A look into how federalism can help African states gain positive sovereignty and become the real masters of their destiny.

Federalism and the Sovereignty of the African States

“A federated state involves a real surrender of sovereignty; it is an irreversible structure that has nothing in common with the transitory economic groupings that have proliferated since independence”[1]

 “It is quite obvious that integrated continental planning cannot find a substitute in the kind of tinkering that limits us to inter-territorial associations within custom unions, trade agreements, inter-communications services and the like”[2]

 “Weddi, gis bokkuci” is in Wolof, the language spoken by the majority of the people of Senegal, a saying that can be translated as follows: the capacity to deny stops when the facts are bare and can be seen by anyone who would care to open their eyes. Almost fifty years after the first waves of independence have passed through their continent; Africans are still having a hard time finding a credible path that can lead them to Renaissance.  The failed economies that once looked promising; the civil wars and preventable pandemics diseases that have claimed the lives of millions; the national debts that have become an unbearable burden for the majority of African countries despite their relative insignificance compared to the debt burden of many other nations,[3] and the threats posed today by globalization to many of the African cultures are facts that stand as undeniable proof to the prognostication of Dr Nkrumah. It is nowadays hard to find people, even within the ranks of those who were his most unyielding adversaries, who would fail to recognize that he was right when he said, “Only a strong political union can bring about full and effective development of our natural resources for the benefit of our people”[4]

 The urgent need for a federalist rearrangement of the political map of the continent is now a “self evident truth” to the overwhelming majority of Africans and friends of Africa. One of the first steps towards a federated Africa is the acceptance, by the African states, to surrender or share portions of their sovereignty with a federal authority.  But despite the fact that most of them have displayed serious shortcomings in their capacity to effectively manage their sovereignty throughout the post independence era, convincing them to take this step is a daunting task.

Many solutions have been tried to get African Countries out of their chronic fiscal deficit but these solutions have failed because they were addressing the symptoms of their illness instead of its main cause.  The size of the African states or the manner in which they were born, Nigeria and South Africa to only name a couple, have made them non-viable stand alone unit.  The obvious deficit in their wherewithal to implement polices that they coin (negative sovereignty) is a major impediment to their capacity to develop. The search for a positive sovereignty status is what had forced the 13th American colonies to adopt a federalist compact. The stubborn facts have proven that unless the African countries unite politically and create a positive sovereignty that will be under the control of African people, imperialism, neo-colonialism will continue to be the form of their relationship with the main players on the international scene.    

 For our generation to succeed where others have seen their efforts frustrated, we need to understand that the task before us has three prongs of equal importance.

-               Finding a balanced way power can be shared between federal, state and local authorities.

-               Devising a potent strategy that can help bring the right people to the negotiating table. This will increase the chances for successful negotiations on power sharing.

-               Proposing legal guardrails that will prevent the power sharers from violating each others’ space. This will give assurance to states and local communities that their identity will be protected. It will help soften their reluctance to the surrender or the acceptance to share portions of their sovereignty.

 The difficulties that were encountered in the past by Nkrumah and those that are being encountered today by Qaddafi show that shouldering this task is a challenging undertaking. There is every reason to believe that the efforts of the federalists will continue to be frustrated unless the real obstacles to the acceptance by the states to surrender or share portions of their national sovereignty are properly dealt with.  Among these obstacles are:

-               The political leaders’ resistance to what they perceive as being a dispossession of the main tool in leveraging power that they have at their disposal for either paying back their supporters or keeping their cronies faithful.  What can they be offered in exchange is a question we must answer.

-               The Jacobin “power sharing” mindset, exhibited by many within the African ruling class, will not be very receptive to a federalist arrangement where all three levels of power, Federal, State and Local, must learn to respect each other’s authority. How can we ease the minds of these leaders and help them overcome the fear of losing their power and/or aura?

-               The legacy of colonialism to Africa is some 50 States that were created for the sake of facilitating colonial rule.  Groups that did not share a common political past and therefore did not create some sort of equilibrium that could allow them to live peacefully side by side were forced to share an identity that meant nothing for either of them. To this day, nation building still remains one of the prime occupations of the political leadership of the continent.  Helping consolidate the main building blocks of the federal entity is a necessary task that the future federal government will have to tackle. There is no doubt that this will prove to be challenging. How does one concomitantly consolidate these national characters while building the federal one is a question before us? 

-               The strong grip that most ruling parties have on their people will not facilitate the free participation of the African masses, the real owners of the national sovereignty, in the negotiations for the surrender or the sharing of portions of this property that is theirs. Alexander Hamilton and the New York federalists were able to get around an extremely popular Governor Clinton, who was a resolute anti-federalist, because, contrary to what we have today in most African countries, decision making was not centrifugal.  How do we intend to get around this formidable obstacle?

************ The full Version of the Paper is at the page "Why Federalism===


[1] Cheikh Anta Diop, Black Africa: the Economic and Cultural basis for a federated State” Forwards to the English edition

[2] Kwame Nkrumah, African Must Unite, International publisher New York, page 171.

[3] The continent’s debt ratio over per capita GDP,31.18%, is  only higher than the Chinese 22% and Russian 8%; CIA Worldfacts book, 2007

[4] Kwame Nkrumah, I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology, London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1961, pp. xi-xiv

[5] The Nigerian population is 15% of the Continent’s population; Source CIA Worldfacts Book 2007.

[6] The South African GDP represents 23% of the Total GDP of the Continent; Source CIA World Facts Book 2007