OCHIENG: Nation and state not one and the same thing


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If you work in the editorial department of a news company, you should know the difference between a nation and a state. I refer to the headline “Four Arab nations cut ties with Qatar as rift deepens” (page 42 of The Standard of June 6). No. Though it lives in very many states, there is only one Arab nation in our world.

What you mean are Arab states. For nations can not subjectively cut ties with one another because those ties exist objectively. No matter what country they live in, to the extent that all the countries listed by The Standard are Arab, they belong to one and the same objective nation, though not the same state.

In terms of newspaper production, the Euro-North Americans are much more experienced than we. So Africans must continue to listen to the voices of “advice” from the newsrooms of London, New York City and Rome. But by perpetually depending on “technical advice” from Euro-America, Africans can not hope to produce newspapers devoid of dangerous external culturo-intellectual prejudices.

Soon even the most useless Caucasian was seen or saw himself as an expert and, in my position as chief sub-editor of a daily Nairobi newspaper, I soon knew many human imports from Britain worth nothing in newspaper production. But the point is that the nation and the State are not the same thing. The State is always a political category that subsumes such concepts as the government, the civil service and the armed forces.

Moreover, in Third World countries, the State is multiethnic because, in colonising Africa, for instance, a European class lumped so many tribes into single colonial states without any regard to their different backgrounds and needs. But even today’s British state subsumes four nations: the English, the Scots, the Welsh, and one section of the Irish.

But a nation is always a culturo-linguistic category. Thus Britain is multi-national because it is composed of many ethnic nations – England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland. Kenya may become a nation only when its ethno-racial splinters have so profusely intermarried that what distinguishes them as such has disappeared and no longer counts in the allocation of goods and services.

 Kenya’s Maasai nation spills over into Tanzania, Kenya’s Luo nation spills over into Uganda and Kenya’s Somali nation spills over into Somalia – these examples being direct consequences of Euro-colonial states having divided our continent among themselves without any regard to the continent’s original ethnic structures and affiliations.

A comparable European case is Switzerland, a stable state though composed of three culturo-linguistic tribes – French, German and Italian – comparable to certain Kenyan ethnicities. Yet when I worked in Geneva, I never came across any inter-ethnic hostility comparable to that between Kenya’s ethnic groups.

But our world has only one Arab nation. It lives in many states, from Arabia to Mozambique and from the Indo-Pakistani border through Egypt and Tunisia to the Rock of Gibraltar, from where the Arab nation spills over into Europe’s peninsula of Spain and Portugal.

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