Africa is out of sync with general theories of nationalism, whether modernist or historicist. Most theorists of nationalism focus on Europe, a few, such as Benedict Anderson venturing to Asia and, occasionally, Latin America, for empirical examples. African countries seem to be different in their identity formations, modes of legitimation, state-society relationship and historical itineraries leading up to the present.
Taking theoretical work on identity and nationhood as its point of departure, the lecture draws on current examples from selected African countries – South Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Congo – to explore the dynamics of identification, the role of the state and the significance of abstract identities in different African contexts.
The final part of the lecture delineates, drawing on historical as well as contemporary examples, on possible solutions, some real and potential solutions to the state-society-identity problem as witnessed in various African countries.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, dr. polit., is Professor of Social Anthropology and Research Manager at CULCOM, University of Oslo.