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  • Introduction:African integration and civil society
  • Vishnu Padayachee (bio), Adam Habib (bio), and Mammo Muchie (bio)

With the support of a grant from the Ford Foundation, the School of Development Studies and the Centre for Civil Society initiated in 2003 a continent-wide (research and graduate teaching) initiative on the role of civil society in the various current efforts to bring about greater African integration. The programme aimed to

  1. i. create and engage a trans-continental network of relevant scholars, students and institutions concerned with these issues;

  2. ii. construct an electronic archive and repository on Civil Society and African Integration;

  3. iii. work towards a flexible theoretical framework that can both guide and suggest needed research on the complex dynamics and multiple relationships of civil society and transnational integration;

  4. iv. initiate a collaborative (and integrative) multi-disciplinary doctoral degree programme on these issues of integration, development and civil society based at 4-6 universities across the major regions of the continent;

  5. v. produce a broad range of academic and policy publications - electronic and hard copy - on the diverse understandings, alternatives, mechanisms and modalities, values, limits, and consequences of civil society participation in the construction of an integrated Africa.

This special issue of Transformation forms part of way in which we intend to meet this last objective. The papers published here represent a small selection from the working papers presented and debated initially at the regional workshops in north, east and southern Africa, and (in revised form) at the final continent-wide gathering of scholars in Maputo in August 2004.

The grand integrative continental visions of the African Union, New Economic Policy for African Development, and the African Renaissance all explicitly call for the active, indeed essential, participation of "civil society". [End Page 1] Yet in all three instances, consultation, engagement with, and participation from civil society institutions have been uneven, limited, and in many cases and countries, effectively non-existent. The instinct and the rhetoric is undoubtedly correct; the various institutions and stakeholders that comprise "civil society", need to be engaged if these larger visions are to go beyond elite dreams and actually have concrete manifestations and benefits for the larger populations of African societies. But exactly how, in what ways, and in what domains, civil society can and should contribute most constructively and beneficially to continental integration are crucial theoretical, practical, and fundamentally political questions not yet adequately addressed.

There are numerous reasons why civil society leaders and organisations have so far rarely been consulted on proposals and programs for African integration. Perhaps most obvious is that these visions have largely emanated from the highest strata of political leadership, (almost entirely) men rooted in a world of partisan and international politics, inevitably concerned with maintaining power and generating wealth or development in their own particular settings. As such they may be oblivious to, or in serious tension or conflict with, many civil society institutions whose agendas are often directly critical of the state. Another problem has been the very grandness of the rhetoric; most people and organisations tend to work at a smaller and more concrete scale. Translating visions of an integrated and resurgent Africa into the daily reality of ordinary people, or domestically oriented institutions, has not been, and is not, easy. Yet another source of the difficulty has been the very copiousness of the concept, "civil society". In current usage it covers an enormous and extremely diverse (if not amorphous) array of institutions and organisations. Yet unless the stakeholders of civil society are indeed participate actively in the construction of these larger visions, in the programs and policies that flow from them, and in the benefits they are to produce, efforts such as the African Union, NEPAD and the African Renaissance may come to little more than large, expensive, and distracting conclaves of a small communities of Pan-African elites. [End Page 2]

Vishnu Padayachee

Vishnu Padayachee is Senior Professor at the School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.

Adam Habib

Adam Habib is Executive Director of the Programme on Governance and Democracy at the Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria.

Mammo Muchie

Mammo Muchie is Professor and Director of the Research Centre on Development and International...


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