17–18 October 2005, Abuja, NigeriaNumber of visits: 1945
The recent crises in Côte D’Ivoire and Darfur came as reminders that national identities, national belonging
and citizenship are still highly contentious issues in Africa. They also tell some unpleasant truths about
our continent: the very bases on which one’s rights and dignity as a human being are founded may be guaranteed in law, but in daily practice, they are too often called into question, in too many ways and in
far too many countries. Several decades after the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’
Rights, a document which emphasises the importance of both individual and peoples’ rights, it is still quite
common to see whole groups of people on our continent denied the right to citizenship and voice on the
basis of their origins, or on the basis of ethnic, linguistic, religious, gender, caste, age or other social identities.
Yet the African Charter distinguished itself vis-à-vis other human rights instruments precisely because
of the emphasis it puts on ‘peoples’ rights which resonates with the sense of the collective in our societies.
The irony of the current situation of conflicts, violence and narrow, identity-based factional politics in evidence
across Africa is made more apparent when we remind ourselves of the fact that we came out of the
colonial experience with a strong determination to build cohesive and developed nations out of a maze of
diverse ethnic groups. Let there be no doubt: Over the last half century or so, a lot has, indeed, been done
in the attempt to imbue African societies with a greater cohesiveness and a lot more has been tried with a
view to turning the table of underdevelopment and transforming the economic, social and political conditions
of the peoples of Africa in which would simultaneously our dignity and status in the world would be
assured. But it is also true that today, many countries have experienced or are undergoing violent conflicts.
Poverty levels are rising. More and more people are becoming marginalised in their own countries
and many more are refugees or internally- displaced persons. Even institutions of socialisation that have
historically been associated with the production of inclusive, and secular national and international identities
such as the schools, armies, trade unions and churches and mosques are becoming increasingly factionalised
or centred around particular groups organised on the basis of an exclusionary ideology.
What went wrong? How did Africa move away from the lofty ambitions and mobilising societal projects of
yesteryears to the current situation in which more than half of the over 600 million Africans alive are living
under conditions of violence (physical, structural and symbolic) and poverty? How can African countries recreate
the conditions for peaceful, harmonious, just and equitable societies? The list of actors and factors to
blame for Africa’s current predicament is long, very long, ranging from imperialism, latterly manifested
through the structural adjustment programmes, to ‘bad governance’, to borrow a tired phrase. To further
complicate matters, pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and malaria are threatening to wipe out not only the
fruits of many years of hard work and struggle for development and democracy, but also the most productive
sections of our societies. Needless to say, the promise of development and progress at the level of
some countries, and at the level of the continent, particularly under the auspices of the AU and NEPAD, and
at the sub-regional level, will be fulfilled only when the adverse trends that have crystallised around the
struggles over citizenship are reversed.
The aim of the proposed CODESRIA Advanced Research and Policy Dialogue is not to lament or apportion
blame for this or that wrong in Africa, but to reflect on the conditions and possible roadmaps for a new
social contract, a contract that will encompass the things we must do in order to realise our aspiration to
freedom from want and oppression, and the investments we must make in order to accelerate the development
of Africa. The starting point should be the rebuilding of the foundations of our national and social
fabrics, both of which have been badly shaken over the last two decades or so. We need to rethink the
bases for national and local belonging and citizenship, the bases for improving relations between individuals
and groups, those between the people who govern/lead state and non-state institutions and the peoples
over whom they govern. As has been rightly argued by the German sociologist Jurgen Habermas,
“Collective identities are made, not found. But they can only unify the heterogeneous. Citizens
who share a common political life also are others to one another, and each is entitled to remain
The proposed CODESRIA Advanced Policy Dialogue will, therefore, seek to address the major challenges
of reinventing our collective identities, and redefining the economic, social, cultural, moral, ethical and institutional
bases for, and meaning of citizenship and belonging to local communities and nations, as well as
the bases for a pan-African identity, and for a highly dignified status for Africa in the global community.
This may well be the only way to reverse the xenophobic and other socially exclusionary trends on the continent,
and make our individual countries and societies, and the continent as a whole the safe, nice and happy
places we would like them to become.
Collective identities don’t simply fall out of the sky; they are made. Our strength is in our diversity, and in
building inclusive societies. This means protecting and promoting individual and collective human rights for
all, and shouldering our responsibilities to one another, and to future generations of Africans. It means promoting
systems of social solidarity, gender complementarity, inter-generational dialogues, and all-round
openness towards others.
How elites and ordinary citizens, leaders and peoples, elected representatives and their constituencies relate
to one another and hold each other accountable, is central to the very problematic of democracy. We
need to promote our cultural values that have great universal resonance, particularly when it comes to questions
of solidarity, reciprocity and accountability. These are also the foundations on which both democratic
and legitimate governance and leadership are built.
We Africans need to re-invent the future for ourselves, and re-negotiate our place in the global community.
The vision we have of the future will determine how we bring up and socialize our children, how we design
our schools and other institutions, the kinds of policies we design and implement, and how we relate with
one another, and with the rest of the world. This means ‘thinking with our own heads, on the basis of our own
realities’, as one great African leader was fond of saying; it means investing in education, research and human
resource development, and linking research with public policy and decision making. Africa has the resources,
and the capability to envision and build a better tomorrow for itself, and to contribute to global
development in very significant ways.
The dialogue is planned to bring together about 100 very carefully selected people of different backgrounds
and responsibilities. Some 36 to 40 leading African scholars and policy intellectuals are being commissioned
to write short think pieces that would be woven into a limited number of background documents.
These background documents will be presented in plenary sessions, and to each presentation, made by a
topmost scholar, a serving or former head of state, senior policy maker or African personality will be asked
to be a respondent. The aim is to make the meeting an enlarged but high level policy dialogue, with a view
to building a consensus on how to address some of the most critical challenges of the day and in very concrete
ways. The 100 very carefully chosen participants would include: selected serving Heads of State and
Government; selected former Heads of State; renowned African Scholars; writers and journalists; artists and
film makers; the African Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), SADC,
ECOWAS, UEMOA, IGAD, the NEPAD Secretariat, the African Development Bank, the ECA and other regional
bodies; selected leaders of business; and civil society organisations.
The main, immediate outcome expected from the dialogue is a consensus document containing twelve propositions
for a renewed commitment to Africa. The following issues have been identified, all of which are more
or less implicit in the three broad conference themes:
Twelve (12) Propositions for a Renewed Commitment to Africa:
1. Living Together : Local and Pan African Citizenship
2. History and Culture
3. Making Governance Work for All Africans : Towards a New Social Contract
4. Men, Women and Gender Complementarity
5. Language and Communications
6. Production and Trade
7. Re-thinking Social Policy
b. Health, including Physical and Psychological Well-Being
d. Human Resource Development
8. Keeping the Public Sphere Open and Democratic
9. Conflict, Violence and Peace : Bringing Politics Back In
10. Renegotiating Africa’s Place in the World
a. Securing our individual and collective dignity
b. Bolstering Africa’s economic, political, and cultural presence on the global stage
11. Research and Public Policy Making
12. Reinventing Our Future