Friday, 3 December 2010

Questioning Ethnicity (1)

Why is it that the ‘North-South,’ discourse tends to become more heated, during election periods in Nigeria? Why is it that the discourse changes, dramatically, as soon as issues like ‘resource control’ are mentioned? Why is it that the leaders of thought, in this discourse are mainly ‘liberated elites’, whose eyes are fixed on the stool? Why is it that soon as elections are ‘won’ or ‘rigged’ the champions of North/South discourse erect other binaries, further fragmenting North into North West/North East; South into South West/South East, and so on? Could it be that something is fundamentally wrong with the ethnic perspective? Does it really matter where one comes from, or rather where one comes from, originally? Should relationships be created and sustained on the basis of accidents of birth or common humanity? Does it really make any sense, that at a time, like this, when realities of increased interdependence continue to demonstrate the inadequacies of ‘methodological nationalism’ and the urgency for ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’(Beck & Sznaider, 2006), one could be arguing for setting national priorities on the basis of North-South divide within ‘one indissoluble country under God’?
It seems to me that the paradigm has shifted irreversibly…Where one comes from is not as important as the fact that one is a human person; a mortal being that grows old and dies. There is certainly a lot of sense in the philosophical assertion: ‘I am a citizen of the world’, which although attributed to an ancient Greek philosopher, could easily be read in the largely undocumented sayings of thinkers across the world. In Africa, for instance, the philosophy of ‘onye biri, ibe ya biri’ (live and let live) is time honoured. To live happily alongside others, one needs to see oneself in the other. To do so, one must broaden one’s vision. At the national level, such a broadening of vision exposes the fallacy of North-South discourse. At the international level, it opens up the limiting and obfuscating nature of ‘political realism’.
To create the desired change at the national and trans-national levels, we MUST transcend the narrow and limiting binaries of ‘us and them’. The first critical step we must take is to challenge our thinking by shattering our comfort zones and tackling the illusions of gender, creed, colour and place. The second will be at the normative level: developing Kant’s (1795) third condition for ‘Perpetual Peace’. Ethnicity could become a ‘camera obscura’ and a clog on the path of progress/peace. Is it not better, therefore, to de-emphasise ethnic cleavages and in their stead accentuate what (Held, 2010) calls ‘the bundle of needs, desires, anxieties and passions that define us all as members of the same species’?

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