Nation-state or Nation-family? Nationalism in Marginalised African Societies
Scholars have long puzzled over strong nationalism in weak African states. Existing theories suggest that (a) incumbent leaders use nationalistic appeals to distract people from state weakness; or (b) citizens use nationalistic claims to exclude rival groups from accessing patronage and public goods. But what explains robust nationalism in places where politicians seldom visit and where the state under-provides resources, as is true across much of Africa? We propose a theory of familial nationalism, arguing that people profess attachment to a nation-family instead of to a nation-state under conditions where the family, and not the state, is the main lifeline. We substantiate it using surveys from the border between Niger and Burkina Faso, where an international court ruling allowed people to choose their citizenship, thus providing a test for nationalism in marginalised communities. We supplement the border data with surveys and focus groups from the capitals of both countries.