Africa in World Politics: A Pan-African Perspective

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Guy Martin has written the most thorough evaluation of official panAfrican cooperation to date. He provides a serious critique based upon the positions and expectations of independence-era leaders that had led to these plans and he offers a sensible proposal for future progress. Throughout, Martin calls for adherence to a federative principle of creating larger units out of existing smaller ones.
This looks very much like the European Union's solution to the catastrophic problems of conflict and internal governance that plagued its members during the first half of the twentieth century. While Martin characterizes his proposal as a "drastic solution" (258), it deserves to be taken seriously. How many Europeans in 1939 would have imagined that they would see in their lifetime the creation of a continent-wide single political unit, a common currency, and a broad commitment to democratic governance? The proposals of African political and intellectual leaders such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkumah, and Julius Nyerere for various forms of an African Union are commonly dismissed out of hand. But doesn't adversity breed innovation?

Why then has pan-Africanism failed to deliver on its promises of the 1950s and 1960s? Martin rejects the "Afropessimist" view that failures of governance are rooted in particularities of cultures or the distinctive organization of political authority on the continent. He discounts explanations that privilege networks of criminality, the allure of natural resources in the hands of easily corruptible elites, and other analyses that find causes of failure in structures internal to African societies. While not denying that these problems exist, he focuses on the persistent marginality of Africa to the world's political economy. He locates the other primary cause for this crisis in the nature of African state systems whose small unviable units are tied much more to patronage from powerful states outside Africa than to each other.

Martin devotes much of his book to the deficiencies of regional organizations patterned on and justified to varying degrees by the postindependence promise of pan-Africanism. These range from organizations that fall apart as members fail to pay basic dues or maintain a headquarters, to others, more common, that limp along, generating much paper but little concrete action. Exceptions do appear; not surprisingly, these successes emerge in security cooperation intended to address immediate threats to regional stability. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), for example, managed to field peacekeeping operations in Lesotho. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has maintained peacekeeping operations in West Africa for almost a decade and a half. One can fairly say that ECOWAS rivals the United Nations in effective peacekeeping under difficult circumstances, making it a world leader in that field.

The most critical part of the book is Martin's evaluation of the bearing of French policy on Francophone African cooperation. In some regards, the currency union of Francophone African states stands as a positive example of cooperation. But as Martin points out, this comes at the cost of extreme dependence on French economic and military assistance. French political and strategic interests take precedence, especially when proposals for broader intra-African cooperation threaten the French-African relationship. With regard to places like Rwanda, French pursuit of narrow interests in its relations with African client regimes has been a destabilizing influence indeed.

Given this record and the clear need for greater cooperation, does the author's evidence really add up to a story of failure? As noted above, organizations devoted to cooperation on security issues offer uneven instances of successful joint ventures. And yet in various cases cited by Martin one sees a de facto level of cooperation on managing refugees that is more extensive than appears in most of the rest of the world-a sort of official and unofficial pan-Africanism that is very real for the people affected and aided. One also should consider the streetside pan-Africanism of politically charged music, reflecting a widespread sense of a shared destiny, especially among the continent's youth. This shows a dimension of pan-Africanism that is absent in most of the official pronouncements and proposals for cooperation. Fela Ransome-Kuti, for example, expressed a political vision that was broad enough to alarm Nigeria's Abacha regime.

Ghana's hip-life music, too, is firmly rooted in both local pride and pan-African fellowship. If African governments become more responsive to citizens, it is likely that these sentiments will help focus official efforts at cooperation. Cross-border sociability, partly a consequence of the arbitrary borders that Martin laments, also sustains a grassroots sense of regional identity rare elsewhere in the world. While political thinkers from this milieu get little attention in academic circles, they are influential in their own societies.

Guy Martin. Africa in World Politics: A Pan-African Perspective. Trenton, N.J./ Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, Inc., 2002. xxvi + 311 pp. Bibliography. Index. $29.95. Paper.

Author: By: William Reno