A United States of Africa

Political Rights are affected by the size and nature of government; crisis
comes of citiznes or groups of them do not feel loyalty to or
responsibility to their govt. probably because its too big too far away or
the poeple there are not one of us!
InfoSERV is indebted to the Mail and Guardian for this piece on the nation
state in Africa, and the possibilities of Pan AFRICANISM.
it distinguishes between the legal state - the nation, and the sociological
state, the ethnic group, showing how the latter must be given its rights as
a basic founding unit, just as citizens are. The question of how the
sociological unit may come together with others in larger units such as
states or several states to be economically and politically viable, like a
United States of Africa is not gone into here, but only hinted at here.
The article was spotted and sent on to us by Pat Williams.


11:23 Tuesday 17 October 2000

Would a United States of Africa work?

The Organisation of African Unity summit recently approved the Act
establishing an African Union, which should eventually replace the OAU. But
the dream of a United States of Africa can only become a reality if a new
model of multinational state is adopted, rooted in African traditions

[by] Mwayila Tshiyembe

The United States of Africa is a constant theme - a great dream cherished
from the earliest days of pan-Africanism. For many political leaders, the
failure of the post-colonial state is the cause of the marginalisation and
violence now plunging much of Africa into chaos. They also believe that
failure is the source of the dramatic rise in poverty threatening the
survival of so many people, destroying what remains of social cohesion and
opening the way to the pandemics of Aids and malaria. Managers are
unemployed, have left the country or are closeted in bankrupt civil
services, wasting the hard-won knowledge of Western schooling.
But those who make this gloomy analysis rarely suggest a new state model
based on African traditions. Yet this is the absolute prerequisite for
Africa to emerge from the crisis, and it is the only chance of meeting the
challenges of globalisation. Unless it is given new life, the concept of a
United States of Africa will remain empty. Africa will not have genuine
constitutional states or sustainable development - let alone the
intellectual revival and resolve it so desperately needs.
The failure of the post-colonial state reflects a questioning of the will
to co-exist and a loss of purpose and direction. Nations (or ethnic groups)
are in fundamental disagreement about the community's basic values. How are we
to define a free society, authority that is properly conferred and shared,
and law that seems to come naturally? State and society seem to have been
in conflict ever since Africa's plurinational societies saw their own model
destroyed to make way for an enforced Western caricature.
Although colonial domination disrupted the process of state-building,
African societies remain plurinational in nature. The pre-colonial nations
that marked out the identities of these multinational states survived: even
though they were parcelled out and often dispersed among several states, it
was not impossible to reforge societal links. An unexpected consequence of
the crisis in the nation state is that the concept of nation is no longer
shackled by the law, or by revolutionary mystique. The break-up of the
Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the separation between the Czech Republic and
Slovakia, the Tutsi genocide and the chaos in Somalia are all proof of
From now on it will be possible to distinguish between the legal nation -
the state - and the sociological nation - the ethnic group. The
sociological nation is founded on shared language, blood ties, religion and
a common
history, and an evident desire to live together. It is the bedrock of
nationality of origin. But the post-colonial state merely notes its
existence, having no historical or administrative memory of the people and
countries juxtaposed, because colonialism wanted it to be that way.
Reinstating these sociological nations will make it possible to bring to an
end the crisis of national consciousness and identity that is ravaging
Africa, and will prevent political manipulation of disputes over
nationality: the manipulation that has led to the banishment of the
Banyamulengue community to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo,
and the marginalisation of former president Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia or former
prime minister Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast. If the multinational state
were established, the law would lay down that nationality is defined by
consciousness and membership of a community of shared values (Akan, Mosi,
Bamileke), and citi-zenship by consciousness and membership of a state
(Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Cameroon). The renaissance of the state can be
rooted in Africanness. Contrary to received wisdom, black Africa, like
Europe, created its own model of multinational state, and nation defined by
ethnic group: the empires of Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Noupé, Ifé,
Benin, Kanem-Bornou, Monomopata and Zimbabwe date back to the African
middle ages. In those societies the political element came before the state,
although it is traditionally assumed to have developed with the advent of
the nation state.
In contrast to the nation state, with its monopoly on legislation, the
plurinational character of African societies led them to establish two
legislative areas within the constitution of the multinational state. The
state is responsible for general legislation, and the national, or ethnic
area, for specific legislation on landownership, inheritance, registration
of births and deaths. An individual basks in genuine pluralism of law,
depending on the relevant area of law, as well as the kind of activity
pursued and the status claimed.
Mail the editor
Visit the Talk Back Forum

African law must therefore be rescued from the non-law or "customary" law
to which it has been relegated because colonialism made it mimic other
systems, and pluralism of law must be restored. The African Charter on
Human Rights
tried to reflect this feature by including in its title the concept of
peoples' rights; but it failed to define the substance of those rights. The
post-colonial state has retained absolute sovereignty, and groups have been
deprived of their means of subsistence: the Ogoni people of the Niger
Delta, Nigeria's oil-producing region, or the Dioula people of Casamance, in
rebellion against the Senegalese state.
In this model of a multinational state the rights of minorities cannot be
enforced against the rights of the majority. The state and the nations that
make the multinational state would have to respect the principles of
equality and the right to be different, to achieve a common destiny. In
return these nations would enjoy the same rights and duties based on
founder rights, including the right to language, religion, culture and
The issue of minority rights is without political foundation in a
multinational state.
An integral federalism is emerging: in it power is allocated on the basis
of a threefold federation of nations, citizens and localities. It operates on
the premise that the state acts on behalf of several nations, scattered
over several localities. In that sense, authority and political action can be
exercised rationally and effectively only if power is accorded first by
reference to nations and citizens, and only then by territory. The tribal
districts, communes and autonomous provinces are politically significant
only because they are the cradles of the nations and citizens - the
founders of the political system.
A major new feature of integral federalism is the transformation of these
sub-ethnic groups into jointly managed political areas organising a mix of
groups so that they share common goals (this would prevent ethnic
cleansing). The territorial federalism of the nation state relies on the
fundamental principle that - since the nation is a single, indivisible
entity - effective exercise of political authority depends on it being
applied to the whole of the territory over which the population is
dispersed. But integral federalism requires that power be structured
according to the political division of the territory: into cantons,
communes and federate states.
A federation of localities implies moving beyond the European notion of
territory and investing in the African concept of an area perceived as a
framework for living. Such an area contains networks, forms of interchange
and memories that bind people to their locality and their environment.
Often there is no correlation between the political and socio-cultural
area. A
new social pact is vital if the multinational state is to be founded on the
dual consent of nations and citizens, thereby reconciling citizenship
(individualism) and multinationality (community) as two sources of state
This is the principle of multinationality. Defined as the political area in
which a new democratic pact is founded and mediated, it is legally binding
on each of the nations and the state. Strict respect for equality and the
right to be different open the possibility of a shared future. It is a
different way of experiencing the state, in which political unity and
national unity are not one and the same. Thus defined, the multination
operates on two principles. The first is that nations and citizens are
separate entities, and the second is that sovereignty can be divided or
shared; shared internally for the benefit of nations and citizens, or
externally for the benefit of sovereign states (as with the economic and
political integration in the European Union or the Economic Community of
West African States and, in future, among the states of Southern Africa).
The multination offers new political rights: the right to exist, to vote,
to resist oppression, to ancestral lands and to a share in wealth. This
process of republicanising traditional power uses mechanisms to reconcile the
traditional and the modern. The local tribal authority (the government and
assembly), designated the basic local community, is restored and above it
come the autonomous commune and region. The tribal district is accorded
powers for the registration of births and deaths, primary health care,
basic education, rural development and the establishment of voting rights for
nations, enabling them to appoint their own representatives in bicameral
assemblies, at communal, regional and federal level.
That right to vote is exercised by representatives freely chosen from among
the professional classes by each village community, on the basis of a
specific electoral college. Political parties no longer have a monopoly on
political activity, and the tribal government can mobilise the abilities of
all citizens. That reform does not call into question either the state's
internal and external frontiers or the balkanisation of nations by the
Berlin Conference (1878).

Unlike the nation state, the multinational state does not take over
citizens; citizens themselves appoint and dismiss governments according to
commonly accepted rules. The reversal of this relationship means that there
are different forms of citizenship: single citizenship in a federal
multinational state and dual citizenship in a confederal multinational
state, where it replaces the usual dual nationality. Citizenship of the
European Union, as defined in Article 8 of the Maastricht treaty, is based
on that approach.
In a radical departure from the traditional approach, a constitution based
on peoples - a demotic or pluralist constitution - reforms the legal
infrastructure because it takes account of the pluralism of society,
besides the multiparty system. The different elements in heterogeneous
are given back their status as peoples or nations: the distinctive political
andlegal reality of the multinational state. Despite being straitjacketed into
political entities designed by colonialism, the mixed population groups
continue to assert their identity. They do not present a unified and
homogenised body within a contrived state-based nation, but reflect a
diversity of sociological nations in search of a state for all peoples, if
not all nations.
The purpose of a multinational state's constitution is not just to accord
status to the authorities and to citizens. It offers sociological or ethnic
nations a political and legal status, allowing them to establish their
right to legitimate the state and exercise power on the same basis as
In that sense the constitution will establish - for the first time in
post-colonial Africa - the legal status of a state that reflects, in its
democratic nature, its law, its history and its culture, the social logic
ofthe plurinational societies that lend it substance and meaning. In
traditional societies the fallibility of majorities is a principal rule of
governance. Reintroducing it should check the Western-style democracy that
gives power to the majority. The aim is to make everyone a winner, instead
of having winners and losers; providing a form of democracy in which
power-sharing reflects the actual balance of power, established at the
ballot box. The majority makes great gains, but the minority makes gains,
too. The aim is not to prevent an elected majority from governing, but to
separate the power to govern and the power to control the administration of
the government. The majority exercises power, and the parliamentary
opposition monitors the exercise of that power.
In the paradoxical societies of Rwanda and Burundi, in which the duality of
Hutu majority and Tutsi minority seems insurmountable, civil peace is
attained through a variety of mechanisms. The Hutus, Tutsis and Twas must
be recognised as separate peoples. A new republican pact, under which all
state powers are allocated proportionally among the three peoples, must be
up (within the civil service, the government, diplomatic service and
administration), so that an electoral victory by the political parties does
not threaten the right of each people to exist. Traditional authority must
be republicanised. And the right of each people to live in peace in a
multinational state of Rwanda and Burundi, within the existing frontiers,
must be proclaimed.
The nation state advocates nationalism, but the ideology of the
multinational state is patriotic humanism. Being humanist, the
multinational state protects and promotes human rights, citizens' rights
and peoples'
rights, regardless of their nationality, language, religion or customs.
Even if mandated to defend nationalism as the ideology of the nations of the
country it administers, the multinational state is not entitled to claim
paternity. As a homeland, the multinational state represents the "sacred
union" of nations and citizens (federal state) and of the states
(confederalstate). It is anchored in the soil by the lands that are a
source of
memories and activities that embrace the living and the dead in a shared
The renaissance of a multicultural civil society requires several levels of
citizenship. Political citizenship is the best-known, though it is still of
paramount importance that citizens' rights be positively laid down in black
Africa. But even before citizenship takes full effect politically, it
represents a societal link based in solidarity and the catalyst for
coexistence. Sociability and solidarity present an ongoing political
challenge, involving economic, social and cultural issues. The creation of
these new forms of citizenship challenges unemployment, loss of identity
and social dislocation, and civil wars - all those ills that undermine
citizenship. Given the problems of access to economic, social and cultural
rights, all African countries are potential powder kegs. The traditional
view of these forms of citizenship, previously expressed exclusively by
reference to the state, needs a radical rethink.
Three changes are required. The state's monopoly on the exclusive creation
of economic, social and cultural rights must be broken. Citizens, nations
and the state must be placed at the heart of the complex, by transforming
economic, social and cultural rights into human rights and citizens'
rights, rights of nations and of the state. All sides must be given an
active role
in a partnership of state, citizens and nations, to establish the basis for
a new policy of wealth redistribution. The transformation of the
subsistence economy into an economy based on the accumulation of wealth
must reconcile
economic efficiency and social cohesion, the mobility of capital and of
work, the benefits of regulation and free enterprise. Citizens, nations and
the state will then be able to reassume responsi- bility for their own
history, although it will be far from easy for this to happen, given the
current challenges to individuals and society.
The multinational state provides both a political organisation - at the
level of plurinational society - and a capacity for common action to tackle
the issues of a shared destiny. It must be democratic, with its authority
accepted and shared in by nations and citizens. It must be post-national,
and based on the principle of unity within diversity. It must provide a
space that unites nations, languages, religions, cultures and localities,
all the constants whose survival the state must guarantee. This definition
helps to liberate a decade's debate on Africa from pseudo-democratisation.
But even though there have been welcome signs of a bolder approach,
Ethiopia has merely transformed recognition of ethnic pluralism into a
method of
political domination, instead of democratic revolution. Because of
apartheid, South Africa has lacked the clear-sightedness and courage to
recognise the plurinational nature of its society. And although some
kingdoms have been restored in Uganda, this show of traditional authority
has served only as a symbolic backdrop legitimising the regime.
The problems of the multinational state bring Africa's special traits
globalisation - a battlefield of cultures. Africa must make an effort if it
wants to survive and revive. In revenge for the past, Africa could teach a
lesson to Europe about heterogeneity - of nations, languages, religions,
standards, localities - given Europe's crises in nation states and the
enlargement of the European Union. Democratic and post-national, the
multinational state could provide the ideal model for the constitutional,
political and conceptual transformation of plurinational societies of the
21st century, whether they are sociological nations (in black Africa), or
legal or state-based nations (the European Union). That would restore to
the concept of renaissance its original meaning - a revival of what went
before, in state or civil society.

Mwayila Tshiyembe is the director of the Institut Panafricain de
Géopolitique de Nancy. Translated by Julie Stoker

-- The Mail&Guardian, October 16, 2000.
 Imagination or any objective  analysis.Entire cosmologies
   were dumped on the trash heap of a crusading European ideology
   that meant to plunder,not only the people´s mind,but their bodies as well
   (Reading,1950).The liberation of the minds of the African people will be
a tougher battle than the eradication of settler regimes.