chapter  11
10 Pages

Memory, geography, identity: African writing and modernity

ByTIM WOODS

Despite its geographical enormity, space has always been and continues to be a vexed issue in Africa. The Western exploitation of Africa was arguably the inevitable result of increasingly wealthy European nations needing economic Lebensraum and displacing that need for expansion into another easily oppressed continent. Consequently, nation space has frequently been a troubled issue, often the legacy of colonial state bureaucracy and arbitrary map-making. South Africa exercised for nearly three centuries an unofficial (and then state-sanctioned) policy of racial and spatial separation under ‘apartheid’, a policy that many European colonial regimes in Africa also exercised without the infamous name. Economically construed as a ‘third space’ (the Third World), Africa has spent much of its post-independence era organizing itself into spatial areas (the Organisation of African Unity – OAU, and its various regional economic communities) which might be taken seriously by the economic powerhouses of the world. Yet, even within the continent, there is an uneven development of spatial organization: for example, set in splendid economic isolation until the last decade, South Africa, by far the wealthiest country on the continent and the hub of many of the world’s economic interests in precious metals and diamonds, was the first African country to be incorporated into the OECD, as late as 2002. Furthermore, linguistic and cultural spaces overlie national boundaries, leading in recent decades to some terrible civil wars and acts of racial genocide in such countries as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, and Zimbabwe, and allowing many to question the role of language in the politics of establishing indigenous modern and national cultures.