2+2=5 or 2+2=3? A question for African civil society

Mammo Muchie

The millennium has everywhere been a time for focusing on optimistic ambitions for a better future, and Africa has been no exception. African leaders converted the Organization of African Unity into the African Union (AU) in 2000, claiming that the OAU had accomplished its mission by ending colonialism and apartheid. A year later the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) came on the scene. But there seem to be contradictions in the approaches taken by the two initiatives. Can civil society play a role in reconciling these contradictions and involving ordinary Africans in the AU-NEPAD process?

The European Union appears to serve as a model for the new AU, which will aim to fight poverty and establish a regime of human rights and government by law, citizen participation and accountability. There are plans for a single currency, a common African market and even a peace, security and cooperation council.

While the AU aspires to build political unity and solidarity among African states and peoples, NEPAD appears to give priority to building ‘partnership’ with external donors. Its promoters have declared that it provides a framework for bringing about the structural transformation of African economies. The NEPAD document describes Africa’s unacceptable marginalized position in today’s world economy and puts forward a programme of action.[1] While NEPAD apparently aspires to mobilize domestic finance, it expects the bulk of the finance to come from the outside.[2]

Although NEPAD is not mentioned in the AU constitutive Act, it was clearly stated at the Durban founding meeting of the AU that NEPAD is the economic programme of the AU and not a rival to it. But the question remains: will NEPAD facilitate or undermine the AU’s ambition to strengthen the unity and solidarity of African states and peoples?

Contradictions within NEPAD

Can civil society play a role in providing oversight of the AU and NEPAD and reconciling the contradictions between the two? And can it provide a conduit for popular participation in African integration and transformation?

To date prominent civil society groups have not blessed the AU-NEPAD process. ‘We do not accept NEPAD. Another Africa is Possible!’ Thus begins the recently drafted African Civil Society Declaration on NEPAD, issued at a meeting of African civil society organizations in Port Shepstone, South Africa, 4-8 July 2002.

Civil society groups have concentrated on the contradictions, especially in the NEPAD document. The Declaration takes to task the authors of NEPAD for calling for self-reliance while relying on external finance and support. It accuses the ‘new international partnership’ initiative of ignoring past and existing efforts by Africans to resolve Africa’s crises and move forward,[3] describing NEPAD as ‘a top-down programme driven by African elites and drawn up with the corporate forces and institutional instruments of globalization, rather than being based on African peoples’ experiences, knowledge and demands’.

Involving civil society

What will be needed to bring about constructive civil society involvement in the AU-NEPAD process? First, there should be a recognition of the need to build strong states along with strong civil societies and strong markets. This three-pronged approach is in many ways more important than the partnership between donors and the club or herd of post-colonial states huddled as a trade union in the AU.

Even more vital is that the main beneficiaries of the new approach should be the underdogs – what Fanon called in his book ‘the Wretched of the Earth’. Efforts to date to give prominence and voice to Africa’s ordinary people (see note 3) have made little real difference. If we are to go beyond the rhetoric, we must engage civil society with the AU-NEPAD process. This is partly because there is no transnational civil society capable of exerting a positive influence to change the unacceptable conditions that the majority of Africans live in.

There is thus a clear role for a pan-African or trans-African civil society to represent and remind others of issues relevant to ordinary people and to advance their interests and help change their conditions. If civil society cannot speak for the voiceless, the AU-NEPAD process will become elite-driven as usual. To make a fresh start, we must enlist civil society as a marriage broker between the elite (which has often shunned the people) and the ordinary people. With civil society engagement, NEPAD and the AU can be like 2+2=5. Without it, it will be 2+2=3. What is needed is the political will to explore new institutional avenues to enrol civil society actively in this post-colonial and post-apartheid phase of African history.

  1. The priority areas are agriculture, the private business sector, infrastructure and regional integration.
  2. The figure of US$64 billion for the year 2002 was flaunted at the G8 meeting in Canada – an expectation that seems unrealistic in view of the G8’s greater interest in good governance than in dishing out the cash.
  3. For example, the Lagos Plan of Action (1980), the Abuja Treaty (1991), the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes (AAF-SAAP, 1989), the African Charter for Popular Participation and Development (Arusha Charter, 1990) and the Cairo Agenda (1994).

Mammo Muchie has been a professor of development theory and international relations at Aalborg University, Denmark. He is now at the Business School, Middlesex University, London. He can be contacted at mammo1@mdx.ac.uk

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