Why extreme nationalism must not be allowed to take hold

A few months ago stories had begun to circulate about the imminent demise of globalisation and the liberal world order of the last seventy years. Obituaries were already being written. The slayer was a monster variously called nationalism or populism.

A few months ago stories had begun to circulate about the imminent demise of globalisation and the liberal world order of the last seventy years. Obituaries were already being written.

The slayer was a monster variously called nationalism or populism.

 

For proof of the end of this order, the death announcements cited three important political events in Europe and the United States.

 

The first was Brexit, the vote in the United Kingdom to get out of the European Union.

 

The second was the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States in November 2016 and his ‘America first’ vow.

Another was the threat by right wing nationalist parties to take power across Europe, especially in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

It turns out that the death announcements were premature. Only Brexit and Trump’s election happened. Critics who like to see hidden things in the closet might see this attempted push back against globalisation as an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy.

But even here it has not all been easy and it might be too early to talk about disintegration of the world order.

The benefits of Brexit are by no means certain.

Trump’s presidency has been off to a bumpy start. He has not got things his way, and has in fact admitted that the job is more difficult than he thought.

The push back has not worked in other countries either. In France, Ms Marine le Pen and her Front National lost the presidential election. Geert Wilders and his Dutch Freedom Party lost in the Netherlands as did Norbert Hofer’s Freedom Party in Austria.

It seems safe to say that, despite populist or nationalist threats, the existing order is holding its own so far. Reasons for this lie in the nature of both populism and nationalism.

They are both built and thrive on fear and despair, but therein also are the seeds of their failure. When they are countered with a better vision and hope, they have no answer.

They are also backward looking and seek to recreate and return to a more familiar past. Trouble is the world has moved ahead and conditions they want to go back to no longer obtain.

The answer to conditions that create fear and despair, and nostalgia for a golden past can be provided by innovation and solutions designed for the future, not a retracing of footsteps.

By pursuing a single-minded agenda that precludes alternative views, extreme nationalism leads to polarisation. In this manner it goes against the human tendency which is to strike a balance and be accommodating.

This has been the experience from the time human beings started living in communities – to reach a compromise and move to the centre.

Why should we in Africa be bothered by whatever is going on in the West? After all we are treated as peripheral, not integral, to most things.

The simple answer is that we are affected whether we are marginal or principal players. That is what globalisation does.

More specifically, we live with political extremism organised around ethnic identity or on nationality in many parts of Africa. In this sort of arrangement the primacy of the group is the driving ideology.

This is supposed to be some insurance against perceived domination and exclusion by another. The implied threat and the emotional connection of kinship make ethnicity a ready and potent tool in the hands of politicians.

The worst form of this sort of politics and the ideology that drives it is what we saw in Rwanda in the first thirty two years of its independence, culminating in the genocide of the Tutsi in 1994.

Today we see a similar situation in Burundi. It may be hidden from the prying eyes of the world but it is no less devastating.

The conflict in South Sudan is largely a struggle for the primacy of certain individuals and nationalities they represent, as well as being fuelled by external actors, mainly from the region.

In Kenya politics is organised on ethnic lines. National parties hardly exist. That is why there will always be coalitions, which are essentially a coming together of different groups supposedly to advance the interest of the group but in reality those of certain individuals.

Extreme nationalist politics must be fought through an inclusive ideology, which is essentially centrist and progressive.

Political leaders must deliver on their pledges  It is not enough to preach hope as religion does. The hope of a better life is about today and tomorrow, not some unknown or even unknowable time in the infinite future.

Citizens of our countries do not have eternity as religion does.

jorwagatare@yahoo.co.uk

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