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Westphalia in Africa

A few years ago, I set up a Google alert to get an email whenever the Peace of Westphalia is mentioned on the web. Since then, one of the curious things I’ve discovered is the fact that I get two or even three mentions of Westphalia in non-Western sources for every one in a Western source. Africa, India, and China seem to be particularly popular sources. I speculate that the education in these countries emphasizes Westphalia as the origin of the state system more than Western nations do. The continued existence of a “Westphalia system” has been increasingly challenged in the West for the past 30 years at least, but perhaps this new doctrine has not made its way into the universities of non-Western countriees.

I particularly like this example from Kenya. A politician complained about new taxes, and issued the following statement:

“Dear taxpayers, I am going to fight for you one more time, against the most punitive draconian, almost satanic finance bill in history since the 1648 peace of Westphalia that birthed sovereignty.”

I don’t think it would occur to anyone in America to make that kind of comparison.

On the other hand, we have a different kind of appeal in Nigeria, where a statesman said that the president

“must prioritise establishing a strong foundation of national order, unity, peace, and stability as a prerequisite for sustainable development. He should facilitate a historic agreement akin to the Treaty of Westphalia by engaging with ethnic groups, the National Assembly, and diverse stakeholders to resolve fundamental questions around Nigeria’s political identity and arrangements for living together as one united entity.” (These words appear to be a paraphrase on the part of the article’s author.)

This is surprisingly to the point of Westphalia. The political identity of the Holy Roman Empire was indeed in question in the 1640’s and it required a major compromise for the whole thing not to fall apart. Which it did anyway a century and a half later, but still, that’s a long time for a peace to keep a people together. Kudos to the statesman for coming up with that.

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