In many cases in Africa today, political conflicts are debated through language of citizenship and language of culture; the former defending equal rights of “settlers” and the latter defending traditions of the “natives”; both contesting access to land, resources, and power. In “Define and Rule,” Mamdani questions the very definition of “native” by exposing the theory of “nativism” as a creation of intellectuals of Empire in crisis. Mamdani argues that “native” as political identity was produced by the theorists of British colonialism who were faced with the crisis of the 1857 uprising in India.
It is generally held that the roots of current political conflicts in Africa are traced back to colonial policies. Nonetheless, these policies are commonly expressed with the phrase “divide and rule” denoting that colonialists created divisions as a strategy to debilitate resistance within their colonies. However, from “Define and Rule” we comprehend that defining subjects first and foremost was in the core of dividing them. Mamdani historicizes the political legacy of colonialism and discusses the historical dynamics that produced indirect rule and, more importantly, the intellectual endeavors that justified it. Indirect rule’s goal was to stabilize colonialism through fragmenting colonial subjects in administrative units. Mamdani maintains that the shift from direct to indirect rule represents a shift from an assimilationist colonial scheme that focused on the elites of the colonized to a project of shaping and managing differences in both society and polity focusing on the conquered masses.