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


East Africa: In Search of National and Regional Renewal

East Africa Sub-Regional Conference
30-31 October 2003, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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 East Africa sub-regional conference will take
place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 30 and 31 October, 2003. The
theme of the conference will be: East Africa: In Search of National
and Regional Renewal.

The East African sub-region presents an interesting mix of experiences
which, both historically and contemporaneously, have been at the heart
of some of the main pre-occupations of African nationalists and the
quest for the realisation of the pan-African ideal. Established in
Archaeological research as the place of origin of human kind, the subregion
is significant in African history in several other important respects.
It is home to the only African country – Ethiopia – that escaped direct
colonial rule and whose resistance to Italian military invasion was a
factor which was significant in galvanising the African resistance to
foreign domination. Precisely for this reason, Addis Ababa was easily
designated the headquarters of the Organisation of African Unity when it
was established and, as a consequence, the sub-region has played host
to some of the most important moments in the post-independence
African quest for collective action. Furthermore, several of the leading
giants of African nationalism, as well as some of the boldest
experiments in seeking to give content to independence were
undertaken in East Africa. In this connection, the personal example of
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and the attempts which he made to concretise
the ideals of African nationalism through the promotion of the
Africanisation of the structures of governance, the adoption of Swahili as
the official language of Tanzania, the sensitisation of the populace to the
merits and imperatives of self-reliance, the investment of energies into
the building of the East Africa Community, the unwavering support he
offered to the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, and the launching
of the Ujamaa programme are perhaps the most consistent and
outstanding. And yet, the experiment in African socialism which Nyerere
embraced was not the only path that was followed in East Africa;
Tanzania’s immediate neighbour, Kenya, led by another giant of African
nationalism and a veteran of the Mau Mau resistance to British rule,
opted for a completely different approach which consisted essentially of
the adoption of a private capitalist system of development with a strong
accent on a major role for foreign private investors. Ethiopia was, for a
long time, governed by a hereditary monarchy until Haile Selasie’s rule
was ended by a military take over that occurred on the back of popular
protests; the monarchy was abolished and the country was
subsequently proclaimed a Marxist state. In sum, all of the countries of
the sub-region had regime types that spanned the ideological spectrum
and, in some cases, such as Siad Barre’s Somalia, involved official
swings from one ideological framework to another in line with the
exigencies of political survival and shifting Cold War alliances.

Whether colonised or not, and irrespective of the ideological and policy
choices which they made, all of the countries of East Africa faced
numerous and broadly similar challenges of nation-building and socioeconomic
development. These problems were not eased by the various
burdens of history that played an important part in shaping domestic
political alliances in contexts which are highly pluralistic – especially
along ethnic and religious lines – and which exhibited significant levels
of social polarisation. As a consequence, the sub-region was exposed
to major conflicts both of an inter-state and intra-state nature that
implicated virtually all the countries in the area. The worst of these
conflicts have been played out in Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Sudan,
Somalia, Djibouti, the Zanzibari component of Tanzania, and the
Comoros. While the roots of the conflicts are varied and may be open to
debate, their consequences have, however, been the same across the
sub-region and have consisted of a reinforcement of political
authoritarianism, a widening of the gulf between state and society, the
exacerbation of social inequalities and a widespread disruption of
economic activities. The weakening of states by prolonged conflicts has
also been experienced, even as several of the countries succumbed to
military rule. In all cases, de facto and de jure single party rule was
imposed in one form or the other at some point after the achievement of
independence. It was only in the period from the1980s onwards that
concerted pressure, mainly from social movements, began to push
majority of the regimes in power towards a reform of the political space.
As in the rest of Africa, much of the reform effort consisted of the
adoption or re-introduction of multi-party politics, the most significant
exception being Uganda under Museveni and the so-called “movement
system” on the basis of which the NRM has exercised power. Political
decentralisation exercises and efforts at constitutional reform have also
been undertaken, including the ethno-regionalist federalist model
introduced in Ethiopia after the fall of the Dergue. Furthermore, there
has been a revival of interest in the sub-region in the re-birth of
cooperation and integration processes aimed at promoting common
inter-state objectives and seeking shared solutions.

An overview of the challenges facing East Africa would suggest that in
the main, these centre around :

- the accommodation and management of
diversity;
- the re-thinking of citizenship in the framework of a renewed
social contract between state and society;
- the expansion of the base for
social inclusion, including especially the rural and urban working poor;
- the promotion of a civic culture underpinned by basic democratic rights
and which pays particular attention to disaffected youth;
- the revitalisation
of associational life in a direction that strengthens popular democratic
participation;
- the restoration of a developmental agenda to the policy
process; the promotion of an all-round project of regionalisation;
- the
encouragement of the further opening up of the political space to allow
for the exaction of greater accountability;
- and the rebuilding of the state
and the policy process in an environment of peace and stability.

These
challenges lie at the heart of the quest for national and sub-regional
renewal; the extent to which they are achieved will also be crucial to the
realisation of the ideals of autonomous development and social justice
that, in the first place, fired African nationalism and the pan-African
movement. The East Africa sub-regional conference which is being
convened by CODESRIA within the framework of its 30th anniversary
celebrations will be devoted to an exploration of different dimensions
of the challenges of renewal confronting the countries in the area. This
would be done in a manner which does not neglect the weak points
and/or blind spots of the theory and practice of African nationalism and
which also takes full cognisance of the changed contexts and conditions
that shape the African world today. Papers will be welcomed reflecting
on different dimensions of these challenges, the various strands of
reform and renewal which are being pursued and their potentiality for
establishing the foundations for the emergence of an inclusive, democratic
and developmental state system. Contributions on alternative readings
of the problems confronting the sub-region and alternative approaches
to meeting these challenges will also be strongly encouraged.

March 26 2010