Pan-Africanism and the challenge of East African Community integration

Published on Pambazuka News, by Issa G. Shivji, Nov. 3, 2010.

As the East African Community seeks further integration, Issa G. Shivji explores the historical beginnings and vision behind such regional changes from a pan-Africanist perspective. Rather than debate specific forms of ‘economic integration’ or ‘political association’, Shivji seeks to discuss ‘whether we are asking the right questions’ … //

… IV. Resurrecting Pan-Africanism:

The defeat of the (territorial) national project at the hands of neo-liberalism on the one hand, and the collapse of neo-liberalism, which was predicated on extreme financialization, on the other, has squarely placed Pan-Africanism on the historical agenda. In broad terms, Pan-Africanist agenda entails continental political unity and economic integration. 

Does this mean that regional unity like the one implied in EAC/EAF is worthless and should not be pursued? With Mwalimu Nyerere, my answer would be that it should be pursued provided it is guided by a Pan-Africanist vision. What does this mean in practice if these are not only to be words or, as Mwalimu said, ‘matters of form – motions which have to be gone through while the serious business of building up states is continued.’ (Nyerere 1966 op. cit. 215).

Let me illustrate concretely the implication of saying that our regional unity should be guided by a pan-Africanist vision. When EA cooperation was being considered anew, there was a suggestion that in the new circumstances, the EA cooperation should include Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC, besides the three traditional EA countries.[1] Fortunately, Rwanda and Burundi were considered but no thought was given to the inclusion of the DRC. No doubt many practical obstacles and hurdles would be posed to show that the suggestion is not feasible, or, even absurd. But the point is that it was not even raised for debate in which case the hurdles would be raised and a debate generated as to how these could be addressed in a Pan-African context. The other suggestion that was made was that the question of Zanzibar within the Tanzanian union and its place within a larger unity ought to be discussed and a suitable resolution found. Yet, as has continued to be the political praxis in this regard, it was thought best to shove it under the carpet. Yet the issue has refused to go away and is being constantly raised by the Zanzibaris. If this matter were seen from a pan-African perspective, new initiatives could be taken – such as exploring different levels of association within the larger framework of federation, say, for example, Zanzibar having the status of an autonomous region within a federation. It will be recalled that within the former Soviet Union/federation different states had different status, including two states which even had seats in the United Nations, and some smaller states being given the status of autonomous regions.

Both these issues can make sense only if the regional unity is contextualised, situated and led by Pan-Africanism. (In fact, the first generation of EAF policy-makers seriously considered the possibility of including Ethiopia and Somalia in the federation. In November 1962, Ethiopia, Somalia and Zanzibar sent observers to the East African Central Legislative Assembly in Kampala and expressed interest in joining the federation. But given the problems of the three East African countries themselves, this initiative did not go very far.) In the current context in which world hegemonies are shifting and there is a distinct trend on the part of the United States to militarise its relation with Africa to protect its sources of natural resources, energy, and minerals; Pan-Africanist anti-imperialism and non-alignment would dictate that neither Zanzibar at one end and the DRC at the other ought to be left at the mercy of US penetration. Tanzania provides the most important geo-strategic land mass linking the Indian Ocean with resource rich Central Africa while Zanzibar is a strategic island on the Western Indian Ocean rim. With the rise of China/India, the perceived threat of Iran and instability in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean becomes an important field of interest to the US/Israel military strategy. AFRICOM and its thrust into Africa is likely to be focused on the weak link in the Indian Ocean rim which is the eastern seaboard of Africa from Djibouti to Durban. Instead of such considerations, we find that in fact the EA states involved in the prospective EAF, actually cooperate with the US militarily, as recent exercises in the north of Uganda show.


But the other question is: what will be the driving forces of new anti-imperialist Pan-Africanism? This is a difficult question to answer in the abstract beyond generalities such as civil society or working people. It is posed here only for debate and thought. However, the immediate question at this stage is ‘where to begin’ rather than ‘what is to be done’. It is suggested that the place to begin is to resurrect a pan-Africanist discourse, to turn Pan-Africanism into a category of intellectual thought. I can best conclude by once again quoting Mwalimu’s speech on ‘the dilemma of a Pan-Africanist’. After arguing that political leaders at the helm of the state would not have the time to think seriously about the way forward for Pan-Africanism, he opines:

Who is to keep us active in the struggle to convert nationalism to Pan-Africanism if it is not the staffs and students of our universities? Who is it who will have the time and ability to think out the practical problems of achieving this goal of unification if it is not those who have an opportunity to think and learn without direct responsibility for day-to-day affairs?

And cannot the universities themselves move in this direction? Each of them has to serve the needs of its own nation, its own area. But has it not also to serve Africa? Why cannot we exchange students – have Tanzanians getting their degrees in Zambia and Zambians get theirs in Tanzania? Why cannot we do other things which link our intellectual life together indissolubly? [Nyerere 1966, reprinted in 1968: 216-7]

Linking our intellectual life together indissolubly to generate a pan-Africanist discourse is the task of the post neo-liberal generation of African intellectuals. (full long text).

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