Nationalism and statemaking

By Abdel-Jaouad Ouarraki

Herbst argues that together with fiscal reforms, the creation of a national identity is central for the creation of states in Europe since the 17th century. He claims that “there has ... been no way of generating a national identity in Africa such as wars forged in Europe” and a couple of sentences later concludes that “the result is the anomie in most African countries today”.

A swift comparison between a couple of European and African countries, however, shows that today there is a strong feeling of nationalism in many African countries, even more, than in for example Spain and Sweden. Herbst further seems to assume that a greater sense of nationalism would make greater extraction possible when he says that “Africa, precisely because there is no ... challenge that causes them to respond as a nation. ...  African state's clumsy efforts at greater extraction are met by popular with-drawl rather than by a populace united around a common identity”. Taking Morocco as an example, I argue that this approach is a simplification of the situation in many African countries.

The symbol of Nationalism in current-day Morocco is the King Mohammed VI, his image can be found in every government building and in many private corporate buildings as well. The King is very powerful in Morocco, as he presides over the council of ministers and is able to veto ministerial appointments. Nonetheless, this does not imply that the Moroccan population is feasting in the streets when a tax increase is announced; rather, people aim their grievances towards the government parties. This is illustrated by the reaction of protesters from the 20 February movement during the Arab Spring simply putting that “the king is not the topic, he is not the issue for the 20 February movement”. Hence, a strong national identity is not a sufficient condition to enable greater state extraction.

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