The United States of Africa: Viable or Necessary?

The vision

If Pan-Africanism were a company that was about to go public would you invest? If you were a seasoned investor you would properly research the background of the company and its performance history and gather enough information to determine its trajectory for future earnings. What would the research tell us about the track record of the Pan-African movement and primarily the impending fruit it will bear? Pan-Africanism is “the belief that African people share common cultural and racial bonds as well as objectives. Therefore, there was a need to unite to achieve these objectives” [1] which in its infancy between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, produced discourses which led to action toward addressing the crucial issues of the day such as the eradication of the vestiges of slavery, dismantling of colonialism and the promotion of independence. Since then African elites have sought to embark on fostering political and economic integration through the establishment of regional organizations like Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), East Africa Economic Community (EAEC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).  In 1963 The Organization of African Unity (In 2002 OAU became the Africa Union) was established to carry forth the colossal task of developing a continental government system where power is centralized for 54 sovereign states, soon to be 55 after the process of succession of southern Sudan is complete accompanied by a bewildering array of heterogeneous ethnic, cultural, and religious groups where over 2,000 languages are spoken.

Window of opportunity

Once again Africa finds itself en vogue. Foreign countries are seeking to establish new economic and diplomatic ties or re-establish them across the continent. The flurry of economic activity is marked by China’s growing economy and need for raw materials and food security. China has been criticised by the West for providing aide and loans without conditions attached, such as adherence to human rights, governance transparency etc.  This criticism maybe seen as the saying goes, “throwing stones while living in a glasshouse.” During the Cold War when the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for material and Ideological interest, U.S. aid was given to President of Zaire Mobutu Sesse Seko despite his poor human rights record under what could be considered the premise of “mutual interest.”[2] African elites were never passive players during the Cold War subjected to the demands of either camp and nor are they now during this new phase of material interest by foreign countries. They understood the interest of all stakeholders and knew how to tip the scales in their favor. Africa has what China wants which is oil, arable land and other resources while China has the ability to enhance Africa’s crumbling infrastructure such as building roads, rehabilitating railways and building schools. Moreover, Africa can take stock in China’s meteoric economic rise, which can in many ways be credited to its commitment to its cultural values regarding labour. “The Chinese don’t boast about their exploits or the ability to produce goods faster than other countries spend talking about it. Their speed at getting a product to the market is the envy of the so-called free world. The Chinese do not celebrate spectacular successes. It’s part of their life and their survival as a big player on the world stage.”[3] I am not suggesting Africa adopt labor traditions like China, because Africa is not China and it has its own from which it can pull from to rightfully develop its economy. The recent formation of the African Union Authority that will replace the existing AU Commission whose aim is to eventually bring into fruition the United States of Africa speaks to the incessant demand to reframe existing political and economic structures for new ones that will be able to meet the needs and challenges of those on the continent and to strengthen its bargaining power within the international system.

Intrastate challenges

Embarking on an endeavour where all power is centralized will mean that African elites will have to concede varying degrees of power. This will not be an easy task where the modern political culture often dictates that once elected through the ballot or seize through a coup it’s for life.  Once in power state coffers are treated like personal bank accounts and retirement funds plundered at their leisure. General Sani Abacha, was the President of Nigeria between 1993-1998. In that time it is estimated he, his family and close associates, managed to steal between $3 billion and $5 billion from the Nigerian people.[4] Current dictator of Equatorial Guinea Tedoro Obiang Nguema has amassed a fortune through same means. According to the SEC, in 2004 a total of $700 million was transferred to the benefit of Obiang and his relatives, from oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp., Amerada Hess Corp., ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp.[5] In addition to stealing public funds President Obiang has an abysmal human rights record where the poor lack access to basic health services and critics and activist are vulnerable to intimidation, harassment, and reprisals.[6] Despite his track record President Obiang was elected chairman of the A.U., which devalues the credibility and serious attempt of developing a unified African system in the eyes of the international community and more importantly in the eyes of Africans themselves.

Secondly, since decolonization, African states have been plagued by deep-rooted ethnic conflict over access to resources and political power. The inherited borders and political and economic frameworks from the former colonial powers produced weak, insecure states at the time of independence. The failure to develop and secure cohesion amongst citizens under a national identity during colonialism has served as the foundation for ethnic conflict in post-colonial Africa. For example, under the British policy of divide and rule in Uganda the colonial administration purposefully provided the southern Bantu speaking people with economic and education advantages. Meanwhile in the north the Acholi and Langi ethnic groups were recruited for military and police positions, thereby ascribing particular talents and proclivities thus wedding ethnic groups to socio-political and economic status.[7] This laid the groundwork for conflict and civil unrest, which continues till this day. We find a similar construction in Rwanda where the Belgian entrenched the idea of the Hutu’s as labourers and the Tutsi’s as extenders of Belgian rule. The politicization of these two groups would greatly contribute to the Rwandan genocide of 1994. African elites have also played a huge role in the continuation of ethnic tensions. Their exercise of patron client relationships based on ethnic identity made resources scarce for others, as well as their contempt and ability to incite fear in other ethnic groups who appear to challenge their power base. So the question is, if the current political structures inherited by African states from their ex colonialist European rulers are not equipped to effectively manage their diverse ethnic societies and meet the socio-economic needs then what can African elites expect if they continue adopting foreign frameworks to govern themselves? Will the proposed United States of Africa mirror the United States of America, European Union or some other structure that is not tailored to the ethnic reality on the ground?


It may be a blessing that the chairman’s seat of the African Union is only a one year term, given the current despotic incumbent President Obiang. In a progressive move the AU created the African Union Authority for the purposes of moving forward on plans for the socio-economic integration of the continent despite the absence of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who breathed life back into it back in 2007. The African continent is endowed with an abundance of natural resources which includes oil and natural gas states like Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique and Sudan. However,  instead of the people benefiting from them as source of real development, are victims of malevolent public management on the part of local authorities and exploitation on the part of foreign powers.  This systemic condition is what contributes to African states as being weak. I think for the African continent to benefit from tenets of  Pan-Africanism carried forth by the AU in its quest to socio-economically integrate the continent,  must curb behavior that continuously reduces its mission to lofty speeches that produce empty promises by leaders whose track records have proven to be the antithesis of its values.


[1] Ayittey, George B.N. The United States of Africa: A Revisit The Annuls of the American Academy of Political and Social Science pg 86 (632) November 2010

[2] Omozuanvbo Ihonvbere, Julius and Mukum Mbaku, John, ed. Political Liberalization and Democratizaton in Africa: Lessons from country experiences . pg.217 Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2003.

[3] The Connaught Telegraph, 2010. How China became so powerful (Opinion article) [online] (Updated 28 Nov 2010) Available at: <> [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[4] The other side of the coin. The UK and Corruption in Africa. A report by the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group, March 2006. (page 45) [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[5], 2009. Nguema, un président de 30 ans (Journal article) [online] (Updated 1 Dec 2009) Available at: <; [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[6] Human Rights Watch, 2010. World Report 2011: Equatorial Guinea (World Report PDF) [online] (2011) Available at: <; [Accessed 21 March 2011]

[7] Kisseke-Ntale, Frederick. Roots of the conflict in Northern Uganda Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, vol. 32 No.4 Winter 2007

Islamic Civil Unrest Part Deux: The Senegal Option?

Amidst the upheaval across North Africa and the Middle East, the West tries to proceed with caution. Waiting as the political dust settles with the desire to be on the right side of history. Not only for ethical reasons but for the sake of continued access to resources in oil rich Libya but also for Egypt’s stabilizing force in a volatile Middle East as well as Yemen’s help to stem the tide of terrorism. The infectious wave of social unrest in North Africa has elites in sub-Saharan Africa asking the question “are we next”? Uncertainty looms as to what will happen when old regimes fade away and new ones emerge. Will concessions be granted to mask the maintenance of the status quo? Or will these new emerging regimes adopt reforms dedicated to deep seeded change?

This is not the first time the Muslim world has experienced a domino effect of civil unrest tied to socio-economic and ideological struggle. Unfortunately, many Muslim countries managed the conflicts by neutralizing the opposition through the use of force. In 1979 the Iranian revolution opened the floodgates for Islamic revivalism throughout the region. “In 1980 with the ordered execution of the Iraqi Shiite revivalist leader, Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr, Saddam Hussein proceeded to ruthlessly suppress all religious opposition to his rule during the course of his decade long rule. Similarly, in 1982 President of Syria Hafez al-Assad deployed 12,000 troops in the city of Hama to suppress an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands were killed in the process. Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia, and a host of other Muslim countries have also resorted to brute force to contain revivalism.” (1)

While these new upheavals are more about social and economic disparities rather than religion there seems to exist a shared notion within the West and echoed by some in the Muslim world that Islam is not compatible with modernity or a secular government. This perception is often reinforced due to the lack of understanding of the history and diversity that exists in Islam. Images recycled in the media of stateless sword wielding Muslims, highly publicized executions of hostages by Islamic extremists, Osama Bin Laden releasing his latest video tape as well as failed states such as Somalia or the strict code of Wahhabism which is widely practiced in Saudi Arabia, suffocates any consideration that Islam and democracy can coexist.

However, despite the heterogeneous composition of the Muslim world, Senegal has built up an institutional memory for managing and allowing a public space whereby both political Islam and a democratic government can coexist without one trying to neutralize the other. This relationship has produced a vibrant civil society, which has been able to vocalize dissent without fear of retribution. The socio-economic crisis of the late 1980’s and 1990’s also served as fertile ground for revivalism in Senegal. Inspired by the events in Iran, students and reformist challenged the Sufi brotherhoods, the state and the patron-client relationship that existed between them. With the dissident agitation reaching fever pitch and civil unrest unfurling, President Abdou Diouf’s regime decided to suppress the opposition by initiating a state of emergency and incarcerating the oppositional political leaders. These measures simply did more to fan the flames. Ultimately, President Diouf’s regime managed to avert further escalation of the conflict by entering into “A series of roundtable talks with opposition leaders, and though these negotiations were plagued with difficulties and disputes, they showed Diouf’s willingness to compromise. The revised electoral code that served for the 1993 elections was one of the outcomes of such negotiations, and though the new code provoked some problems it also symbolized progress toward democratization.” (2)

By providing the opposition a voice President Diouf successfully dulled the extremist edge, which eventually saw the absorption of some of the leaders into the Diouf’s government. Most notably was the current President of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade. Senegal offers credence to the fact that Islam is not innately resistant to democratic order. This perhaps can be used by other Muslim countries as a framework to operate from for resolving conflict, or at a minimum for loosening the grip on the political sphere which can lead to real engagement with opposition and yield favourable results. For the moment as onlookers we can only hope that while the seeds of change blow across North Africa and the Middle East it will bear fruit for all and not just a few.


[1] Nasr, S.V.R. (1985). Democracy and Islamic Revivalism. Political Science Quarterly, 110 (2), 261-85

[2] Thurston, Alexander. (2009). Why is Militant Islam a Weak Phenomenon in Senegal?Africa Today, Vol. 46, No 3/4  pg. 7

Nigerian Elections: Business as usual or breaking the norm?

This year Nigerians will go to the polls and elect its fourth president since 1999 when the country transitioned from a military to civilian government. From a distance the dizzying array of 63 candidates, all competing for the highest political office in the country makes for a colourful display of democratic exuberance. However, despite the numerous candidates and projected record number of voter turnout for this year’s election, Nigeria’s hobbling democracy is still mired in ethnic regional alliances that were by and large manufactured during British colonization. In 1947 the British introduced a new Nigerian Constitution to insure successful management of Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups as well as indirect control for successful extraction of resources.[1] This new constitution brought forth a federal arrangement equipped with semi autonomous regional enclaves based on ethno-religious identity. The outcome resulted in the Ibo (in the east), the Yoruba (in the west) and the Hausa and Fulani (in the north). The various ethnic groups of Nigeria mixed in to the new towns that grew with trade and administration. British bureaucracy demanded the need to identify people to meet official classification. The labelling would underline divisions within Nigerian society. Diverse ethnic groups were encouraged to think of themselves in terms of the main tribal grouping,[2] hence why the absorption of dozens of sub-ethnic groups exist within and assume the Yoruba identity today.

The religious, regional and ethnic tensions that intensified under colonial rule contributed toward Nigeria’s tumultuous political history. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has had numerous coup d’état’s, multiple constitutional revisions, failed secessionist movements, military governments and four republics. In an attempt to mitigate these fissures in Nigerian society, in 1999 the Peoples Democratic Party put forth an unwritten power sharing agreement, called zoning. Zoning rotates the presidency every two terms or every 8 years between the north and the south.

Despite the best intentions, these changes are cosmetic at best. They are still predicated on colonial political structures. Under colonization Nigeria was based on 3 regions: Eastern, Western and Northern based on ethno-religious persuasion. Since then Nigerian elite have simply partitioned the country even more based on the same markers. Nigeria is now made up of 36 states, which are grouped into 6 geo-political zones.[3] They are as follows: south-west, south-east, south-south, north-central, north-east and north-west. These fragmented regions and geopolitical zones are supposed to provide greater access to power and resources for all Nigerian citizens. Also the increase of autonomy of ethno-religious regions operates against the political and social integration within the country thereby further weakening the state’s ability to manage conflicts as they arise. Political and economic power has been bottlenecked by the dominant ethnic groups, which disenfranchise minorities.

Incumbent Jonathan Goodluck’s decision to run for president is a litmus test for the zoning agreement. Goodluck who is from the south is in violation of this agreement as the next four years is reserved for a northern candidate. Goodluck a member of the minority group Ijaw and from the Niger Delta region would signal two shifts within the Nigerian political system. Firstly it would represent a break from the tripodal politics of the three big ethnic groups.[4]Secondly the south-south is the only geo-political zone to produce a president, which ironically is the oil resource breadbasket of the country.[5]

The results from a recent electoral opinion poll projects a victory for President Jonathan Goodluck with 69 to 60 percent of votes over all other candidates, which also indicated that he could do well in the 19 Northern states.[6] Should these calculations hold true it challenges the prevailing notion of a north south monolith and prompt the questions: are we beginning to witness a gradual shift in voting habits along ethno-regional partisanship to one based on a results oriented candidates? If so will this shake up the political culture that has been responsible for so much deprivation in fostering greater governance accountability and transparency?


[1] Africa South of the Sahara 2003 regional surveys of the world 32nd edition pg 773

[2] Identity Transformation and identity politics under structural Adjustments in Nigeria edited by Attahiru Jega

[3] Http://

[4], 2011. Is Goodluck Nigeria’s bad luck? [online] (30th March 2011) Available at: %5BAccessed 30th March 2011]

[5], 2011. Nigeria: 2011 Elections – Why all geo-political zones should support Jonathan[online] (Updated 24th June 2010) Available at: [Accessed 30th March 2011]

[6] allAfrica, 2011. Nigeria – Another survey predicts victory for Jonathan [online] (Updated 29th March 2011) Available at: [Accessed 30th March 2011]

Framing the City: Bringing Indigenous Values to Africa’s Urban Society


When one says that a city is alive, this statement is not an overused metaphor. Examining the anatomy of a city reveals a striking similarity to that of the human body and tends to operate in analogous fashion. In cities, buildings represent the skeletal frame of the human body. The streets, highways, and bridges serve as the vascular system. The people who occupy and move throughout the city are the lifeblood. The institutions that delegate what municipal services are to be carried out are the organs. To illustrate this further the sanitation department is comparable to the kidneys whose primary function is to rid the body of waste or the criminal justice system whose purpose is to uphold social control. Deterring and mitigating crime parallels the function of antibodies response to antigens that attempts to disrupt the normal function of the body. The body’s vitality and maximum output is compromised whenever it ceases to operate according to its own natural orientation. This generally occurs when disease is present. Similarly, a compromised city fails to deliver, maintain, and produce basic services and infrastructural requirements for its citizenry when the natural orientation of its citizenry is not honored.

Many African countries resemble Nigeria, whose display of venality and corruption has contributed to its arrested development. Much of the problems in Nigeria stems from the lack of investment in the basic infrastructure that enables a city to function. Both civilian and military have enriched themselves on earnings from the country’s vast oil and gas reserves, leaving the majority of the country’s 140 million residents to struggle in poverty. Lagos is Nigeria’s former capital and currently its most densely populated city and arguably the most economically important state of the country. Lagos has a crumbling infrastructure that is a major problem for all the city’s residents. A poorly developed central grid subjects Lagosians to an unreliable supply of electricity. Those who can afford to, buy their own generators to provide 24-hour power. However, the majorities go without, having their homes and work places plunged into stifling darkness in the middle of the afternoon. In addition to electricity problems, the city does not have potable water. Most of Lagos’s residents must buy water from street sellers or line up and collect it from shared stand-taps. Nine out of 10 Lagosians live in slums, according to the U.N., and less than 1 percent has flushing toilets. Cell phones are the main means of communication, as there are few working landlines. The postal service barely functions. Zip codes and a system for residential delivery has never been developed. An African city like Lagos has become the standard across the continent. Under these circumstances, few actually ‘Live the City’; most simply survive it.

In response to this deprivation Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatune Fashola in conjunction with international institutions like the World Bank has developed initiatives to tackle the systemic challenges. From this union the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a US$200 Million credit toward the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project. Under this project, the aim was to target infrastructure, water supply and sanitation, rehabilitate neighborhood roads, public finance reform, and the strengthening of overall good governance. Given the current climate of international aid distribution to developing nations, along with the recent fanfare and tidal wave of celebrity style attention toward African affairs, such as Oprah in South Africa, George Clooney in Sudan and Madonna in Malawi it would appear at first glance that the realities of Africans are changing for the better. However, that is up for debate. Historically, aid packages have generally failed to meet the needs and demands of the people and have yet to produce sustainable results. Despotic African elites are typically the deliberate recipients of funding in exchange for ideological and material resources. This has stifled real growth especially during the Cold War as both the United States and Soviet Union lured African elites to their respective camps of either capitalism or communism with virtual blank checks in the form of aid. These funds would then find their way to offshore accounts, general lavish spending, and military hardware to neutralize dissenters with state sanctioned violence. Consequently, this creates an environment of fear and underdevelopment. Typically, when aid is appropriated and construction of infrastructure projects are underway, general labor tends to be accompanied by imported labor, equipment, and specialization. This means less employment and no technical training for native workers, which pose a grave problem when it comes time for maintenance and repairs. As a result, the local economy is not empowered and human capital is not fully utilized. What is left is infrastructure that cannot be maintained and the debt incurred by its implementation.

The origins of modern urban policy for African cities lie in the European points of cultural reference. The colonial planners of African cities largely ignored the indigenous historical, geographical, cultural and social context and precedents before beginning the design process. The primary emphasis was placed on the extraction of natural resources. Re-systematization of African cities was relegated to the physical infrastructure and indigenous political frameworks that would later guarantee the successful execution of this process. It was these transformations that conventionally reoriented Africans themselves and the optimum function of public and private institutions.

Presently Mr. Yacoob Abiodun, an urban planner and former secretary of the Housing Policy Council in Lagos, has pointed out the knowledge gap in specialized planning and policy analysis at both the state and federal levels. He further emphasized the need for specializations like urban design, transportation, housing, community development, and urban renewal/rejuvenation. Additionally he recommended these disciplines be taught in institutions of higher learning for the purposes of producing a trained cadre of specific-purpose planners. Although accurate in his assessment of the gap, the historical relationship between Africa and the West, which has been primarily based on the extraction of resources, must be considered. Despite advancements in modern urban planning, it still follows in the same legacy. To create a national training program based on the same framework is likely to produce more of the same inefficiencies, disorganization, and ineffectiveness that is so commonplace in Africa today.

The first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere answered the call for new governance frameworks. In 1974, he attempted to resolve the issue of capitalist encroachment, which he saw as an expression of Western imperialism by creating a synthesis between indigenous knowledge and communism. Through Nyerere’s pan-Africanist lens, he maintained a romantic view of pre-colonial Africa where no man served as subjects of labor for the exclusive purposes of another man’s accumulation of wealth. Everyone worked in the interest of the community on a non-hierarchical basis where no one ever went without. For Nyerere this egalitarian perspective inherent within pre-colonial African culture was the common denominator with socialism. The intertwining of the two brought forth African socialism. Inspired by social engineering models utilized by the Soviet Union and China, Nyerere adopted similar schemes. The ujamaa village campaign from 1973 to 1976 was a massive attempt to resettle most of the country’s population into planned villages in an effort to harness the labor of the peasant farmer for maximum agricultural output under the guise of modernization. The execution of this scheme undertook massive resettlement programs under “Operation Dodoma,” “Operation Sogeza,” “Operation Kigoma,” and many others to create “communal villages.”These villages were planned according to grid block patterns, accompanied by streamlined farming techniques.

In spite of Nyerere’s good intentions for Tanzania, empowered by an economic scheme that is solely based on the premise of output without considerations for human capital is destined for failure not development. In a country where the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population resides in the rural sector of an agriculturally based economy it is economic suicide to embark on a rural resettlement scheme without seeking the consultation of the farmers. This is because they are the custodians of vital agricultural knowledge. As a result, the Tanzanian government spent 1.2 billion Shilling on food imports to feed its population, because agricultural production in the new village settlement area was not suitable for sandy soil, relied too heavily on mechanization and the chaos of the move itself and the slow process of adapting to a new ecological setting meant further disruption of production. The Nyerere administration favoring an imported rural design and agricultural techniques over the indigenous one revealed the shallowness of African socialism. The rural planning was a grid design whereby each family lived in linear formations with the rectangular plots behind their living quarters. The village settlements all ran parallel long the roadway. Crops also had to be planted along the same geometric pattern to mirror order. The flaw in this scheme was that the administration emphasized aesthetics over functionality and efficiency. Rural farmers were forced into a regimented living space where the intent within the design was to restrict movement and direct energy towards output. This was diametrically against the peasants existing rural practice, which included shifting cultivation and pastoralism. Both farming techniques involved migratory and cyclical methods that required not living near roadways while movement for space was crucial for successful production. The bureaucratic enclosures also impeded their enclosed natural orientation for social engagement and cultural practice, as assembly and movement outside of the village was highly discouraged by the state and closely monitored. Ultimately, rural planning along Euclidian lines gave way to chaos and disorder as resistance from the peasants invited various acts of coercion by the administration. The imposition of growing crops along a standardized formation was also met with disastrous results as this technique yielded crops well below expectation. Meanwhile, polycropping as traditionally practiced by the rural peasantry proved far more ecologically and economically sound. The exaltation of African socialism by Nyerere himself and other top officials stemmed from a prevailing bias against indigenous cultural practice, presentation and knowledge while favoring stylized frameworks, which proved inconsistent with the natural rhythm of the people.

The inevitability of African urbanization is readily apparent. Africa’s urban populations are exploding, and will continue to do so in the near future. Thus, a final key opportunity presents itself in the growing realization by governments in the region that rapid urbanization is here to stay. Responsive leaders realize that the demands of growing urban populations must be met and new approaches to development, including expansion of public-private partnerships, are both inevitable and desirable.

With this in mind, it is important to observe the fact that urbanization ideas were not grafted on to Africa from modern Europe. Africa has a historical reservoir of urban settlements templates from all regions. For example, lle-lfe is an ancient Yoruba city in southwestern Nigeria. Evidence of urbanization at the site has been discovered to date back to roughly 500 AD. It is located in present day Osun State, with a population of 501,952. By examining the relationships between economic systems, family and political institutions as well as religious beliefs, within pre-colonial African cities, we can unearth the guiding principles for new urban policy frameworks to ultimately create sustainable living environments. The research should particularly investigate key features of urban planning and management from both functional and aesthetical perspectives as it resonates with the overall orientation of the citizenry. As I have illustrated, the degree of deprivation in African cities like Lagos and Tanzania have been brought on by the neglect of indigenous point of reference. The advent of urbanization will not only offer an insightful anatomy of the evolution of cities but it may usher in a paradigm shift whereby penetrating interventions and innovations are developed and aligned to galvanize human capital so that citizens will advance from surviving the city to living it.