Conceptualising African regionalism in the context of pan-Africanism
African regionalism has its philosophical roots in pan-Africanism. It developed from a somewhat African consensus that Africans and those of African ancestry must unite to address the common socioeconomic and political problems that confront African people. Pan-Africanism embodies the ideal of a united continent where Africa and people of African ancestry can dwell. Pan-Africanist philosophy developed in the mid-19th century all through the early 20th century to contemporary times from the intellectual, cultural and political engagements of early pan-Africanist thinkers such as Martin Delany, Alexander Crummel, Edward Blyden, William Edward Burghardt Dubois and many others. The intellectual, political and cultural activism of these early pan-Africanists inspired many pan-African movements that later emerged on the African continent.
Although many of the pan-Africanist personalities were from outside Africa and drew many of their ideas from Black diaspora experiences, particularly from African-American culture, an exchange of ideas about Africa and its people burgeoned for many years, involving pan-Africanist activists from outside the continent and those from within. The cross-cultivation of ideas culminated in the Fifth Pan-African Congress convened in Manchester in 1945 in which pan-Africanists from Africa were represented. These African delegates such as Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Jomo Kenyatta would become prominent leaders in different African liberation movements.
In many ways, the modern pan-African project of a united, politically liberated and economically prosperous Africa was birthed at the 1945 Manchester
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Conference. The nationalism it engendered contributed to the decolonisation of Africa (Adi & Sherwood, 1995). Many of the ideals of pan-Africanism were institutionalised in the form of liberation/decolonisation movements across Africa aimed at achieving independence for African nations and promoting unity among Africans and African diaspora.
Pan-Africanism was a political instrument crested on the notion that by bonding, Africa could muster sufficient political force towards emancipation from colonialism on the African continent. Though this view was traditionally the most dominant element of pan-Africanism, the ideology equally had some discernible economic basis. Fosu (1999, p. 8) described it as ‘macroeconomic pan-Africanism’, whereby advocates promoted an economic concept that called on African people everywhere to pull resources together to create an economic force to promote mutual interest. It encouraged Africans (Blacks) to engage in economic exchanges primarily within the Black community while advocating trade among African nations on the African continent to stimulate creative capacities and maximise the multiplier effect of economic cooperation.
African regionalism developed from these pan-Africanism ideals and the conviction that unity is crucial to common political and socioeconomic progress of Africans and Diaspora Africans. The idea of regionalism that developed was first linked to decolonisation and then the quest to promote economic prosperity in the emergent independent African states (Soderbaum, 2015). The post-independence African leaders also recognised the fragmented nature of most African states and that, acting individually, these states would be unable to achieve economic viability and even political stability. Thus, integration was viewed as the most viable means towards collective development and stability and making Africa relevant in the international system.
However, after many decades of regionalism in Africa, the continent continues to struggle to catch up with other regions in virtually all spheres of development. Africa continues to experience weak economic performances; even where recent quantitative data has shown improved growth rates in some African states, these have not translated into meaningful economic development (Bee-gle et al., 2016). Additionally, perennial violence, political instability, institutional fragility and poverty remain the defining features of Africa. While there are other contributory factors to the problematic situation of Africa, its leaders share part of the blame for failing to advance nation-building and allowing self-interests and micro-nationalistic tendencies to undercut the aspiration of continental unity (Olivier, 2010). Thus, regional integration efforts so far have produced nothing more than a modest level of intergovernmental cooperation (AU Audit Report, 2007) that is nowhere near the fundamental aspirations of pan-Africanism.
The absence of genuine African unity relates to the challenge of defining Africa itself. Despite the historical pervasiveness of pan-Africanism, its relevance to successful regional integration in Africa remains debatable, based on the argument that, essentially, Africa lacks a congruent sociocultural imaginary in its identity construct (Eze, 2013). The lack of sociocultural homogeneity manifests in the crisis of nation-building, fratricidal conflicts, xenophobic attacks and other formsof civil conflicts. There is also the subjective reception of Blacks in parts of North Africa where the Black person is considered an abeed (slave). Thus, where there appears to be a non-homogenous sociocultural and geopolitical Africa, to what extent can the concept of African regionalism be inspired by pan-Africanism? Nevertheless, pan-Africanism remains the philosophical root of African regionalism, but the importance of institutionalising its ideals has often been trounced by other political and economic considerations particularly at the individual state level (AU Audit Report, 2007). The AU recognised these limitations in its observation that domestic dysfunctionalities, and sometimes, efforts to promote narrow interests have impacted on the commitment of many African governments to the imperative of regional integration and continental unity (AU Audit Report, 2007, para. 32).