Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Rethinking a continent: From Nkrumah to Mbeki

The Kenyan political scientist, Ali Mazrui, was the intellectual father of the concept of Pax Africana in the 1960s. The idea is simple: Africans should, through their own efforts, consolidate, establish and enforce peace on their own continent. During the 1960s Ghana’s founding president, Kwame Nkrumah, proposed the idea of an African high command through which a continental army would be established to prevent external intervention and to undertake liberation wars.

But Nkrumah was unable to win the support of his fellow leaders for his visionary plan, as Cold War proxy wars spread across Africa.

In the post-Cold War era, United Nations debacles in Somalia and Rwanda led to the most powerful Western actors abandoning Africa to its own fate. The neglect of the continent forced regional actors such as the Organisation of African Unity — now the African Union — the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, many of them primarily economic organisations, to adopt security roles. However, these institutions remain weak, lacking financial and logistical means.

Amid these problems, some progress has been made in stemming some of Africa’s most intractable conflicts, largely through the efforts of regional peacekeepers. Nigeria led interventions into Liberia and Sierra Leone between 1990 and 1998. South Africa, the continent’s other potential hegemony, currently has peacekeepers in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But neither Pax Nigeriana nor Pax Pretoriana was able to establish durable peace in these countries. The UN’s return to Africa after 2000 to establish missions in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, was a clear sign of the continuing deficiencies of regional peacekeeping.

The increasing recognition of the link between bad governance and insecurity has led to the establishment by a group of African leaders of a New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), which seeks greater Western aid, investment and debt relief in exchange for an African self-monitored peer-review system of good governance.

South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, the chief architect and leading prophet of Nepad, can, in some ways, be regarded as this age’s Nkrumah. Future African griots (storytellers) will note that both were renaissance men: visionary intellectuals who were committed to a pan-Africanist vision for the continent. Where Nkrumah championed the ”African personality” in international affairs, Mbeki has championed the ”African renaissance” and ”African century”. Both headed dominant-party states. Both were pragmatists who first championed socialism but cut deals with capitalism.

But where Nkrumah favoured a more supranational African high command and talked of a United States of Africa, Mbeki’s vision is a more gradualist one that seeks to build a stronger AU but supports a less federal Africa than Nkrumah promoted. Mbeki’s idea of an African peacekeeping force is based on standby forces built around regional pillars. In some ways, the heir of Nkrumah’s pan-Africanist political and military vision is Libya’s mercurial Moammar Gadaffi, whose vision for an all-African army was, like Nkrumah’s, rejected by most African leaders.

While Nkrumah was distrusted by fellow African leaders who feared his radical rhetoric and support of assorted rebels, Mbeki has taken careful cognisance of South Africa’s inglorious military and mercantilist past under apartheid’s leaders in his dealings with his neighbours.

In the post-apartheid era, Pax Africana needs to be redefined to fit the needs of a new age. A new security architecture must be built around Africa’s regional bodies, its civil society actors, and the UN. It is encouraging that, unlike the OAU charter, the AU’s constitutive Act allows for interference in the internal affairs of member states in cases of unconstitutional changes of governments, genocide and conflicts that threaten regional stability.

African leaders have recently established a 15-member Peace and Security Council to allow more effective decisions on managing Africa’s conflicts. Although the idea is anathema to many Lilliputian states in Africa, a five-member council of permanent members needs to be created, which includes regional Gullivers such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, the DRC and Algeria. These states have the potential to be their sub-region’s most powerful military powers (though more time will clearly be needed to put the Congolese Humpty-Dumpty back together again) and should form a concert of African powers providing the bridgeheads for the AU’s stand-by peacekeeping force to be established by 2010.

In the area of governance, South Africa and Nigeria, which together account for about half of sub-Saharan Africa’s economic strength, must deepen their strategic partnership and provide the leadership that will drive Africa’s peer-review mechanism. Pretoria and Abuja must create an ”inner core” of states within the AU that can provide political and economic models for the continent. They must establish a peer-review mechanism that has some ”teeth” to bite offenders and not one that can be abused by tin-pot autocrats. Initiatives like Nepad, the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa and subregional governance protocols must be strengthened in pursuing this goal.

South Africa and Nigeria must also rally the support of other AU states to ensure that unconstitutional changes of regime are not recognised. African leaders shunned military regimes in Côte d’Ivoire and Comoros in 2000, and refused to deal with military putschists in Guinea-Bissau last year. The ”men on horseback”(the military) may still ride on to the national stage, but pressure must be mounted on them to return to their barracks and to hand power back to elected civilians.

At the global level, the 15-member UN Security Council must be radically reformed and its membership increased to 20.

In a reconstituted council, Britain and France must subsume their individual seats into a single seat consisting of a troika with Germany. Japan, the second largest contributor to the organisation after the US, should be offered a permanent seat. The rest of Europe outside the European Union troika should be offered an additional seat. Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean would also gain three additional seats. Africa would gain a permanent seat to add to its existing three, and this seat would rotate between South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria. With this reconstituted UN, Africa would have an enhanced presence at the top table of global diplomacy to ensure that its security concerns are taken more seriously and to prevent future Rwandas.

Finally, African leaders must organise a new Berlin conference on their own continent. The European conference of 1884/85 carved up Africa into territories that reflected the compromises of avaricious European imperialists rather than the political and economic interests of Africa. The curse of artificial borders has caused untold suffering in post-colonial Africa, and while the decision to freeze the map of Africa in the 1960s was wise in a sovereignty-obsessed era, Africa’s statesmen and women must now muster the ingenuity to negotiate new arrangements that better reflect African realities.

Federations and regional trade blocs must be negotiated and territorial concessions made that reflect better the cultural realities of a vast continent and help avoid future conflicts. After detailed planning, African leaders must proceed to the ancient empire of Ethiopia — the seat of African diplomacy — and reverse the scandalous act of cartographic mischief inflicted on the continent by European statesmen more than a century ago.

Dr Adekeye Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

South Africa’s mothballed ‘supermall-ification’ sets strip malls up for success

Analysts agree that the country has enough malls and that, post-Covid, the convenience of local centres lure customers

Mabuza’s Russian jaunts and the slippery consequences of medical tourism

For more than five years the deputy president has remained steadfast in his right to travel abroad to receive medical treatment

More top stories

Deputy president Mabuza begs Tshwane voters: ‘Don’t abandon the ANC’

Angry Atteridgeville residents hurl insults at ‘dysfunctional’ ANC full of ‘corrupt individuals’ as Mabuza fails to placate them with party T-shirts and doeks

Taxi operators clash with cops over disputed Route B97 in...

Three suspects remain in custody following their arrest on charges of attempted murder and assault after eight taxis were impounded

SA teens, you’re next in the queue for a vaccine...

Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 will be able to register to receive their Covid-19 jab from 20 October. This group will be given only one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, for now

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell dies aged 84

The 84-year-old died as a result of complications from Covid-19

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…