Inventing the Multination
The United States of Africa remains a constant theme – the great dream cherished from the earliest days of Pan-Africanism.
For many political leaders, the failure of the post-colonial state is the root cause of the marginalisation and upsurge in violence that is plunging whole swathes of Africa into chaos.
They also think the failure is the source of the dramatic rise in poverty that now threatens the survival of tens of thousands of people. It is destroying what remains of social cohesion, and leaving the way open to the terrifying pandemics of AIDS and malaria.
Meantime managers are unemployed, have left the country or are closeted away in a bankrupt civil service, wasting the hard-won knowledge they acquired from western schooling.
But the purveyors of this gloomy analysis rarely raise the possibility of a new state model based on African traditions.
Yet that is the absolute prerequisite if Africa is to emerge from the crisis, and it is the only chance of meeting the challenges of globalisation.
Unless new life is injected into it, the concept of a United States of Africa will remain an empty shell. Africa will not have genuine constitutional states or sustainable development – never mind the intellectual revival and resolve it so desperately needs.
The failure of the post-colonial state reflects a questioning of the will to co-exist, and a loss of purpose and direction.
The nations (or ethnic groups) are in fundamental disagreement about the community’s basic values.
How are we to define a free society, authority that is properly conferred and shared, and law that seems to come naturally? State and society seem to have been in conflict ever since Africa’s plurinational societies saw their own model destroyed to make way for an enforced Western caricature.
Although colonial domination disrupted the process of state building, African societies remain plurinational by nature.
The pre-colonial nations – that marked out the identities of these multinational states – survived: even though they were parcelled out and often dispersed among several states, it was not impossible to reforge a societal link.
An unexpected consequence of the crisis in the nation-state is that the concept of nation is no longer shackled by the law or by revolutionary mystique.
The break-up of the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia, the separation between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Tutsi genocide and the chaos in Somalia are all proof of that.
From now on, it will be possible to distinguish between the legal nation – “state” – and the sociological nation – “ethnic group”.
The sociological nation is founded on shared traits (language, blood ties, religion and a common history) and an evident desire to live together. It is the bedrock of nationality of origin. But the post-colonial state merely notes its existence, having no historical or administrative memory of the people and countries juxtaposed, simply because colonialism willed it so.
Reinstating these nations will make it possible to bring to an end the crisis of national consciousness and identity that is ravaging Africa, and will prevent political manipulation of disputes over nationality.
If the multinational state were established, the law would lay down that nationality is defined by consciousness and membership of a community of shared values (Akan, Mosi, Bamileke) and citizenship by consciousness and membership of a state (Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Cameroon).
This renaissance of the state can be rooted in Africanness.
Contrary to received wisdom, black Africa, like Europe, created its own model of multinational state and nation-ethnic group: the empires of Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Noupé, Ifé, Benin, Kanem-Bornou, the Congo, Monomopata and Zimbabwe date back to the African Middles Ages.
In those societies, the political element came before the state, although it is traditionally assumed to have developed with the advent of the nation-state.
In contrast to the nation-state, with its monopoly on legislation, the plurinational character of African societies led them to establish two legislative areas within the constitution of the multinational state.
The state is responsible for general legislation, and the national or ethnic area for specific legislation on land-ownership, inheritance, registration of births and deaths and so on.
An individual basks in genuine pluralism of law, depending on the area of law that is relevant, as well as the kind of activity he pursues in it and the status he claims.
African law must therefore be rescued from the non-law or “customary” law to which it has been relegated because colonialism made it mimic other systems, and pluralism of law must be restored.
The African Charter on Human Rights tried to reflect this special feature by including in its title the concept of “peoples’ rights”; but it failed to define the substance of those rights.
The post-colonial state has thus retained absolute sovereignty, and peoples have been deprived of their own means of subsistence: the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta, for instance, Nigeria’s oil-producing region, or the Dioula people of Casamance who are rebelling against the Senegalese state.
Furthermore, in this model of a multinational state, the rights of minorities cannot be enforced against the rights of the majority.
The state and the nations that make it up would have to respect the principles of equality and the right to be different, in order to achieve a common destiny.
In return, these nations automatically enjoy the same rights and duties based on “founder rights”, including the right to language, religion, culture and nationality. Consequently, the issue of minority rights is without political foundation in a multinational state.
A kind of integral federalism is thus emerging and, in it, power is allocated on the basis of a threefold federation of nations, citizens and localities. It operates on the premise that the state acts on behalf of several nations, scattered over a number of localities.
In that sense, authority and political action can be exercised rationally and effectively only if power is accorded first by reference to nations and citizens, and only then by territory. In fact, the tribal districts, communes and autonomous provinces are politically significant only because they are the cradles of the nations and citizens concerned – the founders of the political system.
A major new feature of integral federalism is the transformation of these sub-ethnic groups into jointly-managed political areas that channel a mix of peoples towards a shared destiny, so avoiding any form of ethnic cleansing.
The territorial federalism of the nation-state relies on the fundamental principle that since the nation is a single, indivisible entity, effective exercise of political authority depends on it being applied to the whole of the territory over which the population is dispersed. But integral federalism requires that power be structured according to the political division of the territory: into cantons, communes, federate state and so on.
More than just territory
A federation of localities implies moving beyond the European notion of “territory” and investing in the African concept of an area perceived as a framework for living.
It contains networks, forms of interchange and memories that bind people to their locality and their environment.
Often there is no correlation between political and socio-cultural area.
A new social pact is vital if the multinational state is to be founded on the dual consent of nations and citizens, thereby reconciling citizenship (individualism) and multinationality (community) as two sources of state legitimation.
This is the principle of multinationality.
Defined as the political area in which a new democratic pact is founded and mediated, it is legally binding on each of the nations and the state. Strict respect for equality and the right to be different pave the way to a common destiny. It is a different way of experiencing the state, in which political unity and national unity are not one and the same.
Thus defined, the multination mobilises two principles.
The first is that nations and citizens are doubly representative as separate entities and, the second is that sovereignty can be divided or shared: shared internally for the benefit of the nations and citizens, or externally for the benefit of the sovereign states.
Examples of that are the economic and political integration in the European Union or ECOWAS, and, in future, among the states of Southern Africa.
The multination means new political rights: the right to exist, to vote, to resist oppression, to ancestral lands, to a share in wealth and so on.
This process of “republicanising” traditional power uses a series of mechanisms to reconcile the traditional and the modern. The local tribal authority (government and assembly), designated the basic local community, is restored, and above it come the autonomous commune and region.
The tribal district is accorded powers in regard to the registration of births and deaths, primary health care, basic education, rural development and the establishment of voting rights for nations, enabling them to appoint their own representatives in the bicameral assemblies, at communal, regional and federal level.
That right to vote is exercised by representatives freely chosen by each village community, from among the professional classes on the basis of a specific electoral college.
Political parties no longer have a monopoly on political activity, and the tribal government can mobilise the abilities of all citizens. That reform does not call into question either the state’s internal and external frontiers, or the balkanisation of nations by the Berlin Conference.
Unlike the nation-state, the multinational state does not take over citizens; citizens themselves appoint and dismiss governments according to commonly-accepted rules.
The reversal of this dialectic relationship means that there are different forms of citizenship: single citizenship in a federal multinational state and dual citizenship in a confederal multinational state where it replaces the usual dual nationality. Citizenship of the EU, as defined in Article 8 of the Maastricht Treaty, is based on that same approach.
In a radical departure from the traditional approach, a constitution based on the peoples – a “demotic” or pluralist constitution – reforms the legal infrastructure because it takes account of the pluralism of society in addition to the multi-party system.
The different elements in heterogeneous societies are given back their status as peoples or nations – a distinctive political and legal reality of the multinational state.
Despite being straitjacketed into political entities carved out by colonialism, the mixed population groups continue to assert their identity. They do not present a unified and homogenised body within a contrived state-based nation, but reflect a diversity of sociological nations in search of the state for all peoples, if not all nations.
The purpose of a multinational state’s constitution is not just to accord status to the authorities and to citizens.
Above all, it offers sociological or ethnic nations a political and legal status, allowing them to establish their inalienable right to legitimate the state and exercise power on the same basis as citizens.
In that sense, the constitution will establish – for the first time in post-colonial Africa – the legal status of a state that reflects, in terms of its democratic nature, its law, its history and its culture, the social logic of the plurinational societies that lend it substance and meaning.
traditional societies, the fallibility of majorities is one of the principle rules of governance. Reintroducing that should act as a check on western-style democracy that gives power to the majority.
The aim is to make everyone a winner instead of having winners and losers.
That provides a form of democracy in which power-sharing reflects the actual balance of power, established at the ballot box. The majority makes great gains, but the minority makes some gains too.
The aim is not to prevent an elected majority from governing but to separate out the power to govern and the power to control the administration of government. The majority exercises power and the Parliamentary opposition monitors the exercise of that power.
For example, in the paradoxical societies of Rwanda and Burundi, in which the sociological duality of Hutu majority and sociological Tutsi minority seems insurmountable, civil peace is attained through a variety of mechanisms.
The Hutus, Tutsis and Twas must be recognised as separate peoples. A new republican pact under which all state powers are allocated proportionally among the three peoples must be drawn up (within the civil service, government, diplomatic service, administration etc), so that an electoral victory by the political parties does not threaten the right of each people to exist.
Traditional authority must be republicanised. And the inalienable right of each people to live in peace in a multinational state of Rwanda and Burundi, within the existing frontiers, must be proclaimed.
The nation-state advocates nationalism, but the ideology of the multinational state is patriotic humanism.
Humanist, it acts as a cradle to protect and promote human rights, citizens’ rights and peoples’ rights, regardless of their nationality, language, religion, customs and so on.
Even if mandated to defend nationalism as the ideology of the nations of the country it administers, the multinational state is not entitled to claim paternity over it. As a homeland, it represents the union sacrée of nations and citizens (federal state) and of the states (confederal state).
It is anchored in the soil by the local lands that are a source of both memories and activities that embrace the living and the dead in a shared destiny.
The renaissance of a multicultural civil society requires several levels of citizenship: political, economic, social and cultural citizenship.
Political citizenship is, admittedly, the best-known, though it is still of paramount importance that citizens’ rights be positively laid down in black Africa.
But even before citizenship takes full effect politically, it represents a societal link founded in solidarity, and is the catalyst for co-existence. Sociability and solidarity present an ongoing political challenge, involving economic, social and cultural issues.
Indeed, the creation of these new forms of citizenship vitally challenges unemployment, the loss of identity and dislocation of the social link, civil wars and so on – all scourges that undermine every kind of citizenship.
Given the problems of access to economic, social and cultural rights, all countries are potential powder kegs. The traditional view of these forms of citizenship, previously expressed exclusively by reference to the state, therefore needs a radical re-think.
Three changes are required.
The state’s monopoly on the exclusive creation of economic, social and cultural rights must be broken. Citizens, nations and the state must be placed at the heart of the complex, by transforming economic, social and cultural rights into human rights and citizens’ rights, rights of nations and of the state.
All sides must be given an active role in a three-way partnership comprising state, citizens and nations, in order to establish the bases for a new policy of wealth redistribution.
The transformation of the subsistence economy into an economy based on the accumulation of wealth must reconcile economic efficiency and social cohesion, the mobility of capital and of work, the benefits of regulation and free enterprise.
In that way, citizens, nations and the state will be able to re-assume responsibility for their own history.
The emergence of new political, economic, social and cultural citizenships represents a vital challenge, given unemployment, loss of the social link and identity, and the civil wars that often undermine them completely.
The multinational state provides both a political organisation – at the level of plurinational society – and a capacity for common action to tackle the issues and challenges of a shared destiny.
Democratic, its authority is accepted and shared in by the nations and citizens. Post-national, it is based on the principle of unity within diversity. It thus provides an area that unites nations, languages, religions, cultures and localities, constants whose survival the state must guarantee.
This definition of the problem helps liberate the 10-year debate on Africa from the pseudo-democratisation that has muffled it.
But even though there have been welcome signs of a bolder approach, Ethiopia has merely transformed recognition of ethnic pluralism into a method of political domination instead of democratic revolution.
Its fingers burned by the ethnic “tampering” of apartheid, South Africa has lacked the clear-sightedness and courage to recognise the plurinational nature of its society. And although some kingdoms have been restored in Uganda, this show of traditional authority has served only as a symbolic backdrop designed to legitimise the regime.
The problems of the multinational state bring Africa’s special traits within the sphere of globalisation – a battlefield in which cultures clash head-on.
Africa must make an effort here, if it wants to survive and experience a revival during the third millennium.
In revenge for the past, Africa would could teach a lesson to a Europe focused on heterogeneity – of nations, languages, religions, standards, localities and so on – as a result of the crisis in the nation-state and enlargement of the EU.
Democratic and post-national in nature, the multinational state could provide the “ideal-standard” model for the constitutional, political and conceptual transformation of the plurinational societies of the 21st century, be they sociological nations (in the case of black Africa), or legal or state-based nations (the EU, for example).
That special characteristic gives the concept of renaissance its original meaning – a revival of what went before, be it state or civil society.
• Mwayila Tshiyembe wrote this as the director of the Institut Panafricain de Géopolitique de Nancy. This article has been abridged from the one that originally appeared in Le Monde diplomatique.