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  • Civil society and African integration:the challenge of incorporating the African diaspora
  • Paul Opuku-Mensah (bio)

A change to the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) in February 2003 to include the participation of the African diaspora in the activities of the AU has restored the crucial role of the African diaspora in the processes of integration. While this change fell short of formally recognising the diaspora as the sixth region of the AU, it does nonetheless provide the legal backing and practical expression to the historical need to link the continent to its diaspora, and adds a sense of urgency to organised efforts to develop a durable partnership between Africa and its diaspora. In another sense, the AU's decision can be regarded as a needed corrective to what might legitimately be described as a historical injustice given that the African diaspora was the original source of the inspiration for the integration project but was completely left out by the OAU. Irrespective of how one interprets this action of the AU, one thing is clear. It has given practical expression and momentum to the need to develop mutually beneficial and functional linkages between Africa and its diaspora, as an integral part of the process of integration.

This, in turn, has led to the development of a number of important initiatives at the political level that serve to further institutionalise African diaspora relations, including:

  1. i. The amending of the Constitutive Act to include Article 3q that calls for the participation of the diaspora in the activities of the AU

  2. ii. The establishment of the Western Hemisphere African Diaspora Network (WHADN), the brainchild and outcome of the AU Western Hemisphere African Diaspora Forum held in Washington DC between December 17-19, 2002 [End Page 25]

  3. iii. The AU technical meeting on relations with the diaspora, held in Trinidad and Tobago between June 2-4, 2004

  4. iv. The First Conference of Intellectuals of Africa and the Diaspora organised by the AU in October 2004, and a number of other initiatives.

While these are welcome developments, they also do raise questions relating to the diaspora and its relations to the integration project. How can the African diaspora effectively play a meaningful role in the African integration project? This paper argues that the fuzziness of the diaspora concept, and the diversity of the African diaspora experience, makes it problematic to incorporate the diaspora at the level of the formal political structures of the AU. A more sustainable basis for linking the African diaspora is within the framework of an alternative people-centred conception of African integration that focuses on civil society and African integration. That is, a conception that focuses on the integration of, and strengthened links between, African civil society institutions, and diaspora institutions. Using the African academy as an example, this paper outlines a framework for such civil society linkages.

The paper is structured as follows: following the introduction is a brief overview of the debates on the African diaspora, focusing on its definition and profile. This is followed by a discussion of the historical and functional arguments for incorporating the diaspora into the African integration project in general, and the AU in particular. The next section discusses the current attempts by the AU to secure the participation of the diaspora in the integration project. Arguing that the formal political structures of the AU are inadequate for this participation of the diaspora, the section proposes an alternative, civil society, conception of African integration that provides a sustainable basis for incorporating the diaspora. Within this conception, the focus is on the integration of African peoples and their organisations rather than the integration of formal political institutions. Using the case of the African academy —as an institution of civil society —the paper then discusses the modalities through which the African diaspora can be incorporated into the African integration project. Specifically the paper outlines a conceptual framework for incorporating the African diaspora into the African academy that has two dimensions, firstly, the level where the diaspora is incorporated as a unit of analysis in continental higher education institutions. That is, the level at which the roles of the African diaspora and its issues are...


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pp. 25-39
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