What is the key cause of conflicts and underdevelopment in Africa? Michael Amoah makes a bold argument in his recent book: The New Pan-Africanism: Globalism and the Nation State in Africa (I B Tauris, 2019) that prolonged presidencies in Africa are the root cause – and he explains what can be done about it.
The book,The New Pan-Africanism: Globalism and the Nation State in Africa (I B Tauris, 2019) asserts that it would be impossible for conflicts to cease in Africa if extensions to presidential term limits continued. I preface that the central theme of this book is how extended periods of rule by particular African heads of state have either precipitated or contributed to conflict or political crises in their respective countries, generating attention and resolutions from the international institutions of global governance. The book briefs on how heads of state from 18 African countries extended their terms of office by ‘constitutional fiddling’ and political maneuvering, and dives deep into recent case studies such as Libya, Burkina Faso, CAR, Burundi, DRC, Mali, South Sudan and Rwanda.
Economic impact of conflict
Conflicts dissipate natural and human resources, generate human suffering and displacement, and interfere with institution building, all of which prohibit the right developmental space to achieve progress. The economic costs of violence in purchasing power parity terms for 2017 alone were: $17,715,900,000 for Libya; $11,255,200,000 for South Sudan; $5,512,900,000 for DRC; $4,484,500,000 for Mali; $1,215,900,000 for the CAR; and $1,116,100,000 for Burundi, according to the Global Peace Index 2018. Even for Rwanda that touts recent economic strides and recovery from the 1994 genocide, the economic costs of a conflict over two decades ago, calculated its impact in 2017 as £2,004,700,000, exceeding those of Burundi and CAR.
The message is clear that the negative impacts of conflicts can linger on for many years. These billions of dollars could be each nation’s development financing had there not been conflict. Yet, as the repercussions unfold, we have more ticking time bombs such as Cameroon, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Algeria, Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville, as if the continent is either oblivious of the causes of conflict or wantonly excels in generating conflict. I have previously debated on the sheer number of conflicts and ticking time bombs in Al Jazeera’s Inside Story: Is the African Union still needed?.
The New Pan-Africanism and the African Union
The AU tries to resolve crisis or conflict, and approaches each depending on the personalities in question, the factors at play and the issues at stake. Hence my book defines The New Pan-Africanism as Africa’s answer to the systems and institutions of global governance when it comes to handling African crises, which for a working definition, could be put simply as pragmatic doses of case-by-case solutions to real-time African problems, taking into account the live geopolitical issues, the wider context of international politics and lessons from the historical context.
Since publication on 31 January, I have participated in another Al Jazeera Inside Story debate captioned: Can the African Union solve the continent’s refugee crisis?. The timeliness of this discussion on human displacement is perfect, as the AU had declared 2019 The year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons: Towards durable solutions to forced displacement in Africa. In the debate, I reinforced my essential argument, that extended presidential terms constituted the key cause of human displacement.
Pan-Africanism may still be in vogue because the solidarity of people of African descent objective, and the notion of collective self-reliance, remain aspirational in the now as was before. But, the New Pan-Africanism argues that the AU which is the political seat of the global Pan-Africanist Movement is going nowhere progressive unless Africa deals with this issue of prolonged presidencies.
The relationship between the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government which is the top tier of AU leadership and the AU Commission (AUC) is as a boss and secretariat respectively, whereby the latter takes instructions from the former.
As concerned as the AUC and the AU’s Peace and Security Council might be regarding presidential extensionism, the presidential club is currently in the way. Ever since former president Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali chaired the AUC from 2003 to 2008 and was seen to challenge the sitting heads of state, the AU decided never to appoint a former president to chair the AUC. As insurmountable as the conundrum of the AU’s structure might seem, there is a conversation that the continent must have in order to move things forward towards the solution of a reformed AU structure that is fit for the purpose of apprehending extended presidentialisms. Unless Africa deals with this thing, the continent is going nowhere. Therefore, the continent’s leadership must be confronted with this conversation.
On 27 February 2019, the AU held an open debate with the UN Security Council on Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020, during which the AU said it looked forward to the UN’s views on how this 2014 initiative could achieved by 2020. Suffice to say that unless presidential extensionism is addressed, there are a few more ticking time bombs awaiting their turn to explode and augment the existing number of conflicts, and generate further crises for the UN or institutions of global governance in this era of globalism, and for the AU itself.
In the conversation on how to address presidential extensionisms, I suggest that the AU must as a matter of urgency, set up a regulatory or technocratic body over and above the heads of state, with mandatory powers to over-ride the presidential club and deal with extensions to presidential term limits. The regulatory framework could be tied to the Continental Early Warning System to make it an effective security measure. The suggestion of a superstructure facility to regulate presidential term limits would be highly provocative to the presidential club, but at least the conversation has begun. Exactly how this system will materialize is unknown at this point, but this is a conversation that the continent as a whole must have, in order to address the key cause of conflict.
Michael Amoah, Visiting Fellow, Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa, London School of Economics and Political Science.