The New Pan-Africanism: Globalism and the Nation State in Africa

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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.

4 thoughts on “The New Pan-Africanism: Globalism and the Nation State in Africa

  1. I agree with you on ‘presidential extensionisms.’ However, I have doubts about your analysis respecting AU’s ability to address ‘presidential extensionisms’ and other things besides. I think the real issue in Africa is: We blow it when we had a chance at independence. In the Latin, it is said “opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald; if you seize her by the forelock you may hold her, but, if suffered to escape, not Jupiter himself can catch her again”. Having lost our chance at independence, I very much doubt Africa will have a second chance. It is a point I make eloquently in my blogpost, ‘Bloody Independence – we wuz robbed! – Part 1.’ In a follow up blogpost, namely, ‘Bloody Independence – we wuz robbed! – Part 2,’ I venture to propose possible solutions. The AU does not feature very much in any of the possible solutions. But the door is left ajar in the hopes that some day in the future, perhaps the AU will surprise us all and rise to the challenge of discovering African solutions to African problems. It is my sincere prayer…

    1. I agree with you too Stephen on presidential extensionisms and the doubts about the AU rising up to deal with it. We can put pressure on the AU to surprise us. That is part of the conversation the continent should be having with the AU. One other African solution which occurred to me after the book and the blog, is for the AU o go back to appointing a credible past head of state to chair the AU Commission, to commence in 2022 when the current chair leaves office. A caucus of the few credible heads of state who have not exceeded term limits could be formed to push this agenda, so that a revised AUC steered by this caucus could address extensionisms, if setting up a new “regime” over their heads might seem difficult to implement for now. But hey, this is just one of many strands to the conversation which the whole continent must take to the AU and confront them with.

  2. This is an Interesting debate concerning presidential extensionism and what can be done about it to avert the rooming conflicts in our midst that often follow along with it. I agree with you in that this is part of the problem but disagree with you to some extent. In my opinion, presidential extensionism itself tend to be part of the bigger problem of ‘narrowing of political space’ by means of the gun.

    Here in Uganda, we have had one president for the last 33yrs! and still counting. You rightly categorised my country as a ‘ticking time bomb’. There is more constriction of various freedoms and fundamental rights, especially for those in “opposition”, gradual judicial system corrupse, more military involvement in politics and of course all the other evils of impunity, corruption and nepotism. We are indeed a good case study for this phenomenon.

    For sure, the situation here in Uganda is not so different from that of our brothers in Zimbabwe, even if the president in Zim is a relatively new one on stage. Nonetheless, Zim exhibits the features of similar ‘seizure of power’ by the military supported by a fraudulent false democratic process, and a look at a combinaction of the two scenarios is so revealing.

    In my view, the Presidential extensionsim phenomena is a symptom of a bigger problem of “militarisation for power”, which is really an old fashioned revolutionary notion whereby those in power use it in pursuit of their interests claiming to champion the values of their parties or revolution.

    Lift of terms limit and presidential extensionism seem to be part of a wider scheme, rather than the major event. Militarisation of power is often covered up with a deceptive or mock democratic process in form of an election, and often facilitated by failure of institutions of governance such as the judiciary, electoral commission and police. You can as well call this “mass party dictatorship”, supported by a rogue unnationalised military junta. This is what we seem to see in most Africa states, in S. Sudan, DRC, Uganda, Rwanda, Libya etc

    In conclusion, it’s really hard to talk about this topic without mentioning about the role of the military and a state of failured institutions of state. Undoing this situation requires more soul searching on the root causes and home grown individualised solutions.

    1. Dawani, you make a very good point about the role of the military in shoring up some heads-of-state and dictating from behind the scenes or sometimes right upfront – current events in Algeria and Sudan speak for themselves, and it is amazing that the rise of ‘people power’ movements has managed to bring significant change to the status quo during this decade, once in Burkina Faso (2014), and now in Algeria and Sudan, albeit ongoing! Are we likely to see a ‘people power’ protest movement in Uganda that can unseat Museveni?

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