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  • African integration and civil society:the case of the African Union
  • Mammo Muchie (bio), Adam Habib (bio), and Vishnu Padayachee (bio)

The future of Africa, the modernisation of Africa that has a place in the 21st century is linked up with its decolonisation and detribalisation. Tribal atavism would be giving up any hope for Africa. And of all the sins that Africa can commit, the sin of despair would be the most unforgivable … My generation led Africa to political freedom. The current generation of leaders and the peoples of Africa must pick up the flickering torch of freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination and carry it forward.

(Julius Nyerere, New African, January, 2000)


For nearly forty years African integration was the exclusive domain of the political elites that occupied high office in Africa's post-colonial states. To the extent that it occurred, these elites tried to pursue policies of regional co-operation as a means of integration ostensibly to achieve the double aim of social and economic development and a reduction of dependency on the metropolitan countries. 'When Pan-Africanists signed the charter of the [Organisation for African Unity] in Addis Ababa, what they had in mind was the liberation of the continent from colonialism and apartheid —so far the only elements of consensus' (Pondi 2001:1). The rhetorical commitment at the annual and rather ritualistic meetings of the OAU to end all vestiges of colonialism, to promote African unity, and oppose South Africa's apartheid state, continued over a period which saw many heads of states and governments forcibly removed from office, often superceded by those even less committed to national development, reducing dependency and deepening democracy within their nations.

Claude Ake has observed in this context that 'most African regimes have been so alienated and so violently repressive that their citizens see the state [End Page 3] and its development agents as enemies to be evaded, cheated and defeated if possible, but never as partners' (Ake 1991:13).

Beyond an effort to express a collective voice in support of the broader African struggle to be freed from racialism and colonialism, the OAU cannot be said to have reached a threshold of integration that can meaningfully co-ordinate external and internal political, economic and social policies to promote credible and sustainable institutions for democracy and national development.

At a meeting of African Heads of States in Durban, South Africa, on July 9, 2002, the OAU was replaced by the African Union (AU). Rather than continuing the dominant state-centered process of integration, the AU has written into its Constitutive Act a commitment to transform itself into a people-centered organ. The vehicle of this transformation is envisaged to be the active participation of civil society. The move from a state-centered to a people-centered or civil society-activated integration process raises critical issues such as how state-society relations can be reconceptualised and reconfigured.

In one sense, the formation of the AU has opened a Pandora's box that had been tightly closed under the OAU. While the AU has opened the space for civil society to participate in shaping what is yet to be forged as a people-centered AU, it leaves many questions about the nature of the partnership and power relations unanswered: what exactly is the nature of the participation by civil society? Is this merely an invitation to civil society to inform decision makers and raise issues for the agenda without full participation in the shaping of AU institutions and the making of a tangible contribution? How substantive is the envisaged participation? What kind of civil society participation do state officials and the civil society actors envisage? Will the AU foster a new civil society and state relationship?

Our central thesis here is that Africa's integration agenda should be cast on rather different foundations to those of other cases. We argue that civic participation should be an integral component of Africa's integration agenda and, encouragingly, the AU has distinguished itself from its predecessor by explicitly committing itself to a people-centred and participative programme. It has institutionalised this through the establishment of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council...


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pp. 3-24
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