The Westphalian model and trans-border ethnic identity : the case of the Chewa Kingdom of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia
This study is an investigation of the informal trans-border Chewa ethnic movement of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia and its relationship to the formal state boundaries defined by the Westphalian model. The Chewa refer themselves as belonging to a Kingdom (formerly the Maravi Kingdom) which currently cuts across the three modern African states of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia and its paramount, King Gawa Undi, is based in Zambia. The secretariat of the kingdom is Chewa Heritage Foundation (CHEFO), which is headquartered in Malawi. The fundamental quest of this study is to investigate how the Chewa understand, experience, manage and interpret the overlap between formal states (as defined by the Westphalian model) and informal trans-border ethnic identity without raising cross-border conflicts in the process. Indeed, it is this paradoxical co-existence of contradictory features of Westphalian political boundaries and trans-border ethnic identity that initially inspired this study. The main research aim is to interrogate whether the Chewa Kingdom (of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia) is challenging or confirming state boundaries, and to reflect on what this means for the contemporary Westphalian model. In International Relations (IR), the Westphalian model provides the assumption that states are independent actors with a political authority based on territory and autonomy. Despite a large number of criticisms of the model, it has not completely been dismissed in explaining some elements of the international system. This is evident by the underlying assumptions and perspectives that still persist in IR literature as well as the growing contemporary debates on the model, especially on its related elements of state sovereignty and citizenship. In Africa, the literature focuses on the formal structures and ignores the role of informal trans-border traditional entities - specifically, how trans-border traditional entities affect the re-definition of state and sovereignty in Africa. Such ignorance has led to a vacuum in African IR of the potentiality of the informal to complement the formal intra-regional state entities. Within a historical and socio-cultural framework, the study utilises [social] constructivism and cultural nationalism theories to critically investigate and understand the unfolding relationship between the Westphalian state and Chewa trans-border community. Another supporting debate explored is the relevance of traditional authorities under the ambit of politics of representation. In this case, the study fits in the emerging debate on the meaning, experience and relevance of state sovereignty and national identity (citizenship) in Africa. Drawing on a wide range of sources (informant interviews, focus group discussions, Afrobarometer survey data sets, newspaper articles and comparative literature surveys in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia), the study finds that although the upsurge of Chewa transborder ethnic identity is theoretically contradictory to the Westphalian model, in practice it is actually complementary. Within the framework of [social] constructivism, the state has with some variations demonstrated flexibility and innovation to remain legitimate by co-opting the Chewa movement. In this case, the study finds that the co-existence of Westphalian model and trans-border Chewa ethnic identity is mainly due to the flexibility of the state to accommodate informal ethnic expressions in ways that ultimately reinforces the mutual dependence of the states and the ethnic group. For instance, during the Chewa Kulamba ceremony held in Zambia, the state borders are „relaxed‟ to allow unhindered crossing for the participants to the ceremony. This does not entail weakness of the state but its immediate relevance by allowing communal cultural expressions. Another finding is that the Chewa expression of ethnic identity could not be complete if it did not take a trans-border perspective. This set-up ensures that each nation-state plays a role in the expression of Chewa ethnic identity - missing one nation-state means that the historical and contemporary relevance of this identity would be lost. It is also this same set-up that limits the movement's possibility to challenge the formal state. This argument reinforces the social constructivist perspective that sovereignty is not static but dynamic because it fulfils different uses in a particular context. The overall argument of this study is that the revival of the informal Chewa trans-border traditional entity offers a new, exciting and unexplored debate on the Westphalian model that is possibly unique to the African set-up. One theoretical/methodological contribution of this study is that it buttresses some suggestions that when studying African IR, we have to move beyond the strict disciplinary boundaries that have defined the field and search for other related African state experiences. The study also strengthens one of the new approaches in understanding IR as social relations - in this approach, individuals and their activities or their social systems play a prominent role.