Preoccupied by the pandemic, climate change and the intensifying rivalry between the U.S. and China, policy makers and pundits aren’t paying enough attention to the news in Africa. That is a mistake. What is happening on the continent offers insights into the destructive role identity politics seems destined to play in world politics.

While every African country has its own history and culture, a common trait to many is the presence of dozens of ethnic and language groups with proud histories and strong identities. When independence came, these new states kept their colonial borders. Most felt that once boundaries are up for grabs, endless claims and counterclaims easily can lead to endless wars. Tribalism was widely condemned as primitive and atavistic, and the assumption was that a developing Africa would leave all that behind and form modern national identities.

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