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On Decolonising Governmentality

05 May 2019 at 09:57hrs | Views
It is a truly careless but also stubborn truism that if we had no nation-states in the world we would not have nationless and stateless people. Nations and states are the source of nationlessness and statelessness, which are a major human challenge in the present.

In their reality nation-states have become so natural and normal in the modern world that we almost fail to remember that they are a man-made creature that can be re-imagined, changed and decolonised.

The nation-state as we know and experience it is a political and historical creature that was born racist, colonial, slavish and imperial in its fundamental nature. Colonialism and imperialism, combined, carried this creature across the world and planted it in every country that exists in modernity. The hegemonic model of the nation-state that Africa and the entire Global South presently have is a Euro-American institution and system of government and organisation of human society that is full of racist, capitalist and colonial tendencies and habits that are punitive to peoples and communities that are neither white, European nor American. Much racist and much colonially, after their own wars and the peace that they made among themselves European countries reserve respect and sovereignty for each other that they are not willing to extend to countries of the Global South.

The Peace of Westphalia, for example, that came in 1648 after the so called Thirty Years War bound western countries to deep respect for each other's sovereignty. That deep respect for each other was not extended to African communities, for instance, in 1884-5 when the same countries sliced Africa into colonial portions for exploitation by the conquerors.  In that way, the nation-states that colonisers imposed on Africans are colonial and imperial states that do not enjoy the same power and sovereignty that nation-states of the West enjoy. Infact, nation-states of the Global South, of Africa in particular, are institutions and systems of government by which the West continues to manage and control the Global South. Simply put, the colonialists and imperialists gave us institutions and systems of government that keep us still, under their leash.

Without reforming and decolonising these institutions and systems, we may not easily extricate ourselves from coloniality. Nation-states operate by certain traditions, norms, values and tendencies, rituals and ceremonies of power and control, and these are fundamentally Eurocentric and violent towards people that are neither white, European nor American. In other words, most leaders and governments of the Global South are in fact managers that run nation-states on behalf of Empire that controls money and the power that goes with it. Our countries are run through what Frantz Fanon proverbially called "the European game," a political and economic system that is designed in and directed from Europe and America. We may not at this stage abolish parliaments and elections, or may we abandon the courts and executive arms of governments but we can change the content, format and political sensibility of these entities. We can change the rules, the rites and fundamentals of the game of governmentality to suit our histories, localities and most importantly, to shape our decolonised and liberated futures. We can do this while we remain part of the world; we do not have to remove ourselves economically and politically from the comity of continents and countries of the globe. Singapore is one country of the Global South that, even as it is not a paradise, courageously decolonised itself without disengaging from the world.

States were Imagined and Created

One of our chief problems in the Global South is that, even the radicals among us, we cannot even dream of undoing what the coloniser did. The case of colonial borders and colonial maps is a telling one. Even the most revolutionary nationalists and Pan-Africanists do not even try to undo or eliminate the colonial borders that were created in Berlin. Colonial institutions, systems and structures have proven to be stubborn and durable, like coloniality itself. The kinds, styles and structures of government that the nation-state has naturalised and normalised in Africa and the whole Global South are artefacts of governmentality that were conceptualised by some European philosophers and implemented  by some European administrators, politicians and governments. As artefacts that can be modified, transfigured and decolonised to suit local contexts, they did not fall from heaven.

For instance, in 1651, Thomas Hobbes got worried about the English Civil War and feared that the society was about to sink into a "state of nature" and barbarism where life would soon be "poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short" unless something was urgently done. Hobbes feared "a war of all against all" and advocated a contract government that would organise and discipline everyone. Hobbes's book, Leviathan, became the proposition for a government system, structure and model that would avoid the war for all against all in the interest of English society. Hobbes saw human beings as selfish, competitive and cruel beyond repair and needing to be controlled through fear and punishment by a strong sovereign. Not so John Locke. Lock believed human beings to be naturally good and generous, only corrupted by money and the scarcity of goods and services. It was Locke's belief that the "state of nature" and human beings in their natural state governed by the law of nature would be "perfect freedom" not the "state of war" that Hobbes feared.

In many ways, the nation-state came to be shaped by the fears and loves of certain European philosophers thinking about their specific societies in Europe. It is that nation-state system and structure that came to be imposed in Africa and the extended Global South through colonialism and imperialism. Further, in Africa and the Global South, the system was not imposed for the good of the natives but that of the conquerors, colonisers and colonialist that needed a certain governmentality and order to manage the colonies and their people. Fundamentally, the nation-state is a creature and artefact of the modern colonial and imperial world system. There is a flourish of literature on failed states, captured states (South Africa), vampire states and predator states on the negative side, and developmental states and democratic states on the positive side. Important, however, is that states were born captured, captive to the racist, capitalist, colonialist and imperialist interests of the powers that manufactured them. Nation-states arrived predatory, vampire and captive in the Global South.

Up to today, nation-states have not erased their birthmarks and their genealogies in coloniality. Euro-American states, through such events as the Peace of Westphalia, were decolonised and made to protect the democratic and developmental interests of white Americans and Europeans. Nation-states of the Global South have not been decolonised. African and Global South nation-states remain protective of the interests of the colonisers and imperialists, not the natives of Africa and the larger Global South. Nation-states in Africa, for instance, remain part of the rules and system of the European game that Fanon talked about. When Europeans and Americans judge Africa they judge the continent on how true to the rules of the Euro-American game the continent is, not true to itself and the interests of its people. That is part of the definition of coloniality, a situation where a people and their countries exist and live by the dictates of other people and their interest.

Decolonial Governmentality

Governmentality is a term that was invented by Michel Foucault in reference to government and its rationality. So, governmentality literally means the ideas, sensibility or mentality of a system or structure of government. My argument in this short article is that the ideas that shape the systems, structures, institutions and processes of our nation-states in Africa need to be decolonised because they retain colonial governmentality. The governmentality of present nation-states in Africa remains racist, colonial and imperialist, originally shaped against the interests of poor black people of the continent.

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Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Braamfontein, in Johannesburg, South Africa. decoloniality2016@gmail.com.

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