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African Futures II

Non-state Political Theoretical Paradigm of African Union Citizenship

by Dr Odomaro Mubangizi

 

Abstract

The charter that created the African Union came into effect in 2002. It is now 12 years in place but most Africans would not be sure whether they know the rationale and ultimate role of the AU in promoting good governance, peace, security and progress on the continent. Annual summits take place in Addis Ababa, and several resolutions are taken, but it is though the respective heads of states just return to their colonially engineered states to resume business as usual. As a result, poverty, conflicts (both internal and regional), bad governance continue to plague the majority of the African countries with a few exceptions. Of late emerging economies such as China and India deal with Africa as if it were a one country—this could be the time for Africans to begin envisioning a new continental political architecture, with an African citizenship. I want to argue that the failure of the respective African states to eradicate poverty, end armed conflicts, and address governance issues is caused by lack of a common regional integration model that takes an African Union citizenship seriously, but at the same time respecting the role of civil society and faith-based organizations, that predate the state in Africa. It is evident that AU and sub-regional integration groups such as EAC, SADC, ECOWAS, as well NEPAD, are designed and operationalized from a statist political philosophical framework. And since the African states are largely contested as a colonial creation, the AU cannot successfully implement the institution of an African citizenship without acknowledging the role of and giving space to non-state actors in AU and other regional integration models and initiatives. This paradigm shift will require rethinking the relationship between the state and non-state actors in Africa.

Key words: African citizenship, African Union, non-state actors, governance.

 

Introduction

One can safely assert that all history of Africa is a history of community citizenship seeking actualization. The idea of community citizenship invokes sentiments of identity, self-determination and a collective vision. But why should the issue of community citizenship be of concern in 21st century Africa? The basic reason for Africa’s constant concern over citizenship, unity and community issues is the tragic history of when major European powers France, Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany imposed colonial rule over Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5. The contestation over the African colonial and post-colonial states and their viability can only be understood from this historical imperative. It is crucial to come to terms with the fact that the African states have been contested right from their inception. If African states are contested, so is the concept of citizenship that is forged in the respective nation-states.

It is no surprise that almost all African independence struggles were lead by pan-Africanist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, and Leopold Senghor, who had a broader vision of a united Africa. It is also noteworthy that the philosophical ideas that supported Africa’s independence struggles were hatched under the rubric of Pan-African Congresses held in the following years: 1919, 1921, 1923, 1927, and 1945 (Desta 2013:27-32).

A point of great significance for this paper is the role played by non-state actors in the struggles for independence and the pan-Africanist movement. Since independence movements were against the colonial state, one can logically conclude that key architects of independence and pan-Africanist movement were nurtured by what we term today civil society organizations. The conception of civil society that comes to mind is that of Mary Kaldor: “Civil society is a process of management of society that is ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ and that involves the struggle for emancipator goals. It is about governance based on consent where consent is generated through politics.” (2003:142). Civil society so conceived is an organized form of social movements that demand social, economic and political rights.

The argument I am making is that community citizenship at the continental level is a recovery of original political impulse that gave rise to pan-Africanism, a movement whose climax is the current African Union, which is still on the trajectory to give rise to an African political federation. My thesis is that all efforts to bring about peace and prosperity in Africa can only succeed if there is an African citizenship forged out of state and non-state actors. The conceptual framework for this discourse is global governance, global civil society and regional integration.

 

Quest for Community Citizenship Right from Independence

It was Kwame Nkrumah who, in 1958, organized the first conference of African independent states to discuss the strategies of strengthening economic and cultural bonds as well as defining an African personality. This conference took place in Accra. Come 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was born with 34 founding African states. The problem of the African state was evident from the time of independence. The first problem of the African state is well articulated by Goran Hyden: “By insisting on the integrity of the colonial boundaries, African leaders have been able to hide the weakness of their state institutions.” (2006: 66). This is the first clear contradiction in the process of African state formation. The African state is largely weak of failed. The elite evade it by official and diplomatic passports, while the ordinary poor citizens evade it by not having any passport. It is commonly state that African borders are porous or even non-existent! The tragic consequences of African borders that are porous or non-existent can be discerned from cross-border cattle raiding, armed-gangs such as Boka Haram, El Shabab, Al Qaeda, The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and recently, the Ebola virus outbreak that has ravaged West African states. It is one of the greatest political ironies of all time that colonially constructed borders that are porous or non-existent can be such a cause of great interstate or intra-state conflict and nationalist pride. This is the reason why the concept of community citizenship is the most viable alternative to failed or near collapse African state model. Of course the sorry state of some African states should not mask the other excellent models of functioning states. But at the same time, since we are dealing with the issue of African unity, we cannot abandon the noble project of a common African destiny just because some few exceptional states are doing well.

The fact that factors which gave rise to authoritarian single party states are still operative is well articulated by Bujra and Lando: “These factors; ethno-political fragmentation, clientalism, dependency and underdevelopment have made it exceedingly difficult for African polities to cohere.” (2011: xiv). This is why the concept of political culture is handy when it comes to understanding Africa’s failed democratic experiments. Ethnic and religious identities and beliefs still dominate people’s attitudes to politics. That is why community citizenship is a corrective to this anomaly of failed state formation in Africa.

The post-colonial African leaders were faced with the dilemma of either dismantling the artificial colonial state or keeping it as it is to avoid opening a pandora’s box. They opted for the latter while clamoring for African unity! Even when some of these “Quasi states” on the surface look strong and coherent, thanks to systems such as national currency, citizenship, national flags, a constitution, anthem and functioning bureaucracy, deep down the internal contradictions are serious. For instance soon after independence several African countries were plunged into civil wars and military take-overs. Proverbial unstable states soon after independence include: Somalia, Nigeria, former Zaire, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. About 186 coups d’etat took place between 1956 and 2001, across Africa.

The other major issue after militarism is the discussion on what party system to use in governing African states. Given the ethnic composition of African states, most post-colonial parties got ethnicized due to lack of coherent ideologies. The temptation was to form one-party states that soon turned into dictatorships (Bujra and Lando 2011:xi). This option or one-party states prevailed in most African states up the 1990s when a third of wave of democratization ushered in multi-party politics, which civil society organizations took an active role. One wonders what happened to the much acclaimed pan-Africanism. Most likely the pan-Africanist movement was skin-deep, or it was manipulated by the ruling elite. Soon the ordinary citizens realized they were getting a raw deal and were alienated from the post-colonial state. This partly explains why there were regular government take-overs. Even Kwame Nkrumah the champion of pan-Africanism was overthrown in 1966.

Clearly all African leaders fell into two categories along the two major forces: centripetal and centrifugal. The former tending to consolidate the state power within the boundaries of a given country, while the latter seeking regional and continental integration or unity. But still most African political leaders frame their narrative in terms of statist framework with little regard for non-state actors.

The charter that created the African Union came into effect in 2002. It is now 12 years in place but most Africans would not be sure whether they know the rationale and ultimate role of the AU in promoting good governance, peace, security and progress on the continent. Annual summits take place in Addis Ababa, and several resolutions are taken, but it is though the respective heads of states just return to their colonially engineered states to resume business as usual. As a result, poverty, conflicts (both internal and regional), bad governance continue to plague the majority of the African countries with a few exceptions. Of late emerging economies such as China and India deal with Africa as if it were a one country—this could be the time for Africans to begin envisioning a new continental political architecture, with an African citizenship. I want to argue that the failure of the respective African states to eradicate poverty, end armed conflicts, and address governance issues is caused by lack of a common regional integration model that takes an African Union citizenship seriously, but at the same time respecting the role of civil society and faith-based organizations, that predate the state in Africa.

It is evident that AU and sub-regional integration groups such as EAC, IGAD, SADC, ECOWAS, as well NEPAD, are designed and operationalized from a statist political philosophical framework. And since the African states are largely contested as a colonial creation, the AU cannot successfully implement the institution of an African citizenship without acknowledging the role of and giving space to non-state actors in AU and other regional integration models and initiatives. This paradigm shift will require rethinking the relationship between the state and non-state actors in Africa. It should be stated that while there is an emerging clamor for cosmopolitanism and internationalism amidst the rapid forces of globalization, the nation states is still an important unit of organizing society. The role of nation states as the most effective structures for organizing society is aptly summed by Brennan: “National states impose labour discipline on the working poor and adjudicate disputes among local elites….But in the current phase of worldwide neo-liberal hegemony, they also offer a manageable (albeit top-heavy) site within which the working poor can make limited claims on power, and have at least some opportunity to affect the way they are ruled” (2003:42). If well mobilized, the poor can in fact make an impact in forcing the state to serve their interests. There are numerous cases where ordinary peasants have been mobilized to take on the state as was the case in Uganda with the National Resistance Movement/National Resistance Army that succeeded to restructure the colonial state of Uganda and set up local councils accountable to the people. The NRM under its leader Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986. Issues can be raised as to whether the NRM is a better model than say South Africa’s ANC or Tanzania’s CCM in empowering citizens and instilling a democratic culture and ethos.

 

Two Trends to Community Citizenship, Two Paradigms of Regional Integration

The quest for African Unity took two clear directions: the immediate approach represented by Nkrumah and the gradual approach represented by Nyerere. That is how sub-regional groups or movements emerged such as the Pan-African freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFCMECA). It is interesting to note that PAFMECA’s membership was open to both nationalist and labour organizations (a segment of civil society).

Evidence to support the claim that the quest for African unity envisioned by the OAU was largely statist is captured by the OAU Charter. Article II (1) states: “To promote the unity and solidarity of the African States; To promote international cooperation, having due regard to the charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” And the fundamental principles also stress the statist philosophy: “The sovereign equality of all member states; Non-interference in the internal affairs of states; Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each state and for its inalienable right to independent existence.

If the Charter were to take community citizenship seriously, Article II (1) would read: “To promote the unity and solidarity of the African peoples; To promote community cooperation.” If the post-colonial African leaders were genuinely committed to unity of the African people why would they still keep the nation-sate boundaries as sacrosanct, well aware that these boundaries were dividing communities, thus laying a foundation for cross-border conflicts such as those witnessed in Rwanda, DRC, Somali and Sudan? The principle of non-interference also has problems given the recent genocidal conflicts in Sudan, DRC and Rwanda. Should states be left free to commit crimes against humanity in the name of state sovereignty?

Fast forward to African Union (AU) that came into effect in 2002. Aware that the forces of globalization can only be withstood by larger political and economic blocs, the OAU was transformed into AU after the model of the European Union. Finally, African leaders came to their senses and borrowed a life from former colonial powers. So what is substantially new in the AU that is absent in the OAU? Unlike the OAU that focused on the state, the AU had much broader objectives that clearly form part of the architecture of what I propose as communal citizenship: The achievement of greater unity and solidarity between the African countries and peoples of Africa; Promotion of peace and stability of the continent; Promotion of the democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; Promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Of great importance are the issues of concern that the AU singles out, that look like what most civil society organizations and NGOs address: Food, Agricultural and Animal resources; Response and relief; Environmental Protection, Humanitarian Action and Disaster Response and Relief; Education, culture, Health and Human Resource Development; Science and Technology; Nationality, Residency and Immigration Matters; social security.

The hope for community citizenship as far as the AU is concerned lies in the following organs that are clearly a much greater innovation beyond what the OAU had in place: The Pan-African Parliament (PAP); The Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) and New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), especially its Peer Review Mechanism. To this one can add foundations such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation that have designed an innovative strategy of rewarding African leaders who rest the rule of law, promote good governance and retire honorably after serving their constitutional terms. However, I suggest that those to be considered for the Mo Ibrahim Leadership prize include leaders from civil society—religious organizations, NGOs and community based organization to reflect the new concept of community citizenship. It should be noted that capable leaders are not only found in the state systems.

Within the AU framework the four promising organs of the Union as far as empowering community citizenship is concerned are the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Pan-African Parliament, ECOSOCC and the Pan-African University. I will give my justification for this choice. While the Assembly and the Executive Council represent the statist framework, the Pan-African Parliament, would represent the legislature directed elected by universal adult suffrage from member countries. And ensure full representation the Pan-African Parliament would have representatives of civil society organizations, major religions, and major political parties as well as independents. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights would represent the judiciary made of reputable judges who are independent of political party affiliation to keep the principle of separation of powers and rule of law. The Pan-African University would be responsible for training community citizens with branches in every sub-region. These are the conditions for a successful African community citizenship.

The role of a Pan-African university in spearheading community citizenship and sustainable development is to address the yawning gap between people’s aspirations and what African elite politicians and scholars do. Akinola ably articulates this issue: “As expected, most economic and political decisions in the continent do not reflect the aspirations of the people simply because government operations are excessively centralized. Without the citizens playing active role in decision making, governance process would continue to exclude and marginalize them” (2011: 3). Akinola further links his argument to African scholarship thus: “Educationally, there is a gap between African scholarship and African realities, resulting from the inadequacy of past development models to yield enduring solutions to the challenges facing the continent” (Ibid.). If Africa has African focused intelligentsia who squarely address issues affecting ordinary citizens, Africa would not be depending on foreign experts to design economic policies 50 years after independence. Africa is not lacking in action plans gathering durst in Finance and Economic Planning ministries. Of late there is a plethora of visions on the continent: Vision 2020; Vision 2030, and AU’s Vision 2063! These long term visions usually designed with little citizen participation seem to betray African’s leaders’ utopian view of reality. Why not set up short term visions and goals that can be achieved within say 5 years? The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed upon in 2000 at the UN Summit to be met by 2015 are still a dream yet to come true.

 

Conclusion: Towards an African Community Citizenship Architecture

As this discussion has shown, citizenship defined by geographical boundaries is not sustainable in African politics. The post-colonial state is ridden with contradictions and that is why attempts at pan-Africanism without reforming the African states have failed. The emerging regional groups such as East African Community, SADC, ECOWAS, all point to the urgent need for a community citizenship model. The regional groups fall in the wider framework of international relations and global governance architecture. Important to note that just like the national level, the international or global system has both the public and private spheres (Muldoon 2004: 151). “The primary actors in the public sphere are states, while non-state actors constitute the private sphere” (Ibid.).

NGOs as the most organized non-profit sector are a formidable force even though some African countries are still uncomfortable with their role in governance and human rights. Some facts about the NGOs: Increasingly governments are turning to NGOs as dispensers of foreign aid—“one quarter of Oxfam’s revenues of $ 162 million in 1998 came from the British government and the EU; World Vision US received $ 55 million from the US government, and 46 percent of Médicins san Frontières’ income is from government sources” (Ibid. 187). “During the 1990s registered International Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) increased by one third from 10, 292 to 13, 206…”(Kaldor, op. cit. 89). This clearly shows that states can no longer claim absolute sovereignty and legitimacy, they have to contend with the reality of NGOs and Civil Society Organizations that are at times more efficient in delivering services with less resources and bureaucracy. The fact that NGOs are funded by states and governments raises the paradox of civil society. How independent are they vis-à-vis the state? The issue is more of collaboration rather than independence. However the danger of NGOs being co-opted by the state is always there and also some governments have created their own NGOs or Governmental Non-Governmental Organizations (GONGO), which is anomaly. Rather than be fought and undermined, NGOs should be seen as allies in the promotion of community citizenship and sustainable development. It is high time African governments allocated a certain percentage of the national budge to NGOs just as donor countries are doing, but not with the goal of co-opting them.

The lower regional blocs such as EAC, SADC, and ECOWAS can serve as basic organizing frameworks. Then will follow the continent-wide bloc, the African Union. Legislative Assemblies will be operative at both levels—regional and continental. Since there are security issues given the rising global terrorism, African community citizens will be identified both by country, and by regional bloc. The judiciary will also operate at three levels: country, regional and continental. The executive likewise. An African community constitution would be made through regional and continental Constituency Assemblies. Given the AU Charter that provides for fundamental rights and objectives, arriving at a continent-wide constitution should not be difficult, as the major aspirations and goals are already provided for. Taking the example of the European Union that the AU is modeled after, democracy and human rights take a pride of place: “Implicitly, by refusing to accept nations that fail to meet these standards (of democracy and human rights), the European Union puts democracy and human rights ahead of free trade” (Singer 2002: 103). This is why the AU is getting involved in monitoring elections in its member countries. But the issue of democracy needs to be taken a step further to include fundamentals of democracy beyond electoral process to embrace, a constitutional framework that guarantees rule of law, separation of powers, due process, presidential term limits, free press, popular participation and bill of rights.

Leaders would be elected according to the procedures laid out in the AU charter. But also there are some best practices among some African countries that have an established democratic and electoral practice to borrow from. No need to invent the wheel. Unlike the previous statist paradigm of governance, in the new citizenship architecture, all elected positions would have represented from civil society on the basis of the numerical strength of the given civil society organization. If a civil society organization has membership equal to the size of legislative constituency, it would be allocated a legislative seat as interest group, bearing in mind the principle of gender equality.

With the new architecture of community citizenship, all African peoples would be free to work and live in any part of the continent. With this arrangement the economic benefits are immense: increased employment opportunities, skills transfer, innovation, maximum utilization of land resources, market access of about one billion people, increased air travel, increased educational and cultural exposure, and tourism potential. African community citizenship is a concept whose time has come.

 

Dr Odomaro Mubangizi

Lecturer, Dean of Philosophy Department, Editor of Justice, Peace and Environment Bulletin: Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology

Read more about Dr Mubangizi and his view on being a futurist.

 

Bibliography

Archibugi, Daniele (Ed.) (2003). Debating Cosmopolitics. Verso: New York.

Bujra, Abdalla (ed) (2011). Political Culture, Governance & The State in Africa. DPFM: Nairobi.

Desta, Mengiste (2013). The Long March to African Unity: Achievements and Prospects. Shama Books: Addis Ababa.

Gassama, Muhammad IS (2013). From the OAU to the AU: The Odyssey of a Continental Organization. Kanifing: Fulladu Publishers.

Hyden, Goran (2005). African Politics in Comparative Politics. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Hamad, Taj. I et al. (2003). Culture of Responsibility and the Role of NGOs. Paragon House: St. Paul Miinnesta.

Kaldor, Mary (2003). Global Civil Society: As Answer to War. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Muldoon, James Jr (2004). The Architecture of Global Governance: An Introduction to the Study of International Organizations. Oxford: Westview Press.

Singer, Peter (2002). One World: The Ethics of Globalization. New Haven: Yale University Press.

 

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