Written by Issa Shivji
African leaders during the 9th AU Summit in Ghana
23-August-2007: The current pan-Africa debate presents an opportune moment for the continent to confront some of the key challenges facing it, among which is imperialism. African nationalism was born in the struggle against imperialism.
It could only be sustained as long as it remained anti-imperialist.
Today, few of our countries can claim to be truly independent. We have no power to make the most basic of our own decisions. Our sovereignty is sold to the highest bidder. Our foreign policy is aligned with the super-powers.
Our laws - ‘made in the IMF’ - are thrust on our parliamentarians.
The multinationals wring out of us outrageous concessions in agreements, which are ‘top secret’, even from the elected representatives of the people.
The current quest for pan-African unity must acknowledge the threat, and not shy away from the challenge posed by imperialism. As globalisation, an even more vicious form of imperialism, engulfs us, we need to return to the roots of our independence: the great post-war nationalist movement, which resulted in the independence of more than 50 African countries.
Today, as we sink deep into the uncharted seas of globalisation, and let the shylocks and sharks of the global market devour our resources and dictate our policies, our societies are being torn asunder along various parochial fault lines of ethnicity, race, region and clan.
If ever there were a time to rekindle the dream and vision of pan-Africanism, then that time is now.
Even as Africa trails its focus on pan-African unity, one sees reason for hope and promise in continuing efforts towards regional integration.
There are deep historical underpinnings behind the quest towards regional unity.
Pan-Africanist visionaries such as Nkrumah and Nyerere foresaw the dangers of becoming independent alone. Mwalimu was for instance prepared to delay the independence of Tanganyika if the four East African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar) could do it as a federal unit.
The ongoing efforts towards regional integration must therefore be weighed in the context of pan-Africanism.
In East Africa, the heads of state have already decided to revive the East African Co-operation and a treaty has already been agreed.
The East African Community, the predecessor of the East African Co-operation, collapsed in the 1970s under the strain of state differences and bitter rivalry among vested interests.
This time round, one hopes that the lessons have been learnt and that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. The objective must be to place cooperation on a firmer foundation by adopting better and durable approaches to the issue of unity.
As Africa moves towards consolidating pan-African unity, there are lessons that can be drawn both from past experience and present initiative towards consolidating regional cooperation in East Africa.
The old co-operation was characterised by two major thrusts. On the economic plane, it was trade centred. While on the political plane, it was state driven. Its overall approach was economic rather than political.
A useful lesson to the pan-African vision is that economic unity needs to be based on a complementarity of structures. Countries can only co-operate when the issue of economic unity is approached politically.
For instance, a common approach to fixing the prices of agricultural exports or repayment of debts can be a genuine basis for co-operation. This requires political decisions.
In the case of East Africa, the structures of production in the three countries were competitive rather than complimentary. Being export oriented economies, the three entities exported almost similar agricultural crops.
They competed in wooing the same investors to invest in import-substitution industrialisation. The three countries were thus rivals in the international market rather than cooperators, which rendered their unity fragile.
The pan-Africa enterprise can draw three vital lessons from the East African experience. First, the approach should be explicitly political. Second, on the economic plane, the foundation of unity should be at the level of production – capital and labour; rather than trade. Thirdly, on the political level, it should be people-centred rather than state-oriented.
Another region where forging genuine cooperation can greatly support the pan-Africa vision is in the Great Lakes region.
Within a larger political grouping, it is perhaps easier and more feasible to control civil wars which have spilled over into border wars between countries in this region. A project resulting in peace in this region would dramatically boost genuine pan-Africanism and bring the dream of African unity closer.
Pan-Africa unity can provide space for increased interaction especially in areas such as human resource development to benefit countries in need.
Countries in re-orientation such as Rwanda for instance could benefit from the talent pool available in other countries in much the same way as happened in the 1960s when Nigeria sent many of its magistrates to support Tanzania’s judiciary.
The same could be applied in higher education. Rwanda is in the process of rebuilding its university. UK universities are fast bidding for donor funds to send their teams of experts, advisors, professors and so on.
Such opportunities should be consciously used to create practical ways of cooperation rather than being left to be manipulated by big powers. Such co-operation and assistance among ourselves would be mutually beneficial and in the interest of the ideal of African unity.
Co-operation at every level — regional or continental — must provide an enabling framework for the involvement of civil society and other stakeholders. The rationale is simple. Co-operation at all these levels is too important to be left to heads of state alone. The immediate area heads of state identify for cooperation is defence and security, mostly their own of course.
Left to their devices, states can break unity either owing to pressure from international powers or narrow visions of local vested interests. Africa’s people must therefore not leave the pursuit of pan-African unity to their states and politicians.
Only when Africa’s people are united can pan-African unity be sustained. They must widen their horizons to take into account new conditions and possibilities. While, indeed, we must have sufficient will and sentiment to promote African unity, we must at the same time be prudent to protect and enhance our national interests.
However, both these — pan-Africanism and nationalism — should be placed in the larger interests of the majority, and not succumb to narrow factional motives, or the greed of groups and classes. The interest of the large majority — the popular classes — should be the litmus test.
African unity as an expression of pan-Africanism is not only a desirable vision for Africa at this stage of our development, but a necessity.
It is a necessity because left on our own, we are likely to become pawns on the geopolitical and military chessboard of the imperial powers, under the hegemony of the most militarised and ruthless superpower in the history of mankind.
Shivji was, until his recent retirement, Professor of Law at the University of Dar-es- Salaam where he has been teaching since 1970. He has authored over a dozen books and numerous articles. His books include Class Struggles in Tanzania (1976), The Concept of Human Rights in Africa (1989) and Not Yet Democracy: Reforming Land Tenure in Tanzania (1998).