more detail to it than that, and if asked, I'll go into it some more. But that's a nutshell version.

Sudan's story, unfortunately, is just one of many like it in Africa. There's variations, but corrupt leaders who use revenue from resources to buy off their rivals and enrich a select few people are unfortunately common in the continent's post-colonial history, and it's one reason that there's so much conflict today. This comes as a result of Africa's colonial legacy and failed leadership after independence. These two things together...well, it's long, so I won't go into it unless asked. But these same things are significant factors in the causation of Sudan's current situation and problems in Africa as a whole.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 28, '09, 10:41 pm 
I read your summary with great interest, Caged Wolf, and apologise for the delay in posting to this thread. I'm very interested to learn more, but you'll have to excuse me if my questions are rather naïve :wink: . You mention Africa's colonial legacy. I recall reading about the postcolonial fallout in the Congo, as part of my research for a novel with a flashback to Dag Hammarskjöld's death, but knew little of the background of Sudan and Somalia. To what extent do you think western colonialism and subsequent political machinations are responsible for the problems in Africa as a whole?

I'd also be fascinated to hear your opinion on why Botswana has succeeded in maintaining a democratic government and achieving relative economic prosperity. Religious and/or racial homogeneity? Absence of religious fundamentalism? Smooth original transition from colonial to self-government?

The issues are so topical that I'm sure your thesis will be cited frequently in years to come. :)


Edit: font size reduced following site upgrade :wink:


Last edited by Srijita on Fri Apr 3, '09, 6:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 1, '09, 12:15 am 
Sorry for taking a while, Srijita...I was under a bit of stress this weekend and never got around to doing this. But now that it's passed, mostly, I'll answer all this. And thanks for the interest.

Srijita wrote:You mention Africa's colonial legacy. I recall reading about the postcolonial fallout in the Congo, as part of my research for a novel with a flashback to Dag Hammarskjöld's death, but knew little of the background of Sudan and Somalia. To what extent do you think western colonialism and subsequent political machinations are responsible for the problems in Africa as a whole?


Oh, the colonial powers did many things to screw up Africa. For one thing, if you take a look at a map of Africa, the countries are pretty much all creations of the colonies. Those boundaries, for the most part, are identical to the boundaries of the colonies. Said boundaries take no account of social and political units that had existed in Africa prior to colonialism. As such, you had communities, resources, and ethnic groups split and lumped arbitrarily by the colonial powers. Some examples...Tanzania has over 400 ethnic groups living in its borders and many of them have people in the countries surrounding Tanzania as well. The Somali people are split among several countries, including Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and others in eastern Africa. Some countries, such as Niger, were left with few natural resources and little arable land. For the most part, these are fragmented societies. Add to that other problems...colonial powers, by intention and accident, favored some ethnic groups over others. They needed Africans to administer the colonies, and inevitably, certain groups got educated and access to the state and power while others did not, thus creating an unbalanced and generally self-interested bureaucratic elite in the post-colonial era.

Additionally, Europeans had never intended to develop Africa economically or politically. They had never really done anything to bring most Africans into politics, so state institutions had no links to civil society. Once independence came, state institutions were too weak to garner any legitimacy from the people, and they also lacked the capacity to enforce centralized rule effectively. Most leaders, to keep their fragmented countries unified, had to buy off local and regional leaders to keep them from causing trouble. Economically, the Europeans wanted one thing from Africa and that was money. Most infrastructure was designed for resource extraction, not development. Africa countries were thus left with weak economies dependent on one or two goods and today, are STILL dependent on the export of primary goods (i.e., minerals, lumber, cash crops) to Europe.

Add to that the fact that most African leaders failed to effectively address these problems (these were not insurmountable), and what you have in the post-colonial era is instability in most countries. Most of Africa is underdeveloped. From independence to modern times, there have military coups, secession movements (like Katanga, which tried to secede from the Congo), irredentism (uniting all people in an ethnic group under one country's flag) like you have in Somalia (which is ranked number 1 in the failed states index), failed economies, and few hopes for political pluralism in most countries. But do take note that democracy is beginning to take hold in some countries where it hadn't existed before, notably Ghana and Nigeria. There are still many military rulers and personal dictatorships in Africa. The thing is that these ethnic conflicts are not about age-old hatreds. It's about economics, politics, power and inequality thereof between groups in the same state.

Srijita wrote:I'd also be fascinated to hear your opinion on why Botswana has succeeded in maintaining a democratic government and achieving relative economic prosperity. Religious and/or racial homogeneity? Absence of religious fundamentalism? Smooth original transition from colonial to self-government?


This is basically the central question of my thesis, and I haven't yet fully answered it yet because I haven't gotten a lot on Botswana's colonial history (but I got a source today, yay!) I know some things though, and later I can answer this in more detail if you like. But in short...first of all, Botswana is ethnically homogeneous compared to most African countries. 79% of the people in Botswana are Tswana, which is composed of 18 or so separate subgroups. 11% are the Kalanga people. 3% are the Bushmen (or Basarwa) of the Kalahari desert. The remaining 7% are foreigners. And for its size, Botswana has a low population. In terms of economics, Botswana has enormous deposits of diamonds and some other minerals as well as some good land for cattle ranching, so their economy has been stable if reliant on diamonds. Leaders in Botswana after independence (1966) also pursued non racial policies and promoted a Batswana identity over individual groups. And unlike in most countries, this worked in rhetoric AND in practice, because Botswana was fairly homogeneous. It had also been taken under British protection by request of the Batswana people, because of fears of encroachment from South Africa. Colonial government was built on British centralization and indigenous rule. There were no groups that had an advantage in accessing the spoils of the state, no divide and rule tactics. Eventually, this led to government including two advisory councils, one for the British and one for the Africans, and these were later regularized as part of the government. The councils merged after World War II, and in 1961, was expanded into a legislative body. Diamond revenue was used to actually develop the state institutions and the whole economy, not given to a few leaders to keep them from rebelling. It also wasn't subject to the economic exploitation that others suffered. So in short the British protected Botswana while allowing them some self-government. Botswana slowly adopted British institutions and civil society grew around that rather than being forcefully imposed (and thus likely to fail). So it had a longer history of parliamentary democracy that still flourishes today, without any racially based political parties.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 3, '09, 6:44 pm 
This was incredibly insightful, Caged Wolf. Thank you; I learned so much. Please keep us updated as you continue your research. I also hope the stress you mentioned is over. :wink:


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 5, '10, 6:06 am 
I think I need to read your whole thesis. And if I will be your teacher and thesis adviser, I will approve this because this is something new in a thesis. As you said, your thesis is all about the race and ethnicity in Africa. That would be a nice thesis!


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 5, '10, 11:55 pm 
Wow, I totally forgot I made a topic about this so long ago! :yikes:

I'm quite sure I have this paper saved on my computer hard drive, seeing as how it's still one of the best pieces of research I've ever done. If you're interested, I can send the whole thing your way, patricia. :)


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