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African Politics, African Literatures: Thoughts on Mahmood Mamdani's Citizen and Subject and Wole Soyinka's The Open Sore of a Continent

Olakunle George


It has become fashionable these days to be critical of nationalism and the ideology that ties land to blood and identity in a seamless narrative, where the relationship is that of a primordial bond. The break-up of many national entities in different parts of the globe underpins and -- some will say, validates -- this trend. In the context of Anglo-American social theory and cultural criticism, Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities comes readily to mind. Anderson argues that modern nations came to be as a consequence, in part, of the development of print capitalism in Europe. For Anderson, the rise of print capitalism made possible a new model of individual and collective self-understanding in post- Reformation Europe. If the reordering of Christian theological worldview occasioned a new way of processing reality and the subject's place in the scheme of things, it also generated a new set of questions with regard to the intricate dialectic of self and other, the individual and the collective. Where Christendom had in theology a ready thread with which to suture extensive communities together in a deep-felt allegiance to one God, the increasing secularization of the eighteenth century forced a new set of questions to the surface. Community, then, needed to be imagined and sustained by means of a different social and phenomenological mechanism. It is this vacuum that the ideology of nationhood came to fill. Nations, then, are constructed to answer particular pressures: they do not exist as organic entities outside of the conjunctural pressures that called them into being, and keeps them in the collective imaginary.

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West Africa Review. ISSN: 1525-4488 (online).
Editors: Adeleke Adeeko, Nkiru Nzegwu, and Olufemi Taiwo.

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