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Europe out of Africa: A Geo-Political Historical Review-Essay
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-07-04 08:30:54
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Europe and Africa: Similarities and Differences in Security Structures, by Anis Bajrektarevic and Giuliano Luongo. Nova Science Publishers, 2017.

Europe and Africa, a book just out, is the kind of geo-political treatise that will take the reader down the byways of a millennial interface between two proximate and inextricably intertwined continents.

Geologists surmise that the earth is approximately 7 billion years old. Its five continents were once one. Then they began to break up. Europe divided from Africa with the Mediterranean sea in between them as a water boundary of sorts. Italy, for example, which is now part of Europe was an island derived from Africa floating in the Mediterranean sea, which then collided with the European continent forming the Alps that separate that peninsula from the rest of the European continent. Not many people realize that there are parts of Southern Sicily which are on a lower latitude than parts of Tunisia, the home of ancient Carthage, in Africa (see map below). That’s how proximate Africa is to Europe.


My father was an agronomist by profession who after World War II worked for the Italian government for a good 15 years of his life. Part of his professional duties was that of helping with the supervising of the agrarian reform the government conducted in the 50s on behalf of farmers who were assigned parcels of unused land expropriated from rich landowners. Sometimes he would take me along in his car. I was ten or twelve at the time. As he supervised the agricultural planning he would grab a fistful of earth and would show it to me exclaiming: “you see this land, it is land from Africa; the whole of Italy is covered with land from Africa.” Before World War II he had hoped to go use his expertise in an Italian colony of the times: Eritrea on the horn of Africa, but that never came to pass.

By the way, this process of land from Africa literally landing in Europe is still an ongoing process. The Scirocco is a wind blowing into Italy out of Africa that carries with it sand and earth on a regular basis. Indeed, historically speaking, Italy from the outset has functioned as a bridge between the two continents on both a geo-political and an historical level. To be convinced of this all one needs to do is travel to the island of Lampedusa situated between Sicily and Africa and you’ll witness with your own eyes the greatest migration of people between two continents ongoing on a daily basis as we speak.

The human exodus allegedly began out of Africa some ten thousand years ago, so in that respect that makes us all Africans. Tell that to KKK members! But then again there are some doubts, given that skeletons of a primitive man living 800,000 years ago have been found in Northern Greece. Be that as it may, on a purely civilizational level, cultures residing in Africa (which includes Egypt) and Europe have always confronted and often clashed with each other. One thinks of the Second Punic War in 200 BC with Carthage situated in present day Tunisia, with Hannibal challenging the might of the Roman Empire; a challenge picked up by Publius Cornelius Scipio, the African so called, who eventually defeated Hannibal and destroyed Carthage. Egypt is later absorbed into the empire as is also Greece. So we end with Greco-Roman culture which later synthesizes with a religion from the Middle East, Christianity, giving rise to a unique European medieval civilization which metamorphoses into the Renaissance, a synthesis of antiquity and Christianity, followed by the Enlightenment and the rise of modern liberalism.

But to go back to Africa. At the height of Western European imperialism in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, Africa becomes a play-field for Western colonial powers: France, the Netherland, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium. These powers were fiercely nationalistic with their own languages and cultures. Africa might have been racially heterogeneous but lacked nationalism; that was a unique “gift” bestowed on it by the colonial powers. The question arises how did it affect the subsequent African nationalism? Was it a question of passing from colony to nationhood? The fact is that some of those present day nations of Africa have never been colonies, some had an ancient culture prior to their brief stint as colonies. This is a conundrum of sorts but we need to go beyond it.

The political arrangement of Africa prior to the advent of the Europeans was the tribal system. Now, there are some tribes, such as the Hutu and the Tutsi, whose origins and long-term location span what today are 17 nations. One is hard put to find a time in recorded history when those tribes were gathered together as a single geo-political entity, a mega-nation of sorts or even a confederacy. It’s a situation similar to that of Native Americans. There were at time alliances of tribes but never a veritable confederacy. Undoubtedly, there was little nationalism in Africa prior to European colonization. The norm was persistent periodic tribal wars; even in tools, artifacts and artistic expression, there was little permanent long-term national identity, so called.

Part of the “gift” of progress which Europeans boast of having bestowed on Africa were infrastructural nationalistic elements such as a common language, education, governance, transportation, reliable food and water. To be sure, those things did not exist in the tribal era. Which is to say, for the European it was a sign that “progress” and its inevitability had arrived in Africa and as per Enlightenment, progress is unstoppable, and deterministic. But was it real progress? Is anything that is determined and limits man’s freedom ever desirable, always positive and progressive? That is of course a philosophical question based, in this case, on geo-political considerations. Let’s see.

With the end of colonialism you have the birth of a plethora of new African nations (see map below) and new nationals who, alas, were ill prepared for nationalism but were elevated to positions of leadership. The national differences with neighboring countries remain in fact the old tribal differences as exacerbated by European colonialism. The new unprepared leaders simply imitated the former masters and colonizers. The clever by half tactic was simply that of the old masters, divide and conquer: rallying one group against another. Nationalism is a mere by-product. It would be hard to find people willing to argue that any of the sub-Saharan nations on today’s map are models of utopian societies to which neighbors wish to emigrate or wishing to form national federations a la EU.


Understanding the adoption of “divide and rule” and the sense of hatred induced among the tribes by the colonists helps us understand better the conflict in Rwanda, for example. Both Hutu and Tutzi live in Rwanda. Germany and Belgium took control and divided people who in reality had the same fundamental culture, religion and language. The distinguishing marks now became their height, shape of nose and other racial banalities. Some Africans are now declared super-races meant to keep the inferior races down. The ultimate result was genocide from which the Europeans, who had produced a monstrous one of their own only a few decades before, rather hypocritically professed to be scandalized, but for whose avoidance they did not lift a finger. It was nationalism, not tribalism which caused the disaster.

That kind of division continues today, unfortunately. The division is now among political parties who disseminate propaganda of hatred of one group against another. Those are stories one will not find in publishing houses but at the fire-place passed on from one generation to the other. They are the bitter fruits of colonialism with their roots in nationalism which often established artificial borderlines ignoring the cultures of local communities. The new leaders meanwhile may not be foreigners but are much like the old crooked manipulative colonialists.

To land communally held, new structures were put in place with far reaching economic implications for the natives. Land laws remain in dire need of reform. If nationalism is understood as local pride and heroism, and a quest for autonomy, then patriotism is not lacking in Africa if one is to judge from various rebellions: the Lamogi rebellion in Uganda, the Ndebele rebellion in Zimbabwe, the vita vya maji rebellion in Tanzania, not to speak of those professionals patriots whose expertise could be making them a bundle of money in the USA or Europe, but choose to stay in their native African countries to help their communities.

Within this analysis and context, which are neither Utopian nor Machiavellian, but realistic, we may now ask: how can the above mentioned book function as a guide to improved relations between Europe and Africa? Are those relations improvable by comparing the geo-political situation of both continents? This book seems to answer with an optimistic yes. Perhaps that is the right answer but only if the Europeans first acknowledge the original failures of European imperialism and colonialism and its exploitative practices. Which is to say, no solution is feasible to the present acute problems of refugees and terrorism, just to mention two, unless the ones who produced the problem in the first place with their doctrines of power and domination, acknowledge that they have been guilty in the past of the initial African geo-political problem. Without that acknowledgment they run the risk of remaining perennially part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

This book could indeed function as an initial step to forge security structures built on horizontal rather than vertical hierarchical underpinnings with emphasis on international cooperation rather than rivalry, to prepare a smoother more coherent transition from tribal to national system without falling into rabid nationalism, perhaps acknowledging that not every transition from tribal to national is necessarily desirable. That’s how it could be interpreted, and perhaps it is the only way it can be interpreted and thus result beneficial to future European-African interactions.

We know full well what rabid nationalism and ideology wrought to Europe only 70 years ago. It is imperative that its consequences be not repeated in Africa and this for the sake of both continents. In some way the scope of this book is Cassandrian, to warn Europeans to remember their own history and not to repeat their mistakes in Africa. But let us also keep in mind that Cassandra, while gifted by the gods with the gift of prophecy, the ability to predict the future and warn people about impending doom, was at the same time afflicted by the gods with a curse: few people took her warnings seriously. It was an unrecognized gift.

Be that as it may, this is the kind of book that needs to be read and pondered, discussed and debated carefully and seriously. It that is done, it may well clarify quite a few unsolved geo-political puzzles of the bizarre and confusing times in which we live and have our being.


Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!


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