From Unity to Union: The historical development of Africa’s regional security culture 



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4. How did these norms emerge?
The central tenets of Africa’s security culture emerged from four related sources. First, in the struggle against slavery and imperial oppression; second, in the discourses about African identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; third, in the specific debates over how best to pursue the objective of African unity and the establishment of the OAU; and fourth, in the process through which the newly independent African states gained membership into international society. These four developments involved consciousness-raising, strategic bargaining, and later the institutionalization of the fundamental norms of Africa’s security culture. During these periods the actors concerned engaged in prolonged processes of argumentation over the most appropriate forms of political conduct. Specifically, they articulated what Neta Crawford has described as ethical and identity arguments.54 The central norms were subsequently internalized with reference to the early statecraft of the OAU’s members. They were then refined in the crucible of post-colonial African international politics.
The ideological origins of Africa’s security culture lie in the discourses about African identity articulated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These coalesced around the three interrelated concepts of Pan-Africanism, négritude, and to a lesser extent the “African personality.”55
Arguably the most significant and enduring of these concepts was the ideology of Pan-Africanism. At its heart, this referred to the idea ‘that all Africans have a spiritual affinity with each other and that, having suffered together in the past, they must march together into a new and brighter future.’56 In short, ‘their common identity has been forged in the flames of their common suffering.’57 In large part that suffering took the form of the slave trade and colonial domination. As noted above, the first formal discussions of Pan-Africanism took place during the nineteenth century outside Africa (in the Caribbean, North America and Europe). The first Pan-African congress, for instance, was held in London in 1900. Few Africans participated until the fifth congress held in Manchester in 1945 (where approximately one-third of the delegates were African).58 It was not until 1958 that the first conference of (the then eight) independent African states was held in Accra, Ghana. Until then, figures in the African diaspora had played the crucial roles in developing the discourse of Pan-Africanism, particularly E.W. Blyden, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and George Padmore.
The Pan-African movement also gained a degree of support from another external source, namely Asia’s newly independent states. Having suffered similar forms of imperial oppression, the so-called ‘spirit of Bandung’ became an important rallying call in Africa and Asia after the 1955 conference in Bandung, Indonesia attended by 22 Asian and seven African states. As Ethiopia’s emperor Haile Selassie put it, Africans and Asians shared ‘a common background of colonialism, of exploitation, of discrimination, of oppression.’59
At around the same time, Pan-Africanism was being expounded by the first generation of independent African leaders, perhaps most notably Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere, the latter of whom saw African-nationalism as largely synonymous with Pan-Africanism.60 The primary problem as Nyerere saw it in 1963 was that although ‘a sentiment of ‘African-ness” existed, African unity remained ‘merely an emotion born of a history of colonialism and oppression.’61 As such it lacked a more positive expression and definition. The result was a great deal of infighting between different groups of African states over what African unity meant in practical terms and the purposes of the OAU (see below).
In an important sense, however, Pan-Africanism was founded upon two related myths. First, the idea of a precolonial period of African unity required what Rupert Emerson called ‘a reconstruction of history.’62 Second, Pan-Africanism implied ‘belief in the assumption that, once the affairs of the continent cease to be distorted by the machinations of the colonialist and neocolonialist, African states and peoples will live in harmony with each other.’63 It quickly became apparent that this was not the case. In addition, beyond bolstering the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, Pan-Africanism made little practical headway and failed to disrupt the post-colonial state system in Africa. In sum, the origins of Africa’s security culture lie in a commitment to the mythical ideal of Pan-African unity but this was not strong enough to disrupt the formation of a pluralist society of sovereign African states.
A second and related concept of négritude was developed in the early twentieth century. Among its chief proponents were Aimé Césaire and Léopold Senghor. In Senghor’s words, négritude referred to ‘the whole complex of civilised values – cultural, economic, social, and political – which characterize the black peoples, or, more precisely the Negro-African world.’64 In practice, this concept covered much the same ground as Pan-Africanism. The third concept of an “African personality” was most forcefully expressed by Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah but again, largely covered the same ideological ground as Pan-Africanism.
The other crucial factors in shaping the central norms of Africa’s security culture were the establishment of the OAU and the incorporation of Africa’s new states into international society. Founded 63 years after the first Pan-African congress on what became known as African liberation day, the OAU was born out of what Colin Legum described as ‘historic necessity and a welter of conflicting political ideas and interests.’65 The most important individual behind its establishment was Kwame Nkrumah.
As Haile Selassie noted at the time, the idea was to ‘create a single institution to which we will all belong, based on principles to which we all subscribe’.66 This was easier said than done, however. The first problem was how to find common ground between three distinct – and often competing – geopolitical currents that ran through Africa at the time, namely, Francophone, Anglophone and Arab.67 By the early 1960s, these three currents helped produce three major groups of African states, although the three blocs did not match any of the three currents perfectly. They were known as the Brazzaville, Casablanca and Monrovia blocs respectively, after the locations of their most significant meetings.68 The Brazzaville bloc proved to be rather short-lived and became a sub-set of the Monrovia group which stood opposed to the much smaller Casablanca group.
In the run-up to the negotiations establishing the OAU, the Monrovia and Casablanca groups argued about two main issues.69 First, over how to liberate Africa from European rule, the main bone of contention being whether or not to support the National Liberation Front’s (FLN) struggle against the French in Algeria. The second divisive issue was the territorial partition of the continent. There were squabbles over the cases of Somalia and Morocco-Mauritania but the most important case was the crisis unfolding in the Congo over, amongst other things, Katanga’s secession. By the time of the OAU negotiations, these and other less fundamental divisions had given rise to two competing visions of African unity.70 The first vision, dubbed the “United States of Africa” and championed by Nyerere, argued for a single continental government. The second vision, dubbed the “United Nations of Africa” won the day, however, and was exemplified by the creation of an organisation of newly independent sovereign states. Once the underlying vision was agreed, it fell to the Council of Ministers to create a Charter by cobbling the Casablanca Charter (1961), the Lagos Charter (1962) and an Ethiopian draft (similar to the Lagos Charter) together into one document. The end product was substantially the same as the Lagos Charter.71
As noted above, the OAU’s ‘articles of faith’ were set out in Article 3. Four norms in particular proved central to Africa’s security culture. First, imperialism was identified as the principal obstacle to African unity. This sentiment was eloquently summarised by Haile Selassie at the summit of African Heads of States in Addis Ababa in May 1963: ‘The nations of Africa, as is true of every continent of the world, from time to time dispute among themselves. These quarrels must be confined to this continent and quarantined from the contamination of non-African interference.’72 During the Cold War this led many African states to be sceptical of involving the UN Security Council in the continent’s affairs for fear of drawing in the superpowers and colonial powers.73 Nigeria, for example, was keen for the OAU to play a role in conflict resolution in part because it feared referring African issues to the UN would simply allow extra-African issues, most notably the Cold War, to complicate them.74
Second, was the idea of sovereign equality. This led directly to the emphasis given to achieving agreement by consensus in African diplomacy. As Colin Legum observed, ‘consensus politics is, in fact, a crucial aspect of the ‘African way of doing things’, and finds its highest expression in the way the OAU conducts its business.’75
Third, in line with the UN Charter and the idea of sovereign equality, the OAU institutionalised the norm of non-intervention. This was done not only out of fear of European imperialism but also partly out of the desire of larger members of the OAU to allay the fears of smaller ones that they would not use their strength to prevail in such matters as frontier disputes.76 In Nyerere’s words, this norm meant ‘that we must avoid judging each other’s internal policies, recognising that each country has special problems’.77
Fourth, the OAU decided to enshrine the principle of uti possidetis thereby accepting the legacy of arbitrary political borders drawn up to serve the interests of the colonial powers. Although this quickly became a central tenet of Africa’s security culture it was not always clear that this would be the case. For example, one of the resolutions of the first All-African People’s Conference in Accra in December 1958 stated the conference ‘denounces artificial frontiers drawn by imperialist powers to divide the peoples of Africa, particularly those which cut across ethnic groups and divide people of the same stock; calls for the abolition or adjustment of such frontiers at an early date; [and] calls upon the independent states of Africa to support a permanent solution to this problem founded upon the wishes of the people.’78 In contrast, just five years later, arguments about the negative consequences of fundamentally re-drawing Africa’s political boundaries won the day.
Other norms underpinning Africa’s security culture were internalised in the crucible of the early statecraft of the OAU’s members. During this formative period the OAU’s roles as an independent organisation were primarily that of mediator, conciliator and arbitrator in a series of disputes. It was, however, rather selective in its focus. Most notably perhaps it studiously ignored the severe problems of Burundi’s so-called ‘double genocide’ and the rebellion in southern Sudan.79 As a result, one contemporary observer was ‘left to conclude that the OAU has been significantly effective in only two ways: first, by providing a forum for Africans to engage in colloquy and develop their image of ‘Africanness’; and secondly, by providing the media for the settlement of several internal disputes’.80 It is precisely in the first way that the OAU proved the crucial forum in which the norms of Africa’s security culture were internalised.
Some practical developments also helped Africa’s security culture to develop. First and foremost perhaps, many nationalist elites in both Anglophone and Francophone Africa received similar education in their respective metropoles and often developed close personal ties with other African elites. For instance, as Onyeonoro Kamanu noted, the delegates at the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester reads like a somewhat later Who’s Who of political leaders.81 It was, he claimed, evidence of ‘a trans-territorial nationalist elite sub-culture.’82 This elite culture was also enhanced by the style of Africa’s summit diplomacy. At the OAU summits, for example, Heads of State often stayed in the same hotel and most of the gatherings and meetings were closed to the press. As a result, a culture of private and extremely personalised diplomacy developed within this club of statesmen.83
Not surprisingly therefore, the process of norm internalisation revolved around the items high-up the OAU’s early agenda. These included the kidnapping of diplomats, a variety of territorial disputes between OAU members, (some) internal conflicts, and the issue of subversion, that is, where one member charged that a member state had encouraged subversive activities directed against the government of another.84 The issue of internal conflicts was particularly significant (and divisive). Once again it was the Congo crisis that had the most immediate and important consequences in relation to the non-intervention norm. Despite being born during Congo’s crisis, the OAU was tarnished (perhaps unfairly) from the outset by its inability to resolve it. One noticeable effect was that after the Congo’s crisis the OAU’s members became decidedly wary of involving themselves in members’ internal affairs. As a direct consequence, as David Meyers noted, ‘When a few African leaders tried to get the long, very highly intense Sudanese civil war onto the OAU agenda, they found little support following a Sudanese announcement that it did not wish such discussion.’85 This suggests that the reluctance of OAU member states to get involved in internal conflicts was not a natural African trait but rather a reluctance borne of painful experiences in one particular crisis. By the time of the Biafran war (1967-70), the OAU became involved only inasmuch as it supported the federal government’s position. Yet despite the norms of non-intervention and uti possidetis four African states (Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Tanzania and Zambia) recognised and aided Biafra.


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