A History of Nation Building – Part 5

Apartheid. If there is an 800 lb. gorilla looming over the legacy of colonialism, apartheid is a prime candidate for it. That it qualifies as morally evil is debatable only by invoking cultural relativism, which out of ideological prejudice hypocritically rejects it.

Eight nations were eventually founded from the British colonies in southern Africa, all of them influenced in one degree or other by apartheid. Indeed apartheid defines the history and nature of one of the most unusual countries to result from colonialism, South Africa.

Race and Reconciliation

South Africa, the keystone country of apartheid, does not fit any category of colonial states. Part of it was a British Colony like the Americas where the native population was being replaced, part of it was a indigenous people being ruled by British supervisors, and part of it was a foreign Colony where the native population was being replaced by Dutch descended settlers. Major wars were fought (Boer War, Zulu Wars) to consolidate the disparate parts, but the transition to independence was almost perfectly benign compared to that. Unfortunately that government was formed with apartheid as the core policy, and the insurgency spawned that finally ended that policy was anything but benign. While South Africa is a major economic power, its part of the G-20, there are many reports of it rushing headlong to be the next Zimbabwe.

So how to analyze it and what lesson to draw from it?

That success in nation building can be fleeting? Or deceptive? Or that we just need to always remember to look deeper, and not just at the surface factors?

And how did South Africa influence its neighbors?

Zimbabwe (originally Rhodesia) made a unilateral declaration of independence under an apartheid government. The country immediately erupted into civil war, leading to the present 100 trillion dollar bills.

Zambia (originally Northern Rhodesia) and Malawi (originally Nyasaland) were for a time federated with Rhodesia. As Rhodesia moved increasingly towards apartheid both countries moved increasingly towards separation, and received it. Both eventually became independent peacefully. Despite Zambia going Marxist and supporting rebels throughout Africa, and Malawi having a President for Life, albeit pro-Western, neither has collapsed into coups and brutal dictatorships the way many countries have.

Botswana (originally Bechuanaland), Lesotho (originally Basutoland), and Swaziland, were all considered for incorporation into South Africa at one time. Again, the institution of apartheid ended that. All became independent peacefully, and except for Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa, have continued on peacefully, though Swaziland is currently threatened by the AIDS epidemic. Lesotho has undergone repeated coups, and remains barely stable. Like Swaziland, AIDS is nearly pandemic, and it has a strong movement pushing for integration into South Africa.

Namibia (formerly Southwest Africa) is one of those peculiar exceptions to any pattern. It began as the German colony, fought a genocidal war against them, was made a Mandate of South Africa, and violently gained independence from the apartheid government of that country. Since then it has become a peaceful, stable, country.

In a way apartheid mirrors the effect of the Soviet Union on helping Germany and Japan form stable states after World War II. Where it took hold the effects were devastating, more devastating than Stalism. For the countries neighboring it, it provided a clear example of what they had to avoid at all costs, and perhaps contributed somewhat to their stability.


Aside from the obvious, that nation building is a complicated thing, incorporating a wide range of situations with a wider range of outcomes, and with time frames better measured in decades than years, there is not much more to say. It definitely works better when you give the people the kind of nation they want, but that may not always be the nation you want, either short or long term. Opposing the kind of nation the people want to build can certainly slow them down, but again that will almost certainly have long term repercussions.

How do I feel about nation building?

I certainly feel there are significant arguments both for and against it, applying variably to different countries and different nations to be built.

However it is not my intent to take a side, but to present the history of it for others to consider when deciding whether to support or oppose it. It is a difficult choice to make, with many more examples of failure than success, but if it does succeed, the payoffs are incredible.