The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: history (page 1 of 2)

A Vote on Turkey’s Future

On April 16, Turkish citizens will go to the polls to vote on a package of constitutional amendments. The package proposes fundamental changes to Turkey’s parliamentary system of government—it would expand the powers of the presidency and dissolve the position of prime minister, among other changes. Public opinion is split on the referendum, and many pollsters hesitate to predict the outcome. Much of the debate surrounding the referendum draws on the country’s divisive leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Many see the referendum as not simply a vote on Turkey’s system of government, but on the future of Erdoğan’s position as Turkey’s leader.

Erdoğan has been a central figure in Turkish politics for the past two decades. He was the mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998 and a founder of the current ruling party, the AKP.  Erdoğan served three terms as prime minister, from 2003 to 2014. After reaching his term limit, he won the presidency in 2014. Many believe that he is the most influential Turkish politician in since Atatürk.

While Erdoğan is currently eligible for one more term as president, a “yes” vote at the polls on the April 19 referendum could pave the way for Erdogan to remain the country’s president for an additional term, through 2029.

The vote comes during a period of great change and uncertainty in Turkey. A recent string of terrorist attacks has claimed the lives of hundreds of Turkish citizens. The Syrian Civil War continues to unfold on Turkey’s doorstep. In the midst of the global refugee crisis, Turkey has accepted roughly half of the five million Syrians who have fled their home country. The decades-long conflict between government officials and Turkey’s Kurdish population continues.

Though Erdoğan has a loyal base of supporters, in recent years many Turkish citizens have challenged his government in a range of ways, from political organizing to widespread protests. Concerns about government corruption and growing authoritarianism sparked massive protests in Gezi Park in 2013. Last summer, an attempted military coup failed to oust Erdoğan. In its wake, while some citizens have rallied around the government and rejected the military’s attempt to intervene in politics, others have expressed concern that Erdoğan and his ruling party are seizing the opportunity to crush dissent and further consolidate their power. Individual’s views on these recent development may shape decisions at the ballot box on the 16th. In the video below, Brown University professor Stephen Kinzer describes how the Turkish government responded to the 2016 coup attempt.

 

Turkish Students Weigh In

In a recent interview in Taksim Square, Istanbul, New York Times correspondent Patrick Kingsley discussed the upcoming referendum with two students at Bagazici University—Mert Nacakgedigi and Dilara Arslan. Though they are good friends, the two students have starkly different interpretations about what the proposed constitutional changes would mean for their country’s future. While Dilara plans to vote in favor of the amendments, Mert will vote against them.

Interview by Patrick Kingsley of the New York Times.

Dilara

Dilara is double major in political science and sociology. She believes that the current parliamentary system has failed Turkey and hopes that a shift to a presidential system will bring stability to a country that has experienced political upheaval and tenuous parliamentary coalitions for decades. Dilara reminds viewers that, since the country’s founding less that one hundred years ago, Turkey has had more than sixty governments. She’s confident that the constitutional amendments will not only bring stability, but will also facilitate the consolidation of democracy in Turkey.

“I see it as a step towards democracy. Considering what the current government has done in favor of democracy in my opinion from the 2004 package of women’s rights to the economic liberalism over the past ten, fifteen years, I see this as just another step towards democracy.”

Dilara Arslan, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara applauds the ruling party’s efforts to expand freedoms for women that wear headscarves by lifting restrictions that had long kept kept veiled women out of public institutions like universities and government offices. She believes the constitutional changes will bring Turkey’s government more in line with many Western governments. She is concerned that foreign governments and international media sources have been encouraging people in Turkey to vote “no.”

Mert

Mert Nacakgedigi is a double major in political science and history. He expresses concern about the future of Turkey’s democracy and he warns that the amendments will demolish Turkey’s system of checks and balances. Mert says that people don’t feel free to openly oppose the proposed constitutional change, particularly those who work for or interact closely with the government. He’s unconvinced that the proposed changes will help address the challenges facing his country or offer any improvements to Turkey’s government.

“When I see the referendum…I only have one question. Do we need this referendum? Do we have a constitutional problem? [Is] our first problem a constitutional problem? I don’t think so.”

—Mert Nacakgedigi, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara and Mert emphasize that despite a climate of political polarization in their country, they’re able to respectfully disagree and remain friends. In many ways, they share a similar vision for their country—a desire for expanded rights and opportunities, a commitment to strengthening their democracy, and a hope that that Turkey will successfully address security concerns and the problem of terrorism. How a “yes” or ”no” vote on the referendum will shape the country’s future remains to be seen.

Interested in Teaching about Turkey?

Empire, Republic, Democracy: Turkey’s Past and Future traces the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the struggle for independence, and Turkish resistance against European imperialism. Students explore recent developments, such as the Syrian Civil War, the emergence of ISIS, the global refugee crisis, and the attempted military coup of 2016. In a culminating simulation, students grapple with the questions and challenges facing people in Turkey today.

  • What should Turkey’s democracy look like?
  • What role should religion play in Turkey’s government and society?
  • Should Turkey expand human rights and freedoms?
  • What role should Turkey play in the region and the world?

Banner image: Kristine Riskaer (CC BY 2.0).

Pursuing Happiness: Whose American Revolution?

Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the words that established an independent United States. It is these values that many continue to point to as essential to the nature of the country—the promise of existence as human, the assurance of freedom from tyranny, the right to pursue wellness. They are supreme ideals, a foundation of justice and equality upon which to build a society. But, the idea that these rights should extend to all humans is relatively new to U.S. history—the founding fathers did not intend for the full extension of the Declaration of Independence to colonial women, native peoples, or enslaved or free people of African descent.

In fact, in July 1852, Frederick Douglass, an African American abolitionist and orator, called attention to the fact that people of African descent continued to be denied the rights inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. By continuing slavery, the U.S. government did not merely fail to deliver the basic rights to enslaved people, it actively prevented these people from being able to obtain life, liberty, or wellness.  “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us,” said Douglass. “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”

[A transcription of the speech can be found here.]

Truly, independence did not belong to all people. It certainly did not belong to all people in the former colonies in 1783. The peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War and acknowledged the autonomy of the colonists also ignored land rights of native peoples (allowing them to be seen as “foreign nations” by the new U.S. government) and characterized black people as property. The new nation did not affirm the liberty of women of any race or ethnicity.

In fact, the Revolution itself, which we often view as an inevitable and logical response to the tyranny of British government, did not belong to all people in North America either. The common focus on the words of Jefferson and Paine, the idealistic commitment in action of Paul Revere and George Washington, and the engagement of crowds to fight British taxation often belies that “pursuit of happiness” in the colonies did not always take the form of allegiance to the patriots.

Some notable members of the "Sons of Liberty," a name given to some groups of colonial patriots leading the fight for independence.

Notable members of the “Sons of Liberty,” a name given to some groups of colonial patriots leading the fight for independence. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

For many white colonists, objection to taxation without representation did not necessitate a desire for independence. Many, attached to their British identity and the safety of being part of a larger British empire in the face of competition from the French for land, fought as loyalists. Even some of those who fought with the patriots in Quebec, Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Concord did so hoping to gain better representation in Parliament or autonomy over colonial finance rather than a complete break from Britain.

For enslaved people, forms of government or taxation were largely irrelevant. Freedom from tyranny meant freedom from the bonds of slavery. Enslaved people selected their alliances based on who they believed would deliver this liberty. Some fought for the patriots, hoping that this would earn them the loyalty of a new government if independence were to occur. Others fought for the British, expecting that their service would be exchanged for freedom by a British government whose politics seemed to be drifting towards the prospect of abolition.

For native peoples, alliance-building was also a gamble. For native nations that aligned themselves with the patriots, promises of fuller autonomy after independence were key. For those aligned with the British, there was a reliance on a stronger hand from the metropole, which had typically restricted colonists’ expansion and the movement of the frontier.

Thinking beyond the patriotic language of the Sons of Liberty, we are forced to ask many more questions about American Independence. Whose Revolution was this? What was rebellion really about? What did “liberty” mean to different people in the colonies? How do we explain those who were “patriotic” to something other than the ideals of the patriots? How does this diversity of identity, political opinion, and economic interest help us understand the United States today?

These questions have profound importance for understanding the past and the future of the United States. Acknowledging that independence in the eighteenth century was incomplete helps show the reality of the United States being a continued work in progress. Freeing the country from the illusion that the pinnacle of justice and liberty was situated hundreds of years ago empowers learners to consider what the national goal should be, which of the principles of independence and revolution still need to be attained, and what we can learn from both the successes and limitations of the past. Examining how people in the revolutionary era made choices helps learners grapple with the options they face today.

 

Keep a look out for the new Choices curriculum unit, The American Revolution: Experiences of Rebellion, coming in 2016!
The unit considers how the varied populations of seventeenth and eighteenth century North America experienced and viewed colonization and revolution, encouraging students to step into the shoes of people in 1776 to debate the future of the thirteen colonies.
Watch our home page for the release of this unit.

More on Frederick Douglass’s speech.
More on black loyalists.

South Africa: News Engagement Series #1

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why The Choices Program does our best to get current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching With The News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff will be sharing the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.

Danielle Johnstone, Program Associate, Writing Team

My recommendation for a news-related resource:
The Mail & Guardian Online


What it is:
The Mail & Guardian is a South African newspaper. The website reports on National (South African), African and World news. M&G also runs various blogs and a center for investigative journalism.


Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. M&G should definitely be bookmarked if you are teaching about South Africa. The journalists reporting on national issues often make strong historical connections, particularly to the apartheid era and the challenges it has caused for contemporary South Africa.
  2. I like to visit the M&G world news section to be aware of how news outlets outside of the United States are covering U.S. and international issues. Often M&G will be covering issues or situations that have been ignored by the U.S. media. Sometimes they cover issues that have dominated U.S. and European news with a different (perhaps more nuanced) perspective. M&G’s coverage of African issues, in particular, tends to be remarkably different to what you will see on the BBC or New York Times.
  3. The M&G Thought Leader blog by Mandela-Rhodes scholars is a gem. The contributing writers are young South Africans who are/were recipients of the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship, and they express their opinions about things happening in South Africa and beyond. Not only are the posts engaging and well-written, they also show how young people in South Africa are grappling with many of the same issues facing their counterparts in the U.S. and beyond—race, violence, injustice, an intimidating economy. Reading the blog is an excellent way to challenge stereotypes; it encourages readers to recognize that young people in the developing world are not just victims but are also educated, thoughtful, and facing complex questions about their world and their futures.

Bonus:
For a sample of M&G’s arts and culture reporting, check out this article on musician and composer  “Mac” McKenzie and his innovative impact on South African music.


Choices Program resource:
Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle

Mexico: Searching for a Safe Future

Miriana Moro (CC BY 2.0)

 

In September 2014, in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, first-year students from the teacher training college of Ayotzinapa came into conflict with the police, who fired on their bus. During the confrontation, forty-three of these students disappeared. The remains of only one of the students have been found.

Guerrero is known as one of the poorest and most violent states in Mexico. Its inhabitants live under the constant pressure of poverty and fear. The following video by The New Yorker shows that the abduction of the students of the Ayotzinapa Normal School is part of a long-ignored history of insecurity and pain in Guerrero.


Note: this video contains some disturbing content and images.Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 10.51.20 AM

 

The abduction has shaken the world. Not only has it shown the violence against young innocents (in stark contrast to the common narrative of Mexico’s violence being enacted between drug cartels and national security forces only), it has also shown the striking complicity of the central government in brutality against ordinary citizens. The Mexican government’s claims that the students were murdered by drug-traffickers after being kidnapped by police, and their promises that municipal government officials will be tried have been greeted with scorn. Witness testimony suggests that, in addition to local police forces, military personnel from a nearby base were also present at the confrontation. But the government refuses to investigate the military. Many people in Mexico feel that this symbolizes the failure of the government to ensure the safety of its citizens and to take responsibility for the violence. For some, this seems to be proof that the federal government is deeply implicated in the violence.

 

Protests in November 2014 in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The sign reads, “Not only 43. We are more than 120 million Mexicans calling for justice.” Miriana Moro (CC BY 2.0)

Protests in November 2014 in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The sign reads, “Not only 43. We are more than 120 million Mexicans calling for justice.” Miriana Moro (CC BY 2.0)

 

Unsurprisingly, protests have broken out across Mexico. The cries of the protesters reflect various types of pain, anger at multiple injustices. There have been links made to the government’s violent suppression of student demonstrations in 1968, known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. Proponents of greater autonomy for Mexico’s indigenous populations, such as the famous EZLN or Zapatista Army who led armed rebellions against the central government in the 1990s, have added cries for economic equality, land reform, and more local power. These people have joined together in common frustration at a government that has earned their deep mistrust. For most, the abductions signify yet another instance of state-sponsored violence, widespread impunity, and the failure of the government to perform the most basic terms of the social contract—to protect its people. In light of this, many have begun to question the legitimacy of the national government, and there have been calls for revolution.

 

A march in solidarity with Ayotzinapa. The EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) fights for greater rights for indigenous communities and increased economic equality across Mexico. They have established thirty-two autonomous communities in Chiapas, where there have been documented improvements to gender equality and public health. Somos El Medio (CC BY 2.0)

 

Ultimately, the Ayotzinapa kidnapping has brought a history of tensions to a head. The Mexican people are asking what the future of their country can be. How can they secure their families and themselves from vast, unpunished violence? How will crime, corruption, and poverty be addressed? Can the central government, a body whose public support and citizen trust is corroding, play a part in creating this future? While international bodies like the UN have condemned how the Mexican government has handled the case, the U.S. government has been largely silent. Human rights organizations were outraged when U.S. President Obama did not mention the case during a meeting with Mexican President Peña Nieto in January 2015. This begs even more questions—what should Mexico’s relationship with the United States look like as the country moves forward? Can the U.S. government be trusted to partner in protecting the lives and interests of the Mexican people? What effects might this have on trade, foreign investment, and the lives of Mexican immigrants living across the U.S.-Mexico border?

These are the questions we ask students to grapple with in the latest edition of Between Two Worlds: Mexico at the Crossroads. Students learn about Mexican history from the Olmecs through Spanish colonization and the fight for independence, investigate the economic and political changes the country encountered after independence, and consider some of the challenges Mexico faces today. Students then examine three options for Mexico’s future in a role play. They use their knowledge of Mexico’s history and current challenges to present arguments about who is responsible for Mexico’s problems; how crime, violence, corruption, and inequality should be addressed; how the United States should be perceived; and what the role of the central government should be in building Mexico’s future. Finally, students design their own options for Mexico’s future, sharing their opinions on what Mexico’s policies and priorities should be. Learn more about the unit here.

The Armenian Genocide: 100 Years Later

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide—a tragedy that took place against the backdrop of World War I, the effects of which are still being felt today. Choices provides a range of resources that offer students historical context to understand the circumstances in which the Armenian Genocide, and other genocides, were carried out. These resources help students wrestle with the very difficult and confusing question of how such horrific events could ever take place, and consider how past genocides have long lasting effects that exist to this day.

What was the Armenian Genocide?

The following video could serve as an excellent introduction for high school students to learn about the Armenian Genocide.  Barbara Petzen answers the question, “What was the Armenian Genocide?”

ArmenianGenocideWeb

A Contested History

“The great trouble with the Armenians is that they are separatists.… Because they have relied upon the friendship of the Russians, they have helped them in this war.… We have therefore deliberately adopted the plan of scattering them so that they can do us no harm.”  

—Ottoman leader Ismail Enver Pasha, as recounted by Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire

To this day, the Turkish government denies that these deaths were a genocide and claims that the Armenians were among the many people displaced and killed in the violent chaos of World War I. In 2014, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—who was prime minister at the time and is currently president—opened a new chapter for the two countries by acknowledging the widespread suffering of Armenians during World War I. Although he did not call the events of 1915 genocide, it marked an important acknowledgement of the past.

“The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain. It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. … And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.”  

—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 23, 2014

Despite the slight softening of Erdoğan’s position last year, Turkey’s leader has taken a sharper stance recently in the weeks leading up to this year’s anniversary, explicitly refuting the designation of the events as a genocide. After Pope Francis referred to the events as “the first genocide of the 20th century” this month, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican. When the European Parliament adopted a resolution to commemorate the centennial of the genocide, Erdoğan responded,

“Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on Armenian genocide claims, it will go in one ear and out the other…. It is out of the question for there to be a stain or a shadow called genocide on Turkey.”

—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 2015

Teaching Resources

Choices’ curriculum unit Confronting Genocide: Never Again? explores the Armenian Genocide, as well as four other case studies (the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, the Bosnian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide). It includes a lesson that challenges students to assess The New York Times coverage of the Armenian genocide and to consider the impact of media reporting on policy decisions and international opinion. The curriculum also includes a lesson that has students build a genocide memorial and consider the complex decision making that goes into this process.

Choices’ curriculum unit Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey explores the social and political environment within the Ottoman Empire in the years leading up to and during World War I and the Armenian Genocide. It briefly explores modern relations between Turkey and Armenia and the tension between the two countries over the designation of the events as a genocide.

 

 

Nukes Over North Carolina—Were We Lucky?

A road marker in Eureka, NC.

A road marker in Eureka, NC.

On January 24, 1961, two hydrogen bombs crashed to the ground outside Goldsboro, North Carolina. One hit a field at 700 miles per hour and shattered without detonating. The other remained intact after its parachute was snared by the branches of a tree.

The plane carrying the bombs was a U.S. B-52 bomber. After taking off from a nearby air force base, the plane malfunctioned and broke to pieces as it plummeted from the sky. One of the bombs had completed much of its arming sequence, which led to the deployment of its parachute. All of the levers of the ignition device tripped, except for a single one. In 2013, declassified government documents revealed that the single switch prevented the bomb from exploding, averting what would likely have been millions of deaths and the formation of a crater on the eastern seaboard to be swallowed up by the Atlantic.

Our friends at the Armageddon Letters produced this short video to engage viewers in the complex discussion of nuclear weapons. The video uses the almost-unbelievable Goldsboro B-52 crash as an entry point into a debate about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the Cuban missile crisis. Professor Jim Blight asks, were we lucky? Or, considering that the bomb didn’t detonate, are we sufficiently safe in a world with nuclear weapons? The video could serve as a great hook for high school classes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WN4VRqEo0r4

The following video of Joseph Cirincione also explores the Goldsboro scare and other nuclear close-calls, including the Cuban missile crisis:Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 4.01.05 PM

Explore more from Choices on these topics:

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Considering its Place in Cold War History

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons

Photo by Arthunter (CC BY-SA 3.0).

 

Black History Month Series #2: Women in the Civil Rights Movement

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.32.00 PM

 

“You had these women who were just amazingly strong… that didn’t mean there wasn’t sexism,” recalled Judy Richardson in an interview with the Choices Program about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. Richardson was explaining the involvement of women in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), one of the most important Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s. SNCC’s most valuable work was in grassroots, community-led initiatives like voter registration drives, where the members and activists worked directly with the most downtrodden of disenfranchised people of color. Richardson, in remembering the work, makes reference to how important this hands-on interaction was and how it was often forgotten by larger Civil Rights organizations that took a more elite, patriarchal approach to racial justice.

The Civil Rights era is one of the most important moments in African-American history and in women’s history. It is a moment when African-American women played a vital part in defining U.S. history. Women of color were instrumental in leading the Movement, in engaging in powerful acts of protest, and in dynamically shaping action against discrimination. Judy Richardson remembers one of these women, her mentor and leader, Ella Baker, in the following video.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.32.00 PM

 

The powerful leadership and bravery Richardson celebrates in remembering Baker’s contribution can be attributed to many women of color who played defining roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, for example, became a role model for courage and commitment in the face of racial injustice when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus. Women like this are a vital part of the memory of the Civil Rights Movement.

But so many women of color have been excluded from how this history is often told. While other women had already been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats, they did not gain the fame that Parks achieved. Many scholars suggest that this was because Parks fit a very specific model of how black women should act and appear. Women of color who did not project this precise image of quiet respectability were not held up as heroes. In fact, the very issues that Judy Richardson recalls seeing in 1960s American society and that she remembers as limiting certain parts of the Civil Rights Movement have also limited our own perceptions of the history. Women of color have far too often been forgotten as unimportant and insignificant, and many have been ignored because of their class, sexuality, or gender-expression as well as their race. Some of the incredible acts of heroism by LGBT women of color have been written about, but they are not part of the broader, more widely known history of the Movement, which prefers traditional, male figures for its heroes. These women are the tragically excluded heroes of the American past.

 

For more on forgotten figures in black history and “politics of respectability” see this HuffPostLive discussion.

For more on women civil rights activists, see this collection of biographies.

 

Interviews with Judy Richardson are an accompaniment to the full-length Choices unit,

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

View more video interviews on Civil Rights and other topics at our Scholars Online page.

 

Why is Nigeria important?

Street in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria (Zouzou Wizman CCby2.0)

Street in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria (Zouzou Wizman CCby2.0)

Choices recently released a Teaching with the News lesson on Nigeria and Boko Haram. In fact, Nigeria has been a country of interest in the Choices writers’ room this year—from this free lesson on the largest security threat faced by the country to inclusion as one of the key case studies in our soon-to-be-released full-length curriculum unit on climate change. So why is Nigeria a place worth studying?

 

1. It has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Nigeria is one of only two African countries in the list of 3G (or Global Growth Generators) countries. These countries have been identified as attractive places for investment because of the incredible growth potential they have. In fact, Citigroup predicts that Nigeria will have the highest average growth in GDP in the world between 2010 and 2050. Not only does this anticipated growth imply that Nigeria may be a model for economic development for other countries in the developing world, it also means that Nigeria is bound to have more bargaining power in the international system and increasingly important relations with countries like the United States. Despite these prospects, however, there is vast economic inequality (particularly between the poor north and relatively more affluent south) and corruption is rife.

 

2. It has great cultural richness and diversity.

Nigeria’s cultural richness is evident in the arts. Nigerian music is enjoyed throughout the continent, with legends like Fela Kuti forming a cornerstone of African music. Nigerian cinema is also important. “Nollywood” is the second largest film industry in the world, ahead of the United States and behind India. Finally, Nigeria has been a hub for literary ingenuity—boasting Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, celebrated author Chinua Achebe, and popular writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nnedi Okorafor.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQBC5URoF0s

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. Ethnicities in Nigeria include Yoruba (21% of the population), Hausa (21%), and Igbo (18%) as well as many smaller ethnic groups, and Christianity, Islam, and traditional African religions are practiced widely. This diversity is one of Nigeria’s great strengths, but has also been a source of conflict. In 1967, after a coup by soldiers from the north, a region that tends to be majority Hausa and Muslim, the Igbo-dominated southeast tried to secede from Nigeria and become the Republic of Biafra. As a result, the country was torn by civil war (known as the Biafran War) until the Biafrans were defeated in 1970. More recently, economic inequality between the north and south of Nigeria has created new religious and ethnic tensions, which have perpetuated the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist insurgency, Boko Haram.

 

3. It holds important natural resources.

Nigeria is the twelfth largest petroleum producer and has the tenth largest proven oil reserves. In 1971, it became a member of OPEC, an organization of oil-exporting nations that is famous for the price-inflating 1973 embargo in response to U.S. support of Israel. Nigeria’s oil reserves have certainly been a source of many of its successes (especially its growing influence) but have also led to many of the nation’s problems. Economic inequality, ethnic tension and mistrust, and the creation of a political culture of corruption can all be linked to the country’s oil wealth and the complications with governing it—making Nigeria a potential example of the “resource curse” discussed by political scientists and economists.

Oil production has also wreaked havoc on the local environment. Poor safety procedures by companies like Shell have gone largely unpunished and have damaged water supplies and polluted the air in the Niger River Delta. Gas flaring (burning the natural gas that is a byproduct of drilling) has received particular criticism and led to the rise of local community action against oil companies. Nigerian women’s groups in particular have been important in fighting against these practices, which not only degrade the immediate environment but also result in massive greenhouse gas emissions that damage the global atmosphere.

 

“Social conditions in Nigeria bring to light how women are especially vulnerable to climate change and that they play an important role in resisting environmental degradation.”

~ Climate Change and Questions of Justice (coming soon)

 

4. It is one of the historic centers of African Unity.

In 1960, Nigeria gained independence from Britain, and in 1963, after parts of British Cameroon decided to unite with Nigeria rather than with French Cameroon, it became a Federal Republic with Nnamdi Azikiwe as its first president.

Nnamdi Azikiwe and Princess Alexandra of Kent at Nigeria's Independence ceremony (Care2 CCbySA2.0)

Nnamdi Azikiwe and Princess Alexandra of Kent at Nigeria’s Independence ceremony (Care2 CCbySA2.0)

Azikiwe was a leader in the Pan-African Movement. Pan-Africanism was an ideology shared by important African and African American figures like Kwame Nkrumah and W.E.B. Du Bois, and it focused on a shared identity among those of African descent. This took particular importance during the decades of decolonization on the continent, where leaders of liberation movements and newly independent countries drew on the ideals of “collective self-reliance” to develop a united front against colonial forces. Azikiwe was one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union, or AU), a body that was instrumental in providing continent-wide support for liberation movements in countries that were late to achieve independence or majority rule (such as Zimbabwe and South Africa). This organization later came to be seen by many as a “dictators’ club,” where undemocratic and violent rule by many post-independence governments was ignored in favor of solidarity and a continued effort to limit the involvement of the United States and Europe in African affairs.

 

See the free Teaching with the News lesson, Nigeria and Boko Haram: Inequality, Injustice, Insurgency.

For more on liberation movements in Africa see our full-length unit, Colonization and Independence in Africa.

For more on economic growth, trade, and power see our full length unit, International Trade: Competition and Cooperation in a Globalized World.

Scotland votes on independence

On Thursday, the population of Scotland will be voting in a referendum to decide on whether the nation will secede from the United Kingdom. “Should Scotland be an independent country?” says the ballot paper, and until recently it has seemed that the answer would be an inevitable “no”. However, the pro-independence “Yes” campaign has led an impressive grassroots effort to incite the optimism of the Scottish people, leading to a recent poll placing them ahead of the “No” or “Better Together” campaign.

Campaign posters battle for space in Scotland. Image by The Justified Sinner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via flickr

Campaign posters battle for space in Scotland. Image by The Justified Sinner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via flickr

Indeed Scotland’s is a unique independence movement, relying not on traditional nationalist ideology or the heroism of overcoming an oppressor, but rather claiming that an independent Scottish government can do more for it’s people than the elected Scottish representatives in a British government. The “Yes” campaign is about not having to share oil revenue from the North Sea with the rest of Britain, being able to define policy without the involvement of those south of the Scottish border, and not having to put up with a government that is seen as not representing the interests of the Scottish people (Scotland tends to disproportionately vote for the Labour party, while the more populous England tends to vote in preference of the Conservative government in place in Westminster now).

The “No” campaign, on the other hand, hails pragmatic caution. It points to the problems with currency (while an independent Scotland may keep using the British pound, it seems that they would not have a seat at the table that decides on monetary policy and determines the value of the currency). Furthermore, should Scotland gain independence it would have to re-apply for its membership in the European Union—a membership that is very important for trade and economic development. It is not clear whether Scotland would regain this membership easily, or what agreements it would have to make to achieve this. Even the North Sea oil (what will be the pivot of an independent Scottish economy) has turned out to be less appealing, with technical experts pointing out that reserves are quickly diminishing and that the oil cannot be relied upon to prop up an entire country. With this economic insecurity, banks and businesses have threatened to move south should the referendum end in a “Yes.”

English, Scottish and Irish flags combine to form the Union Jack. Image by guilherme Paula (public domain) via wikimedia

English, Scottish and Irish flags combine to form the Union Jack. Image by Guilherme Paula (public domain) via wikimedia

One of the reasons that the “Yes” campaign and the Scottish National Party (SNP) are such a unique independence movement is because Scotland is not a colony. The Scottish people are not oppressed or overpowered by an imperialist power. They have a democratic stake in the British government, and they are treated as equal citizens. We can contrast this with the colonies in Africa, who were not fighting only for independence and the right to govern themselves but also for the overthrowing of a racialized system that established Africans as lesser beings. In the Choices unit Colonization and Independence in Africa, case studies on colonies and how they gained independence highlight this racism. In one of the primary sources used in the unit, a Ghanaian journalist points out that an aim of British colonial policy was “to suppress the educated African who is too articulate to be convenient to British repression.”

Even the independence movement in the United States, which did not have the same racial elements, compares unsatisfactorily to the Scottish issue. A More Perfect Union: American Independence and the Constitution considers how the American revolution grew out of discontent over the influence of the British Parliament in the colonies. As they became increasingly frustrated by the distance between them and Parliament, “colonists began to ask if they were obligated to obey laws passed without their consent.” When the Britain tightened its control over expansion in the colonies, imposed taxes, and enforced a staunch anti-smuggling regime, this anger turned into vast resistance of British controls. It is a fun oversimplification to say that the American Revolution was caused by taxes, but it is more realistic to argue that these taxes represented an oppressive British regime that was in no way accountable to the colonists and was out of touch with the situation in the colonies. This was the source of rebellion.

Realizing the differences between the Scottish “Yes” campaign and other independence movements makes the question of Scottish secession from the Union all the more complicated. It brings up new questions about how we define a country, how we consider the rights to self-determination, how we think about the problems of proportional or representative democracy. Should we keep drawing new borders until people feel appropriately represented by their governments? Where do we stop if we start doing this? How do we understand the roles of international organizations who seem to be a form of global government, if we believe that political decisions can only be made by a tightly localized government? Is there a case for other independence movements that have (like Scotland’s) up until now been dismissed as impractical or unlikely, such as in Texas or Quebec? Do the concerns raised by the Scottish independence movement help us to understand some U.S. modes of governance, such as state government and how the union works?

Rally for Scottish Independence. Image by Martainn MacDhomhnaill (CC BY-NC 2.0) via flickr

Rally for Scottish Independence. Image by Martainn MacDhomhnaill (CC BY-NC 2.0) via flickr

For up-to-date happenings surrounding the Scottish independence referendum as well as in-depth analysis, visit the BBC’s Scotland Decides page or Al Jazeera’s Scotland page.

Other interesting articles include Something extraordinary is happening in Scotland (from the Washington Post’s “Monkey Cage” blog) and Fate of United Kingdom hangs in balance after new Scotland polls (from South African paper, The Mail & Guardian).

 

More Choices units that deal with the theme of self-determination:

 

On the 100th Anniversary of World War I

By Leah Elliott, Choices Program Associate

The upcoming year presents a special opportunity for classrooms to reflect on the history and impacts of World War I. While mainstream media coverage has granted attention to the war’s famous battles and grave sites dotting Europe and the United States, we encourage you to also explore with your students the narratives of those societies that fell within the colonial and/or imperial boundaries of the Central and Allied Powers.

Over the past ten months, Choices has produced three new curriculum units that speak to “other” perspectives from World War I: Indian Independence and the Question of Partition, Colonization and Independence in Africa, and Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey (just released this summer!). Below are a few excerpts and images from these curricula.

“Britain forced its colonies to contribute vast sums of money, raw materials, soldiers, and other resources to support the war effort. Tens of thousands of Indian troops fighting for Britain in Europe and the Middle East lost their lives.” —Indian Independence and the Question of Partition

 

Africa 1914 color

“Africans who participated in the war efforts thought they would be rewarded with additional social, political, and economic rights when the war was over…. It soon became clear that Europe and the United States did not believe that Africans deserved this right…. Germany’s former colonies became mandates—administered by foreign countries on behalf of the League…. Criticism of colonialism grew louder in Africa around the world after World War I. Four conferences between 1919 and 1927 helped bring international attention and support to anticolonial movements in Africa.” —Colonization and Independence in Africa

 

"In 1915, Russia made substantial gains into Ottoman territory in Eastern Anatolia. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government feared that minority groups in the region, especially the Armenians, planned to revolt against the empire with the help of Russian forces.… April 24, 1915 marked the start of the Armenian Genocide. The Ottoman government ordered the arrest and deportation or execution of over two  hundred Armenian politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen in Istanbul.… CUP officials claimed that the Armenians planned to revolt and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This accusation produced widespread public support for the government’s actions. By 1923, 1.5 million Armenians—over two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire—had been killed, deported, or forced into the desert where they starved to death." —Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey

“In 1915, Russia made substantial gains into Ottoman territory in Eastern Anatolia. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government feared that minority groups in the region, especially the Armenians, planned to revolt against the empire with the help of Russian forces.… April 24, 1915 marked the start of the Armenian Genocide. The Ottoman government ordered the arrest and deportation or execution of over two hundred Armenian politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen in Istanbul.… CUP officials claimed that the Armenians planned to revolt and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This accusation produced widespread public support for the government’s actions. By 1923, 1.5 million Armenians—over two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire—had been killed, deported, or forced into the desert where they starved to death.”Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey

These pieces draw attention to just a few of the narratives that are often lost when sole focus for the 100th anniversary of World War I is given to people who identified with, instead of were subjugated by, the world powers of the time. In addition to widespread death and economic upheaval, World War I was also an event that turned the world’s attention to the fight for self-determination. For people living under colonial rule in Africa and South Asia, as well as the diverse ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire, World War I fueled efforts for self-determination that would drastically shape the course of the twentieth century.

 

Older posts

© 2017 The Choices Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑