Why compare Nigeria and Congo-Zaire?1 Their sheer demographic weight is one reason: in 1960, their combined population was 26 per cent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa. Nigerians numbered about 42.4 million, the Congolese 15.5 million. By 2005, their numbers had grown to 141.4 million and 58.7 million; together they were 27 per cent of the African total. So, these states encompass a large part of Africa’s human experience. Then, there is their quintessentially postcolonial character: neither could conceivably have evolved out of the indigenous polities or empire-building traditions that once flourished within their present territories; their ‘internal nations’ had different legends of origin, histories and institutions. As political formations, they are the handiwork of European colonialists, who set their boundaries and endowed them with administrative languages and apparatuses. Each has a small number of major indigenous languages and hundreds of minor ones; in both, assimilating primordial cultural identities with the national state has been a conflicted process. Finally, there are parallel events which repay comparative analysis. Both came close to disintegration after independence, in Congo-Zaire’s case within weeks of the transfer of power, in Nigeria’s after several years of deepening regional and ethnic tension. In each country, a major territorial region attempted to secede and horrendous civil wars were fought to maintain the state’s integrity.
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