Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا
In the same section


West Africa and the Quest for Democratic Nationhood

West Africa Sub-Regional Conference, 6-7, September, 2003, Cotonou, Benin

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in
Africa (CODESRIA) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It will
be recalled that the Council was established in 1973 out of the
collective will of African social researchers to create a viable forum
in Africa through which they could strive to transcend all barriers to
knowledge production and, in so doing, play a critical role in the
democratic development of the continent. As part of the series of
events planned to mark the anniversary, five sub-regional
conferences are being organised in Central, East, North, Southern
and West Africa. These sub-regional conferences will be followed
by a grand finale conference to be held at the Council’s
headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, in December 2003. The West Africa
sub-regional conference is scheduled for 6 and 7 September, 2003 in
Cotonou, Benin Republic. Its theme will be: West Africa and the
Quest for Democratic Nationhood.

The West Africa sub-region was, in the period from the end of the
Second World War, a major hotbed of the development of African
nationalism and the advancement of the pan-African ideal. In
addition to the frontline role which the nationalist politicians of the
sub-region played in the quest for African liberation, the sub-region
also produced some of the most profound exponents and
theoreticians of the pan-African ideal. At the heart of the
theoretical and practical pre-occupations of the nationalists who
animated the national liberation and pan-African projects was a
deep-rooted desire to recapture and re-establish an African
nationhood understood in terms of the unity, independence,
progress and dignity of peoples of African descent. This
preoccupation played a major role in the policy choices which the
nationalists followed upon the attainment of independence in the
1960s; indeed, the political, economic and social programmes
adopted were designed to advance the project of African
nationhood even if, in practice, they failed to fulfil all of the dreams
that underpinned them or did so only partially and selectively. Still,
the massive popular mobilisation that took place in the march
towards national liberation fed into a momentum for national and
continental renewal that was integral to the social contract that
bound the nationalists to the populace and the post-colonial state
to society.

The post-independence period, in spite of the promise of the first
decade evidenced by respectable economic growth rates and
expanding social opportunities, was soon to throw up a range of
challenges which owed as much to domestic problems as to
serious external constraints. The clearest symbol of the difficulties
that emerged was reflected in the loss of confidence that gradually
built up between the nationalist politicians and the social
movements, such as the trade unions, student and youth
organisations, and peasant/rural groups whose support gave
content, meaning, energy and a democratic edge to the national
liberation effort. This disconnection was to translate into the rise of
state authoritarianism/repression, the emergence of military rule
and of single parties backed by military force, and spirited efforts
to disorganise, ethnicise and atomise social movements. Matters
were not helped by the onset of economic crises in the 1970s and
the exacerbation of the crisis by the neo-liberal structural
adjustment programmes imposed throughout Africa and the
developing world by the international financial institutions. The
adjustment programmes acted to reinforce the structures and
processes of political authoritarianism and exclusion, thereby
widening the gulf between the state and social movements, and
putting the project of the consolidation of post-independence
nationhood at bay. The political disequilibria associated with this
situation explains why the West African sub-region has known a
disproportionate level of political instability.

Efforts at reviving the post-independence project of nationhood
that was integral to the nationalist struggle and the pan-African
ideal have not been in short supply in West Africa. In fact, most of
the efforts made in recent times have centred around the
convocation of (sovereign) national/constitutional conferences, the
launching of new efforts at democratic political reform and the reinvigoration
of the quest for sub-regional and regional co-operation
and integration. These efforts have gone some way to address
certain aspects of the crises of nationhood in West Africa;
however, in the absence of a clearly articulated and coherent
framework for economic policy-making, social inclusion and
development, the efforts have not been successful in redressing
some of the accumulated grievances nursed by a variety of
disaffected groups. In a word, the deficits in recent efforts at
reconstructing the project of nationhood have brought to the fore
the crises of citizenship in West Africa, resulting in serious direct
challenges both to the integrity of the nation-state and of central
governmental authority, and producing destabilising consequences
for the entire sub-region. Clearly, the West African conjuncture
today calls for a bold and radical re-thinking of the project of
nationhood and the vision of citizenship that should accompany it.

Participants in the proposed conference are invited to re-think the
nationalist project and the pan-African ideal within which it was
incubated in the light of the challenges of nationhood, democracy
and citizenship confronting the West African sub-region. In this
regard, papers could be proposed to offer insights into :

- the
nationalist conceptualisation of the nation and nationhood; an
assessment of what may have been right and what may have
been wrong with the approaches taken by the nationalists and
their pan-Africanist visions in the construction of the postindependence
nation-state;
- the social alliances that underpinned
the historic nationalist and pan-African project and the roots of the
dissolution of the alliances;
- a re-visiting of the various social and
economic policies pursued as part of the quest for postindependence
nationhood and pan-African unity;
- the implications
of a creative approach to the promotion of regionalism and pan-
Africanism from the inherited boundaries delineated by the forces
of colonialism;
- the various dimensions of the crises of nationhood,
democracy and citizenship confronting West Africa;
- the origins,
content and impact of recent efforts at constitutional and political
renewal in the sub-region;
- the various experiments in transitional
“truth” and reconciliation, which have been launched;
- the quest for
the acceleration of West African regional integration and a subregional
framework for citizenship;
- the promise and problems of
the expansive process of informal cross-border economic flows;
- and the launching, by the international community, of tribunals
designed to try war crimes and discourage impunity in terms of the
consequences of the approach to the reconstitution of the nation
and political society.

March 26 2010