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The politicization of difference : nationalism and national unity in pre-independent India, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya Newton, Jacob Alexander

Abstract

In the historiography of the British Empire, indigenous independence movements have been characterized as 'nationalistic', that is, that they were motivated by a sense of national identity among the indigenous peoples which was expressed through the rejection of imperial control and the demand for indigenous self-government. However, the necessity to divide the colonial territory at independence between two indigenous groups in India and the insistence of indigenous groups within Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya that their distinctive identities be safeguarded within constitutional systems that granted substantive powers to the regions within which those groups resided suggest that there was not, in fact, a unitary sense of identity among the indigenous populations of these colonial territories. The assumption, then, that indigenous independence movements represented 'Indian', 'Ghanaian', 'Nigerian', or 'Kenyan' nationalism needs to be re-evaluated. The characterization of indigenous independence movements as 'nationalistic' is challenged in this study through a comparative analysis of the phenomenon within the contexts of India, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria, and Kenya. Particular attention is paid to the formulation by leaders of these independence movements of an inclusive conception of nationalism, and the degree to which this definition was accepted or rejected by the indigenous populations of those colonial states. What the analysis, supported by case studies of each colonial territory, demonstrates is that the attempts by these leaders to promote an inclusive sense of national identity had a divisive rather than unifying effect upon the indigenous population. Indeed, not only did the indigenous peoples continue to identify themselves according to regional, religious, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic distinctions, but these distinctions became politicized in the form of exclusive definitions of nationalism. The invocation of 'nationalism', therefore, actually had the effect of creating a greater awareness within the indigenous population of their differences, not their commonality, an awareness that ultimately led to the geographical or constitutional divisions within these states at independence.

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