In former colonies, Independence Days typically serve as occasions to celebrate victory in the struggle against the old imperial power. What John Adams wished for American Independence—”It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more”—holds true for other independent states as well; parades, dances, flag-waving, and pyrotechnic displays mark Independence Days from Accra to Delhi to Mexico City.Not so in East Africa. For many countries in that region, there’s not much to celebrate.For instance, Somalia observed its Independence Day last Friday in a low-budget affair commemorating the joining of British and Italian Somaliland into a united and sovereign state (admittedly, a state that remained neither united nor sovereign for very long). Kenya’s East African reports:
The Somali flag, with its distinctive five-point white star on a blue background, was raised at midnight to mark the occasion. […]President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Omar Arte and a galaxy of ministers, legislators and government officials were among the huge crowd that defied the evening chill to commemorate the independence day.The night celebrations were replicated across the country.
One has to wonder just how far away from Mogadishu one could find Somalis celebrating the day. Did Al Shabab militants and the Somaliland separatists mark the occasion as well?Somalia wasn’t the only East African country to celebrate its Independence Day this July 1. Burundi and Rwanda did as well.
Independence Day means the day when Rwanda was freed from colonialism. This is the day in which Rwandan people were given power to govern themselves as an independent and sovereign people. […]However, the new leaders of Rwanda after this independence did little to emphasise on what to unite their people. It is not news that they preached and practiced divisive politics that would last for decades. […]Three decades after independence came a day of ultimate attainment of our real independence, on July 4, 1994, despite an incredible tragedy of genocide. Our smiles were finally born out of this day.
As this column shows us, Rwanda is trying to stitch together the seemingly disparate threads of colonialism, civil war, and genocide into a single fabric of national identity. Strong economic growth and generally competent governance have also contributed to a rising sense of Rwandan patriotism that might, in time, come to trump or even replace narrower sectarian allegiances along ethnic or religious lines. But in the region, Rwandans’ growing allegiance to their national identity and recognition of the divisiveness of ethnic identities seems to be the exception, not the rule.
President Kagame: True liberation means dignity, it means no one should ever decide for us who we should be #Kwibohora22— Presidency | Rwanda (@UrugwiroVillage) July 4, 2016
The nation faces a budget shortfall of between 40 and 60%, according to various estimates. Economists warn of hyperinflation; the South Sudanese pound has lost over 80% of its value against the dollar.“We decided not to celebrate the July 9 Independence Day, because we don’t want to spend that much,” Michael Makuei, the minister of information, told reporters on Tuesday, according to al-Jazeera. “We need to spend the little that we have on other issues.”
One could be forgiven for thinking that another reason they’re canceling the celebrations is because so few in South Sudan identify themselves as South Sudanese first (rather than Dinka, Nuer, or Fartit). Even then, what few die-hard nationalists there may be would find little to celebrate in their country’s bloody five-year history.The fact that so many East Africans struggle to celebrate their countries’ Independence Days ought to clue us in that, in this region, non-national identities—ethnicity, clan, tribe, religion—matter much, much more.Contrary to the globalist conventional wisdom that nationalism is the root of all evil, stronger nationalist sentiments could actually improve the security situation in East Africa. When it comes to engineering harmony between and among groups, talking up a common identity (that is, a national one) is a lot more effective than forcing respect for difference. Until East African countries are able to provide internal security, secure borders, and deliver competent government (as Rwanda has more or less been able to do), it’s likely that future Independence Days will be just as quietly celebrated as the ones being marked by the Burundians, Somalis, and South Sudanese this July.