Where would be the meeting point of two observable but contrasting claims on the future of the state in Africa? Would they meet at war or is it something that would be resolved by the dialectical dynamics of thesis producing an anti-thesis from which something qualitatively different comes out? Or, is this hybridity? These are the questions agitating the minds of some observers in the face of two contrasting currents in African politics. On the one hand is a process that has been going on but becoming stronger and stronger. That is what is called restructuring in the Nigerian parlance or ‘Majimboism’ in Kenya, for instance. Biafra in Nigeria, Eritrea in Ethiopia, South Sudan from Sudan are products of this tendency with a long history, accounting for numerous wars on the continent.
But preceding such argument for ethno-regionalist spatialisation of power is not only an even more powerful but also a rising current – the Pan-Africanist vision in opposition to Structural Adjustment regime or whatever name neoliberalism has assumed on the African continent. The vision which is on the rise again after it ran out of gas in the heat of the Cold War is unambiguously anchored on the strong, interventionist state. Both currents are posed by protagonists as ways out of violent conflicts, transition anarchies and authoritarian breakdowns across the continent. How is Africa going to reconcile this?
While the case of ethno-regional restructuring sometimes hidden under a case for devolution or Majimboism is common place on the continent, the case of the Pan-Africanist view of restructuring of the state may need illustration, using Nigeria alone in the past one month or so.
Speaking in an Intervention interview late June, Prof Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja said, inter alia “I have maintained till today that the most appropriate development policy is still the Lagos Plan of Action. That is the Alpha and Omega of development framework for Africa. As long as you don’t implement Lagos Plan of Action, you cannot go anywhere”. He categorically called for the implementation of the Lagos Plan of Action, saying there is still no reason why it was dropped, having been a well backed up plan by the ECA, (Economic Commission for Africa); the Secretariat of OAU, supported by the African Development Bank, (ADB). Of course, Lagos Plan of Action which was drawn up in 1980 is a counter to orthodox SAP and largely statist.
Professor Nzongola distanced himself from neoliberalism, calling it a policy framework that is meant to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor and argued that what Africa needs is to pursue policies based on political independence, economic self reliance and Pan-African solidarity as developed and articulated by Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, Julius Nyerere and others. “As long as we neglect that path, we may have successes here and there but we would continue being the development lager of the world”, he sounded off.
Last week in Abuja witnessed an even more expansive argumentation for the restructuring of the African state reported earlier on as follows by this platform: This is a moment for an alternative agenda to neo-liberalism which also does not imagine Africa’s trajectories in Eurocentric linear ways, Professor Dzodzi Tsikata, the President of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, (CODESRIA) declared at a Memorial Lecture in Abuja, Nigeria on “Pan-Africanism and Democratic Activism: Keeping Abubakar Momoh’s Vision Alive”. Professor Tsikata emphasised fashioning a programme for Africa’s transformation which recognizes the specificities of different countries as well as the gains from the promotion of regional integration. But she insists on the guidance of this process by what she calls “a rejuvenated and restructured democratic post-colonial developmental state which plays a proactive role in setting priorities”. This way, she distinguishes the Pan-Africanist sense of restructuring from that being argued by those who talk of restructuring merely in terms of ethno-regional reterritorialisation of power without considering the imperative of the developmental state in the politics of social transformation.
Asserting the salience of the question of Africa’s economic future now as it was in the battle against structural adjustment by Africans, Professor Tsikata stated how those battles successfully compelled the Bretton Woods institutions to scramble to reposition themselves so as to keep the economic liberalization agenda on the road. “We are at one such conjuncture again” she declared to an audience of diverse tendencies which converged to listen to her, admitting sadly though that, in spite of the resolution passed at the 8th Pan African Congress to develop pan African alternatives to neo-liberalism and for sustainable development, there is a lack of energy around economic matters among pan-African scholars and within the movement.
The implication, according to her, is that there is no leadership in terms of ideas and mobilization from the pan-African movement at a time of insurgent new social movements challenging the status quo by voting down unpopular policies; disaffected youth being recruited to fight for a ‘mythical caliphate’ and would-be labour migrants to Europe and the gulf. Describing this as “a conjuncture pregnant with significance and possibilities”, she noted several currents in the global context such as acceptance at last of global and intra-country inequalities as problematic; the transformation of growing crisis in employment and labour conditions into global issue manifested by zero hour contracts in the West, and the precariousness of labour conditions in both the urban and rural economies. Furthermore, African governments have signed up to structural transformation of African economies and societies; the dream of agrarian transitions and industrialization are once again on the agenda, China is added to the mix while Europe is in the throes of an existential crisis manifested by anti-migrant sentiments, the loss of humanistic values and ideals and a deep insecurity among its populations.
Specifying the lecture to the late Professor Abubakar Momoh, Professor Tsikata argued that his work on structural adjustment and the alienated youth gave flesh to his approach to democracy that did not depart from the roots of the pan African movement. According to her, the founders of Pan-Africanism did not privilege politics and culture over economic matters but took an integral view of progress, citing Nkrumah whose aphorism of seeking first the political kingdom did not stop him from authoring Ghana’s first efforts at industrialization and the construction of strategic infrastructure such as the Akosombo Dam, the Tema port and some key road networks.
In her view, Abu’s commitment to democracy did not stop at his commitment to free and fair elections. Rather, Abu expected democratic government to enlarge the culture of citizenship and ensure that Africans everywhere could lead secure and productive lives. For this reason, she calls for a renewal of the Pan-Africanist movement to enable it to become an effective vehicle for driving change, saying that is how to begin to realise Abubakar Momoh’s vision “as his lasting legacy to us who now mourn his passing”.
The lecture was delivered to a variegated audience of powerful symbols reflecting the Pan-Africanist current, whether seen from the presence of electoral commissioners from five ECOWAS countries led in by Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, Abu’s former boss and Chairperson of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC); the presence of Professor Horace Campbell of the University of Syracuse in the US but who is currently on the Kwame Nkrumah Chair at the Institute of African Studies, the University of Ghana; the solidarity message from Professor Tijani Bande who is currently Permanent Representative to the United Nations and who examined Abu’s doctoral thesis and even the foremost continental intellectual forte: the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, (CODESRIA). It was at this occasion the email he sent then incoming Executive Secretary of CODESRIA two weeks before his death was read out in part, saying the ES’s appointment is “a generational challenge requiring the highest ethical, organisational and academic capacity you can build around a long existing tradition”, offered to help in whatever way, noting that “Africa is a continent with a lot of emergencies… knowledge deficit and empowering ideas certainly need to be addressed. CODESRIA has a capacity to move us to the next layer in the 21st Century quest. I am happy to also share a few thoughts of mine with you on that… we must hurry if we must make a difference on the continent”
So, it was a memorial which spoke to Pan-Africanism, from the people in government to his employer – INEC, from global academia to the national platform for academics in Nigeria – ASUU; from international bureaucracies such as ECOWAS to national ones such as the National Universities Commission; from beneficiaries of his humanism to the women movement to the civil society, especially the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) made up of no less than four former national presidents of the union viz Attahiru Jega, Dipo Fashina, Sule Kano, Nasiru Fagge and the incumbent, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi. It made the occasion a reversal of the folk wisdom that the dead does not weep at his own funeral. Abu had wept at his own funeral, having said all he would have said at the occasion if he were around by writing a doctoral thesis on the Nkrumah canvass of Pan-Africanism.
All these within a month or so in Nigeria alone shows a growing current, particularly when it is noted that Professor Patrick Lumumba from Kenya had also been in Nigeria a few months ago with his eloquent articulation of this same vision. The question, again, is how might Africa reconcile the two contrasting moods? Which current would chase which out of the window? Who and what would be most decisive in terms of which trend wins at last? Can the typical African state creatively find a counter to Majimboism in Pan-Africanism?