1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009)

Race, Discrimination, Slavery and Citizenship in the Afro-Arab Borderlands (Draft)



In the historical experience of Africa, two major forms of dominance have been nationally imposed. The first was the cultural and political imposition arising out of the Arab conquest of North Africa, which started in the seventh century A.D. with the Hejira. The second over-lordship arose out of Western expansion and conquests and was of much later vintage, culminating in colonial rule from the late nineteenth century.

The conquest of North Africa by the Arabs was a slow process, which has been steady over the centuries. Apart from the political implications of conquest, perhaps even more important-and in many respects, of a much greater socio-cultural impact-has been the process of cultural denationalization of African communities in the face of Arab conquest and over-lordship, and the replacement of African cultural institutions by Arabic ones. Possibly the most notable of these cultural denationalization experiences has been the case of the Berbers in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The culture of the Berbers and the language of the people suffered subjugation and denigration from the early stages of the Arab-African encounter.

Recent conflicts, protests and demonstrations in Algeria highlight the historical plight of Berber national culture in the face of Arabization and domination. But possibly nowhere in the Afro-Arab borderlands is the problem of race, class and citizenship in such a high state of tension between Arab and African (or possibly Arabized Africans and Africans) as in the Sudan and Mauritania. These two countries are frequently in the news for these reasons, but indeed the problem and scenario is enacted in other countries in the region including Libya, Mali, Niger and Chad.