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What Came First, The Nation or the State? Political Process in the Comoro Islands

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2011

Abstract

The widespread failure of the post-colonial state in Africa is often attributed to a lack of social and cultural unity, and hence of national identity, in the territories in question. In Europe the state has historically been conceptualized as coterminous with the nation, an apparently ‘natural’ cultural unit that allowed for subsequent political cohesion and the avoidance of ethnic conflict. In Africa the concept (and the reality) of the nation is often absent and this is sometimes considered to be a stumbling block on the path to political stability. However, the suggestion that a state whose population exhibits the requisite cultural homogeneity would construct and maintain a nation and, subsequently, successful and stable statehood is challenged by evidence from the Comoro Islands. Here, despite apparent socio-cultural unity, there has been little movement towards the development of a nation; indeed, there is evidence that an explicit denial of socio-cultural unity underpins the failure of the state.

Résumé

On attribue souvent le large échec de l'État post-colonial en Afrique à un manque d'unité sociale et culturelle, et donc d'identité nationale, dans les territoires en question. En Europe, l'État a été conceptualisé, sur un plan historique, comme ayant les mêmes limites géographiques que la nation, une unité culturelle apparemment “naturelle” débouchant sur une cohésion politique et permettant d'éviter un conflit ethnique. En Afrique, le concept (et la réalité) de nation est souvent absent, ce qui est parfois considéré comme un obstacle sur la voie de la stabilité politique. Or, la suggestion selon laquelle un État dont la population afficherait l'homogénéité culturelle nécessaire formerait et resterait une nation puis, par là-même, un État stable et prospère, est remise en question par le cas des Comores. Malgré une unité socioculturelle apparente, on y décèle peu d'évolution vers le développement d'une nation; on constate en effet qu'à la base de l'échec de l'État se trouve un déni explicite de l'unité socioculturelle.

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Copyright © International African Institute 2007

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