Integration or federation? Towards political unity for Africa

about regional integration and the East African Federation

Published on Pambazuka News, Issue 501, by Dani W. Nabudere, Oct. 21, 2010.

Regional integration is an economic project with superimposed political structures, while federation is a political project as part of a strategy for political and economic emancipation, writes Dani W. Nabudere, in an examination of why the two ideas, as currently conceived, are incompatible. So what is the way forward for East Africa? … //

… Prior to the referendum, there should be a process of grassroots discussions and consultations at village level about the implications of removing the borders and this discussion will include the issue of how to form new states, which will constitute the federation. This is their sovereign right. These discussions will include the issue of what to do once the current colonial borders are dissolved. 

The people will discuss the effect of dissolution and anarchy that could arise and for them to discuss how to avoid it. They will determine that once the colonial borders are dissolved, the new East African border cannot at any cost be dissolved or interfered with except through its future expansion from time to time to include other African states towards the achievement of a United States of Africa. As Professor Cheick Anta Diop emphasised:

‘The permanency of the federal structures must be inviolable. This principle should be upheld whether the case be national federation like Nigeria, a regional federation, or a continental federation. Once a federal structure is set up it should become irreversible. Once federal structures are elaborated, confirmed and consolidated, succession of any kind must be prevented. … However, its counterpart must be the granting of cultural freedom and autonomy of the various communities. Africa must be protected against anarchy. … While Africa must be protected, we cannot (also) condone the other extreme, which leads to the stifling of the cultural freedom and autonomy of the various communities inhabiting the continent. Each community must able to enjoy to the fullest a freedom compatible with its desire to fulfil itself culturally and linguistically.’ (Diop, in Sertima, 1986).

Thus with the surrender of their sovereignty to the federal state, the communities will have the right to regroup across former colonial boundaries and determine whether they want to constitute new cultural-linguistic states of their own, which can enable them to enjoy self-determination and autonomy within their own states as free members of the federal state, which they would have formed and in which they will all be citizens. This right to reconstitute their own states fits with the reversal of the colonial injustice that saw to the fragmentation and dismemberment of the communities along ‘tribal’ lines into which they were fixed in the colonial states. This will create greater cultural and linguistic unities across former colonial borders, which will enable them to develop their cultures, including their languages in the way they want.

The issue of sovereignty is important to consider in the context of what the ordinary people of East Africa really want. You cannot convince a Maasai of Laikipia in Kenya and a Maasai in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania that removing the boundaries between Tanzania and Kenya is a ‘risk’ to them, when in their daily life activities; they ignore these borders to feed their cattle and goats and to maintain their cultural identities and solidarities. They do this because they have never accepted the colonially-imposed borders between Kenya and Tanzania. That is why they cross the borders on a daily basis without ‘national identity cards’ or ‘national passports’ to assert their sovereign rights over the territories! So unless we are thinking of other human beings than those that exist on the ground in East Africa, doing away with the existing colonial state sovereignties and borders cannot be considered to be a ‘risk’ for the people involved.

It follows that the issue to be debated in the communities is not about ‘sensitisation’ or ‘mobilisation’ of the communities about the ‘benefits of the political federation’. The issue should be about the leaders taking bold and irrevocable decision to dissolve the existing colonial borders that separate the peoples of East Africa. This will be an empowering process that will, for the first time in colonial and post-colonial history give an opportunity to the people of East Africa to decide their fate. Having done that, the leaders will then engage ‘experts’ from the communities and from the elites to draft an East African constitution that will devolve powers to local state levels as well as defining those at a federal level after the people have decided the political question. Such State constitutions of the different communities will also be written to incorporate the wishes of the respective communities, (including the rights of minorities in each state), which need not be the same.

The ultra-nationalist will argue that the steps proposed above will ‘take us back’ to ‘tribalism’. In fact these ultra-nationalists are the very ones that practice political tribalism even in their political parties to entrench themselves in power by claiming to ‘represent’ the ‘people’ even when they have to buy their votes to do so! Removing borders will reunite colonially created ‘tribes’ and reinstate cultural-linguistic communities that are a feature of all modern nations. Most European constitutions recognise cultural and linguistic identities of the people in their states. African post-colonial states because of the colonial character are the only exception in this regard. Thus the Interim Constitution that will come in force for the short period while new states are being formed will provide for certain short-term institutions and measures, which will replace the former ‘national institutions’ without letup for any anarchy. These will include:

  • - The creation of the Presidential Council of State that will recognise the existing political heads of state who are currently in position of leadership at the time of the declaration who will act in rotation for a year each until constitutional and legal mechanisms have been put in place for the election of the head of state of the Federation of East Africa on a popular basis in 2010 or such date as will be decided by the Council of State.
  • - Traditional Leaders and Elders Council, which will have the functions of advising the Presidential Council of State and the East African Federation Parliament, especially on matters of state formation having regard to the cultural and linguistic heritages of the people of East Africa and other matters of importance to the people of East Africa.
  • - An East African Interim Federal Parliament out of the existing territorial parliaments by each parliament turning itself in an electoral college to elect 100 of their members (on equal gender representation) to join the existing East African Legislative Assembly to constitute a 327-Member East African Federal Parliament-MEAP to legislate on matters submitted to them by new institutions that will emerge as a transition to the emergence of new constituent states
  • - An East African Constituent Assembly drawn from all the nationalities and base communities identified by the Traditional Leaders and Elders Council in consultation with the Presidential Council of State as well as some of the members of the existing parliaments who do not find their way into the East African Parliament to discuss a new Federal Constitution based on the new state formations
  • - An East African Armed and Security Forces under one command structure from the existing three armies and security agencies. One third of each of the three armies will be posted to the other three existing states. These forces will ensure the security of the new federal sate as the communities set about recreating new constituent states under a new constitutional arrangement as well as ensuring a peaceful transition.

Other administrative and security measures will be taken in conformity with the need to transition to a new political system. These will include the merging existing Central banks into one East African Central Bank with the responsibility to manage the three currencies, which will continue to relate through the market until one of the currencies emerges as the strongest able to serve the communities in the new Federation. The issue of a monetary union would have been confronted directly through the market and the common market would also have arisen out of the existence of one market created by the fusion of the states into one customs union with the common external tariff, which is currently being worked on, protecting the whole East African market externally and not internally. No single industry inside East African Federation will be protected, but will operate on a competitive basis. Only those enterprises that are able to provide goods and services cheaply will get the entire market.

The above process of state formation leading to the political federation of East Africa, although slower, would have solved the four stage approach proposed in article 5(2) of the East African Treaty. The approach would also have done away with the ‘fast-tracking’ process that has ignored the sovereign rights of the people of East Africa to participate and own the process of political unification. In our view instead of bureaucratic approaches to political federation, the people of East Africa should have participated in creating new states, which they can own. This is in conformity with the new enlightened view of international law, which recognises the rights of indigenous communities over their resources and governance institutions. It is also in line with the Pan-African principles adopted by the Fathers of African Independence both in Africa such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and those in the Diaspora such as Marcus Mosiah Garvey, among others.

It is for this reason that we differ with Professor Shivji in his approach regarding the way a Pan-African unity project could be achieved. In his paper, Prof Shivji, poses the question as to who would constitute the ‘driving forces’ for a new anti-imperialist Pan Africanism. He further poses the question as to where we must begin. He proposes that the place to begin to ‘resurrect a Pan-African discourse and ‘to turn Pan Africanism into a category of intellectual thought’ is to follow Mwalimu Nyerere’s path, which he articulated in his speech on ‘the dilemma of a Pan Africanism’, in which he posed a challenge to students and the staffs of the African universities. Nyerere’s ‘dilemma’ was to find out ‘who will have the time and the ability to think out practical problems of achieving this goal of unification if it is not those who have an opportunity to think and learn direct responsibility of day-to-day affairs.’ His response was that the universities could move in this direction themselves in serving the interests of the nation and those of Africa at the same time … (full long text).

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