Citizen-State, a Bottom-Up Reparation Model

Everisto Benyera

“The reconstitution of the state is the most viable form of reparation available to both the perpetrators and the victims, who must be reconstituted as survivors.”

Colonialism has left a legacy for both the colonized and the colonizing.[1] Newly intertwined and umbilical relationships were forged, predominantly through dispositions, misrepresentations, and manufactured consent. The modern Western model of the state (or country) was the vehicle used to carry out and sustain this system, and it emerged along with colonialism during two events: the almost eight-hundred-year Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, between c. 801 and c. 1492—a period of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by European Christian states—and the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in October 1492.

Besides having the same genealogy, the modern Western state and colonialism had the same purpose, and therefore they complemented and reinforced each other. The epistemicides and genocides of the Reconquista and the colonization of overseas territories in the Americas forced the world into five common systems: the international legal system, the global financial and monetary system, the world capitalist economy, a Euro–North American-centric world culture (especially in language), and a Euro–North American-centric moral order dominated by Christian thought. This overarching framework, used at the scale of the state, was codified with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia on October 24, 1648.[2] These five systems remain as effectual today as when they were first imposed. Law, morality, finance, language, and ideology were instrumentalized for colonial purposes. Cultures were permanently altered, languages and civilizations lost. How can compensation be made to populations and communities whose systems, institutions, and epistemologies were forcibly displaced? What reparation model would work in these circumstances? I propose reconstituting the model of the state away from the nation-state and toward a citizen-state.

The Global Legacy of Colonialism in Africa

Colonialism in Africa never ended; it simply mutated into something else. Coloniality is the continued asymmetrical relationship between the (former) colonizers and the (formerly) colonized. It exemplifies the effectiveness and resilience of the colonial infrastructure, whose apartheid system was formulated with built-in mechanisms for self-invention, resistance, and relevance. These included, for example, an education system that de-educated and un-educated its subjects, rendering them compliant and useful to the system. Coloniality has three main analytical concepts: coloniality of power, coloniality of being, and coloniality of knowledge. (Other analytical frames, such as coloniality of nature, coloniality of data, and coloniality of markets, are still being developed.) Operationally, it functions in the (formerly) colonized parts of the world in three ways: it either disciplines its people, absorbs them, or eliminates them. It renders global models of reparation a farce, because whatever happens at the reparation level will be nullified by coloniality.

The Challenges of Reparation

Three factors demonstrate the challenges faced by attempts at reparation: the capitalist world system; the Western model of the nation-state; and the breadth and depth of the atrocities and abuses suffered by the people of the Global South, including genocide, epistemicide, enslavement, apartheid, colonialism, and eugenics, among others. The nation-state is a problem for global reparation because it thrives on the will to power, a paradigm of war, a paradigm of difference, and survival of the fittest.

There are as many existing models of reparation as there are victims of human rights abuse. Since harms are suffered, first and foremost, at an individual level, in these models reparation tends to be responsive to the individual victims’ worldviews and needs. However, there is one commonality: in all these models, perpetrators must acknowledge the harm they caused. Once acknowledged, most harms will be half-solved, and will be less contested. The problem, however, is that in most cases atrocities were perpetrated by faceless agents of the state and of state institutions. With no one to take responsibility for slavery and colonialism, healing and reparation—let alone closure—will not be accomplished. Are there any alternatives to these models of reparation?

An Alternative Bottom-Up Reparation Model

The Global South was involved in developing the Global North; hence the citizens of the South must be included in the economies of the North as equal citizens and not as an invading, unwanted, and dispensable Other. Acknowledgement, followed by inclusivity, must be instituted as reparation not only for colonialism but for other crimes against humanity, such as the Euro-American slave trade (a better term than “Transatlantic slave trade,” since the Atlantic Ocean never enslaved anyone), apartheid, genocide, and epistemicide. As an alternative reparation model, the Western model of the state must be rethought and then reconstituted—away from the nation-state and toward the citizen-state. This citizen-state will be characterized by the will to live (not to power), a paradigm of peace (not of war), a paradigm of inclusivity (not of difference), and the survival of all (not just of the fittest).

The reconstitution of the state is the most viable form of reparation available to both the perpetrators and the victims, who must be reconstituted as survivors.

As a concept, the legacy of colonialism is contestable, because for its victims colonialism never ended: it simply mutated, adapting to the many challenges it faced, including decolonization processes and Must Fall movements, among others. Rethinking and reconstituting the state away from the nation-state and toward the citizen-state is the best model of reparation for those who continue to suffer from the persistence and effectiveness of the colonial infrastructure.

Everisto Benyera

Everisto Benyera is an associate professor of African politics in the Department of Political Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria.

Epistemicides is the systematic and deliberate destruction of existing knowledges. This is effectuated by deliberately giving legitimacy to one set of knowledge and making others invisible or even illegal.

The Reconquista was a period of brutal genocidal campaigns on the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal), during which the Castilian monarchy sought to create a homogenous national homeland for Christian Spaniards by converting or expelling Africans, Muslims, and Jews. The main perpetrators were Queen Isabella I (1451–1504) and King Ferdinand V (1452–1516) of Castile.

Colonialism operated through three main systems:
  1. Violence was used to initiate, routinize, and maintain colonialism.
  2. Extractivism took labor (in the form of slaves), natural resources, and epistemologies (human knowledge).
  3. War was waged to deny the colonized their humanity.


[1] Colonialism constituted not only the occupation of the land of the colonized. It was also, most importantly, a dispossession of the colonized peoples of their knowledges, institutions, networks, and ways of life, which were replaced with those of the colonizers.

[2] The Treaty of Westphalia, signed in Westphalia, Germany, ended the brutal Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), which was fought predominantly between Catholics and Reformists over the control of Europe. The treaty established the principle of state sovereignty, wherein countries do not interfere in each other’s internal affairs. Ironically, after swearing never again to interfere in this way, the same European countries met in 1884–85 in Berlin to partition Africa among themselves, inaugurating the colonization of the continent.