The New Pan-Africanism: Globalism and the Nation State in Africa

Michael Amoah

Nationalism in Africa has moved beyond the romanticised independent anti-colonial nationalisms of the late 1950s and early 1960s led by champions or nationalist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Contrary to mainstream theorising that the course of nationalism is usually led by leadership, with the masses just tagging along, there is currently a new wave of ‘people power’ uprisings or protest movements, one of which unseated the head-of-state right away (Burkina Faso in 2014), and subsequent others which have yielded significant changes to the status quo (Sudan and Algeria in 2019) albeit ongoing.

It seems the success factors lie in how much freedom and political space are allowed for these popular uprisings, so that cases of zero tolerance (Uganda, Cameroon and DRC) have yielded varying or different results.

Global governance and international politics have changed significantly since the days of empire and anti-colonial liberation struggles, and the ensuing interventions by institutions of global governance such as the UN Security Council have challenged, and continue to challenge theorizing on Nationalism with respect to the viability or sovereignty of the nation-state in the modern era of globalism and globalisation. However, Pan-Africanism is still in vogue because the solidarity of people of African descent and the notion of collective self-reliance, remain aspirational in the now as was before, just as the African Union (AU) has also replaced the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as the political seat of the global Pan-Africanist Movement. But the sheer number, breadth and intensity of conflicts in Africa makes the AU’s in-tray synonymous with conflicts, some of which are of supranational import, for example Libya in 2011. The New Pan-Africanism is therefore defined as “Africa’s answer to the systems and institutions of global governance when it comes to handling African crises, which for a working definition, could be put simply as pragmatic cases-by-case solutions to real-time African problems, taking into account the live geopolitical issues, the wider context of international politics and lessons from the historical context” (p viii). However, I also make the bold assertion that “it would be impossible for conflicts to cease in Africa if extensions to presidential term limits continued” (p. 229). I preface that “The central theme of this book is how extended periods of rule by particular African heads of state have either precipitated or contributed to conflict or political crises in their respective countries, generating attention and resolutions from the international institutions of global governance” (pp. vii-viii). The book briefs on how heads of state from 18 African countries extended their terms of office by constitutional fiddling and political maneuvering, and dives deep into recent or live case studies using Libya, Burkina Faso, CAR, Burundi, DRC, Mali, South Sudan and Rwanda.

Economic costs of conflict nationalism

Conflicts dissipate natural and human resources, generate human suffering and displacement, and interfere with institution building, all of which prohibit the right developmental space to achieve progress. The economic costs of violence in purchasing power parity terms for 2017 alone were: $17,715,900,000 for Libya; $11,255,200,000 for South Sudan; $5,512,900,000 for DRC; $4,484,500,000 for Mali; $1,215,900,000 for the CAR; and $1,116,100,000 for Burundi, according to the Global Peace Index 2018. Even for Rwanda that touts recent economic strides and recovery from the 1994 genocide, the economic costs of a conflict over two decades old, calculated its impact in 2017 as £2,004,700,000 (p.188), exceeding those of Burundi and CAR. The message is clear that the negative impacts of conflicts can linger on for many years. These billions of dollars could be the wallet for development financing if the conflict had not occurred. Yet, as the repercussions unfold, we have more ticking time bombs such as Uganda, Cameroon, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Algeria and Congo-Brazzaville, as if the continent is either oblivious of the causes of conflict or wantonly excels in generating conflict. I have previously debated on the sheer number of conflicts and ticking time bombs in Al Jazeera’s Inside Story: Is the African Union still needed?.

The New Pan-Africanism and the AU

The AU tries to resolve crisis or conflict, and approaches each depending on the personalities in question, the factors at play and the issues at stake. I recently participated in another Al Jazeera Inside Story debate captioned: Can the African Union solve the continent’s refugee crisis?. The timeliness of this discussion on human displacement was perfect, as the AU had declared 2019 The year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons: Towards durable solutions to forced displacement in Africa. In the debate, I reinforced my essential argument, that extended presidential terms constituted the key cause of human displacement.

The progress of Pan-Africanism would be very challenging unless Africa tackles the bull of prolonged presidencies by the horn. The relationship between the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government which is the top tier of AU leadership and the AU Commission (AUC) is as a boss and secretariat respectively, whereby the latter takes instructions from the former. As concerned as the AUC and the AU’s Peace and Security Council might be regarding presidential extensionism, the presidential club is currently in the way. Ever since former president Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali chaired  the AUC from 2003 to 2008 and was seen to challenge the sitting heads of state, the AU decided never to appoint a former president to chair the AUC. The African continent must therefore have a conversation to move things forward towards the solution of a reformed AU structure that is fit for the purpose of apprehending extended presidentialisms. The continent’s leadership must be confronted with this conversation.

Conversations and Recommendations

On 27 February 2019, the AU held an open debate with the UN Security Council on Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020, during which the AU said it looked forward to the UN’s views on how this 2014 initiative could achieved by 2020. Suffice to say that unless presidential extensionism is addressed, there are a few more ticking time bombs awaiting their turn to explode and augment the existing number of conflicts, and generate further crises for the UN or institutions of global governance in this era of globalism, and for the AU itself.

In the conversation on how to address presidential extensionisms, I contribute with my humble suggestion that the AU must as a matter of urgency, set up a regulatory council or technocratic body over and above the heads of state, with mandatory powers to over-ride the presidential club and deal with extensions to presidential term limits. The regulatory framework could be tied to the Continental Early Warning System to make it an effective security measure (pp 25, 229-31). Alternatively, the AU can go back to having a credible past head of state to chair the AUC, to commence latest by 2022 when the current chair leaves office; a caucus of like-minded and credible heads of state who have not exceeded term limits could be formed, with their foreign ministers, to push this agenda at the AU. The suggestion of a superstructure facility or caucus to regulate presidential term limits would be highly provocative to the presidential club, but at least the conversation has begun. Exactly how this system will materialize is unknown at this point, but this is a conversation which the continent as a whole must have, in order to address the key cause of conflict, otherwise all the gains to be made from the new African Continental Free Trade Area would simply be eaten up by the economic costs of conflict.

Michael Amoah is Visiting Fellow at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa, The London School of Economics and Political Science. His new book ‘The New Pan-Africanism: Globalism and the Nation State in Africa’ is published with I.B. Tauris.