Collective Memory and Nation-Building in Africa


  • Obinna Iroanya University of Namibia
  • Salomo Ndapulamo University of Namibia
  • Gabriella Nguluwe University of Namibia



collective memory, recollection, nation-building


Based on documentary analysis, this article argues that lessons of violent conflicts are rarely appropriated positively for nation-building in the context of post-conflict African societies. The article further stresses that the reasons often projected as causes of ineffective nation-building, such as multiple ethnicity and neo-colonialism, are unjustifiably projected as causal factors. It argues that diverse ethnicity remains a dormant destructive force until operationalised for political gains through misappropriation and deployment of collective memories. In the African context, post-conflict societies adopt the mixed approach of selective amnesia which emphasises amnesty, reconciliation, rehabilitation and reintegration as necessary for nation-building. Experience, however, suggests that the operationalisation of this approach is always marred by inconsistencies and repression. Consequently, repressive mechanisms suppress violence and achieve relative stability. True reconciliation which is critical for nation-building is never achieved. Among loser ethnic groups (hereafter loser groups), resistance to selective amnesia and simultaneous preoccupation with collective memory of victimisation, discrimination and injustice continue to reinforce sentiments of group exceptionality and separatist impulses rather than national consciousness. Therefore, cautious expression of citizenship among segments of the loser groups continues to attract mutual suspicion and distrust from leadership of post-conflict states. It is concluded that the challenge of social contradictions in post-conflict societies is serious because neither the state nor loser groups positively deploy memory of conflict for nation-building. A new reconciliatory approach drawn largely from lessons of history is recommended for post-conflict nation-building efforts in post-conflict African states. Positive appropriation and deployment of memory for nation-building ensures amnesty and restoration without repercussions; and remembrance without resentment.

Author Biography

Obinna Iroanya, University of Namibia

Senior Lecturer



How to Cite

Iroanya, Obinna, Salomo Ndapulamo, and Gabriella Nguluwe. 2021. “Collective Memory and Nation-Building in Africa”. Africanus: Journal of Development Studies 50 (1):19 pages.



Received 2019-02-10
Accepted 2020-06-11
Published 2021-06-23