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A Reflection on the Politics of Resentment in Sub Sahara Africa


What makes the politics of resentment flourish in sub-Sahara Africa? The politics of resentment in sub-Sahara Africa can be defined as resentment and anger towards a system of governance widely viewed as bias, exploitative and repressive. In a politics of resentment, anger manifests as a result of perceived state oppression and injustice. Instead of blaming corrupt elites and colonial powers, sub-Sahara Africans misplace blame on each other for the misery they experience.

A politics of resentment is located between different communities of people. These communities of difference come about due to state oppression that is part and parcel of postcolonial experiences. There is a “re-channeling of resentment.” Africans, instead of directing their dissatisfaction with their oppressive regimes and morally depraved rulers as well as against residues of colonialism that prevent the flourishing of life, turn their anger at each other.

This paper explores the sources of resentment that sub-Sahara African citizens have towards each other in historical and contemporary contexts. I argue that resentments in sub-Sahara Africa are layered, entangled, and nourish one another. The politics of resentment in sub-Sahara Africa is animated by three resentments between groups based on geographic, economic, and ethnic considerations.

These resentments intertwine with one another and shape how sub-Sahara Africans make sense of the world around them. I will explore the multiple ways in which resentment is actively produced to wield state power during the colonial and postcolonial period. The ways that resentment has wielded state power is much more transparent in the colonial period – while in the postcolonial period, the methods are a lot more discreet.

The three resentments assume form because of European conquest and domination. These resentments are not a resistance of hegemonic colonialism and modern development practices but are instead instances of misplaced resentment. Conflicts of ideology, and especially the balance of power between different interest groups, manifest in these three categories of resentment. These conflicts are amplified by colonial histories and logics.

Feelings of resentment are not aimed at building viable societies. They justify one’s social and cultural system by negating the world of the other. These feelings are shaped by colonial domination and continuing colonial logics and structures. Africans have been trapped in resentment. Resentment at the fact they have been oppressed, abused, belittled, cheated, turned against each other and then blamed for their “savagery” against each other. This resentment has not allowed Africans to reflect on what these realities have meant for their psyches, both historical and current.

Resentment is a powerful human emotion that has both private and social dimensions where it manifests in a variety of ways. Remnants of colonialism and African elites often exacerbate tensions between citizens and create new power asymmetries that yield anger and discontent. Fellow sub-Sahara Africans direct this discontent at each other. Resentment refers to a feeling of displeasure induced by being insulted, offended or deprived. It is typically a reaction to slights or affronts, to assaults, wither mild or severe, upon ones self.

The reactive feeling of resentment is based on the actor’s definition of the insult, slight, sense of deprivation, or other felt injury as unwarranted or unjust – the result of wrongful conduct or unfair insitutions. Colonial violence and modern neoliberal development practice reproduce violence and resentment between fellow citizens. These nauseating phenomena erode common humanity and pan-African solidarity.

I propose replacing the politics of resentment with a politics of consensus. A politics of consenus was often the order of the day in African deliberations, and on principle. African culture encourages a politics of consensus. The African belief that persons are related to other persons and non-persons such as the divine, animals and plants and to the physical and social universe is rooted in consensus.

A politics of consensus in a modern context would involve celebrating multiple modalities of development and ways of knowing. A healthy pan African coexistence should exist between the farmer and the entrepreneur, the indigenous and the urban and the artist and the doctor. In a Pan-African coexistence and consensus, each person should be able to celebrate their own modality – without colonial logics and modern austerity measures corrupting unity.

Technology, science and innovation should be celebrated alongside tradition and indigenous ways of knowing. Strong and just states should take care of African citizens, and tribal and ethnic divisions of the colonial past should be abandoned. Africans should determine their own fate without interference. A politics of consenus will restore the hope and optimism that Africans had at the beginning of the post colonial period. It will free Africa from neocolonial shackles that have prevented the continent from maximizing its full potential.


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