Nationalism plays an important role in Rwandan history. It once connected people together to gain independence from foreign colonialism, but it became the source of violence, conflict, and bloodshed afterwards, and it finally led to one of the bloodiest and most horrifying incidents in human history. The Rwandan genocide was a planned extermination action carried out by the Hutu against the Tutsi in order to wipe them out. The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, however, is not using nationalism to justify his authoritarian rule.

In 1959, the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi, and tens of thousands of the Tutsi fled to neighbouring countries like Uganda. They formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The new Hutu government had fought wars with the RPF from 1990-1993. The Hutu, including a lot of government officials, came to the conclusion that the Tutsi caused all the problems. So they started training armed military men to get ready to wipe out the Tutsi. On April 6th in 1994, Juvénal Habyarimana, the Rwandan president, who was a Hutu that agreed to a United Nations-enforced peace agreement with the RPF, was killed in a plane accident. His plane was shot down by a missile from unknown origin. This incident set the genocide into motion. Hutu extremists blamed the Rwandan Patriotic Front for murdering the president, and they started the well-planned slaughter at once; while the RPF claimed that the plane was shot down by the Hutu themselves to find a good excuse to start the massive killing. But the missile soon became irrelevant, because the Hutu extremists saw a great chance to put their extermination plan into action. The genocide was cruel and bloody, and the Interahamwe was killing about 8000 Tutsi every day. 

Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda, used to be  the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. He was sworn into office on September 12, 2003, and he portrayed himself as a Rwandan rather than a Tutsi. He also tried to downplay the ethnic strife within the country. A major focus of his presidency was to build national unity and the country’s economy. In the 2010 reelection, some opposition media were repressed, and several individuals, including an independent journalist and an opposition party leader were murdered. But Kagame vowed that neither himself or his regime was involved in these killings. Under this situation, several opposing parties were not able to field candidates. Some candidates were facing arrests, and others were excluded from participating in the election. In the end, Kagame had been reelected with 93 percent of the vote, and voter turnout was reported as more than 95 percent. Kagame kept working on rebuilding the country and promoting economic growth and social conditions in Rwanda. However, there is also criticism of his intolerance of political dissent and media freedom, as well as Rwanda’s continued involvement in conflicts in neighboring countries. In a referendum held in 2015, voters approved amendments to the constitution that would allow Kagame to serve a third seven-year term; in addition, he would be eligible to serve two five-year terms after that, giving him the potential to hold the office until 2034. 

Rwanda was in ruins when Mr Kagame’s RPF took power after the genocide but its economy is now growing at an average of 7% a year, and poverty levels have fallen.As for his African peers, most of them appear to hold him in high regard, as he has been given the task of spearheading efforts to reform the African Union.“Without an African Union that delivers, the continent cannot progress, and we face the likelihood of yet another decade of lost opportunity,” Mr Kagame said in a report tabled at a meeting of African leaders in January.

It seems that Paul Kagame’s authoritarian rule is doing the country good, but it also faces a lot of criticism. Kagame has indeed contributed a lot to rebuild and to make Rwanda a better place for his people, and his approval rate remains high among the people of Rwanda.

Tanzanians Shouldn’t Be Fooled by Magufuli

With most African countries having not gained their independence until the 1960’s, it was difficult for many of them to feel such a strong identity with their nation or a trust in their government that they could be described as nationalist. Since Tanzania’s independence in 1961, nationalism has been a driving force of democratization and freedom from authoritarian rule. Julius Neyere, Tanzania’s first president after the country gained its independence, used nationalism as a tool to encourage a prosperous future for Tanzania. He “emphasized Tanzania’s need to become economically self-sufficient rather than remain dependent on foreign aid and foreign investment” which promotes economic growth rather than the dependence of foreign aid. 

Tanzania’s current president, John Pombe Magufuli, and his party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or “the Party of the Revolution”, have creatively developed a variant of nationalism. Separating it from most forms of nationalism, it focuses on a past order, Nyerere’s Tanzania. This movement dedicated to development was only in a formative stage and never was set in place. It is Magufuli and his party CCM’s goal to restore this previous order and resume the developmental path to a new future for Tanzania. Having been implemented to justify the authoritarian turn which began in 2014 this variation of nationalism may not prove to be of any help for the citizens of Tanzania. Magufuli’s disingenuous promise of restoring Nyerere’s Tanzania for the people’s benefit has instead revealed itself to be a ploy for regaining authoritarian control. In March, 2018, Mr. Magufuli declared, “I want you Tanzanians to believe that you have a real president, a real rock. I cannot be threatened and I am not threatened”, pinning his form of  nationalism as  parochial and populist.  He has prevented political opposition, which was already a problem with Tanzania having only a one-party system. 

Magufuli has also interfered with the ability of his citizens to organize, participate and communicate with each other freely and without hindrance, and in doing so, influence the political and social structures. Nicknamed “the Bulldozer”, Magufuli didn’t stop his bans there. On top of banning political rallies, Magufuli made it his mission to ban foregin travel, live parliament broadcast, and metallic mineral concentrate exports. This is all being done while he cracks down on the media and increases surveillance. His distrust of other world leaders particularly those in the West has prevented many deals from being made such as the construction of Tanzania’s first electric rail, which would have linked the main commercial city Dar es Salaam to the capital, Dodoma. Another deal canceled in part due to his nationalistic ideals was the construction of East Africa’s biggest port in Bagamoyo, once the capital of German East Africa. Mr. Magufuli was quoted saying only a “madman” would accept the financial terms negotiated for the port’s construction  by his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete. Magafuli claims that he is putting the nation first and is protecting his people from the failures of the selfish leaders who came before him. Magufuli has brought back the use of the word “beberu” which literally means “a male goat” in Swahili. But the significance of this word goes beyond calling someone a goat. It was frequently used to refer to “Western imperialists”in the time of British colonial rule. Magagfuli is tactfully using the past distrust of foreign aid and control and is employing nationalism to give the illusion that he is putting the freedoms of his nation’s people first, but much evidence would suggest he has ulterior motives.

SWAPO: The (Dangerous and Deteriorating) Face of Namibian Nationalism

Following World War I, South West Africa, now referred to as Namibia, was placed under British mandate, falling under the administration of the government of South Africa. By 1960, most African countries had gained their independence, but South West Africa was held onto by the South African government, mainly due to its rich mineral resources. In its fight to gain independence, South West Africa birthed the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), which remains a prominent face of nationalism in Namibian politics.

Created in April of 1960, SWAPO was originally founded to unite Namibians under the idea that the struggle for independence was necessary in bringing change to the country, and fight both physically and politically for the country’s freedom. Today, the party maintains this sense of unity and nationalism, and has remained Namibia’s governing party since 1990. SWAPO’s popularity among the people has been so strong that in the 2014 elections, the party gained 80% of the country’s votes. Behind this success is a combination of funding and campaigning prosperity, which is often more difficult to obtain among smaller parties due to Namibia’s sparse population.

However, after 30 years under SWAPO rule, Namibia is beginning to see what is referred to as the “Limits to Liberation”, in which movements built on liberation and increased nationalism lead to un-democratic and increasingly corrupt leaders. SWAPO, which now maintains control over much of Namibia’s politics, has recently faced allegations of corruption, abuse of power, and failures in administration that not only threaten their standing in government, but also speak to the dangers of placing nationalistic liberation groups in power.

One of the most significant pieces of evidence pointing to corruption in the SWAPO party was a scandal in Namibia’s fishing industry labelled “fishrot”, which came to light in late 2019. Allegations stated that the Icelandic seafood company, Samherji, had bribed government officials in Namibia into granting them access to fruitful fishing grounds, allowing them to utilize international loopholes and avoid taxation. As details of the scandal continue to emerge, implication has fallen on two ministers and several officials of state-owned enterprises, shining a spotlight on SWAPO and their possible involvement in what has been labelled Namibia’s “biggest bribery scandal”.

This scandal, in combination with other evidence of corruption and abuse of power, preceded widespread dissatisfaction with the SWAPO party, which was made clear in Namibia’s 2020 elections. Regional council votes for SWAPO dropped from 83% in 2015 to 57% in 2020, local authority votes dropped from 73% to 40%, and seats held in the municipality dropped from 12 out of 15 to only 5. Even more shocking than these sharp decreases in SWAPO popularity is the party’s public response to the country’s obvious disapproval. After Namibians began to shift their gaze from the SWAPO party earlier this year, defence minister Peter Hafeni Vilho attempted to utilize SWAPO’s signature sense of nationalism to shift the blame. He accused the country’s white population of an anti-government agenda, labelling them unpatriotic and blaming them for failures of the government. SWAPO’s spokesperson, Hilma Nicanor, shared Vilho’s rhetoric, as she blamed “outside forces” for the recent rejection of the party. Following SWAPO’s drop in popularity, members of the party have reiterated their dominance over the Namibian economy, even threatening to withhold funding from starving areas of the country governed by opposing parties, though the president publicly rejected these suggestions.

The recent shift in Namibia’s political narrative suggests that citizens are becoming fed up with SWAPO; a party built on nationalism and liberation, which now uses those very ideals to maintain a non-democratic government and shift the blame of corruption. In the coming years and the leadup to the next election, we will surely see Namibia’s political climate continue to change, and perhaps see the end of SWAPO’s years in power.

Civil War in Cameroon

While there is only one Cameroon there are two ethnic groups living within the nation. One the French cultural group is much larger than the other and runs the government while the English cultural group has been fighting for years for their independence, trying to create their very own nation called Ambazonia. In Cameroon, 80% of the population speaks French while the other 20% speaks English. These Anglophones say that they are marginalized and neglected by the French-speaking government. Some people just wanted reforms and changes to happen within the French-speaking government, but full on civil war has erupted instead. 

Cameroon wasn’t always like this. The two groups lived in peace and harmony for decades. Protests started in 2016 with teachers and lawyers peacefully protesting. They were frustrated that the government had assigned French speaking judges and teachers to work in English speaking courts and schools. The government started jailing activists fighting for these causes, which made more extreme voices take up the cause. Felix Nkongho, an Anglophone human rights lawyer who helped organize several of the peaceful protests and was jailed, said “‘The movement now had to fall in the hands of people who were more extremist, who were not only clamoring for the rights but wanted independence.’” They want to create a new nation, Ambazonia.

Ever since 2018 relations have turned violent between the Anglophone separatists and the Cameroon government. Most people killed in these conflicts are civilians. The fighting has killed around 3,000 people and displaced 600,000. There are massacres happening in the Anglophone regions against civilians. On February 14, 2020, at least 21 civilians were killed in Nghabur village by military and Fulani militia forces. Fulani is a nomadic community that came from Nigeria over 100 years ago and settled in the North and Southwest parts of Cameroon. Their cattle have been stolen by rebels fighting for the Anglophone separatists so tensions have grown high between the two groups. In the attack, people were either shot while running in the street or dragged back into houses which were then set on fire. Survivors of the attack say that there were no separatists in the village and that it was an unprovoked attack. The military denied the testimonies of eyewitnesses and stated that they had information proving it was a separatist base. However, the Ambazonian forces state that they had no people in the village.

There are peace talks going on between separatist leaders, who are in jail, and the government. Most of the separatist leaders are from a group called the Ambazonia Interim Government (IG). This comes after 285 civilians were killed in 190 incidents since January 2020 in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Mr. Biya, Cameroon’s President, vowed that he would “eradicate these criminals” when one month earlier the Northwest and Southwest regions claimed their own nation. Sisiku Ayuk Tabe who is a separatist leader said, “We call for a nonviolent revolution. We call for a non-violent protest. We call for a non-violent march. This is what we are demonstrating to the world and we have resisted Mr. Biya’s army of occupation in our land, but this is a moment that we must continue to stand firm.”

Cameroon is a prime example of what excess nationalism looks like. Two groups of people believe that they have the right to land to support their own nation. Yet they are not two nations, but one group of people who want to split from the other due to fundamental language and cultural differences. This had led to violence that has killed thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands. As can be seen in many other nations in the world, language and cultural barriers can lead to civil war and unrest unless the majority government actively works to accept and integrate them into their government.