Title: African studies quarterly
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091747/00029
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Title: African studies quarterly
Series Title: Gale Group
Uniform Title: African studies quarterly (Online)
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: University of Florida -- Center for African Studies
Publisher: University of Florida, Center for African Studies,
University of Florida, Center for African Studies
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: Spring 2007
Copyright Date: 2010
Frequency: quarterly
Subject: Electronic journals
Study and teaching -- Periodicals -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Gainesville (Fla.)
African studies -- Periodicals
Genre: Electronic journals   ( lcsh )
Electronic journals.
periodical   ( marcgt )
Abstract: Presents "African Studies Quarterly," an electronic journal published quarterly by the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Posts contact information for the editorial office via street address, telephone number, and e-mail. Lists advisory board and staff members. Offers access to the current issue, as well as to previous issues. Contains articles and related book reviews. Provides information on submissions and links to "African Anthropology."
Restriction: Licensed for access by authorized UF users (current UF students, faculty and staff -- and others within a UF Library.) Some e-journal service providers may offer only selected articles.
System Details: Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, issue 1 (May 1997)-
General Note: Title from title screen (viewed Aug. 6, 1999).
General Note: An online journal of African studies.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 7, issue 4 (spring 2004) (viewed at publisher's Web site, Aug. 19, 2004).
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African Studies Quarterly

Volume 9, Issue 3
Spring 2007

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ISSN: 2152-2448

African Studies Quarterly

Executive Staff
Hunt R. Davis, Jr. Editor-in-Chief
Todd H. Leedy Associate Editor
Shylock Muyengwa Managing Editor
Corinna Greene Production Editor

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

Table of Contents

The Persistence of the Commons: Economic Theory and Community Decision-Making on
Land Tenure in Voi, Kenya
Ellen M. Bassett

Competing Regionalisms in Africa and the Continent's Emerging Security Architecture
Benedikt F. Franke

Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times: The
Case for Sierra Leone
Yatta Kanu

Comparative Assessment of Indigenous Methods of Sweet Potato Preservation among
Smallholder Farmers: Case of Grass, Ash and Soil based Approaches in Zimbabwe
Edward Mutandwa and Christopher Tafara Gadzirayi

Book Reviews

Review Article: Identifying the Limits to Humanitarian Intervention: Echoes from Rwanda
Tony Waters

U.S. Policy in Postcolonial Africa: Four Case Studies in Conflict Resolution. F. Ugboaja
Ohaegbulam. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. 280 pp.
Lekan Badru

Southern Africa in World Politics:Local Aspirations and Global Entanglements. Janice Love.
Cambridge: Westview Press, 2005. 224 pp.
Bram Biischer

Getting In: Mediators' Entry into the Settlement of African Conflicts. Mohammed 0. Maundi,
I. William Zartman, Gilbert M. Khadiagala, and Kwaku Nuamah. Washington, DC: United
States Institute of Peace Press, 2006. 256 pp.
Mark Davidheiser

The Angels Have Left Us: The Rwanda Tragedy and the Churches (with foreword by
Desmond Tutu). Hugh McCullum. Geneva: WCC Publications, 2004. 132 pp.
Cara Hauck

The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way? Craig N. Murphy. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 372 pp.
Joseph Kraus

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

Images of Empire: Photographic Sources for the British in the Sudan. W. Daly and Jane R.
Hogan. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2005. 391 pp.
Adel Manai

Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers and Their Host Population. Itaru Ohta and
Yntiso D. Gebre (eds). Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto University Press/Trans Pacific Press, 2005. 394 pp.
Sarah Meyer

Fipa Families: Reproduction and Catholic Evangelization in Nkansi, Ufipa, 1880-1960.
Kathleen R. Smythe. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2006. 202 pp.
Jeremy Rich

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

The Persistence of the Commons: Economic Theory and

Community Decision-Making on Land Tenure in Voi, Kenya


Abstract: Projects to secure land rights for the urban poor have been implemented in
Sub-Saharan Africa for thirty years. A recurrent issue is providing sustainable land
tenure for settlement residents/project beneficiaries. Commonly, individual titles have
been used. Often recipients sell their land rights to more affluent city dwellers,
exacerbating the growth of slums. Policymakers are investigating alternative tenure
forms including community-based institutions. This paper presents a project in Kenya in
which the Community Land Trust (CLT) model was used to provide tenure security as
part of a settlement improvement project. The paper seeks to understand community
decision-making on land tenure and why settlement residents selected a group or
community-based title option over individual title when one theoretical perspective on
property rights in Africa, the Evolutionary Theory of Land Rights, would predict a
preference for individual ownership. The case study was constructed from qualitative
interviews with settlement residents, coupled with informant interviews and
document/archival analysis. The paper argues that Voi residents' decision to hold land
together reflected their perception of themselves as a powerless group vulnerable to
losing land to outsiders. The community, moreover, had a history of shared action to
defend their land holdings that served to establish a level of trust which made the group
tenure a possibility. The paper concludes that the decision to hold land together was
entirely rational a collective institution better served to protect their individual self-
interest than the individual institution predicted by the ETLR. The Voi case underlines
the notion that "history matters" in institutional analysis to really understand
institutional change we must understand the embedded context of decision-makers. The
study also supports the perspective that there is no one-size fits all approach to land
tenure. Policymakers should strive to provide a range of tenure options that can fit the
context of the specific community.


In March 2004, the Government of Kenya issued the terms of reference for a national level
committee comprised of governmental officials, NGO representatives, private sector members,
university faculty, and civil society groups.' The mandate of the committee was to resolve the

Ellen M. Bassett is an Assistant Professor in the Urban and Regional Planning Program at Michigan State University.
Prior to her appointment at MSU she lived and worked for 10 years in East Africa, including serving as an urban
planner with the Small Towns Development Project whose settlement upgrading initiative is the subject of this paper.
Her international research interests lie in the area of land tenure, informal settlement upgrading, and environmental

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Bassett

country's land administration and management problems through the drafting of a National
Land Policy. Key concerns highlighted for discussion by the National Land Policy group
included: insecure land tenure for vulnerable groups such as women, pastoralists and the urban
poor; poor land administration; weak dispute resolution mechanisms; and continued land
Kenya's land policy reform, notably, is not an isolated effort. Land policy discussions have
been taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990s in countries as diverse as South Africa,
Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Namibia.2 Common to all these discussions is the question of
what to do with customary or community-based land tenures, particularly whether to privatize
or reform and retain these institutions.
That customary tenures are even a point of discussion in Kenya is in itself striking. In the
mid-1960s when the newly independent Government of Kenya was determining its land reform
policies, the question of what to do with community-based tenures was not open to debate all
customary rights and interests in land were to be extinguished.3 Unabashedly market-oriented,
the Kenyan government transformed community-based tenures to individual tenures through a
protracted process of adjudication, consolidation, survey, registration, and titling. The rationale
for the land tenure reform was simple: indigenous, community-based tenure forms were
viewed as inhibiting economic growth because they provided insufficient "security of tenure" to
allow for substantial investment in land necessary for agricultural production.4
By the late 1980s, after decades of governmental effort to convert tenures to leasehold and
freehold, individual ownership of land appeared an unchallengeable method for registering
ownership rights and providing security of tenure to Kenyans. Hence the decision in 1993 of a
group of "squatters" illegally residing upon government land in Voi municipality to hold land
together through a group ownership model known as the Community Land Trust (CLT) model
came as a surprise both to local and central government officials and the expatriate technical
advisors implementing a settlement improvement or upgrading project there. In contemporary
Kenya land is a scarce resource and obtaining a title deed is for many Kenyans but a distant
dream. Purchasing land on the market is prohibitively expensive, while the probability of
obtaining government land under concessionary terms is highly unlikely, particularly given
rampant land grabbing in the 1990s.5 Why then, when given the opportunity for individual
ownership, would community members decline this coveted offer?
The decision by residents of the Tanzania-Bondeni settlement in Voi, Kenya to formulate a
community-based institution for land ownership based on the Community Land Trust (CLT)
model is the subject of this paper. Specifically, this paper examines the decision from the context
of economic theory and institutionalism. The paper argues that Voi residents' decision to hold
land together reflected their perception of themselves as being a powerless group vulnerable to
losing land to outsiders. The community, moreover, had a history of shared action to defend
their land holdings that served to establish a threshold level of trust which made the group
tenure a possibility. The paper concludes that the decision of the settlement's residents to hold
land together was rational a collective institution better served to protect their individual self-
interest than the individual institution predicted by the Evolutionary Theory of Land Rights,
ETLR. The paper concludes that "history matters" in institutional analysis to really understand
institutional change we must understand the embedded context of the decision-makers. The

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

The Persistence of the Commons I 3

study also supports the policy perspective that there is no one-size fits all approach to land
tenure. Policymakers should strive to provide a range of tenure options that can fit the context
of the specific community. To achieve this, African land policies must include mechanisms for
full community participation in crafting tenure regimes and making decisions that affect the
ownership and use of land.
Following this introduction, the paper is split into four sections. The first section reviews an
influential theoretical perspective on African customary land tenure and human decision-
making embodied in the institutional and development economics literature. Section two
presents the Tanzania-Bondeni settlement and the upgrading project. Section three outlines the
methodology used for the case study and presents the findings of interviews conducted with
residents of the settlement. The final section relates findings from the residents' interviews to
economic theory and land tenure policy.


The discussion of customary tenures in African land policy reforms reflects one long-
standing theoretical debate in the social science literature over the role of property rights in
African development.6 Essentially the debate is over whether customary or community-based
tenures represent an obstacle to economic development and if African countries should
implement reform programs to transform customary regimes to individual tenures.7 On one
side of the debate are adherents of the ETLR, whose ranks include neo-classical economists,
Public Choice theorists, and some Neo-Institutionalists, who believe that property rights in any
society evolve due to scarcity.8 This theory predicts that as population pressure increases and
land becomes an increasingly scarce resource, rights to land will individualize until private
property exists.9 This move to individual tenure is economically advantageous for both the land
owner and the state since bestowing all property rights and decision-making powers in one
person overcomes key economic inefficiencies such as transaction costs and free ridership.10 For
adherents of the ETLR, the move to individual tenures is inevitable since institutions are seen as
evolving in order to maximize benefits and minimize costs. Institutions, moreover, have been
described as moving toward greater efficiency over time." The policy implications of the ETLR
are clear: development-oriented governments should assist this evolutionary process by
formulating and implementing individualization reforms.12
Those arguing for the retention of customary or community-based tenures, in contrast,
represent a more multi-disciplinary group of scholars, including economic sociologists,
anthropologists, and mainstream institutional economists. They make two primary arguments
for community-based tenures. First, they contend that the function of land in African society is
much more complex than granted by Western economic thought.13 In Africa, they observe, land
serves important social and political functions not common in the west. Land is the cultural
basis of power and belonging.14 The granting of land is a primary mechanism for structuring
society and gaining political power and allegiance. The holding of land is the primary indicator
of societal belonging. Second, these scholars argue that customary tenures have been
mischaracterized and misunderstood. Customary tenures are not anachronisms impeding
economic progress but instead are dynamic institutional arrangements characterized by a mix

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

4 I Bassett

of property rights (some private, some shared) which has adapted over time to meet
community needs.15 Such tenures can be inherently secure and conducive to economic growth -
nothing less than "private property for the group."16 The failure of many African societies to
move toward individual tenures is thus an indicator of the inappropriateness of these tenures
for the African social context and a challenge to claims of universality for the ETLR. The land
policy implications are also clear: forcible reform of land tenure using Western institutional
models is not advisable. To improve tenure security governments should clearly define and
enforce all property rights regimes, including indigenous institutions.17
Behind this debate on land tenure and land policy is an even more fundamental
disagreement over human decision-making and rationality. Adherents of the ETLR view
decision-making through the dominant theoretical model in economics, that of the "economic
man."18 As every Economics 101 student knows, economic man (and woman) is a self-interested,
atomistic actor endowed with a set of preferences whose decision-making is expected to be
"rational." Rational behavior is defined as utility-maximizing behavior, that is, behavior that
makes the economic man better-off.19 The evolution of land institutions described by the ETLR
assumes the self-interested rationality of the economic man. Faced with scarcity and the
difficulties of community-based tenures, a rational decision-maker will choose to hold land
under individual tenure in order to maximize his/her utility.
Scholars skeptical of the ETLR, such as mainstream institutional economists and economic
sociologists, not surprisingly are also quite critical of the economic man. They question the
concept of human nature central to this paradigm. Human beings are cast as rational actors
driven by the need to maximize their utility, yet every day one sees evidence in actual behavior
that humans can and do act "irrationally" in the economic sense.20 One also sees instances when
people knowingly act against their individual self interest.21 They argue that there is a range of
motives for human behavior and decision-making in addition to self-interest. Humans are
motivated by principles such as altruism, cultural constructs such as tradition and nationalism,
as well as by ignorance and irrationality.22 A second critique relates to the under-socialized or
atomistic nature of the individual. Economic man is presented as a creature born with a given
set of preferences. He is depicted as an individual acting in isolation, deliberating solely upon
his own welfare and acting purposively to maximize that welfare.23 Mainstream institutional
economists, most vocally, find this presentation problematic because it does not explain where
preferences the source of purposive action come from and why they change. In neo-classical
economic theory, preferences are "immanently conceived" and fixed.24 Without an explanation
of why people have certain preferences and why preferences may change, mainstream
institutionalists assert that economics offers little meaningful explanation for purposeful
In contrast, mainstream institutional economists and economic sociologists have clear
notions about the source of purpose. They argue that human beings are social animals born into
a society endowed with culture, beliefs, and institutions. Human preferences and hence
purpose are determined in an interactive process whereby the cultural and social factors that
dictate what is considered acceptable or unacceptable behavior interact with individual
perspectives and motivations.26 Granovetter calls this view of human behavior "embeddedness."
Embeddedness represents a middle way between the atomized, undersocialized perspective of

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

The Persistence of the Commons I 5

neo-classical economics and the oversocialized concept of human nature once characteristic of
sociology.27 "Actors," Granovetter argues,
do not behave or decide as atoms outside a social context, nor do they adhere slavishly to a
script written for them by the particular intersection of social categories that they happen to
occupy. Their attempts at purposive action are instead embedded in concrete, ongoing systems
of social relations.28
These on-going systems of social relations or institutions must be integrated into economic
analysis in order to really understand purposive human behavior and predict economic
These two debates one over the evolution of property rights in Africa, the other an
underlying disagreement on human decision-making provide an interesting theoretical frame
for examining the community decision-making that took place in the settlement upgrading
initiative in Voi. Using the insights of ETLR, one would expect that given high levels of
population growth, growing land scarcity, and the government's wholehearted embrace of
private property and the market, any decision-maker offered the choice between individual or
group leasehold would select individual title. The deviance or irrationality of the Voi
community in selecting community-based property thus is striking. Why did their land tenure
choice differ from other communities within Kenyan society? What factors do Voi community
members cite as being weighed in their decision? In what terms do they describe their decision?
Do they speak of the decision in economic terms? Are factors of community identity and
belonging significant? What sort of expectations, moreover, do the residents of Tanzania-
Bondeni have of their "common" property? Do these expectations differ from those of
individuals opting for individual property rights?


The settlement of Tanzania-Bondeni is situated approximately 1.5 kilometers from the
commercial heart of Voi town, which is located on the main highway running from Mombasa to
Nairobi. In 1989 just prior to the start of the upgrading project, the population of Voi town was
estimated to be 13,202 people.29 Using the growth rate of the prior decade (5.79%), in 1999, the
time of fieldwork, the town was home to approximately 23,200 persons. Government statistics
are not available for the settlement of Tanzania Bondeni, but Asienwa estimated its population
at 2,993 persons.30 Assuming a similar rate of growth, the settlement would have contained
approximately 4,971 persons in 1999. The Tanzania Bondeni settlement covers approximately 22
hectares of land and is physically cut into two parts by a railroad track belonging to Kenya
Railways. The larger built up area to the south of the track is Tanzania. This part of the
settlement is bounded by the Voi river to the south and the Voi Sisal Estate to the west. The
smaller built up area to the north of the rail line is Bondeni, which means "in the valley" in
Swahili. Wedged between the embankment that supports the current rail line and the
embankment for a disused rail line to the north, this neighborhood indeed can be seen as lying
in a valley (please see Appendix 1 for a demographic profile of the settlement).
The need to conduct settlement upgrading in the settlement emerged through a local five-
year planning process, known as a Local Authority Development Programme. Upgrading

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

6 I Bassett

projects, in brief, provide basic urban services to settlements (e.g., water, sanitation, roads, and
paths). Such projects also generally seek to provide some level of land tenure security. Formal
legalization (i.e., survey, titling, and registration) is one method of conferring security that has
been used in these projects (Gulyani and Bassett, forthcoming). In agreeing to assist the local
authority with the task, planners at the Ministry of Local Government (MLG) and the GTZ
Small Towns Development Project (STDP) had two main objectives.31 The first objective was to
improve the financial health of the local government by broadening its property tax base.32 So
long as settlements remain informal illegal with land ownership undetermined and
unregistered local authorities are unable to assess these properties and add their values to the
property tax rolls.33 Secondly, planners saw the projects as an opportunity to test an upgrading
approach that would be affordable and replicable by a local authority on its own.
Prior to implementation, the planners working with the STDP reviewed the lessons learned
in other upgrading projects in Kenya and elsewhere and formulated an approach that would
avoid repeating past mistakes.34 The upgrading approach was organized around certain key
principles and guidelines that reflected these lessons learned a key principle was providing
affordable and sustainable tenure security to settlement residents. Tenure security, however,
was seen as a challenge. There was a consensus that past upgrading projects had not succeeded
in providing sustainable security of tenure.35 Past Kenyan projects had issued long-term
leasehold titles with five-year restrictions on sale, but over the course of time many low-income
project beneficiaries eventually sold their leaseholds to other more affluent individuals.36
Kenyan planners give two reasons for land sales.37 The first is that settlement residents are
not particularly interested in owning land in the city. They are only there for their working lives
and they really want land in their rural home areas. As a result they "cash-out"- treat the project
as an unexpected windfall, obtain whatever money they can for their plot, and go to squat
elsewhere. The second reason is more forgiving toward the slum resident: sales occur due to
financial distress brought about by occurrences like an illness or the death of a family member.
Residents want the asset, but as the poorest strata of society, they do not have the means to
withstand bad times.
While there was agreement that past attempts to provide security of tenure to the urban
poor had failed, there was little sense of how to provide affordable, sustainable land rights in
the upgrading initiatives. Sanctioned government options were limited: leasehold or freehold
title. The application of restrictions on sale on leasehold titles were intended to prevent
squatters from "cashing out"- these restrictions, however, are easily circumvented by informal
transactions and have been shown to be ineffective elsewhere.38 Restrictions on sale, moreover,
did nothing to assist those residents wishing to retain land, but with no alternative disposable
While the STDP was formulating its upgrading approach and deliberating upon security of
tenure, the Ford Foundation sponsored a study to examine the viability of utilizing the
American Community Land Trust Model as a model for delivering affordable shelter to the
urban poor.39 A year later the CLT model was picked up for consideration by the STDP project
as a possible tenure form. A Community Land Trust, briefly, is a community-based,
democratically controlled organization formed to hold and acquire land for the use of its
members.40 Its most defining characteristic is the splitting of ownership: individuals own houses

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

The Persistence of the Commons I 7

while the CLT owns the land upon which the houses sit. CLTs are formed to hold land in
perpetuity thereby removing it from the open market. The CLT, moreover, plays a role in the
sale of houses in most cases retaining the first right of refusal. The CLT model splits usufruct
for two main reasons. First, the model recognizes that value in property comes from different
sources.41 The value of real estate is largely determined by public investments (e.g.,
infrastructure, schools) created by society as a whole. The model ensures that any increase in
property value attributable to the land (e.g., location coupled with public investment) is
captured by the community.42 Secondly, group ownership of the land is tactical: it helps buffer
lower income residents from the effects of gentrification and rising land prices since the CLT
removes land from the market, limits equity appreciation, and takes on the task of meeting
property taxes. The CLT provides a social safety net to ensure that poor people get and retain
better housing.
While the CLT model draws some of its inspiration from customary tenures in Africa, the
model is highly formal and replaces or extinguishes other tenure institutions or property rights
configurations.43 CLTs are incorporated entities in the US they are not-for-profit corporations
with an elected Board of Directors. While membership is open to all interested persons, to
obtain land trust land an individual (or would be land lessee) must become a member and is
expected to participate in community planning and governance. The relationship between the
trust and land lessees is outlined in written lease agreements. These agreements detail, for
instance, rules regarding the sale of houses, payment of fees, and valuation of assets.44

The Tanzania-Bondeni Tenure Decision

By late 1992 upgrading activities for the Voi settlement had made significant progress.
Members of a national level Project Promotion Committee (PPC) had visited the settlement and
were ensuring support for upgrading in Nairobi. A local level Technical Task Force (TTF)
composed of officers from the ministerial line agencies and representatives of the local authority
had been constituted. Social planners had completed a "listening survey" intended to uncover
the felt needs of the residents as well as to identify important opinion leaders. Preliminary
community mobilization had occurred: residents had indicated interest in participating in the
upgrading exercise. Finally, community members had elected a Residents Committee (RC) to
represent their interests in the upgrading exercise. This committee had been apprised of its
responsibilities and powers and had a good understanding of the upgrading approach,
including the issue of land tenure.
From the outset, the Tanzania-Bondeni Residents Committee demonstrated a strong ability
to mobilize its community and gain support for upgrading. Committee members
enthusiastically embraced their role moving through the settlement daily to update residents
on project activities and remind them of their obligations.45 Payments such as survey fees
accrued quickly. Other small projects flourished.46
The Residents Committee also responded with great interest to the idea of the Community
Land Trust model. The discussion of security of tenure and land loss by squatters resonated
with the Voi leadership. In her report, the GTZ Social Planner described the response of the Voi
leadership as being to a "large extent influenced by the flux [of] people who went to the project

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

8 I Bassett

area with the intention of buying out the beneficiaries."47 Disturbed by this development, the
Tanzania-Bondeni RC indicated its interest in learning more about the land trust option. The
RC's interest in turn sparked debate and lobbying within the community. According to
once the two types of tenure system [sic] were explained to them at the leaders workshop,
they embarked on an awareness campaign to convince the people to accept the community land
trust. Some individuals who had bought structures for speculative purposes also campaigned
for the individual title. 48
In November 1992, planners from the MLG and STDP held a final discussion on tenure and
the various options for land ownership with the Voi Municipal Council and the members of the
Residents Committee. This discussion was framed around a matrix illustrating the options for
land ownership and community organization. The three options identified were individual
leasehold title, individual title coupled with the formation of housing cooperatives, and group
leasehold title with the formation of a community land trust. After this meeting, the RC held a
series of six community meetings in which the three options were explained. At the end of each
meeting, community members were asked to vote for the tenure form of their choice. Observers
from the STDP attended each meeting to ensure that only bonafide structure owners were
allowed to vote and to see to it that both individual and community tenure were fully explained
with sufficient space given for questions and debate. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of
the CLT model: 239 structure owners for the CLT model versus 19 structure owners in favor of
individual leasehold title.49



To understand the rationale behind the Voi tenure decision two sets of fieldwork plus a
brief follow up visit were conducted. The first field work was conducted in 1996 and consisted
of interviews with project officers, government of Kenya officials, and members of the
Tanzania-Bondeni residents committee as well as a field visit to the settlement.50 The 1999 field
research consisted of in-depth interviews with community residents, additional informant
interviews, and archival research at the Kenya National Archives. Finally, the author made a
brief visit to Kenya in 2003 to track progress in project implementation and gather documents
related to land policy reforms.
The data reported in this paper primarily arises from fieldwork that took place in March-
June 1999. During this period, the author (with the assistance of a research assistant) completed
50 in-depth interviews with Voi residents, all of whom were structure owners. Structure
owners were interviewed as they were the residents empowered to make the land tenure
decision. Interviewees were selected using a modified "snowball" technique.51 The sampling
process began by looking for indicators of long-term residence, namely numbers painted on
doors (an indicator that they lived in the settlement when an initial socio-economic survey was
conducted by the STDP in 1990) or rusty roofs. After completing an interview, the structure
owner was asked if he or she knew another structure owner who might be interested in

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

The Persistence of the Commons I 9

speaking with the interviewers. This approach was modified, however, by a mapping process in
which the approximate location of each respondent was mapped on the physical development
plan for the settlement. Once a certain area was adequately represented, the interview process
moved to another section of the settlement and began the process over again. Interviews were
conducted in Swahili with notes taken by both the research assistant and the author. Interviews
ranged from 45 minutes to two and a half hours. Interview notes were transcribed at the end of
each working day and texts were reviewed by the author and research assistant to ensure
accuracy. Content analytical procedures and pattern matching were used to identify key themes
and narratives arising from the interviews.52
Eleven interviews were with structure owners living in Bondeni and the rest conducted
with Tanzania owners. The disparity in representation between Bondeni and Tanzania is
purposeful. Tanzania is the larger, more populous settlement area. Additionally, two
discussions were held with members of the Managing Committee (nee Residents Committee) of
the Tanzania-Bondeni Settlement Society. The first meeting was a briefing on the planned
research; the second meeting focused on the committee's experience implementing the CLT
model. Several opportunistic interviews occurred, including one with the former Youth
Representative on the RC.
A demographic profile of the respondents is provided as Appendix 2. As it shows, the
majority of respondents were women. While a concerted effort was made to tap the views of
more men, it was without much success. Several interviewees said that there were few men in
the settlement; the former youth leader (a man) described the settlement as being full of "old
people and women."53 Respondents ranged in age from their mid-twenties to into their
seventies. The exact the age of respondents was not asked, instead it was estimated from their
physical appearance and narratives. The majority of respondents were between the ages of 31 to
50. They had lived in the settlement anywhere from 1 to 57 years. Most of the respondents were
not community leaders. Four were RC members, four were in leadership positions in the local
cooperative housing societies, and two were leaders in other committees, namely a youth and a
women's group. Through the interview narrative (e.g., stories of migration) and through
observation/listening, ethnic background was also identified.54 The ethnic make-up of the
respondents was quite uniform: of the 50 people interviewed 48 (or 96%) were Taitas. Two were
from other areas in Kenya.

Findings from Residents Interviews

Questions were asked that directly related to the tenure decision. Structure owners were
asked whether they could remember the tenure options offered to the community by the
government. They were also asked to explain the process they used for choosing between these
options and whether they had personally participated in the selection process. Finally, structure
owners were asked to explain why they felt the community had selected group title and their
opinion of the decision. Respondents were then asked to elucidate what they felt particular
advantages and disadvantages were associated with both community-based and individual

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10 I Bassett

Out of the fifty structure owners interviewed, 16 indicated that the settlement had voted to
select its tenure form. They all knew that the selection was between individual title (kumiliki
kibinafsi) and group ownership (kumiliki kijamii). The majority of respondents indicated that they
could not recall that there were options in land tenure. Those who indicated that they didn't
know there was a choice tended to be either younger settlement residents (who at the time of
selection were generally in their teens) or they were newcomers to the settlement who had
gotten land after the 1992 decision. The longer-term residents who did not remember the tenure
choice indicated that they were away at the time (e.g., seriously ill, working elsewhere). Five
respondents contested the idea that there really was a choice. They said that the decision was
made by the Residents Committee.55
Respondents were also asked about the process used to select tenure for the upgrading
project. A greater number of respondents were able to describe the series of community
meetings held in November 1992 and the resultant vote than had been able to remember that
the community had been given options in land tenure. Presumably, discussion of tenure options
triggered something in their memories. Alternatively they may have been told by others, such
as the Residents Committee, that the tenure form was selected through a vote by the majority of
structure owners in a series of neighborhood meetings. Eighteen persons indicated they had
gone to the community meetings and had actually voted (they were not asked how they voted).
Of those who participated in the meetings, 15 were women and 3 were men. The participants
fell into the following age groups: 20-30 years of age (2 participants), 30-40 (5 participants), 40-
50 (3 participants), and older than 50 (8 participants).
When asked to explain why the community voted to hold land together respondents gave
answers which roughly fall into four categories. These four categories of answers, each of which
will be dealt with in turn, were: (1) I don't know or I refuse to speculate; (2) Because of poverty
and a lack of economic ability; (3) In order to prevent loss of land; (4) Because the Residents
Committee decided.56 The term "roughly" is used to characterize responses because although
the answers were grouped together reflecting the same central contention, in their narratives
residents often forwarded slightly more nuanced explanations that distinguished their views
from those of their neighbors.
The first group, indicating that they did not know why group tenure was selected,
consisted of 16 people. Of these, six individuals completely refused to speculate on the reason
for the selection. I attributed their answers to the politicized atmosphere of the settlement at the
time of the research and the fact that the tenure regime was the subject of much debate and
acrimony. The remaining respondents indicated that they did not know why group tenure was
selected. People who said they did not know why group tenure was selected were generally (1)
people who were not present at the tenure decision and therefore refused to hypothesize on the
decision; (2) younger members of the settlement who had not participated in the settlement
decision and had gotten plots as a result of inheritance or by being a child of a structure owner
who was allocated more than one plot in the first allocation exercise; or (3) newcomers to the
settlement who had gotten plots after the decision was made.
The most common explanation of the tenure decision dealt with the economic status of
settlement residents and the cost of owning land. These respondents emphasized that
settlement residents are poor. At the time of the decision, they felt that they did not have the

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The Persistence of the Commons I 11

economic ability to meet the costs associated with individual leasehold. They saw group tenure
as being advantageous to their interests since it would enable them to get the land more
inexpensively. Since it also entailed sharing the costs of keeping the land, group tenure would
assist them to retain the land for themselves and their children. Group ownership also implied
additional community help for the less able, a feature that these respondents said appealed to
those voting for the tenure form. In short, as the following quotes illustrate, Voi residents felt
they had insufficient economic ability to own land individually:

"It fit our ability. Here in Tanzania-Bondeni we don't have the ability to pay for an
individual title deed, therefore we choose group ownership. "57
"I think they saw that they would be helped through group ownership, for instance to
join together and to build houses collectively for people who lacked ability."58
"It fit and once we were explained {about tenure}, we agreed to choose group
ownership. Because we were told that with group ownership we will pay less money
than for private ownership. It was because of this that we agreed."59

A second explanation for the tenure decision cited by respondents was the Voi residents
selected to go with the CLT model in order to prevent community members from losing their
land. To many of these respondents the coercive side of the CLT model that limits the rights of
community members to dispose of land was paramount. Settlement residents wanted to limit
"cashing out" behavior. As one respondent explained, residents feared that this unexpected gift
of land would be squandered by their neighbors: "Because there are people who can't be
satisfied. They are greedy. And also they are not grateful. Therefore they are able to sell and go
somewhere else. Therefore they embraced group ownership so that these people would not
Additionally, some respondents in this grouping emphasized that the CLT model was
attractive since in addition to limiting their own rights it also limited the ability of outsiders to
buy into the settlement. For these respondents, the defensive nature of the no-sale rule was also
important. As informant explained, group tenure was selected: "Because the people of Voi love
to sell land. Therefore they saw that group ownership will prevent sales and also it will prevent
outsiders from stealing the land of Tanzania-Bondeni."61
The final set of explanations for the tenure decision averred that the Residents Committee
played the decisive role in selecting group tenure. Answers here break down into roughly three
categories. There were some respondents who indicated that the RC selected group tenure itself
but did so out of goodwill because they felt was the best tenure form for the community.62 In
this interpretation, the RC was said to have learned from the teachings of the STDP in the
various training events which were held as part of the upgrading process. One resident noted:
"We did not give our opinions about land ownership. But the committee explained to us. They
decided to own land together because of this and that [various reasons]."63 Secondly, there were
three respondents who attributed the decision to the committee but were totally at a loss to
explain the committee's rationale. They suggested we talk directly to the committee. Thirdly, a
minority of respondents averred that the committee tricked the community into selecting group
title for its own purposes. According to this version of the selection, the committee tricked

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12 I Bassett

people by telling them that the STDP would only build houses for settlement residents if they
selected group title. As this has not happened, and as the committee members have received
more than one plot, some of these respondents are convinced the RC wanted group title in
order to remain powerful people in the local community.64 As one respondent averred: "We
were not given an opportunity to choose. They said with community ownership we will have
houses built for us, but with individual ownership you will not get a house built."65 Finally, one
respondent in this grouping acknowledged that there was a vote on tenure with wide
participation from the settlement residents, but he stressed that the vote was not really free and
fair: "Yes I voted. But they used an arm of the government, like the chief [to run the meeting].
They said it was group ownership and it became that."66

Pre-Project Institutions and Security of Tenure

Using these answers to reflect on institutional theory, the information appears inconclusive
and somewhat contradictory. These answers appear to uphold the perspective that the decision
to form the institution was primarily driven by self-interest: residents banded together in order
to achieve something that they felt they could not achieve individually. Responses also give
credence to a perspective that group tenures survive due to the machinations of elites who gain
power from land allocation, that RC members manipulated the decision to select the
community-based tenure regime in order to maintain their positions of power and prestige in
the settlement.67 The answers do not provide much evidence that land had an explicit role in
determining community identity and social belonging. Nor do the answers provide an
indication that pre-project institutions played a role in the decision.
A series of questions was asked regarding access to land and security of tenure prior to the
upgrading initiatives. Responses provide data for understanding the above factors, including
the pre-project institutional arrangements in the settlement. These answers also provide
information that enables a picture of settlement relations at the time of the tenure decision to be
pieced together. Three significant themes emerged in this discussion. These were: (1) the
perceived degree of tenure insecurity in the settlement and residents' fear of demolition by the
municipal council; (2) the level of economic ability in the settlement and residents' perceptions
that their land was vulnerable to more powerful outsiders; and (3) community interdependence
and the degree of trust that existed in the community at the time of the land tenure decision.

Access to Land/Security of Tenure

Respondents were asked to explain to us how they got access to land in the settlement in
the first place. All fifty respondents answered these questions. With the exception of one
respondent who indicated that he just cleared bush and built, and five others who indicated
that they inherited land from their parents, respondents all got permission to settle in the area.
There were, in short, procedures for gaining access right from the beginning of the settlement.
Two of the older residents obtained permission to settle from the original owners: one woman
relocated there with her mother when the District Commissioner outlawed cattle in town. A
second woman worked for the sisal estate and erected a house on their land. The most common

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The Persistence of the Commons I 13

way of gaining access to land and permission to build, however, was to ask the wazee wa mtaa
(neighborhood elders), a committee constituted by the area chief.68 Two respondents indicated
they got land by asking neighbors for a corner of "their" land. In the project period (post-1991),
land access remained regulated. One respondent indicated that she was a tenant who got a plot
as part of the project; another indicated he had asked the RC for a plot. Four respondents
indicated that they bought a house from a departing resident; two of them purchased their
house after the project had begun.69
After getting access to land, most respondents proceeded to build their own houses.
Building houses was not as easy as gaining access to land. To build a house to completion
required effort and forward planning. Several respondents indicated that although the wazee wa
mtaa granted permission to settle often in exchange for a "small token," they also warned
residents that the land was not their property % as squatters they could face demolition at any
time if the government wanted or needed the land. As one of the respondents described, despite
the quasi-sanctioned mode of gaining land, it took determination to get a house built:

We built at night. Chief Ali did not want us [to build]. We begged the village elder for
permission to build. But he said if you get in trouble, you have to defend yourself. We paid him
a little money, like a token. I was caught by the municipal council. They took me to the chief
and the District Officer. But I did not lose heart, I continued to build.70

In the face of opposition by municipal council, the chief, and the District Officers, Tanzania-
Bondeni residents banded together to help each other out in getting houses completed. As one
informant related, the embattled squatters built at night since at that time the municipal askaris
(enforcement officers) did not work.71 Another tactic was building over the weekend. One
respondent indicated that people would accrue the building materials over the course of the
week and then in the weekend with the assistance of their neighbors, they would build.72 By
necessity residents had to build fast % if the council found a house half built in the daytime they
would demolish it. As one resident of Bondeni described her experience:

I spoke with colleagues at the market and they told me that there was an elder who was able to
give me a plot. I paid this man 270 shillings [c. 1984 and he told me that my house should be
built in two days because the municipal council would demolish it [otherwise]. But I built in
two days, therefore, they did not demolish my house.73

Once a house was built, there were some implicit rules that needed to be followed in order
to avoid demolition. First, the municipal council would not destroy a house which was
occupied. Settlers adopted a tactic of sitting outside their houses when the municipal askaris
were passing through. According to one elderly resident, the most effective tactic was to have a
woman with a baby and a suffuria (cooking pot) in front of the house % in that case the house
would not be touched.74 The second rule related to money. Once a house was built, settlers
needed to go to the municipal council and register. If they registered and paid a fee to the
council, then they would not be harassed by the askaris.75 According to one RC member, people
did not want to pay the fee, but they had no choice.76 The fee was categorized by the Municipal

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14 I Bassett

Council as a "conservancy fee" (a fee for rubbish collection), although council did not provide
the service to the settlement. According to the former Voi Municipal Clerk, this peculiar
situation arose as a result of the initial registration of squatters that took place under the
Commissioner of Squatters in the 1970s. Although the Commission was disbanded without
solving the squatter problem, the council kept up the registration system. Fifteen of 50
respondents indicated that they paid this fee.
A series of questions was asked relating to tenure security. Given the situation above, one
might expect that the settlers would feel relatively secure once they had successfully built a
house and registered with the council. The perspective that there was relatively good tenure
security is also reflected in the social survey conducted by Asienwa and her observations on
tenants aspiring to purchase houses in Tanzania-Bondeni.77 In responding to the questions on
tenure security, a majority of the respondents indicated that they knew that they were settled on
government land and that their residency was thus technically illegal. Twenty-one said they did
not think they were breaking the law. A number of these respondents indicated that they felt
that the sanction of the wazee wa mtaa and payment to the town council was sufficient. As one
protested: "We were shown this opportunity [plot of land to settle] by the chief, and he is the
government. "78
Despite this, half of the respondents did indicate that there was a prevailing sense of tenure
insecurity in the settlement prior to the advent of the upgrading project. Out of the people who
answered the question, a majority indicated that they felt some level of insecurity. Fifteen said
they felt a little or somewhat insecure. The main complaint of these respondents was that they
were forced to "live temporary," that is accept a lower standard of living than their wealth
would afford.79 The construction of a temporary house was allowable, but erecting a permanent
house would bring trouble. Although many residents had the resources to invest in better
quality housing, they were constrained by fear of losing their investment. The main fear was
demolition: respondents indicated that they were scared that their houses could be demolished
at any time without warning. Despite the implicit rules listed above, the Voi Municipal Council
was still seen as a potential threat to the settlement. Among the respondents, these quotes are
illustrative of this level of tenure insecurity:

"We were unable to build permanent houses because we were told that we were able to
be driven out at any time."80
"We were really scared to build permanent houses because we knew we were squatters,
and at any time we could be moved."81
"This situation disturbed me because I feared they were able to come and demolish at
any time. I did not want to build a nice house. Even now [the houses of the] people of
Mwakigali are being demolished. "82

A smaller group of respondents said they felt very insecure. They were the most worried
that their houses would be destroyed and that they would be evicted from the land. As a group
these respondents tended to be older people and/or those with limited economic ability. One
single mother expressed her anxiety over tenure insecurity by saying: "This situation disturbed
me a lot. When I heard that I was breaking the law and that this land was not ours. [I feared]

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The Persistence of the Commons I 15

because my children don't have two [parents]. I did not know where I would take them and
even if I die where will they go?"83
Not surprisingly, people whose homes had been demolished previously also indicated
greater tenure insecurity. As one resident explained: "The county council really disturbed us.
We built and the council demolished it every time."84
Notably, all the RC members interviewed stated that they felt very insecure in their tenure
status. As a group these individuals had all faced demolition 34 three had experienced having
their homes destroyed, the one who escaped was a male who as a former employee of a
municipal council dared to chastise the askaris who threatened his house."5 According to one RC
member, the threat of demolition and displacement was always with Tanzania-
Bondeni.86 Bondeni was particularly at risk as it was dominated by railway's land and the
corporation kept threatening to build a warehouse there.87 The prospect of demolition only
receded once the project began and houses were enumerated for legalization.

Economic Ability

The second theme that arose in the interviews regarding the tenure decision was the
perceived level of economic ability of Voi residents. Voi residents tend to perceive themselves
as extremely poor people. To make this distinction in degree requires reliance on the use of
language in the interviews. Significantly, an unusual Swahili word for describing poor people,
wanyonge, occurred repeatedly in several of the Voi interviews.88 For instance, as an explanation
for the land tenure decision: "Because we were very poor people. We don't have money and it
fit therefore. The tenure forms were explained to us all, we agreed to own together. Because
unity is strength."89 Again, when a resident described how she learned about the group tenure
decision and speculating on the reason it was selected: "One day in a meeting we were told that
we had agreed to group ownership and that group ownership will be cheaper than individual
ownership. Because we, the people of Voi, are very poor, that's why I think we agreed to own
land together."90 And finally, when discussing the possible use of the CLT model elsewhere: "It
depends if the people want [to own land] like this. It can succeed in a place where the people
are very poor and they are unable (lit: are defeated) to pay the high price required to own
In Swahili, the common term for a poor person is mtu maskini, and indeed that word was
used in most of the Voi interviews. The word wanyonge is not frequently heard and indicates a
more severe state of poverty and powerlessness. The Standard Swahili-English Dictionary
translates the word mnyonge (singular of wanyonge) as "a humble, abject, low, debased person."92
Bakhressa's Kamusi ya Maana na Matumizi defines the word as mtu maskini asiyekuwa na kitu, "a
poor person who has nothing".93 My research assistant translated it as "weakling."
For Voi residents, the implication of extreme poverty was not simply that they lacked the
ability to pay for land and housing. Being a myonge also meant that you lacked political power
and patronage networks. As the allocation of land is one of the most politically manipulated
processes in modern day Kenya, Voi residents were understandably concerned that the gift of
this project %34 the land % might be lost to outsiders with greater political power and

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16 I Bassett

In speaking with residents about their opinion of the tenure decision and the respective
advantages and disadvantages of the two tenure forms, the fear of land loss was repeatedly
emphasized. Respondents stressed that they feared that they or their neighbors could be
cheated out of their land by more powerful or savvy people. In discussing this threat, residents
used a variety of Swahili verbs, including kupokonya (to take away by force, rob, or plunder);
kunyakua, the causative form of to grab or snatch); kudhulumu (to treat unjustly, defraud,
oppress); and kunyang'anya (to take by force, steal or rob).94
Respondents were split, however, on whether group ownership would do a better job
protecting their land against predatory outsiders than individual title deeds. Not surprisingly,
those who were pleased with the CLT decision felt that protection from political manipulation
was one of the main advantages of group title. As one respondent explained her perspective on
the two tenure forms: "If you unite you cannot be robbed of the land. The whole family can get
land. There are no disadvantages. With private ownership, someone can be given [land] by
powerful people and he could rob you of your plot."95
The reasoning of some other respondents was the complete reverse. Although he shared
the concern for land loss, one respondent felt that group ownership placed him at greater risk
for land loss since his individual rights were subordinated to the decisions of the group: "The
society can decide to steal this land, or that it should sell [my] place here."96 A second
respondent pointed out that one title deed made them all vulnerable since if the society is
cheated by someone, everyone could become landless.97 "Also if a person wants to defraud us if
he uses this single title deed he defrauds us [all]."98 Finally, echoing the sentiments of many of
those who were dissatisfied with the group title decision, a third respondent stressed that the
land would only really be protected from predation if she had the title deed herself:
I prefer individual ownership. There is no disadvantage to private ownership. The
advantage: I am able to get a loan from someplace and build my house. My children are able to
know this plot is my private property and they won't get complications here as was the case
previously. No one can rob my children of this land because they have permission [to stay].99

Community Interdependence and Trust

The third theme that arose in the interviews that is crucial to an understanding of the
tenure decision was the level of community interdependence and unity that existed in the
settlement in late 1991. Prior to legalization, as has been noted above in the discussion on
security of tenure, settlement residents had relied upon each other to accomplish their
individual goals. They had worked together to build their homes and they had united to defend
their homes against threats of demolition from the local administration. They had created a
number of self-help institutions, such as youth groups, savings societies, and women's groups
to advance their economic status.10 They had worked together to build a nursery school for
their pre-primary age children. Now in the course of the upgrading project residents were being
offered the choice between continuing with this unity by holding the land as a group or to stand
on their own by selecting individual leasehold. That the residents should choose to hold land
together is not exactly surprising since they knew from experience that they could defend their
land together, but many were unsure of how they might fare on their own.

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The Persistence of the Commons I 17

This is not to suggest that the decision to hold land together was predestined, that because
they had been together they wished to continue together. Rather, the importance of this shared
history is that it created a key variable 34 trust 34 that made the decision to hold land collectively
a possibility. Granovetter reminds us that most decisions are not made in the social void of the
Prisoner's Dilemma. Decisions are embedded 34 they are made in the context of concrete
personal relations. Personal relations in turn are an important variable to consider here because
these relations provide the basis for trust or distrust in any society. People learn whether they
can trust each other by interaction; decisions on how to structure future relations are based
upon past interactions.
This insight is particularly important for understanding the Voi decision. In the case of Voi,
when dealing with land issues residents had strong expectations of good behavior (or no
"malfeasance" to use Granovetter's term) from their fellow residents and their leadership. They
had united as a community to protect their land against outsiders. They had established a
network of relationships that would assist them in time of need. Voi residents felt they knew
and could predict the behavior of their neighbors. In short, they felt they could trust their
To return to the evidence of the interviews, the existence of trust in Voi is more implied in
the discussions than expressly stated. Part of this is the result of the interviewing approach 34
questions were open ended so as to allow residents to speak in their own words. There were
several places in the interview process where the answers of residents provide insight on
community characteristics and evidence of the existence of trust and its relationship to the
tenure decision. The most significant evidence was provided in discussions around the
replicability of the CLT model in other settings.
In thinking about where the CLT might be successfully tried in the future, respondents not
surprisingly tended to reflect back on the experience of the Tanzania-Bondeni project and used
what they knew about their settlement to give advice about its future use. Some of the answers
were admittedly prosaic: "It can succeed if the residents of the place are able to get along with
GTZ."101 Other answers, however, gave indications of key settlement characteristics that point
toward the existence of trust. In addition to being poor, three factors were most frequently
mentioned: residents must be united, they must be able to cooperate with each other, and they
must care for each other's welfare.102 Some expressions of this include:

"It depends on the people who live in the place and also it requires a place [in which]
people cooperate well."
"It is able to succeed very well in every place. People who are able to care for each other
[lit. love] In a place of love everything is possible."
"Us here in Tanzania Bondeni we know each other. That is why it is able to succeed. It
is necessary that people themselves understand each other."
"The people should live [together] with unity and cooperation."103

Although the terms are not the same as Granovetter's, taken together these analyses point
toward the existence of trust in the community. The basis of cooperation, unity, and even love is
fundamentally trust. To cooperate one must have expectations that your partner will fulfill

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18 I Bassett

his/her side of an agreement (or in economic terms believe that there will be no free-riding). To
be unified one must believe, or trust, that all members of your group share the same goal
(Which is why being a traitor is so mercilessly punished 34 one has betrayed the trust of others).
Finally "to love" (or in the context of this paper, to care for the social welfare of another)
requires a significant level of understanding, empathy, and expectation of reciprocity. This
latter factor is only created through on-going interpersonal relations characterized by trust.


The interviews conducted for this study illuminate conflicting reasons for the selection of
the CLT model as the land tenure form for the upgrading project. Most commonly, residents
said that the CLT model was selected because it fit their economic ability 34 the lower cost and
shared obligations of the model were decisive. Others indicated that it was selected because it
would prevent people from selling the land of Tanzania-Bondeni to outsiders. Its defensive
nature, in short, was important. Finally, a number of respondents place the blame 34 or credit 34
at the feet of the Residents Committee. In this perspective, the CLT model was not really
democratically selected3/4it was the choice of the leadership of the settlement. Some described
their leadership as making this selection because it was in the best interests of the settlement,
while others saw less benign impulses and felt the RC was attracted to the CLT model because it
would maintain their importance within the settlement.
I have argued that the CLT model was selected because Tanzania-Bondeni residents
perceived themselves as very poor and powerless. The settlement's history was marked by an
adversarial relationship with the town council while the specter of legalization brought with it
an influx of outsiders ready to purchase plots from would-be sellers. Selecting the CLT model
was a sensible option for keeping land in the community and protecting the least able. Group
tenure, however, was not a foregone conclusion. The ability to select group tenure was only an
option because of the pre-existing institutional arrangements in the settlementB34the history of
self-help and community cooperationB34that had fostered a sense of trust which is a necessary
precursor to collective action.
At the outset I suggested that an understanding of the decision-making process of the
residents of Tanzania-Bondeni would provide data for reflecting on the theoretical debate over
land rights and African development, as well as helping to inform theoretical perspectives over
the nature of human decision-making. To recap, the Voi land tenure decision appears to fly in
the face of the ETLR, which would predict that in the face of increasing land scarcity and
population growth, residents would select to hold land individually. By implication the
decision also appears irrational-moving the economic decision maker away from, not toward,
the most utility maximizing institution, namely individual ownership.
Evidence from the interviews indicates that Tanzania-Bondeni residents were clearly acting
rationally. Residents selected to hold land in common because this institution was perceived as
best serving their individual self-interest. Group tenure was advantageous: it would enable
them to get the land more inexpensively and with the provisions for community control and the
prohibition on selling land, the CLT model would defend their land against outsiders and retain
the land for themselves and their children. The difficulties of cooperation, which were

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The Persistence of the Commons I 19

acknowledged by many of those who supported group tenure, were offset by the benefits of
assured land access, secure tenure, and promised social support. The rationality of the decision
holds even if one believes that the Residents Committee manipulated the decision: residents
still thought the benefits of cooperation (i.e., land and a house) would outweigh the costs of
having to cooperate with others.
An understanding of the Voi tenure decision lends credence to the arguments of
mainstream institutionalists and economic sociologists that to understand human decision-
making we need to understand the embedded context of the decision-maker. In particular, the
decision challenges fundamental economic assumptions about human preferences and the
nature of costs and benefits. As Bromley has stressed, benefits and costs are not universal they
are socially constructed.104 They are largely determined by the institutional setting. Tanzania-
Bondeni residents were situated in a society characterized by great economic and political
inequalities in which they perceived themselves as "at risk" and vulnerable to outside
manipulation. They also had a history of cooperation to protect themselves and their
possessions from outside threats. Embedded in such a setting, residents saw cooperation as
relatively low cost and beneficial, while going it alone the presumed efficient and more
rational decision was deemed the riskier and more costly option.
Finally, the tenure decision in Voi also appears to undermine a critical dimension of the
ETLR, namely the primacy of scarcity as the driver of institutional change. Tanzania-Bondeni
residents were acutely aware of the scarcity of land in their country; they often expressed their
thankfulness for the upgrading project and the opportunity to get land as a "gift from God." But
scarcity did not drive them toward individualism. Rather the specter of scarcity and the fear
that they might lose this precious resource lent support to a decision to hold land collectively.
Using insights from the Voi experience one might conclude that the commons persist even in
the face of scarcity because scarcity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the
emergence of private property rights.
To apply these insights to the debate on African land tenure institutions and reform
processes, the Voi experience supports those who argue for the inclusion of a range of tenure
options in land policy reforms. Forcing all communities to adopt individual land tenure is not
advisable for such an ecologically, ethnically, and economically diverse continent. Simply
providing tenure options, however, is an insufficient approach. Institutional variety should be
coupled with procedural approaches for selecting land institutions and overseeing land
allocation. Community members know their histories: they understand their internal dynamics,
needs, and aspirations. To build on this knowledge, reforms must make provisions for
transparent participatory community decision-making processes with sufficient safeguards for
the interests of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups. Even with such policy
changes, the commons will likely persist and individual tenures will likely expand in Africa -
but with this approach they will do so at the behest of communities and not economic

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1. Govt. of Kenya, 2004.
2. Cross and Haines, 1988; Cross, 1991; Joireman, 1996; Coldham, 1995; United Republic of
Tanzania, 1992; Ddungu, 1991; Centre for Basic Research, 1992; Adams, 1993; Tripp,
2004; Cousins, Cousins, et al, 2005.
3. Shipton, 1988; Kiamba, 1989; Okoth-Ogendo, 1991.
4. Swynnerton, 1955; Govt. of Kenya, 1972.
5. Klopp, 2000.
6. There is a large body of academic research focused on common property, customary
tenure regimes, and the question of why groups take collective action which is not dealt
with in this paper (e.g., Berkes, 1992/2002; Bromley, ed., 1992; Ostrom, 1990/1992/2000;
Ostrom, et al, eds., 2002.) This research has identified a variety of contextual variables
that either facilitate or obstruct collective action, including aspects related to the
resource, the size and composition of the group, the level of dependence of the group on
the resource, the role of leadership, and levels of trust and social capital (Ostrom 2000).
An impressive variety of methods have been used for this work, including historical
analysis, empirical field research, game theoretic approaches, and experimental studies.
While insights from this research are important and relevant to the Voi experience the
ETLR has been selected as the theoretical frame for the paper for two key reasons. First,
much of the above mentioned research is focused on common pool resources (CPRs),
that is, resources with one key public good characteristic-the inability to physically
exclude other users. (The inability to exclude may be a function of the resource itself,
e.g., the oceans; it may also be related to inordinately high costs of exclusion, e.g.,
extensive range lands.) Urban land is not a CPR: it is highly excludable. For Voi, a key
question was why the community chose not to obtain exclusive individual rights when
in fact they could. Second, the ETLR was selected because it was the frame through
which individuals involved in the project (e.g., technical advisors, central and local
government officers) thought about the decision. It was assumed that given the intense
competition to obtain land in Kenya private ownership was "natural" and that all
decision-makers would move that way. When they did not, questions of rationality,
manipulation, and community context were actively discussed. But even though urban
land is not a CPR, it must be noted that the desire to exclude others was an impulse
behind the decision. One insight from the Voi experience for the broader body of work
referenced above is that the perception of the resource-and not its actual physical
characteristics-can also play a role in community cooperation. Voi residents viewed
themselves as vulnerable to land loss (mainly through market penetration); collective
action was seen as a way of defending the resource even though its physical
characteristics did not require it.
7. Feder and Noronha, 1987; Migot-Adholla et al., 1991; Platteau, 1992; Migot-Adholla and
Bruce, 1993; Simon, 1993; Platteau, 1996; Cousins, Cousins, et al., 2005.

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The Persistence of the Commons I 21

8. Platteau 1992; Platteau, 1996.
9. Ault and Rutman, 1980; Noronha, 1985; Ault and Rutman, 1993.
10. Demsetz, 1967; Hardin, 1968; Ault and Rutman, 1980.
11. Furubotn and Richter, 2005; North and Thomas, 1973.
12. The work of Hernando de Soto, most notably The Mystery of Capital (2000), is another
iteration of this idea. Although de Soto does not expressly call for private property
rights, his argument that informal or extra-legal ownership that represents "dead
capital" must be formalized into one unified system supportive of capitalism implies
that the framework would be based on individual, privatized rights.
13. E.g., Berry 1984, Brink and Bromley, 1992; Platteau 1992, Cross 1992; Cross, 1987.
14. Berry, 1984; Cross, 1991.
15. Bromley, 1992.
16. Bromley, 1991: 33.
17. Brink, et al., 2006; Bruce, 1988; Migot-Adholla and Bruce, 1993.
18. Becker, 1976; Hodgson, 1988.
19. Becker, 1976.
20. Aaron, 1994.
21. Sen, 1977. Sen (reprint 1979: 95) calls this type of action "commitment." Commitment
can be defined "in terms of a person choosing an act that he believes will yield a lower
level of personal welfare to him than an alternative that is also available to him." This
conscious act of choosing is important distinction since many economists have
dismissed the significance of acts motivated out of altruism or sympathy by arguing that
such acts, which give pleasure to the person making the sacrifice, are basically egoistic
and still maximize one's utility.
22. Hodgson, 1988; Whalen, 1989.
23. Becker, 1976.
24. Becker 1976, Hodgson 1988: 67-68, Biddle 1990.
25. Hodgson, 1988; Aaron, 1994.
26. Biddle, 1990; Granovetter, 1992.
27. Granovetter,1992.
28. Granovetter, 1992: 58.
29. Government of Kenya 1994: 10.
30. Asienwa, 1991.
31. The Ministry of Local Government is now called the Ministry of Local Authorities.
32. Bassett and Jacobs, 1997.
33. Smoke 1993; Smoke, 1994; Ogero and Bassett, 1992.
34. Bassett, 2005; Ogero et al., 1992.
35. E.g., Makunda, 1993.
36. Jaffer 1997; Malombe 1997.
37. Bassett and Jacobs, 1997.
38. Gulyani and Bassett, forthcoming.
39. Matthei and Hahn, 1991.
40. White and Matthei, 1987.

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22 I Bassett

41. Kirby and Matthei, 1987; Institute for Community Economics, 1982.
42. Land values will appreciate even if the land is "removed" from the market. Some CLTs
acquire properties (or get donations) expressly for resale in order to use appreciation to
finance additional land purchases.
43. Institute for Community Economics, 1982.
44. For more information on the Kenyan experiment with the CLT model see: Bassett, 2005;
Jaffer, 2000; and Bassett and Jacobs, 1997.
45. RE: Interviews 22/4-2, 27/4-7. Interview citations refer to the date of the interview and
the sequential number of the interview that day (i.e., 2nd or 7th interview of the day in the
citations here.)
46. A youth group received training in low cost building technologies and built a
demonstration house. With the help of the National Association of Cooperative
Housing Unions (NACHU), community members formed cooperative societies to obtain
loans for housing construction.
47. Muchene, 1992b: 28.
48. Muchene, 1992b: 28.
49. Muchene, 1992b: 28.
50. Bassett and Jacobs, 1997.
51. Patton, 1990.
52. Yin, 1994; Patton, 1990.
53. Kijana Interview. The data provided on property ownership by GTZ for the Voi
settlement does not allow complete verification or denial of this description. The data
only gives the names, identity numbers, old structure numbers and new plot numbers. I
attempted to judge gender by names. Accordingly in the 1995 list, 239 structures/plots
are owned by women, 291 have male owners and 58 were unable to be classified due to
indeterminate names.
54. Data in Appendix 2 do not attempt to differentiate the relative affluence or poverty of
the respondents. It was my intention when formulating the interview outline to use the
data collected on housing quality, urban services, and assets to create a ranking of
relative affluence. Data on assets could not be consistently collected. In some interviews
we sat inside houses and could observe assets; in others, we sat in the compounds
outside homes. Urban service data did not prove helpful. Tanzania settlement lacks
electricity. Standpipes have been set up in regular intervals throughout the settlement as
part of the infrastructure assistance provided by STDP. The most reliable indicator of
wealth was housing quality. I interpreted permanent houses as an indicator of affluence;
conversely temporary housing was interpreted as an indicator of lower incomes. This
could, of course, be misleading since residents might have priorities such as investing in
the schooling of children.
55. Interviews 21/4-4, 23/4-4, 26/4-6, 28/4-1, 28/4-6.
56. One respondent flatly refused to believe that the settlement was governed by
community-based tenure; she emphasized repeatedly that she was waiting for her own
title to come (Interview 30/4-3).
57. Interview 21/4-6.

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The Persistence of the Commons I 23

58. Interview 27/4-5.
59. Interview 27/4-5.
60. Interview 27/4-5.
61. Interview 22/4-4.
62. e.g., Interview 28/4-1.
63. Interview 23/4-4.
64. Interviews 27/4-7, 29/4-4.
65. Interview 22/4-3.
66. Interview 26/4-6.
67. Chanock, 1991; Cheater, 1990.
68. This committee is often called the wazee wa kijiji, which translates as the elders of the
village. This usage is technically more rural, but respondents used them
69. Interview 22/4-2 in 1994; Interview 27/4-2 in 1998.
70. Interview 22/4-1.
71. Askaris are municipal enforcement officers often working for a section of the municipal
council called the "inspectorate." This section is supposed to ensure that municipal by-
laws relating to health and safety are observed. The City Inspectorate of the City of
Nairobi is notoriously brutal in its methods of dealing with street peddlers and
squatters. The Voi Municipal Council reportedly would take property (such as roofing
materials), but no one complained of excess violence.
72. Interview 27/4-6.
73. Interview 21/4-6.
74. Interview 23/4-7.
75. There is some conflict amongst respondents as to whether this fee was paid monthly or
76. Interview 26/4-5.
77. Asienwa, 1991.
78. Interview 28/4-1.
79. Interviews 20/4-3, 29/4-4, and 30/4-1.
80. Interview 28/4-4.
81. Interview 27/4-4.
82. Interview 28/4-2.
83. Interview 21/4-5.
84. Interview 29/4-5.
85. Interview 23/4-7.
86. Interview 23/4-7.
87. Interview 22/4-1.
88. e.g., Interviews 21/4-5; 23/4-1; 26/4-6.
89. Interview 28/4-2.
90. Interview 21/4-5.
91. Interview 21/4-3.
92. Standard Swahili-English Dictionary, 1990: 347.

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24 I Bassett

93. Bakhressa, 1992.
94. A Standard Swahili-English Dictionary, 1990.
95. Interview 28/4-5.
96. Interview 23/4-1.
97. The legal configuration of the CLT model in Kenya is complex. Land is held by an
incorporated trust; day to day management activities in the settlement are the
responsibility of an organization legally formed as a society in Kenyan law.
98. Interview 23/4-1.
99. Interview 21/4-1.
100. Asienwa 1991, Interviews 27/4-5, 20/4-2, 21/1-1.
101. Interview 21/4-2.
102. e.g., Interviews 21/4-3, 23/4-2, 23/4-3, 23/4-4, 26/4-2.
103. Interviews 22/4-2; 22/4-1; 23/4-1; and 27/4-5.
104. Bromley, 1989.


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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Ellen M.
Bassett. "The Persistence of the Commons: Economic Theory and Community Decision-Making
on Land Tenure in Voi, Kenya." African Studies Quarterly 9, no. 3: [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

Competing Regionalisms in Africa and the Continent's

Emerging Security Architecture


Abstract: While the relationship between the United Nations and Africa's various
regional and sub-regional organizations has already been the subject of much debate,
hardly any attention has been paid to the relationships these African organizations
maintain with each other and the way they impact on the continent's emerging security
architecture. Consequently, this article aims to shed some light on both the evolution of
competing regionalisms in Africa as well as their impact on the prospects and chances of
today's security institutions. It thereby argues that the ongoing proliferation of
intergovernmental organizations and the resultant competition for national and
international resources, political influence and institutional relevance threatens the
viability of a continental approach to peace and security by duplicating efforts and
fragmenting support. It further contends that the often uneasy coexistence of these
organizations is symptomatic of the deep divisions, nationalist tendencies and regional
imbalances underlying the multiple processes of regionalisation in Africa. More
optimistically, however, the article concludes that, even though some of these divisive
factors seem here to stay, the African Union has taken a number of noteworthy steps to
harmonise the continent's numerous security initiatives. Both, the creation of regionally
based multinational brigades as part of an African Standby Force as well as the decision
to limit official cooperation to seven organizations are meant to prevent needless
duplication of effort and to ensure that the continent's limited resources are applied to
areas of real need. By basing its security architecture on regional pillars and
incorporating existing initiatives as building blocs and implementation agencies into its
continental policy, the AU has made important steps towards establishing a common
front and reversing what Ghana's first president Kwame Nkrumah had so fearfully
termed the "balkanisation of Africa".


The inflationary increase in African undertakings to establish peace and security raises a
number of important questions about the interrelationships between the various organizations,
their place in and contribution to Africa's security architecture, as well as their comparative
institutional chances and prospects. Foremost among these questions is whether, and if so how,
the continent's current plethora of intergovernmental organizations and institutions can evade
the self-destructive rivalries which have characterized Africa's institutional landscape for so
long and which have hindered effective sub-regional and regional cooperation ever since the

Benedikt Franke is a PhD student at the Center for International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Previously
he gained a MA in International and Strategic Studies from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced
International Studies (SAIS).

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

32 I Franke

beginning of decolonisation. In order to answer these questions, this article is structured into
four parts. The first part traces the historical evolution of Africa's competing regionalisms, that
is, the occurrences of competition between intergovernmental institutions with virtually the
same official raison d'etre but different underlying motives and/or conceptions of cooperation,
from decolonisation to the establishment of the African Union in 2002. This retrospective
journey is followed by an attempt to distil the commonalities of that period into a theoretical
framework and identify the root causes of Africa's proneness for inter-institutional competition.
Drawing occasionally on theories such as Regional Security Complex Theory (RSCT) as
formulated by Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, the third part then discusses the status quo in light
of the identified root causes. The remaining part of this article assesses the prospects for further
rationalisation and harmonisation of Africa's various peace and security initiatives and briefly
elaborates on the challenges ahead. The article concludes by arguing that even though many of
the identified root causes have lost relevance in the continent's emerging institutional
landscape, not all of the structural, political, and cultural tensions underlying inter-institutional
cooperation in Africa have yet been convincingly resolved. Africa's leaders must thus continue
to promote and institutionalise deeper coordination and collaboration among themselves, the
continent's sub-regional and regional organizations, as well as civil society actors. They must
strive to consolidate past gains whilst not loosing momentum in continuing to rationalise the
multitude of existing organizations and to establish a clear division of labour among them. If
they fail, so may their dream of African unity.

The History of Competing Regionalisms in Africa

Africa has experienced at least two great waves of regionalisation.1 While the first one is
associated with colonisation, de-colonisation, and Pan-Africanism, the second was released in
the late 1980s with the loosening of the shackles which the Cold War had imposed on the
continent. The phenomenon of competing regionalisms is certainly not confined to the later
wave. On the contrary, it has been a defining feature of Africa's regionalisations ever since the
decolonisation process started and the newly independent states made their first attempts at
regional, cooperation and integration. As today, the interactions of the resultant groupings,
whether on a local, sub-regional or continental level, were soon to be characterized by thinly
veiled competition for the benefits of political prominence and institutional relevance. The
following section aims to trace the evolution and effects of this competition through the various
waves of regionalisation and subsequently distil the commonalities into a theoretical
framework. In doing so, it hopes to set the stage for a fruitful discussion of the current status quo
and the prospects for effective continental security cooperation.
During the decolonisation period, Africa experienced the establishment of a whole range of
regional schemes for political and economic cooperation. This wave of regionalisation occurred
for several reasons, some practical, others ideological. Firstly, independence and the
concomitant break-up of the colonial federations such as the Afrique Occidentale Franqaise (AOF),
the Afrique Equatoriale Franqaise (AEF), and the Central African Federation had suddenly
highlighted the negative consequences of the extreme segmentation and the intrinsically
problematic viability of the political divisions and economic circuits inherited from the colonial
period.2 Without the binding structures of the colonial administrations, Africa's newly

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 33

independent states were quickly confronted by economic and political disunity as the colonial
powers had concentrated on forging vertical links between their metropoles and their
dependencies rather than horizontal links among the colonies.3 In fact, they had not only
consistently discouraged the latter (unless it served an imperial purpose), but also amplified the
resultant difficulties through what Nkrumah called "by far the greatest wrong which the
departing colonialists had ever inflicted on Africa, namely, to leave us divided into
economically unviable states which bear no possibility of real development."4 Quite naturally,
the desire to mitigate this wrong, to combat the ongoing exploitation of the continent's
resources and to achieve some sort of economic and political viability was one of the main
motivations for the African states to begin regional cooperation.
Secondly, any such practical considerations were deeply embedded in the ideological
framework of Pan-Africanism which, ever since the first Pan-African Congress in 1900,
advocated African integration and unity as the only means of bringing about true self-rule and
self-determination on the continent.5 With the "long, long night of colonial rule" finally coming
to an end in the late 1950s, this framework thus held the promise of mutual support and
assistance in the face of obvious vulnerability and the fear of (neo)colonial interference.6
Although not all governments (and resistance movements) of the continent necessarily
subscribed to the underlying idea of African oneness, the ideologically charged rhetoric of Pan-
Africanism served well to carry the anti-colonial message and finally create a feeling of self-
assertion and thus the political basis for inter-African cooperation.
Given the aforementioned incentives for such cooperation, it is hardly surprising that
Africa's decolonisation was accompanied by a proliferation of intergovernmental organizations,
federations, unions, and communities some of which were virtually moribund from the
beginning while others quickly gained membership and political influence. In fact, regional
initiatives sprung up in such numbers that this article will have to concentrate on a select few in
order to demonstrate that the competing regionalisms of the present found their beginning in
the way the organizations, states, and leaders of the past came to interact with one another. For
the period before 1963, the conflict and competition between the so-called Monrovia and
Casablanca groups of states, as well as Nkrumah's controversial Union of African States (UAS),
can serve as illuminating examples. The uneasy relationship between the Organisation of
African Unity (OAU) and the continent's sub-regional organizations, as well as the ongoing
rivalry between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its various
francophone shadows such as the Communaute Economique de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (CEAO) or the
Union Economique et Monetaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA), are equally instructive for the period

The road to the Organisation of African Unity (1958 to 1963)

Undoubtedly the most visible aspect of regionalisation after decolonisation was the attempt
to create an African supra-national institution which was officially launched by the First
Conference of Independent African States (CIAS) in 1958.7 As more African states achieved
independence, further interpretations of Pan-Africanism emerged, including the Pan-African
Freedom Movement of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (1958), the Conseil de l'Entente

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34 I Franke

(1959), the Union of African States (1960), the African States of the Casablanca Charter (1961),
the African and Malagasy Union (1961), and the Organization of Inter-African and Malagasy
States (1962).
Although unity may have been their aim, these various institutional constructs soon began
to clash as Africa's new states tried to exalt national independence and continental unity at the
same time. The most fundamental point of disagreement concerned the questions of why unity
should be sought in the first place, which objectives and interests inter-African-cooperation
should serve, and how it should be institutionalized.8 Moreover, the type of relationship Africa
should maintain with its former colonial masters divided the continent's states and movements.
Some wanted to retain collaborative structures and thus the flow of assistance, others strove
passionately for total independence and African autarky. Given the already thick walls between
the Francophone, Anglophone, Lusophone, and Arabic blocs of states, these differences in
political outlook did not exactly help the continent on its march to unity.9 On the contrary, as
the first crisis in inter-African relations erupted in form of the Congolese civil war in 1960, the
underlying rifts threatened to pull Africa apart.
What burst upon Africa and the world as the "Congo crisis" did so for many reasons,
among them the attempted secessions of various break-away regions (Katanga and Luba-Kasai),
an army mutiny seeking the Africanisation of the officer cadre, and a political power clash
between Prime Minister Lumumba and President Kasavubu. The ensuing conflict, along with
the continuing Algerian war of independence, was to reveal and intensify the fissures beneath
the apparent solidarity of Africa's independent states. As the latter's divergent positions on the
Congo's legitimate government, the deployment of a UN mission (ONUC) to the crisis zone, as
well as the level of support that should be accorded to Algeria's rebel Front de Liberation
National (FLN), clashed, deeper differences in perspective and objective became painfully
obvious and eventually led to a crystallisation of Africa's states into several opposing groups.
While the so-called Casablanca group (the "revolutionaries") consisted of countries who
proposed the immediate creation of a political union for Africa in which economic, cultural, and
military activities would be coordinated centrally, the states in the rival Brazzaville group (the
"moderates") considered themselves more conservative and gradualist.10 Far from condemning
regionalism as a distraction from, or even an obstacle to, African unity, these initially
exclusively Francophone states saw themselves as a counterweight to Nkrumah's aggressive
Pan-Africanism and its omnipresent advocacy of immediate and absolute integration. Instead of
a close organic identification within a constitutionally unified Africa, the moderates thus argued
for a unity that was not "political integration of sovereign states, but unity of aspirations and of
action considered from the point of view of African social solidarity and political identity.""
Contrary to the Casablanca group, which was never really able to institutionalise its
cooperation, the Brazzaville group, which by May 1961 had merged into the larger Monrovia
group of states, went on to create various institutions and adopt a charter in order to assert its
claim to speak for the continent.12 It founded the Organisation Africaine et Malgache de Cooperation
Economique (OAMCE), the Union Africaine et Malgache (UAM), as well as a defence organisation,
the Union Africaine et Malgache de Defense (UAMD). The two latter were eventually amalgamated
into the Union Africaine et Malgache de Cooperation Economique (UAMCE).

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 35

As the conflict in and for Congo raged on, the rift between the two opposing groups and
their leaders continued to grow. In fact, each group, by considering the establishment of an
institutionalized continental cooperation to be a zero-sum game and itself to be the only
legitimate beginning thereof, did its part to turn the initially stable coexistence into a state of
competition and rivalry.13 A characterisation of the latter was the constant struggle of the two
groups to increase their individual memberships, preferably by converting members of the
opposing group. This led to situations where the UAM would appeal to all states to cooperate
with it "sur la base des principles definis a Brazzaville," while, at the same time, the Casablanca
powers, emphasising their "responsibilities towards the African Continent," would be asking
all countries to associate themselves with their common action instead.14
Naturally, such competition neither enhanced the continent's perception of security nor
lessened the chaos on the organisational scene which had prevailed since the eve of
independence. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Africa's states formed even more sub-
regional bodies in response. One such body that was created in the heat and rivalry of those
days was Nkrumah's Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union, later to be named the Union of African States
(UAS). Although it claimed to be a nucleus for broader unity, it was in practice as parochial as
any and hardly a worthy implementation of Nkrumah's vision of a United States of Africa.
Based on the union Ghana and Guinea had announced on 1 May 1959 (with a common national
flag and anthem, common citizenship and an open invitation to other African states to join), the
UAS failed to draw its members together or have any practical activities besides the issuing of
several declarations and charters. As Jon Woronoff so rightly observed, its main purpose, so it
would seem, was as a battering ram against the neighboring members of the
Brazzaville/Monrovia groups first, and then also against the Pan-African Freedom Movement of
Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMESCA) which it saw as yet another rival in the
quest for continental unity.15 Considering itself a "higher and healthier conception of African
unity," the UAS condemned other attempts at regional association (or as it is sometimes called
functional cooperation) as "just another form of balkanisation" and encouraged all African
states to follow its example instead.16
Originally meant as a means to undermine and destroy regionalism in order to attain
continental unity, the creation of the UAS and its subsequent conduct in inter-African politics
had exactly the opposite effect. By heightening tensions and thereby seemingly convincing the
less radical states that they themselves would need similar bodies for their protection, the
Casablanca group, and within it the UAS, contributed to the further fragmentation of Africa's
institutional sphere rather than to its consolidation.
While many other instances of rivalling regionalisms existed in the period between 1958
and 1963, the open clash between the statist Monrovia and unionist Casablanca groups, as well
as the competition for institutional primacy as materialised in the UAS, are certainly instructive
examples. Offering a valuable glimpse of inter-African relations in their formative stages, they
serve well to demonstrate how by 1963 the initial euphoria about independence had in many
cases turned into thinly veiled rivalry across four levels: institutional, international,
intranational, and personal. Organizations such as the UAM or the African States of the
Casablanca Charter contended for recognition and political influence across the continent.
States such as Ghana or Nigeria competed for hegemony within these organizations or regions.

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36 I Franke

Within these and other states, parties and trade unions competed for attention to their
particular conceptions of regional cooperation and African unity. Side by side with the
squabbles among theses various organizations, states, and groupings went personal disputes
between the leaders of these entities. As the following sections, beginning with a short
discussion of the inter-relationships of the continent's many organizations with the OAU, will
attempt to show, these mutually reinforcing levels of competition were to remain characteristic
of Africa's processes of regionalisation over the following decades.

From the OAU to the African Union (1963-2002)

The increasing realisation among members of the Casablanca group (especially Guinea)
that African countries were unlikely to move as far or as rapidly towards complete political
integration as their leaders had hoped soon led to attempts to compromise. These resulted in a
general rapprochement which in May 1963 culminated in the establishment of the OAU. Though
based on the lowest common denominator of unity acceptable to the more than thirty heads of
states who participated in the Addis Ababa meeting, the OAU nonetheless represented an
unprecedented chance for continental cooperation. For Casablanca heads of state like S6kou
Tour6, the new organisation held the eventual promise of much wider inter-African cooperation
than would have been possible through their own politically isolated projects such as the UAS.17
The Monrovia bloc, on the other hand, not only saw its gradual approach to political integration
enshrined in the OAU's charter, but also the national sovereignty of all African states clearly
safeguarded from further interference by the likes of Nkrumah and Tour6 (of the seven
principles of the OAU charter, five were in defense of the sovereign rights of member states).
Thus, the Monrovia-Casablanca split seemed finally subsumed in the OAU which, in the words
of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie, was now ready "to rouse the slumbering giant of Africa,
not to the nationalism of Europe of the nineteenth century, not to regional consciousness, but to
the vision of a single brotherhood bending its united efforts towards the achievement of a
greater and nobler goal."18
Although established as the one All-African organisation, the OAU never was to be the
only such organisation on the continent. Given the vast geographical extent of Africa there was
always bound to be any number of smaller, more compact groupings which would make it
necessary to define the relationship between the fledgling organisation and such groupings in
order to prevent duplication or even rivalry. It was generally thought that since one of the
driving motives for creating the OAU had been to end the political divisions that split the
continent into feuding blocs, the OAU should be the supreme political authority with the power
to coordinate the continent's many cooperative activities and ensure their compatibility and
unity of effort. However, in the end the OAU charter did not contain any specific provision
clarifying the continental hierarchy of institutions and organizations, nor did the first Council of
Ministers of the OAU meeting in Dakar determine the actual relationship between the OAU and
the sub-regional groupings. Moreover, since some member states' feared possible infringements
on their hard-won sovereignty, the OAU was given no supervisory power nor were other
organizations required to consult with it or even inform it of their decisions.19

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 37

Quite naturally, the resultant lack of coordination and oversight soon led to increasing
tensions between the OAU and the remaining web of sub-regional organizations. For while
many of the continent's political organizations (such as the UAS) had been dissolved with the
conception of the OAU in order to "promote the unity and solidarity of the African States," the
OAU's first decade actually witnessed a renewed growth of rivalling regionalism rather than its
desired (and predicted) disappearance.20 Existent institutions expanded and new ones sprung
up in all parts of the continent and in the most varied specialisations. According to Jon
Woronoff, there were at least three principle reasons for this revival of regionalism.21
Firstly, Africa's sheer immensity and the nature of its countries' political, economic, and
social relations seemed to favour regional over continental cooperation as ties did generally not
extend much beyond neighboring states. Consequently, the cohesion needed to ensure
effective and meaningful cooperation was more likely to be found on a regional level and most
initiatives promised greater chances of success if undertaken in smaller groupings.22
Secondly, far from being a clean sheet or an inchoate mass on which a simple
organisational structure could be imposed, Africa is one of the most varied regions in the world
in which layers of strong and underlying unity cross or intertwine with other layers of diversity
and disunity.23 As these differing lines of force are known to constantly pull the continent in
several directions at the same time, it should have come as no surprise that, once the phase of
rapprochement had ended and contentious issues had reappeared on the political scene, blocs
should form again and that some of the blocs might again become sub-regional organizations.
Renewed differences in opinion about the ongoing Congolese affair, for example, led to the
creation of the Organisation Commune Africaine et Malgache (OCAM) in February 1965.
The third reason for the growth of regionalism was the failure of the OAU to provide a true
continental framework for cooperative ventures. Although Article XX of the 1963 OAU Charter
had established several Specialised Commissions (Economic and Social; Educational and
Cultural; Health, Sanitation, and Nutrition; Defence; as well as Scientific, Technical and
Research), these never really materialised .24 Instead, the OAU's merely lukewarm attitude to its
commitment "to coordinate and intensify [member states'] cooperation and efforts to achieve a
better life for the people of Africa" left a sizeable vacuum in the continent's perceived potential
which the states themselves ventured to fill.25 They did so by expanding and intensifying sub-
regional cooperation.
The resulting disorderly growth of formations not only significantly reduced the
momentum of the continental integration aspect of Pan-Africanism throughout the second half
of the 1960s, but also further complicated the relations between the OAU and the supposedly
tamed world of sub-regionalism.26 Instead of a clear hierarchy with an established division of
labour, the OAU faced increasing competition for political influence and resources, as well as
occasional challenges to its institutional primacy from organizations like the aforementioned
OCAM which was open to all African states and thus also potentially continental. As a result,
relations between the OAU and many of the continent's other organizations and groupings like
the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) soured to such an extent that often only formal
agreements could overcome the substantial unease between them.27 Rather than seeing a
disappearance of institutional competition, the post-Casablanca/Monrovia period was thus
characterized by the resurgence of rivalling regionalism(s) which flourished on the expense of

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38 I Franke

the OAU and the effective conduct of Pan-African cooperative affairs, or in the words of Jon
It would be nice to think of the continent as a solar system in which the Organisation of
African Unity was the sun and the others dutifully revolved around it. But this is not the case,
and the sub-regional bodies follow no fixed path as compared with the OAU; there have been
many collisions and eclipses, and the force of gravity is frequently defied.28
Such collisions and eclipses, however, have not merely been confined to the OAU's
relations with sub-regional bodies, but have also been a close trait of these bodies' associations
with each other. In fact, given the aforementioned increase in organizations, the intensification
of the Cold War's divisive grip on Africa, as well as the destructive logics of nationalism and
neo-colonialism, it was almost to be expected that some of these organizations would end up as
rivals. Nonetheless, the extent to which they actually did compete with each other for
everything from money to members deserves attention, not only because it will be helpful in
formulating some parameters of competing subsystems in Africa, but also in order to
understand many of the concerns harboured against today's regional security initiatives.

The example of West Africa's competing regionalisms and Anglo-French rivalry

While every African region has had its fair share of institutional competition, the example
of the Western sub-region is especially instructive.29 The area comprising 16 states has been a
particularly fertile ground for regional (mostly economic) cooperation experiments since the
early 1960s. Besides the aforementioned Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS), the Communaute Economique de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (CEAO) and the Union Monetaire
Ouest Africaine (UMOA), nearly 30 other intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) with the same
basic objectives had sprung up by 1979.30 By June 1990, this number had risen to more than 40
IGOs.31 As it is neither possible nor appropriate in an article of this scope to wend a way
through every instance of competition resulting from this multiplicity, the relationship between
ECOWAS and its Francophone rivals must suffice as a telling example.
ECOWAS was originally chartered as a regional integration and cooperation grouping in
May 1975 in order to unite all West African states into a collective political and economic
bargaining bloc. Going back to an initiative President William Tubman of Liberia started in
1964, the creation of ECOWAS was also supposed to heal the rift between the region's Anglo-
and Francophone countries by crossing the language barrier and incorporating previous
initiatives such as UMOA and CEAO into one overarching organisation. However, far from
having such a unifying effect, the emergence of ECOWAS soon began to complicate the course
of West Africa's integration process. Although all Francophone states had signed the Treaty of
Lagos which established ECOWAS, their (perceived) shared frame of mind, including their
common fear and suspicion of Nigeria's hegemonic potential and the historically ambitious
Ghana, as well as strong pressure from France, quickly curbed any enthusiasm for the project.
As an unmistakable reaction and barrier to the ECOWAS idea of loosening colonial ties, the
Francophone states increasingly concentrated their cooperative efforts in more exclusive and
smaller groupings such as the UMOA or CEAO.32 By nonetheless remaining members of
ECOWAS (and in fact commanding 63 percent of the organisation's total membership), they not

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 39

only effectively check-mated the Anglophone members in a pernicious chess game, but also
dimmed all hopes that the artificial divisions in the region might finally be overcome.33
The role of external actors in furthering this division and reinforcing the rivalry between
the non-Francophone and the Francophone ECOWAS members must not be underestimated.
Whereas ECOWAS was inspired mainly by African political leaders and was created and
administered by African technocrats and bureaucrats, the reverse is true of the CEAO and
UMOA.34 Not only was their creation instigated by France (and later supported by the
European Economic Community), but their functioning would have been impossible without
the continuing backing from the former colonial master. As the latter retained an obvious
economic interest in West Africa and could not afford to loose its influence, it hardly surprises
that many saw the CEAO and UMOA as France's "Trojan horses" within ECOWAS.35
These Trojan horses were to ensure that Francophone Africa maintained strong relations
with Paris and would not begin to cooperate with its neighbours against, for example, French
exploitation of the region's strategic raw materials. Naturally, the resultant division of West
Africa into competing alliances formed along the lines of common colonial heritage rather than
economic or political rationale made it virtually impossible to achieve the unifying ideals
enshrined in the Treaty of Lagos. Nonetheless, ECOWAS survived. It thus fared substantially
better than many other sub-regional organizations which did not withstand the pressures of
constant institutional rivalry. The Maghreb Permanent Consultative Council formed in
November 1965, the Union Douaniere et Economique de l'Afrique Centrale (UDEAC) set up in
January 1966, the Union Douaniere et Economique de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (UDEAO) established in
June 1966, or the Organisation des Etats Riverains du Senegal (OERS), for example, all failed soon
after their conception. Yet another case in point is the East African Community (EAC) which
died in 1977 before it could even celebrate its tenth birthday.36
However, even though ECOWAS endured, its troubled history confirms Adebayo
Adedeji's sentiment that a "study of integration efforts in West Africa is inevitably a study in
frustration."37 This frustration has remained until the present day, for even though all leading
West African politicians seem to have recognized the need to rationalise the sub-region's
profusion of competing intergovernmental organizations, very little progress has been achieved
in this area. If anything, the situation has become worse.
Both the 1991 treaty establishing the African Economic Community (the Abuja Treaty) and
the adoption of the 1993 revision of the original ECOWAS treaty (the Cotonou Treaty) had
initially raised the hopes that the region's divisions could finally be overcome. The former
stipulated that "member states undertake, through their respective regional economic
communities, to coordinate and harmonise their sub-regional organizations, with a view to
rationalising the integration process at the level of each region."38 The latter was prepared by
the ECOWAS Eminent Person Committee and aimed at making ECOWAS the only
intergovernmental economic body in West Africa, thus absorbing the CEAO and the Mano
River Union. Merely fifteen months after these treaties had been signed, however, the rivalry
between Anglo- and Francophone ventures returned to the forefront of West African politics
when the Francophone states used the occasion of the bankruptcy of CEAO to establish yet
another organisation, the Union Economique et Monetaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA) in order to
paralyse ECOWAS. According to Adedeji,

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40 I Franke

So successfully has UEMOA check-mated and undermined ECOWAS that all that the latter
now spends a great deal of its time doing is to harmonise its programmes with those of the
former, hold joint ministerial meetings, seek the convergence of the economic and financial
policies and the harmonisation of the legal framework, accounting procedure and statistics of
both ECOWAS and UEMOA. In any case, such convergence will for long remain a pipedream
since UEMOA countries constitute a majority of ECOWAS member countries and as such can
play both judge and jury. In spite of the apparent unity that exists, ECOWAS is a house divided
against itself.39
While this instance of institutional rivalry may seem particularly severe, it certainly is not
the only case of such consequential competition in Africa today.40 In Central Africa, for example,
a similar quarrel between the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the
Communaute Economique et Monetaire de l'Afrique Centrale (CEMAC) continues to complicate the
region's process of integration. To a lesser extent, competition also still takes place between the
Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and
Southern Africa (COMESA), and the re-born East African Community (EAC) as well as
amongst several of the other 130 remaining regional groupings established to promote
cooperation and unity. The year-long parallel existence of the African Union, the New
Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the Conference on Security, Stability,
Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA) with all its friction and duplication of effort,
moreover, clearly showed that the continental level is equally prone to the troubles described in
this section.41 With this having been meant as an introduction to the web of competition and
rivalry in Africa's organisational and institutional landscape, the following section attempts to
distil the commonalities of nearly four decades of competing sub-systems into a theoretical
framework. This framework will then underlie the discussion of the prospects of today's
regional and continental security initiatives in Africa in the third section of this article.


First of all, it is important to understand that the mixture of competing regionalisms and
resulting inter-institutional rivalry described above is not restricted to Africa. Europe, for
instance, has had its own share of this phenomenon.42 Divided into unionists and statists (akin
to the division between the Monrovia and Casablanca groups), social integrationists and liberal
expansionists as well as several other tiers of enthusiasts and sceptics, the members of the
European Union have long had to deal with contending regional agendas. As recently as 2003,
the fierce debate between old and new Europe over the war in Iraq showed that the divisions of
Europe, created by the big powers after 1945, are still not overcome. Nonetheless, Europe's
multiplicity of regional and institutional rivalries is contained within a stable democratic
framework and channelled through an elaborative organisational construct such as the
Committee of the Regions, which gives hundreds of regional organizations a voice in the
running of the EU. Africa, on the contrary, is still lacking such a framework and organisational
construct. Regional rivalries are thus more likely to be pronounced and have serious political
and economic repercussions. It is for this difference in possible impact that a discussion of

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 41

potential root causes is so essential to a meaningful assessment of the challenges to and chances
of its emerging security architecture.
If what the previous section has argued is an accurate representation of the history of inter-
institutional competition up to the creation of the AU, the basic factors responsible for the
emergence of conflict, rifts, and cleavages are not specific to one span of time, but common to
the nature of regional cooperation in Africa. In fact, as the considerable body of literature on
today's regional groupings shows, such groups are beset by problems similar to those
encountered by the various organizations covered in this article thus far, namely intra-
institutional rivalries and inter-institutional competition. It seems that the root causes to these
problems as well as the key to the overarching issue of competing regionalisms can be found in
five mutually reinforcing determinants of regional cooperation in Africa: (1) the politico-
ideological rifts permeating the continent; (2) the prevalence of external dependence and
influence; (3) the lure of nationalism; (4) institutional weakness resulting from the absence of
political will and regional identities; and (5) personal power policies.

Politico-ideological rifts

Naturally among the prime reasons complicating effective regional cooperation in Africa are the
deep divisions that permeate the continent. These divisions can be grouped into (1) traditional
divisions preceding the colonial conquest such as historical allegiance and culture; (2) divisions
arising from different colonial heritages like language, mode of administration, or level of
external support; and (3) divisions resulting from Cold War ideology and politics. Decisions to
engage in regional cooperation (and competition) are often made on the basis of these divisions,
as the creation of southern African organizations like the Front Line States (FLS) as regional
bulwarks against apartheid South Africa attest to. Correspondingly, decisions to disengage
from regional cooperation are frequently based on the feeling that politico-ideological rifts
between the parties have increased either because previously existing splits have resurfaced or
new divisions have appeared. Here the obvious example is the failure of the first version of the
East African Community (EAC) in 1977, which is commonly ascribed to the fact that Tanzania
opted for a socialist ideology while Kenya decided to follow the capitalist pattern.

The prevalence of external dependence and influence

One look at the past four decades suffices to see that political decolonisation and formal
independence in Africa have not meant the end to external forces shaping the continent's
affairs. Instead, as the Nigerian writer Chinweizu has so rightly pointed out, they have only
meant a change in the guise of these forces as former colonial powers for a number of reasons,
ranging from the wish to preserve a high international profile and secure access to strategic
resources to the desired continuation of the highly favourable economic relationships, decided
to remain deeply engaged in Africa's affairs.43 Foremost among these neo-colonialists was
Gaullist France, which by the early 1960s had perfected a system of organised exertion of
influence over its former African colonies. Through this so-called cooperation France was able to
continue playing a leading role in large parts of the African continent which it had long ago
come to regard as its "private backyard" (arriere-cours) and "exclusive hunting ground" (chasse-

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42 I Franke

gardee).44 Paris' ability to influence its former West African empire thereby rested on three
steadfast pillars, namely (1) its monetary control over the emerging economies via its leadership
role in the Franc Zone; (2) its financial leverage through the selective and conditional provision
of development aid; and (3) its military power stationed inside and outside the region.45
Given such powerful means of leverage, and France's proven willingness to use them, it is
hardly surprising that a "special relationship" developed between Paris and its former colonies.
Up to the present day, this relationship is fostered through close personal contacts between the
elites (current French president Jacques Chirac, for example, is the godfather to a daughter of
former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf) and ensures that many African states continue to
accommodate French demands.46 Naturally, this has also had an effect on the strategic choices
African countries have made regarding regional cooperation. While the aforementioned "Trojan
horses" are the most obvious examples of French intrusion in that respect, many other cases of
direct interference speak to the extent to which the prevalence of external dependence and
influence have hampered effective regional cooperation in West Africa.
Although France is surely the most extreme case, other non-African countries have also
greatly influenced the continent's cooperative and institutional affairs, most notably former
colonial powers Britain and Portugal as well as the United States and the Soviet Union during
the Cold War. The latter and the concomitant break-up of large parts of the continent into
spheres of superpower influence were often as obstructive to the consolidation of regional
cooperation in the East of Africa (especially the greater Horn of Africa) as France's la cooperation
had been in the West. Combined with the occasional meddling of the EU and other
international bodies, it thus seems safe to say that Africa's various processes of regionalisation
and the resultant regionalisms were characterized by considerable external interference which
was shaped by the colonial experience, but reinforced during the post-colonial period.47


As argued at the beginning of this article, the idea of regional cooperation on a continental
or sub-regional scale easily took root in the fertile soil of pan-Africanism and soon became a
notable feature of inter-African relations. Confronted with the overwhelming power of their
colonial masters, many African nationalists drew great comfort from it and used it to establish
contact with each other and gain mutual political and economic support. The majority of
African states thus became independent in an era of regionalist euphoria. However, once
independence was achieved, the meaning and objectives of pan-Africanism were generally
domesticated as national integration and development took precedence over the concern for
inter-African cooperation. Understandably, the newly-independent leaders quickly became
preoccupied with more immediate problems such as the unification of ethnic and religious
groups, the consolidation of their own parties and power over the masses, the fight against
poverty and disease as well as the defence of their nations against internal coups d'etat.48
The promotion of nationalism, according to Jeffrey Herbst, presented one particularly
attractive option for solving these problems. It not only offered an enormous potential for the
development of political bonds of loyalty, but also another way for the state to extend and
consolidate its power over distance, not, as with for example taxes, through the agencies of

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 43

coercion but through the norm of legitimacy.49 The success of this option, however, was
naturally based on the leader's ability to instil and foster a feeling among the populace that the
nation and the state were somehow bound together and rightly so. While the iconic symbols of
nationalism such as a common flag and anthem were seen as necessary to the formation of such
a national identity, the frequent attempts at the creation of supranational entities and even
regional or continental political unions were considered by many African leaders a grave
danger to their domestic nation-building efforts.50 Their resultant reluctance to engage in ever
deeper cooperation and integration must therefore be seen not as a decision against the
principle of inter-African cooperation per se, but as a result of clear political prioritisation:
consolidation of the state before consolidation of the region or continent. This top-down
prioritising was compounded by the general sentiment among many Africans that they had
fought too hard and too long for independence and national sovereignty to give these up again
at the first sight of a cooperative opportunity, especially when the regional organizations
originally established as the logical institutional response to the inadequacies of colonial rule
were seemingly not up to the high expectations put into them.
While this prioritising and the popular support for it may partly explain why so many of
Africa's early attempts at supranational arrangements such as the Mali Federation, the East
African Federation, the aborted Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union or "Senegambia" either did not get
off the ground or rather quickly crashed, it is for an assessment of the later attempts at inter-
African cooperation that the lenses of nationalism are most instructive.51 One reason why
regional organizations were often not able to deliver tangible national benefits to African states
was due to a decreasing willingness on part of these states to subordinate national to regional
interests. While it seems perfectly normal that regional and national interests do not always
coincide and that states only enter into economic or defence agreements when these often
integrative objectives are not in conflict with considerations of national security, prestige, or
economic advantage, African states displayed particularly little willingness to sacrifice
perceived national interests on the regional altar. One reason for this was that the bitter fruits of
nationalism had slowly led to defensive state positionalism, an over-sensitivity concerning
national sovereignty as well as the constant fear of falling victim to a maldistribution of costs
and benefits.52 All of the latter have quite naturally generated severe restraints on effective inter-
African cooperation and thus impaired the working of Africa's many supranational institutions
and integrationist ventures.

Institutional weakness

Another factor hampering such institutions is their inherent weakness. Foremost among
the reasons for this weakness are: (1) the member states' frequent lack of political will; (2) the
intergovernmental structure of most institutions; (3) the absence of regional identities; and (4)
the low level of development among the African states.
The absence of political will, and even more importantly, united political will, is directly
related to the aforementioned tendency of many states to prioritise nationalism over
regionalism in order to prevent their populaces' fragmentation along ethnic or other lines.
These states believed that they had more to loose than to gain from increasing integration and

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44 I Franke

consequently did not put in any more effort than was absolutely necessary in order to maintain
influence and credibility on the African stage. Although the influence of Pan-Africanist
sentiment is such that no African leader wants to leave him- or herself open to the charge of
balkanisation, supranational regionalism has thus been supported only insofar as it posed no
threat to the existing state system.53
The detrimental effect of this lack of political will was further compounded by the
intergovernmental structure of most institutions. Contrary to the European model which
provided from the outset for the creation of institutions capable of representing the community
as a whole (mostly through specific institutional formulas that guaranteed the existence of
guardians of the common interest such as the Commission of the European Communities or
decision-making by qualified majority vote within the Council of Ministers, as opposed to rule
by consensus), African institutions are characterized by the way in which national interests hold
sway over all decision-making bodies. Most obvious is the pre-eminence of the authority of
Heads of State and Government in decision-making, the national representation in the councils
and the technical committees, and also the limited resources and responsibilities of the various
secretariats. The intergovernmental approach, and with it the inevitable clash between national
and regional interests, seems to permeate Africa's entire institutional landscape.
The third reason for the weakness of Africa's institutions is the notable absence of regional
identities on the African continent. The building of an effective community requires the sense of
solidarity and trust among the people concerned.54 Given the strong nationalist tendencies of
the continent's states, however, regional identities including a sense of belonging are still
cruelly lacking. This absence of regional identities has been accentuated by the heterogeneity
existing between the different members of the various sub-regional organizations, by the effect
of overlapping and exclusionary memberships in other competing groups, and by the large
number of actors in most regional organizations.
Lastly, any attempt at institution-building is inevitably complicated by the low level of
economic and political development within many African states. Given the desolate state of
Africa's public finances and governmental structures, its organisational deficits and
inexperienced leaders as well as wide-spread corruption and clientelism, it is hardly surprising
that its institutions did not develop as clearly, strongly or professionally as they did elsewhere.55

Personal power policies

This low level of development is also at the root of another problem for effective regional
cooperation, namely, the fact that regionalism in Africa is driven largely by personalised
governments, and is often held hostage to the political will of African leaders. The continent's
low level of economic development and a lack of societal pluralism have abetted the
personalisation of power to an extent hardly seen anywhere else in the world. Since the early
1970s most African states have, at one time or another, been dominated by so-called "Big Men"
like Zaire's Mobutu 6s6s Seko, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Idi Amin of Uganda, Liberia's
Charles Taylor or Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya who have built their power on the politics of
patronage and kleptocratic self-aggrandisement. As former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali
liked to point out, this syndrome of an "Africa of Heads of States" has found its

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 45

institutionalisation in the telling difference between the opening sentences of the UN and OAU
Charters. While the former begins with "We, the Peoples of the United Nations" the latter starts
with "We the Heads of African and Malagasy States and Governments."
The centralisation of power in a few individuals has hampered effective regional
cooperation in at least two ways. First, having tasted and grown accustomed to the sweet
benefits of power, Africa's autocratic leaders have only seldomly relinquished any of their
direct power to supranational organizations and even when they have done so it is seemingly
only to hijack these organizations as vehicles for their personal ambitions. Consequently, Africa
is littered with the carcasses of planned unions and organizations most of which failed, because
the hopeful architects could not offer leaders significant enough incentives to abdicate even
small bits of power. As Sylvanus Olympio, Togo's first leader, noted in a moment of bitter
insight, "political unification is only desired by those political leaders who believe they could
come out on top in such unions."56
Second, the personal character of and emotional decision-making in regional negotiations
inevitably resulting from the omnipresence of the Big Men have removed political bargaining
from the realms of rationality and both national as well as regional needs. Instead, personal
enmities, for example between Idi Amin and Julius Nyerere or Yoweri Museveni and Laurent
Kabila, have repeatedly paralysed regional organizations. Any positive decisions regarding
regional cooperation are more likely to reflect the amalgamated personal opinions or friendship
of a few leaders than popularly established and supported national choices.57
The personalisation of power, however, is not only at the root of many of the difficulties
faced by regional cooperation in Africa, but together with the points made thus far can also
serve as an explanation for the proliferation of organizations and their proneness to
competition. Given the aforementioned amount of external interference, it is hardly surprising
that African strongmen soon became divided horizontally into pro-East and pro-West blocs and
vertically into revolutionaries, progressives, reactionaries, capitalists, socialists, traditionalists,
and middle-of-the-roaders.58 Mindful of the indisputable benefits of cooperation, these leaders
soon looked for like-minded allies as they scrambled for influence in their respective regions,
the inevitable result being the establishment of as many organizations as there were competing
ideologies and polarisations. In this respect, it is important to understand that the phenomenon
of competing regionalisms is not necessarily constrained to inter-regional competition, but
equally often arises from differing conceptions of cooperation or politics within the same
region, the best example again being the inter-institutional competition in West Africa.
On the basis of the above five root causes of inter-institutional competition, one could
pursue two lines of thought: rejecting the whole idea of effective regional cooperation as
irrelevant to the African continent or trying to identify whether the last few years have seen
changes to the above parameters which may allow Africa's regional and continental
organizations to move forward with increasing cooperation and integration. The penultimate
part of this paper will pursue the second line of thought and assess the recent efforts of the
African Union to integrate the continent's various regional security initiatives into a common

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It is impossible to miss that Africa's regional organizations have made substantial strides over
the past decade in assuming primary responsibility for promoting peace and security.59 Acting
on the rationale that the increasingly regional nature of conflict in Africa necessitates an
increasingly regional response, many of the continent's regional organizations have added
security and conflict management initiatives to their original (mostly economic) purpose. The
best-known and probably best-developed are those of ECOWAS and SADC, but IGAD, ECCAS,
the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), COMESA, the Arab-Maghreb Union
(AMU), and the East African Community (EAC) have also begun to establish peace and security
structures. Given the history of competing regionalisms discussed in the first section of this
paper as well as the subsequent elaboration on their root causes, the question arises whether,
and if so how, today's Africa can overcome the problems associated with this proliferation of
initiatives and the resultant competition for foreign support, political influence, and
institutional relevance. Is there any chance that the African Union can coordinate and
harmonise the various regional undertakings in such a way that they will serve as building
rather than stumbling blocs to continent-wide cooperation and integration? The following
section will argue that the African continent is on the best way to overcoming the underlying
dynamic of competing regionalisms by having formulated a common purpose, having accepted
the leadership role of the AU as a credible clearinghouse and framework for all initiatives, and
most importantly, having realized that cooperation offers tangible benefits to all participating

The renaissance of Pan-Africanism and a changing conception of security

Among the most significant reasons for this optimism regarding inter-African security
cooperation is a twofold change in the continental self-conception. First, following what
Uganda's President Museveni had called a "decade of awakening" in the face of an
increasingly-felt impact of globalisation on Africa's desolate economies, waning superpower
interest, and the prevalence of horrific humanitarian catastrophes on the continent, Africa has
recently been experiencing a new wave of Pan-Africanism.60 Beginning with the 1991 landmark
all-African conference on "Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation" in Kampala, the
continent has appeared increasingly willing to overcome many of the aforementioned
hindrances to effective regional and continental cooperation. This new-found willingness had
sprung from the realisation that if Africa wanted to break the cycle of violence, poverty, and
underdevelopment that has caused so much suffering and kept it persistently at the bottom of
all international indicators, it finally had to take charge of its own destiny.
Second, the resultant wave of Pan-Africanism differed markedly from the preceding ones.
Previous attempts at continental cooperation were dominated by the Westphalian notion of
sovereignty so entrenched in the OAU's Charter since Africa's Heads of State had pledged non-
interference in each other's internal affairs at the organisation's founding conference in 1963.
The current wave, however, has been pitting the values of unity and solidarity against those of
democracy, accountability, democratic governance, and transparent politics all of which are
considered vital correlates to continental security.61 As a result, Africa now seems ready to make

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 47

some qualifications to the principle of the sovereign rights of nations. This readiness culminated
in the formulation of the AU's Constitutive Act, which by defining sovereignty in the
conditional terms of a state's capacity and willingness to protect its citizens had shifted the
focus from regime security to human security and which even goes so far as to recognize the
AU's right to militarily intervene in its member states' affairs.62 Together with the
aforementioned heightened political will to act and further institutional innovations such as the
African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), this changed conception of sovereignty and security
has led many to agree with South Africa's Thabo Mbeki on the coming of an "African
Renaissance." Although the latter still has to prove its worth, the first signs are encouraging.
Most relevantly, the past few years have seen important changes to the five inhibiting
factors identified in the previous section. Regarding the divisions permeating the continent, for
example, it must be noted that (besides the obvious end to the divisive powers of apartheid) the
increasing sense of urgency arising from the developmental failures and humanitarian
catastrophes of the recent past seems to have had a muting effect on many of the traditional
intra-regional rivalries such as the long-running Anglo-French stand-off in West Africa. This
sense of urgency is also increasingly felt by outside actors and has led to a more constructive
approach by many donor countries and international institutions such as the European Union
or the G8. The aforementioned wave of Pan-Africanism and its idealistic undercurrent
compound this new spirit and have led to the emergence of a new generation of politically
responsible leaders who are one by one replacing the venal despots and Big Men of the
continent. As a result, more than two-thirds of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have had
multi-party elections in the past five years some admittedly freer and fairer than others and
there have been a number of peaceful democratic changes of government. All these
developments have substantially increased the chances for effective inter-African cooperation.

The African Union, the regional organizations and an emergent division of labour

The ambitious dream of a continental security architecture is taking shape at a remarkable
pace. Ever since the Kampala conference, the world has seen Africans not only develop a
genuine desire to take on greater responsibility for their continent's troubles, but also foster the
institutional clout to match this desire. Building on the OAU's Mechanism for Conflict
Prevention, Management and Resolution as well as on the continental integration agenda
enshrined in the 1991 Abuja Treaty, the African Union has created an impressively dynamic
peace and security architecture. Today, this architecture rests on a Common African Defence
and Security Policy (CADSP) adopted in 2004 and is coordinated by the AU's Peace and
Security Council (PSC). The latter is supported by the Commission of the AU modelled after the
European archetype, a Panel of the Wise, a Continental Early Warning System, the Military Staff
Committee, a Special Fund, and the emerging African Standby Force.63
One truly new development that clearly distinguishes the AU's architecture from that of its
feeble predecessor is the intensive cooperation between the African Union and regional
organizations. Whereas the OAU's security efforts were plagued by its often uneasy coexistence
with the continent's various Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the AU does not see the
RECs as competitors in a zero-sum game, but as essential building blocks and implementation

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agencies for its many programs.64 By basing its security architecture on regional pillars and
incorporating existing initiatives into its continental policy, the AU does not only profit from
the regions' comparative advantage in military and security matters, their experience with
peace operations and in the case of western, eastern and southern Africa their established
frameworks and mechanisms for conflict prevention, management, and resolution, but also
grants them a significant stake and a central role in all processes.65 Under this approach, the
primary responsibility for peace and security remains squarely with the RECs, while the AU
serves as authoritative clearinghouse and framework for all initiatives. In this way, the AU
conceptually fills the institutional gap between the UN with its higher moral authority for
ensuring international peace and security on the one hand, and the regional organizations with
their perceived greater political will and executive power on the other hand.
The experiences of the last five years have already revealed a functioning division of labour
between the regional organizations and the AU that roughly corresponds to this pyramidal
conflict management structure based on the RECs' regional specificity, the AU's continental
comprehensiveness, and the UN's global capacities.66 In a way it was the latter's overstretch
following the proliferation of devastating internal conflicts that had led to the idea of a layered
approach whereby the initial response to a crisis would come from local and national
organizations, followed by responses at the regional and continental levels, and finally by those
of the UN and the broader international community. It was thought that this would lessen the
burden at the UN level and enable more rapid and appropriate responses at much lower levels
of the international security framework. As a consequence, regional organizations such as
ECOWAS, IGAD, and SADC became deeply involved in dealing with Africa's conflicts reaching
from IGAD's successful mediation efforts in Sudan and Somalia to the ECOWAS interventions
in Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Occasionally, the AU has, with the active support of
the RECs, also conducted its own peace operations such as the African Mission in Burundi
(AMIB) and the still ongoing African Mission in Sudan (AMIS).
Despite the obvious functionality and success of this relationship between the AU and
regional and sub-regional conflict management actors, the AU has learned from the mistakes of
its institutional predecessor and recognized the dangers that can arise from an unchecked
proliferation of organizations and initiatives. Consequently, the AU's decision to limit its official
collaboration to seven RECs (ECOWAS, SADC, IGAD, AMU, ECCAS, COMESA, and EAC) and
to dedicate last year's summit in Banjul mainly to the rationalisation of RECs must also be seen
in light of the continental organisation's desire to lessen the likelihood of competing rather than
complementary security efforts. This desire for rationalisation, harmonisation, and integration
is enshrined in every major AU document, be it the Constitutive Act, the Protocol on the
Establishment of the PSC, or the Draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the
African Union and the RECs. The appointment of an AU delegate to interface with the RECs,
the establishment of an AU liaison office at the headquarters of ECOWAS in Abuja as well as
the institutionalisation of regular meetings and exchange of notes between the AU and the
RECs are only some of the steps that have been taken to ensure the various organizations'
effective partnership.67 Another such step, namely the creation of regionally-based
multinational brigades as building blocs for the envisioned African Standby Force deserves

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 49

closer attention.

The African Standby Force as an example of the AU's continental integration effort

In line with President Mbeki's call for "Africans to do everything [they] can to rely on their
own capacities to secure their continent's renaissance," African leaders have placed the
establishment of an African Stand-by Force at the heart of the AU's peace and security agenda.68
According to the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council, adopted in
July 2002, the ASF is to enable the PSC to fulfil its objective of promoting peace, security, and
stability in Africa.69 The conceptual ASF will consist of five regionally based brigades of about
3,000-5,000 troops providing the AU with a combined standby capacity of about 15,000-25,000
troops trained in peace operations, ranging from low intensity observer missions to full-blown
military interventions. As currently foreseen, the ASF will be operationalised in two
incremental phases, both of which are to be completed by 2010. So far, the progress has been
encouraging. For example, AU officials have recently announced that all Planning Elements
(PLANELM) have been established, that the RECs' ASF harmonisation and coordination
workshops have yielded tangible and very promising results. Both the SADC Standby Brigade
and the East African Standby Brigade (EASBRIG) have already completed the first phase of
their operationalisation.70
Besides its obvious benefit of strengthening African capacity for regional peace operations
in the long-run, the creation of the ASF also aids the consolidation of inter-African security
cooperation in two important ways. First, it epitomises a much needed common objective which
may finally channel the multiplicity of resources, initiatives, and ambitions devoted to African
capacity-building into one direction, or as Cedric de Coning put it:
The development of an African standby system is a significant achievement because it
provides Africa with a common policy framework for [...] capacity building. This means that
the various [...] capacity building initiatives underway, and any new programmes, can be
directed to support this common objective, regardless of whether such initiatives are taking
place at the regional, sub-regional or national level.71
Second, the regional character of the ASF ensures that the RECs feel ownership in the
process of establishing a continental security architecture, but at the same time continue to
strengthen their institutional links with the AU. The ASF allows the latter to incorporate the
RECs into a common framework under its coordination without infringing on their regional
authority or responsibilities. This mutually beneficial symbiosis not only reduces the risk of
competition between the continental and regional levels of inter-African cooperation, but also
increases the stakes all actors have in the process and thereby reduces the chances of failure.


Despite the above reasons for optimism, several specific challenges and obstacles to
effective inter-African security cooperation can be identified. These fall broadly into four inter-
related categories: (1) the continuing existence of a "cacophony" of regional groupings and the
resultant problems of coordination and competition; (2) the overlapping memberships within
these groupings; (3) the internal problems of the AU impacting on continental cooperation such

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as possible implementation crises and the issue of funding; and (4) the problems arising from
regionalism as formalism, regionalism without common values, and asymmetrical
regionalisation. Overcoming these challenges will be the key to a successful African security
regime and a huge step towards ending the continent's history of competing regionalisms.

Bloated institutional landscapes, continuing competition, and duplication of effort

Despite the AU's aforementioned rationalisation efforts, the African continent is still
overcrowded with organizations and initiatives which share the same purpose but operate
independently of each other. Encouraged by the post-Cold War policy preferences of Western
powers most notably the US, Britain and, to some extent, France for "African solutions to
African problems," a multiplicity of these players have also established peace and security
structures.72 The absence of clear lines of communications or a hierarchical structure amongst
the latter not only complicates the increasing willingness of sub-regional, regional, and
continental organizations to take a more proactive role in protecting human security, but also
breeds the danger of confusion, duplication of effort, and a dissipation of energies and
Consequently, it is essential that the AU continues to strengthen its role as authoritative
clearinghouse for all cooperative initiatives and clarifies its relations with these initiatives in
order to avoid the impression that the various levels of cooperation (sub-regional, regional, and
continental) are competing for pre-eminence in promoting peace and stability in Africa. For if
such perceptions of inter-organisational competition were to arise it might not only undermine
all initiatives, but could also lead to a division of Africa's institutional landscape into separate
regional blocs as seen in the 1960s.
There are currently at least 42 organizations and institutions on the continent that would
need to be integrated into the AU's structure. This task is compounded by the fact that despite
the similarities, there exist distinct differences in institutional structures, financial patrons as
well as ideologies and strategies between these organizations and the AU from which only the
former benefit.73 Fearing a substantial reduction in independence and direct support, these
organizations have proven difficult to integrate into the continental framework. While events
like the merger of the Accord on Non-Aggression and Defence (ANAD) with ECOWAS raise
the hopes for a lasting harmonisation of Africa's many confusing and duplicating mechanisms,
there thus remains much need for further rationalisation and integration of the continent's
plethora of peace and security initiatives.

Overlapping memberships

The institutional chaos is further complicated by the fact that many African states
simultaneously belong to more than one intergovernmental body that aspires to a role in
security maintenance and conflict management. While this problem of overlapping
memberships is, of course, not unique to Africa, its extent and effects may prove particularly
detrimental to the continent's infant security architecture.74
Of the 53 African countries, 26 are members of two regional organizations, and 19 are
members of three. Two countries (DRC and Swaziland) even belong to four. Only 6 countries

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 51

maintain membership in just one regional community.75 Even though the AU has limited its
official collaboration to five RECs, there are at least 14 economic communities within the
geographical space of Africa which have established some sort of peace and security
mechanism. In West Africa, ECOWAS cohabits with UEMOA, MRU, and the Community of
Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD). In Central Africa, ECCAS covers the CEMAC and
Economic Community of Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) spaces. In Southern Africa, SADC, the
South African Customs Union (SACU), and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) share the
essential part of their integration spaces among themselves and with COMESA which, in turn,
extends over the whole of Eastern Africa, some states of Northern Africa, and Central Africa.76
This overlap among Africa's organizations not only leads to wasteful duplications of effort
and counterproductive competition among countries and institutions, but also tends to
dissipate collective efforts towards the common goals of the African Union and muddy the goal
of integration. It also adds to the burdens of member states as a country belonging to two or
more organizations not only faces multiple financial obligations, but must cope with different
meetings, policy decisions, instruments, procedures, and schedules.77
Given these negative aspects, the AU must strengthen its efforts to disentangle Africa's
confusing web of institutional overlaps.78 However, this may not prove easy as countries often
benefit politically from multiple memberships which are seen to justify the extra expenses by
increasing a country's regional influence and donor attractiveness. Nonetheless, the AU should,
at the very least, clarify the many procedural questions arising from the resultant overlaps. For
example, there needs to be a better understanding of priorities and procedures when troops,
pre-identified for use by both a sub-regional and regional body, are simultaneously needed in
two places at once. Without a well-defined understanding of which organization or crisis area
has primacy in these situations, problems with force projection and force generation will
continue to be a major hurdle.79

Challenges facing the African Union

As argued earlier in this paper, the functionality of Africa's emerging peace and security
architecture is heavily dependent on an efficient and credible African Union as an embodiment
of a renewed Pan-Africanism and a catalyst for continental integration. However, as an
organisation with a huge and diverse membership representing a poor and conflict-ridden
continent, the AU is bound to face a number of challenges to its unifying efforts such as
managing the impending "implementation crisis" from within or fulfilling the world's high
expectations despite its meagre funding.
The legacy of the OAU is one of repeated implementation crises, in which the high-
reaching goals of the organisation's initiatives regularly failed to attain sufficient commitment
from the continent's leaders and the international community. Many fear that a similar fate may
await the AU's current security initiatives, a concern based significantly on recent events such
as the financial bankruptcy and operational failures of AMIS, the recurrence of conflict in
Somalia, the organisation's lenient attitude towards Mugabe's regime as well as the near success
of Sudan's dictator Omar Bashir in his quest for the AU's leadership, all of which were widely
seen as signs of the AU's dysfunction. With these failures adding up to the trenchant memories

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of past misdeeds and antagonistic interactions, it is hardly surprising that the level of trust
African countries currently put in the AU is insufficient for building a durable and truly
collaborative security architecture.
The effect of this lack of trust is compounded by the AU's inability to restore confidence in
its leadership role through financial means. Despite the fact that almost half of the AU's 2005
budget was spent on peace and security initiatives ($62 million out of a total of $158 million),
member states felt very little direct impact.80 Instead, there is a growing feeling among regional
lead states that the meagre benefits of membership do not justify an increasing submission to
the AU's authority in the delicate field of security. While the calls for the AU to finally earn the
right to be the senior authoritative structure on the continent are thus growing louder, the AU is
simply lacking the resources to fulfil this demand. Despite substantial outside support through,
for example, the EU's African Peace Facility (worth 250 million) or the G8's Africa Action Plan,
the AU is suffering from an enormous resource and capacity constraint which has impacted and
will continue to impact on the extent to which the organisation is able to commit meaningfully
to continental security through both the support of regional and sub-regional efforts as well as
its own initiatives. Without increasing commitment by its member states and the international
community, the African Union's peace and security architecture may thus soon meet the same
fate as the organisation's erstwhile flagship operation in Darfur.

Regionalism without common values / as formalism and asymmetrical regionalisation

While the challenges to continental cooperation arising from Africa's institutional chaos
and overlap as well as the AU's fading authority and financial resources are relatively
straightforward, the difficulties arising from regionalism without common values, regionalism
as formalism, and asymmetrical regionalisation are less well known though equally serious.
The challenge of regionalism without common values is based on the trend among many
African states to forge regional ties without any serious attempts to create building blocs for a
shared regional or sub-regional identity. Instead, it has become increasingly clear that only in
very few cases are a state's development at a regional level, and the ideas it espouses at that
level, shared by all the countries in its respective region or sub-region. In essence, what this
means is that most regions and sub-regions will have a rather skewed way of evolving their
common security architecture because the individual states do not share common values or an
overarching identity, which, quite obviously, would make it easier to engage in meaningful
cooperation. Senzo Ngubane and Hussein Solomon have listed several examples of such
regionalisms without common values reaching from the SADC region where it would appear
that individual member countries are pulling in different directions (absolute monarchy in
Swaziland or dictatorship in Zimbabwe on the one side, movements of democratisation in other
countries on the other side) to the situation in West Africa were rogue states exist side by side
with functioning democracies.81
Regionalism as formalism denotes the related problem that Africa seems to have slithered
into, a situation whereby the process of regional development is measured by the number of
institutions created and protocols passed without necessarily paying any particular attention to
the political will or capacity that exists to make sure that these institutions function or that the

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protocols are implemented.82 This dichotomy between appearance and capacity has already
undercut many a cooperative venture and will continue to do so until the AU's ongoing
rationalisation effort and the concomitant separation of the continent's organizations into viable
partners and mere Potemkin villages finally bears fruit.
Another challenge to forging a Pan-African security architecture arises from the continent's
asymmetrical regionalisations, that is, the uneven development of regional and sub-regional
organizations and initiatives due to their differing colonial heritages, political and security
agendas, incompatible visions, uneven political and economic development of member states,
and widely varying levels of outside support. While there is hardly anyone to blame for these
differences, they inevitably hamper the AU's integrationist efforts and undermine the
consensus required to pursue a collective security mandate and execute effective responses to
conflict through regional and continental initiatives.83 The resultant tensions are potentially
further aggravated by donor-driven peace and security capacity-building initiatives, which are
not always well coordinated and tend to favour some regions and member states over others.
Consequently, one of the priorities for African regionalism must be to create a synergy between
the existing institutions, enabling them to complement and support one another.
These are just some of the thorny issues that Africa will have to face on its way to
overcoming its history of inter-institutional competition and finally unite all actors in a common
continental framework to their mutual benefit. There are countless other difficulties such as the
inherent weakness of many African states, the still insufficient involvement of civil society, and
the prevalence of divisive conflict and rivalry on every corner of the continent. Nonetheless, a
notable first step has been taken.


This article's purpose was to shed some light on the concept of inter-institutional
competition and its effect on Africa's emerging security architecture. It did so by first tracing its
evolution through the four decades preceding the birth of the African Union and then distilling
the commonalities into five root causes that so far have impeded effective sub-regional,
regional, and continental security cooperation. It went on to assess the AU's efforts at
establishing a continental peace and security architecture in light of these root causes and
deduced that several changes that have taken place over the last decade have significantly
increased the institutional prospects and chances of this new construct. Lastly, the paper
presented some of the remaining challenges and suggested ways to overcome them. The
article's conclusions are thereby consistent with the widely-applied theories of regional security
complexes and security communities. While these theories deal with the formation of
cooperative security ventures across the globe, this article expanded on one of the reasons why
such ventures have only just begun to evolve effectively on the African continent.
Although the many tensions and rivalries that have characterized Africa's institutional
landscape thus far have cast a penumbra of cynicism and doubt over the ability of the continent
to deal with the numerous problems that persist for inter-African security cooperation, the last
decade has seen several important developments. The parameters have clearly shifted in the
direction of greater visibility and a heightened political will to act and the various organizations

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

54 I Franke

have slowly forged ahead with the process of establishing a viable continental peace and
security architecture. A new wave of Pan-Africanism promoting unity, solidarity, cohesion, and
cooperation among the peoples of Africa and their states has swept across the continent and has
helped the AU to create a "common vision of a united and strong Africa."84
This vision has arisen out of the realisation that the continent cannot afford another half-
century of constant strife and bloodshed and has provided many cooperative ventures with a
new raison d'etre based on what Garth Le Pere called "a different kind of Lockean social
contract" in which African states secure their own interests by maximising the continent's peace
and security.85 The AU has successfully facilitated this new will for cooperation by
incorporating existing initiatives into a robust continental system and establishing itself as a
more credible institutional clearinghouse than its predecessor organisation. Having taken
charge of Africa's institutional chaos, the AU has begun to accelerate the so desperately needed
process of rationalising, harmonising, coordinating, and integrating Africa's plethora of
organizations and initiatives into one coherent approach.
Fortunately, Africa will pursue this process at a time when similar projects have already
been undertaken in other regions of the world. The EU, OSCE, NATO as well as the Association
of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), for example,
can provide some useful ideas for overcoming of institutional competition and the subsequent
development of a comprehensive security framework in Africa. The answer to whether Africa
will decide to learn from its history of inter-institutional competition, however, may still be
some time away.

"United we stand, divided we fall"

(Kwame Nkrumah)


1. Boas, Morten, egions and regionalisation: a heretic's view in Regionalism and regional
integration in Africa A debate of current aspects and issues (Nordiska Afrikainstitutet,
Uppsala, 2001), 29.
2. Bach, Daniel, Regionalism & globalisation in Sub-Saharan Africa- Revisiting a paradigmin
Bach, Daniel (ed.), Regionalisation in Africa- integration and disintegration(James Currey,
Oxford, 1999), 3.
3. Adedeji, Adebayo, The economic evolution of developing Africain Crowder, Michael (ed.),
The CambridgeHistory of Africa- Vol. 8(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984),
4. Nkrumah, Kwame, Revolutionary Path (Panaf Books, London, 1973), 282-4.
5. For an excellent overview on Pan-Africanism see Esedebe 1994. For anglophone
perspectives on Pan-Africanism see works by Kwame Nkrumah. For francophone
perspectives on Pan-Africanism see the works of Aim6 Cessaire or Modibo Keita.
6. Nkrumah, Kwame, Declaration to the Colonial Peoples of the World, Manchester, 15-21
October 1945.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 55

7. Walraven, Klaas van, Dreams of Power The Role of the Organisation of African Unity in the
Politics ofAfrical963-1993(Ashgate, Aldershot, 1999), 95.
8. Walraven, Klaas van 1999: 112.
9. Woronoff, Jon, Organising African Unity (Scarecrow Press, New Jersey, 1970), 587-8.
10. The Casablancagroup consisted of Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Ghana, Guineaand
Mali. The Brazzavillegroup comprised Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Cote d'lvoire,
Dahomey (Benin), Gabon, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger,
the Central African Republic, Senegal and Chad. Eventually, the Brazzavillegroup
merged into the Monroviagroup resulting in an increased membership of 24 (including
Nigeria, Liberiaand Togo).
11. Chimelu, Chime, Integration and Politics among African States (Scandinavian Institute of
African Studies, Uppsala, 1977), 164.
12. For a discussion of the Casablancagroup's failure to organise itself see Gallagher,
Charles, The Death of a Group (American Universities Field Staff Reports, North Africa
Series, IX, 4, 1963), 5-8.
13. Walraven, Klaas van 1999: 111.
14. Declaration de Politique Gendrale, Yaounde, 25-28 March 1961.
15. Woronoff, Jon, The OAU and Sub-Saharan Regional Bodies in El-Ayouty, Yassin (ed.), The
OAU after Ten Years Comparative Perspectives (Praeger, New York, 1975), 66.
16. Walraven, Klaas van 1999: 98-99.
17. Duffield, Ian, Pan-Africanism since 1940 in Crowder, Michael (ed.), The CambridgeHistory
of Africa- Vol. 8(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984), 118.
18. Emperor Haile Selassie, Welcome Address, Addis Ababa Summit, 1963. A full text of the
Emperor's address can be found in Journal of Modern African Studies, No. 1 (September
1963), 281-91.
19. Woronoff, Jon 1975: 68-70.
20. OAU 1963. Charter of the OAU, Article II, la.
21. Woronoff, Jon 1975: 62-75.
22. Buzan, Barry and Waever, Ole, Regions and Powers (CambridgeUniversityPress,
Cambridge, 2003).
23. Woronoff, Jon 1975: 63.
24. OAU 1963. Charter of the OAU, Article XX, 1-5.
25. OAU 1963. Charter of the OAU, Article II, lb.
26. Assante, S., Pan-Africanism and Regional Integration in Mazrui, Ali (ed.),General History of
Africa -Africa since 1935, Volume VIII (Heinemann, California, 1993), 728.
27. Gruhn, Isebill, The ECA/OAU: Conflict and Collaboration in Onwuka, R. and Sesay, A.
(eds), The Future of Regionalism in Africa (Macmillan Press, Basingstoke, 1985), 27; See
also Cervenka, Zdenek, The Unfinished Quest for Unity: Africa and the OAU (Africana
Press, New York, 1977).
28. Woronoff, Jon 1975: 62.
29. For information on competition in other regions see, for example, Sidaway, James and
Gibb, Richard, SADC, COMESA, SACU: Contradictory Formats for Regional Integration in
Southern Africa? in Simon, David (ed.), South Africa in Southern Africa: Reconfiguring the

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56 I Franke

Region (James Currey, Oxford, 1998) or Takirambudde, Peter (1999), The Rival Strategies
of SADC & PTA/COMESA in Southern Africa in Bach, Daniel (ed.), Regionalisation in Africa
Integration & Disintegration (James Currey, Oxford, 1999).
30. Asante, S., ECOWAS/CEAO: Conflict and Cooperation in West Africain Onwuka, R. and
Sesay, A. (eds.), The Future of Regionalism in Africa(Macmillan Press, Basingstoke, 1985),
31. Esedebe, Olisanwuche, Pan-Africanism The Idea and the Movement, 1776-1991, 2nd edition
(Howard University Press, Washington DC, 1994), 217.
32. One of the best sources for developments involving international cooperation among
Francophone states is Marches Tropicaux. See also Sophie Bessis, "CEAO: Ils Rechignent,
mais Ils Payent", Jeune Afrique No. 1086 (October 28, 1981), 36-37.
33. Adedeji, Adebayo, ECOWAS: A Retrospective Journey in Adebajo, Adekeye and Rashid,
Ismail (eds), West Africa's Security Challenges (Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2004), 40-1;
Esedebe, Olisanwuche 1994: 220-221.
34. Adedeji, Adebayo, 2004: 58-59.
35. Adebajo, Adekeye, Building Peace in West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leoneand Guinea-
Bissau(Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2004), 31.
36. Hazlewood, Arthur, The End of the East African Community: What are the lessons for regional
integration schemes? in Onwuka, R. and Sesay, A. (eds), The Future of Regionalism in Africa
(Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1985), 172-189.
37. Adedeji, Adebayo, Problems and Prospects of Regional Cooperation in West Africain African
Association for Public Administration and Management, Problems and Prospects of
Regional Cooperation in Africa(English Press, Nairobi, 1969), 67.
38. OAU, Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, Abuja, 3 June 1991, 52.
39. Adedeji, Adebayo, The role of the private sector in the economic integration of the West Africa
Sub-region, Keynote Address at the 40th anniversary of the Nigerian Association of
Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, 16 August 2000 as quoted in
Adedeji, Adebayo, 2004: 45.
40. See Assante, S., The Travails of Integration in Adebajo, Adekeye and Rashid, Ismail (eds),
West Africa's Security Challenges Building Peace in a Troubled Region (Lynne Rienner,
Boulder, 2004).
41. See Vdombana, N., A Harmony or a Cacophony? The Music of Integration in the African
Union Treaty and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, Indiana International and
Comparative Law Review, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2002), 185-236.
42. See, for example, Newhouse, John, Europe's Rising Regionalism, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 76,
No. 1 (1997).
43. Chinweizu, Africaand the Capitalist Countriesin Mazrui, Ali (ed.), The General History of
Africa- Vol. VIII Africasince 1935(James Currey, Oxford, 1999), 769.
44. Renou, Xavier, A New French Policy for Africa, Journal of Contemporary African Studies,
Vol. 20, No. 1 (2002), 6.
45. Composed of 13 former French colonies and Equatorial Guineaand Guinea-Bissau, the
zone is a financial system established in 1947 in which a common currency, the Franc
CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) is tied to the French Franc and guaranteed by the

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Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 57

French treasury. This enabled France to control francophone countries' money supply,
their monetary and financial regulations, their banking activities, their credit allocation
and ultimately their budgetary and economic policies (see Renou, Xavier 2002: 11).
Through the existence of French military bases in the region and the Force d'Intervention
on standby in mainland Franceas well as the provision of military equipment and
training assistance through various defence agreements, Parismaintained a strong
military leverage over its former colonies. African leaders and governments were well
aware of both France's ability and willingness to intervene on their behalf or possibly
that of their opponents (there were at least 34 French military interventions in Africa
during the period 1963-1997, the two most notable being "Operation Barracuda" which
overthrew the self-declared Emperor Bokassa I from his Central African throne in 1979
and "Operation Manta" which involved the dispatching of over 3000 French troops to
Chad to support the crumbling regime in its fight against Libyan-backed rebels).
Naturally, this awareness helped to ensure compliance with France's occasional political
46. Renou, Xavier 2002: 9.
47. Nkiwane, Tandeka, Contested Regionalism: Southern and Central Africain the post-Apartheid
era, African Journal of Political Science, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1999), 126.
48. Assante, S., 1993: 728.
49. Herbst, Jeffrey, States and Power in Africa- Comparative Lessons in Authority and
Control(PrincetonUniversityPress, Princeton, 2000), 126-7.
50. For instance, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Belewa, the first Nigerian prime minister said,
during the 1959 debate over the motion to ask for independence, that "I am confident
that when we have our citizenship, our own national flag, our own national anthem, we
shall find the flame of national unity will burn bright and strong"; See Belewa, Alhaji
Tafawa, Mr. Prime Minister (Nigerian National Press, Apapa, 1964), 37.
51. Welch, Claude, Dream of Unity: Pan-Africanism and Political Unification in West
Africa(Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1966), 356.
52. Many of Africa's cooperative schemes almost inevitably had a differential impact on
their members, which worked to the advantage of the largest, most developed and most
centrally placed among them. The Central African Federation established under British
colonial rule, for example, favoured Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) over the
present Zambia and Malawi; See Hazlewood, A., The Economics of Federation and
Dissolution in Central Africa in Hazlewood, Arthur, 1967. The East African Community
favoured Kenyaover Ugandaand Tanzania.
53. Carter, G., National Unity and Regionalism in Eight African States (Cornell University
Press, New York, 1966), 553.
54. See for example Adler, Emanuel and Barnett, Michael (eds), Security Communities
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998) or Cronin, Bruce, Community under
Anarchy: Transnational Identity and the Evolution of Cooperation (Columbia University
Press, New York, 1999).
55. Buzan, Barry and Waever, Ole 2003: 222-223.

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58 I Franke

56. Olympio, Sylvanus, Reflections on Togolese and African Problems in Duffy, James and
Manners, Robert (eds), Africa Speaks (D. Van Nostrand, Princeton, 1961), 75.
57. For example, since engineering the miraculous revival of the developmentalist state in
Ugandain the early 1990s, President Yoweri Museveni had set his eyes on rejuvenating
the defunct East African Community to serve "Uganda's economic interests". From all
indications Museveni was well on his way to realising this dream, but ran into
seemingly insurmountable obstacle in Congo's Laurent Kabila who in 1998 took his
country into the SADC regional trade bloc, a much stronger rival to the EAC. The effect
of Kabila's decision was to make Congorather than Uganda"the object of South African
capital" and, for that reason, Kabila had committed an "unforgivable sin" against
Museveni. See Clark, John, Explaining Ugandan Intervention in Congo: Evidence and
Interpretations, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 39, no. 2 (2001), 261-187.
58. Assante, S. 1993: 726.
59. Berman, Eric and Sams, Katie, Peacekeeping in Africa: Capabilities and Culpabilities(United
Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, Geneva, 2000), 380.
60. Museveni, Yoweri, Address to the South African Parliament, Cape Town, 27 May 1997.
61. Landsberg, Christopher, The Fifth Wave of Pan-Africanism in Adebajo, Adekeye and
Rashid, Ismail (eds), West Africa's Security Challenges Building Peace in a Troubled Region
(Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2004), 117.
62. Powell, Kristiana, The African Union's emerging peace and security regime opportunities and
challenges for delivering on the responsibility to protect, ISS Monograph Series, No. 119
(2005), 1.
63. African Union 2002. Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council
of the African Union.Addis Ababa, Article 2, Paragraph 2.
64. Article 16 of the PSC Protocol and the CADSP stress that the regional mechanisms will
form the 'building blocks' of the AU's peace and security architecture; Also see African
Union 2001. The Constitutive Act. Addis Ababa, Article 3c, j and k; African Union 2003.
Amendment to the Constitutive Act. Addis Ababa, Article 3p. For a detailed discussion of
this multilayered approach to collective security see Franke, Benedikt, Enabling a
Continent to Help Itself: US Military Capacity Building and Africa's Emerging Security
Architecture, Strategic Insights, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2007).
65. See Franke, Benedikt, In Defence of Regional Peace Operations in Africa, Journal of
Humanitarian Assistance, Article 185 (2006); Powell, Kristiana, 2005: 55.
66. For a discussion of pyramidal conflict management structures see Malan, Mark, The
OAU and African Sub-regional Organisations -A Closer Look at the Peace Pyramid,
Occasional Paper No. 36 (Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, 1999).
67. Olonisakin, Funmi, African Peacekeeping at the Crossroads: An Assessment of the Continent's
Evolving Peace and Security Architecture (United Nations Peacekeeping Best Practices,
New York, 2004), 8.
68. Mbeki, Thabo as quoted in Neethling, Theo, Realising the African Standby Force as a Pan-
African Deal: Progress, Prospects and Challenges, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies,
Vol. 8, Issue 1 (2005), 10-11. For more information on the conceptual evolution of the
ASF see Franke, Benedikt, A Pan-African Army: The Evolution of an Idea and Its Eventual

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

Competing Regionalisms in Africa I 59

Realisation in the African Standby Force, African Security Review, Vol. 15, No. 4 (2006), 2-
69. African Union 2002. Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council
of the African Union.Addis Ababa, Article 3.
70. See AU Technical Workshop Reports.
71. De Coning, Cedric, Towards a Common Southern African Peacekeeping System, Electronic
Briefing Paper No. 16 (Center for International Political Studies, Universityof Pretoria,
2004), 4.
72. Berdal, Mats (1998), Peacekeeping in Africa, 1990-1996: The Role of the United States,
Franceand Britainin Furley, Oliver and May, Roy(eds.), Peacekeeping in Africa, Ashgate
Publishing, Aldershot, 50.
73. For example, Francis Cupri only recently argued in the US Army War College Quarterly
(Parameters) that the United Statesshould support sub-regional organizations such as
ECOWAS rather than the AU as they offer "a greater return on USinvestment". See
Crupi, Francis, Why the United StatesShould Robustly Support Pan-African Organisations,
Parameters, Winter 2005, 106-23.
74. Europealso has a highly complex regional security architecture that includes the UN, the
EU and its various institutions, the 55-member Organisation for Security and Co-
operation in Europe (OSCE), the 26-member NATO and the 28-member West European
Union (WEU). Contrary to Africa, these arrangements can draw on the support of
wealthy industrialized states which adds to the viability of such arrangements, even
though it may not relieve the confusion.
75. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Assessing Regional Integration in
Africa(UNECA, Addis Ababa, 2004), 39-40.
76. African Union Commission/Economic Commission for Africa, Report on Meeting of
Experts on the Rationalisation of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs),
EX.CC/220(VIII), 2005, 3.
77. UNECA 2004: 41.
78. For ongoing efforts to rationalise these overlaps see African Union 2006. Report of the
Consultative Meeting on the Rationalization of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) for
Eastern and Southern Africa. Addis Ababa, 5-6.
79. Taft, Patricia with Ladnier, Jason, Realising "', 'l i Again" Regional Capacities to Protect
Civilians in Violent Conflicts (The Fund for Peace, WashingtonDC, 2006), 6.
80. See, for example, Aboagye, Festus, The ECOWAS Security Regime and Its Utility for Africa
in Field, Shannon (ed.), Peace in Africa Towards a Collaborative Security Regime (Institute
for Global Dialogue, Johannesburg, 2004), 175.
81. Ngubane, Senzo and Solomon, Hussein, Projects gone too far: Sub-regional Security Efforts
in Africa (Centre for International Political Studies, Pretoria, 2001), 5.
82. Ngubane and Solomon 2001: 6.
83. Powell, Kristina 2005: 21.
84. African Union 2002. Constitutive Act. Addis Ababa: 1.
85. Le Pere, Garth, Foreword to Field, Shannon (ed.), Peace in Africa Towards a
Collaborative Security Regime (Institute for Global Dialogue, Johannesburg, 2004), 17.

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Renou, X. 2002. "A New French Policy for Africa", Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 20,

Sidaway, J. and Gibb, R. 1998. SADC, COMESA, SACU: Contradictory Formats for Regional
Integration in Southern Africa? In Simon, 1998.

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Simon, David (ed.) 1998. South Africa in Southern Africa: Reconfiguring the Region. Oxford:
James Currey.

Taft, P. with Ladnier, J. 2006. Realising "Never Again" Regional Capacities to Protect Civilians
in Violent Conflicts. Washington DC: The Fund for Peace.

Takirambudde, P. 1999. The Rival Strategies of SADC & PTA/COMESA in Southern Africa. In
Bach 1999b.

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa 2004. Assessing Regional Integration in
Africa. Addis Ababa: UNECA.

Vdombana, N. 2002. "A Harmony or a Cacophony? The Music of Integration in the African
Union Treaty and the New Partnership for Africa's Development", Indiana International and
Comparative Law Review, 13, 1.

Walraven, K. van 1999. Dreams of Power The Role of the Organisation of African Unity in the
Politics of Africa 1963-1993. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Welch, C. 1966. Dream of Unity: Pan-Africanism and Political Unification in West Africa. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press.

Woronoff, J. 1970. Organising African Unity. New Jersey: Scarecrow Press.

Woronoff, J. 1975. The OAU and Sub-Saharan Regional Bodies. In El-Ayouty, 1975.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Benedikt F.
Franke. "Competing Regionalisms in Africa and the Continent's Emerging Security
Architecture." African Studies Quarterly 9, no. 3: [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in

Postcolonial and Global Times: The Case for Sierra Leone


Abstract: Critique of colonial and postcolonial education in Africa as perpetuating
cultural and intellectual servitude and devaluation of traditional African cultures has led
some African intellectuals to call for a re-appropriation of pre-colonial forms of education
to rediscover the roots of African identity. But precisely how can African traditional
forms of education be re-appropriated for this purpose while at the same time
responding to the requirements of living successfully in postcolonial and global times?
The author of this article posits that re-appropriation of African traditions should not be
an appeal to an allegedly "better" past to which we nostalgically return instead of
responding to the world as it comes to us. Tradition, it is argued, exists only in constant
alteration; tradition can be rethought, transmuted, and recreated in novel ways in
response to the meanings and demands of emergent situations. Drawing on the Akan
concept of Sankofa (meaning "return to the past to move forward") and the postcolonial
notion of hybridity, the author creatively re-appropriates some indigenous educational
traditions of her ethnic group, the Mende of Sierra Leone, to theorize curriculum and
pedagogy for Sierra Leone in postcolonial, post-war, and global times.


Since the decade of independence in the 1960s, much has been written about how best to
facilitate nation-building in Africa after European colonization. As education is generally
regarded as the key to national development, proposals for nation building have included the
reform of inherited educational systems which were erected to maintain the colonial social
order and which continue to function to foster neo-colonial dependency, promote elitism, and
inadequately prepare individuals for living successfully in their communities and in a rapidly
changing world. Paramount among these reform proposals has been the call to re-appropriate
African indigenous educational traditions that were marginalized or dismantled during colonial
rule in Africa. Proponents of this call over the last forty years have included: Kofi Busia, who
criticized colonial schooling in Ghana for separating students from the life and needs of their
community; Ali Mazrui, who links contemporary education in Africa with a rural-urban divide;
and more recently Elleni Tedla and Apollo Rhomire who describe both colonial and
postcolonial education as perpetuating cultural and intellectual servitude and the devaluation
of traditional African cultures.' But precisely how can African traditions be re-appropriated for
education that is grounded in the continent's past while at the same time meeting the demands
of living successfully in postcolonial and global contexts today?

Yatta Kanu is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. Her
recent scholarly work focuses on curriculum, culture and student learning, and education in postcolonial contexts.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

66 I Kanu

In this article I attempt to address this question in the case of Sierra Leone. I draw
creatively on the Akan concept of Sankofa (meaning "return to the past to move forward") and
examples from the Mende ethnic group to re-think and re-appropriate some traditional African
educational values and social organizations that were neglected or dismantled during the
height of British colonial administration in Sierra Leone. This period is generally understood as
spanning the late nineteenth century until the late 1950s when, for reasons of military and
economic exploitation, British imperial grip on her African colonies tightened and education
(curriculum and pedagogy) assumed greater significance as an arsenal in this exploitation.
Sierra Leone and the Mende are the very country and ethnic group that comprised the
cornerstone of British educational experimentation in Africa.
Sierra Leone was founded as a settlement for freed slaves in 1787 after the demise of legal
slave trading. It was taken over as a British crown colony in 1808 but British control did not
extend into the hinterland of the country until the closing years of the nineteenth century when
a Protectorate was declared in Sierra Leone in 1896. Thereafter formal education, which had
been left largely to Christian mission societies, was taken over by the colonial civil government
and used as a systematic and measurable tool for economic exploitation, reduction of local
resistance to white rule, transformation of indigenous outlooks, and meeting the limited needs
of the colonial civil service. Unlike French colonial education in West Africa, total assimilation
of the African "natives" does not stand out in the historical literature as an active goal of British
colonial education in West Africa.2 However, British effort to transform native outlook through
"the provision of gradual means of developing a higher form of civilization," meant that many
indigenous forms of education in the West African colonies were dismantled or allowed to
lapse through neglect and marginalization.3 This was the case among the Mende who
comprised the largest indigenous group in Sierra Leone. According to Caroline Bledsoe, the
proximity of Mende speakers to the coast as well as their distance from the Islamic influences of
the North made them logical targets of educational and missioning efforts.4 Bledsoe writes that
these efforts sometimes involved the physical removal of Mende children from their families
and placing them in boarding schools to increase geographical access to school but also to
decrease the 'contaminating' influence of parents and elders on the children. Education, whether
for the 'altruistic purposes' of the missionaries or the naked exploitative strategies of the
colonial administration, was used to engineer the production of the minds and souls upon
which to erect a new society in Sierra Leone. In the process, Mende indigenous educational
traditions were rendered meaningless.
Sierra Leone gained political independence in 1961 after one hundred and fifty years of
British rule. Historical research by Donald Stark reveals that politically the country inherited a
divided population mainly because colonial strategies, such as 'indirect rule' through local
chiefs or pitting the Creole freed slave communities against indigenous ethnic groups,
accentuated differences among the various ethnic groups, making it difficult for the people to
see themselves as Sierra Leoneans first and foremost.5 The economy was poor and undeveloped
as colonial economic efforts had concentrated mainly on the extraction and exportation of Sierra
Leone's raw materials for the benefit of British companies. Colonial social programs such as
education (schooling) had been made available to only one-third of the population even though
Sierra Leone had a proud history of higher education in Fourah Bay College which had been

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 67

founded by the Church Missionary Society in 1827 as the only degree granting college in British
--governed West Africa. In the forty-five years since independence, Sierra Leone has suffered
from political instability, economic stagnation, and social upheaval, leading to much borrowing
of money from international financial institutions to survive. In return, these institutions have
imposed their own economic conditions which successive governments in Sierra Leone have
had to fulfill in order to secure the financial loans.
In this environment, a brutal civil war developed in Sierra Leone in 1991 and lasted eleven
years, killing an estimated 75,000 Sierra Leoneans, injuring well over 200,000 people, and
forcing half a million others to flee to other countries as refugees. This war formally ended in
2002, and since then the country has experienced an influx of foreign agencies and
organizations with ideas about educational reconstruction in post-war situations. Concurrently,
there is much talk among the international financial community about how low-income
countries like Sierra Leone can tap the gains of globalization by investing in their human capital
through educational reconstruction. Discourses about educational renewal not only in Sierra
Leone but in post-independence Africa as a whole have recently rekindled the argument among
African intellectuals that for education to be meaningful in Africa today, it has to be based in
the wisdom, teachings, and traditions of the continent's ancestors, particularly in light of the
irrelevance of colonial education to the lives and needs of Africans.6 It is in this context that I
attempt to creatively re-appropriate some Mende indigenous educational traditions, in the spirit
of Sankofa, to theorize curriculum and pedagogy that realistically respond to the ambiguous
cultural contexts that characterize postcolonial, post-war, and global times in Sierra Leone.
Before doing so, however, I provide some note guides to help the reader to understand some of
the terms that undergird my discussions in the paper. After that, I briefly describe the concept
of Sankofa, positioning it as a critical lens for examining the present and for recovering tradition

Definition of terms

Colonial: This term is used here in reference to colonialism defined as both the physical
conquest and control of African territories by the Europeans, and as the domination and control
of the minds of those conquered. From the perspective of the colonizer, the colonial imperative
is to 'civilize' the conquered and keep them in a perpetual state of psychological subordination.
In other words, although the physical occupation and control of territories may end, the
processes of colonial cultural production and psychologization persist.

Postcolonial: 'Postcolonial' is conceived here in reference to three conditions: as the period after
independence which marked the physical departure of the European powers from their former
African colonies; as the political and cultural movement which seeks to challenge the received
histories and ideologies of former colonial nations to allow insurgent knowledge to emerge; and
as a position that calls for a major rethinking of pre-given categories, histories, and traditions in
order to be able to live successfully within the cultural ambiguity that characterizes many
African societies in the wake of European colonization.7

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68 I Kanu

Identity: Historically, this construct has direct connections with how individuals think of
themselves and others. The concept has its roots in the nineteenth century conception of the
human being as a unified individual whose 'centre' consisted of an inner core that remained the
same throughout that individual's existence. The essential centre of the self, in this equation,
was the person's identity.8 In postmodern analysis, however, identity is not as fixed, unified or
centred as nineteenth century rationalists had conceived of it. In the postmodern sense, identity
is continually being made and remade, just as cultures are, and individuals may see themselves
in a variety of ways that are not always consistent.9 Also inherent in the concept is a view of the
past and how the past shapes us, a feature that has direct relevance for postcolonial analysis.
This postmodern orientation to identity is what undergirds my discussions in this paper.

Hybridity: Technically, a hybrid is a cross between two different species.10 The term is used here
as a postcolonial construct to describe the cultural mixtures and multi-layered forms of
interactions between the civilizations of the colonized and those of the colonizers. The political
and intellectual cross-fertilization entailed in the logic of this mixture embody multiple power
relations which make possible the subversion of colonial authority. Homi Bhabha argues that,
as a critical element in research relating to the postcolonial condition, hybridity reserves the
effects of colonial disavowal so that denied knowledge enter upon the dominant discourse and
undermine the authority of that discourse." Bhabha posits hybrid or multilayered identities as a
characteristic of the postcolonial and global condition.

Indigenous education: This term refers to locally developed forms of teaching the young, based on
the traditions and values of African societies.

Global times: Used here in reference to globalization, this term refers to the current global/world
conditions which are characterized by: changes in the capital and finance markets; the global
expansion of new technologies; the rapid movements of people across national and
international borders; and the transfer of cultural and other values /ideologies /products,
especially of Western origin. In global times, phenomena are no longer territorial, geographic or
national a condition that has produced local forms of resistance but also an increased sense of
belonging together as humans to one common globe. Globalization has produced modes of
economic restructuring (by supranational organizations such as the IMF, World Bank, and
WTO) involving budget reductions affecting social services. It has led to the reduction of state
sponsorship and financing of education while at the same time imposing business management
and efficiency standards as a framework for making decisions about curriculum, teaching,
testing, and teacher training. In the former African colonies, these global times suggest that the
growing importance of the knowledge economy in the re-alignment of global capital portends
educational changes for the economic and sociocultural survival of these countries.

Sankofa: "Returning to the past to move forward"

The Sankofa concept is derived from the Akan people who make up one of the largest
cultural/ethnic groups inhabiting Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The term can be translated as

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 69

"retrieving the past is no taboo, thus say the ancestors." The Akan have an ancient and rich
cultural tradition that includes the extensive use of pictographic symbols as a writing system,
with each symbol representing a specific proverb or saying rooted in Akan experience. One of
the most common Akan symbols for Sankofa depicts a mythical bird flying forward with its
head turned backward. There is an egg in the mouth of the bird, depicting the "gem" or
knowledge of the past upon which wisdom is based and from which generations would benefit.
This symbol is often associated with the Akan proverb "Se wo were fin a wosankofa a yenyi"
which translates to "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten."12

Sankofa teaches that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward that is, we should
reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full
potential as we move forward. As a measure of time, Sankofa looks at history as a circular
process (rather than the linear construct of time prevalent in Western culture) where we think of
the past not as events frozen in time, but rather as occurrences that are at one with the present
and the future.13 Sankofa implies that to initiate a progressive civil social existence, one that
preserves our humanity, we would have to reach back into the past for the wisdom of our
ancestors, the best of our traditions, and renew and refine these traditions for new meanings
that are relevant for the present.14

Such an appeal to tradition is itself controversial in our world today where the charge is
that tradition is disappearing, that "it is simply no longer able to provide the thread needed to
keep the fabric of social life from unraveling," and that its demise should be seen as an
opportunity for newness, creativity, and modes of individualism hitherto impossible or
unimaginable.15 Karl Marx, dramatically expressed this revolutionary attitude toward tradition:
The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the
living.The social revolution cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It
cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. Earlier
revolutions required world-historical recollections in order to drug themselves concerning their
own content. In order to arrive at its content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let
the dead bury their dead.16
My position is that this is not a productive way of thinking about tradition. There certainly
are dangers inherent in retreating to an allegedly "better" past rather than creatively responding
to the world as it comes to us. However, it would be foolish indeed to ignore whole realms of
experiences and meanings that have been nourished for generations, and on which we can draw
for insights about nourishing our own lives. I, therefore, argue for a return to tradition: More
specifically, I call for a return to what was deemed and still is deemed to be valuable in
indigenous African education that can inform educational reconstruction in Sierra Leone today.
These indigenous practices are among what David Gross calls "substantive traditions"- that is,
those long-standing modes of thought or practices that for centuries have organized social and
cultural life.17 In proposing a re-appropriation of tradition, however, I do not mean a restoration
of an earlier set of norms, or a 'heimisch' (home) to which we nostalgically return, as articulated
by traditionalists. Rather, I propose a re-appropriation of tradition to bring these traditions
forward in a manner that disturbs and challenges some of the complacencies of present-day

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70 I Kanu

curricular and pedagogical conceptions and practices. Sankofa, in this sense, is embraced not as
some nostalgic return to earlier traditions but for the "creatively disruptive effects"18 of these
traditions, disruptive because they call into question some of the norms that have shaped
formal and informal education in Sierra Leone. In formal education these norms include the
application of business management standards to education, the schism between theory and
practice, and the erosion of the life-world of Sierra Leoneans from curriculum and pedagogy.
Informally, they include indigenous practices such as teaching the young to defer to authority
How can tradition be recovered for these critical and creative purposes? To answer this
question, I present, in the next section, a brief discussion of tradition and the possible attitudes
one might adopt in rethinking tradition. My discussion draws on the ideas of two leading
thinkers on tradition as a form of postmodern / postcolonial critique David Gross and Brian

Framing tradition, rethinking tradition

Tradition is an existing set of beliefs, practices, teachings, and modes of thinking that are
inherited from the past and that may guide, organize, and regulate ways of living and of
making sense of the world. The term comes from the Latin verb tradere, meaning to transmit or
to give over. The noun tradition indicates the process by which something is transmitted or
handed down. Gross depicts the central responsibility involved in tradition as receiving
something valuable or precious, preserving it, and passing it on to those who come after.
Tradition, however, is not merely preserved and passed down intact to subsequent generations.
As traditions are handed down consecutively over time, they undergo changes because the
relations that encompass a receiving generation are never exactly the same as those of the
transmitting generation. Gross writes:
As social and cultural changes occur, so do ways of confronting and organizing experience.
And as experiences change, so do modes of perception, including perceptions of what a
tradition is and means. When needs and perceptions shift, no matter how slightly, the inherited
traditions cannot help but be apprehended and assimilated differently. Hence, no tradition is
ever taken over precisely as it was given, or passed on precisely as it was received. Rather it is
always adapted to a situation.19
In the past tradition provided the cohesion that held social life together, and by indicating
what was culturally normative, tradition established a framework for meaning and purpose. As
human beings, we are embedded in our cultural traditions. Therefore tradition cannot be
treated as something purely external which can be simply accepted or rejected on the basis of
rational analysis. Neither can it be treated as something which is wholly Other, "as if one could
continue to be a person even if it (tradition) were entirely rejected."20 This suggests that the
relationship between personal identity and tradition is far more intimate than implied in Karl
Marx's previously quoted statement. People understand and construct their identities in terms
of the traditions that are a part of them and, as Fay illuminates, "coming to be a person is in fact
appropriating certain material of one's cultural tradition, and continuing to be a person.means
working through, developing, and extending this material and this always involves operating

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 71

in terms of it [tradition]."21 An appreciation of the importance of tradition in shaping identity
enhances our understanding of how tradition imposes limits on the change that is possible in a
society. No matter how revolutionary the change, some continuity will remain in the form of
certain modes of thinking, perceiving or relating. Certain habitual ways of behavior will survive
as important ingredients in the identities of the people "who are what they are because they so
deeply share them."22
All earlier traditions exist in three forms today. First, there are traditions that have been
neglected or dismantled as active processes but continue on as fragments of value or behaviors
in the periphery of their original contexts. Second, there are traditions that persist at the centre
of social life, but at the cost of being rationalized by the state or commercialized by the market.
Third, there are traditions that endure more or less intact, but primarily on the margins of
society and within a greatly diminished sphere of influence.23
Of the three forms in which traditions currently find themselves, my concern is with the
first, that is, those social and cultural traditions that British colonial administration neglected or
dismantled as part of the educational processes of African children, but which continued on the
margins as valuable fragments of indigenous child-rearing practices. In rethinking traditions
such as these, one could: (a) bury lapsed or dismantled traditions and move on to opportunities
for newness and creativity; (b) reject present realities and engage in a coercive restoration of
lapsed traditions under the assumption that they were better or morally healthier than the
world we now have (traditionalism); or (c) bring back lapsed traditions into the modern world,
not to escape into them, but to reclaim them as an opportunity for understanding and
rethinking the present.24
For my purpose here, the last attitude and relation to tradition is the most compelling
because it salvages outmoded traditions that can contribute significantly to solving
contemporary problems. Precisely because they were neglected or marginalized under colonial
rule, our sense of connectedness to them has lapsed and so they represent something other than
what they represented to preceding generations. They now embody something strange or Other
- the unheimisch that disturbs our present-day sensibilities and raises doubts about some of our
hitherto protected illusions. Rethinking lapsed traditions in this way not only makes possible a
better understanding of the present, but "it also lays the groundwork for something just as
important, namely, a critique of modernity from outside."25 Through this critical leverage,
tradition ceases to be an obstacle to progress and becomes a way forward.
The next section, therefore, describes three traditions of indigenous education among the
Mende people of Sierra Leone that were neglected, marginalized or dismantled in British
colonial education. I juxtapose these traditions with education during and after colonization so
that through their 'strangeness' they raise questions about British colonial education and its
legacies in Sierra Leone and thus provide us with a better understanding of current educational
practices in this former British colony.

Mende Indigenous education versus education during and after colonization

Indigenous approaches to education among the Mende emerged from indigenous
knowledge systems based on understandings of the physical, social, and spiritual

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72 I Kanu

environments. These approaches were grounded in norms, values, and traditions developed
over several generations and they are characterized by many features. Here I focus on three
features that did not become part of the processes of formal education during British colonial
administration in Sierra Leone but which survived as fragments of informal education,
especially in Mende rural communities. These features are: (1) interwoven curriculum; (2)
communalism; and (3) multi-layered understanding transmitted through stories and proverbs.

Interwoven curriculum: Mende indigenous education was for an immediate introduction into
society and preparation for adulthood. It was largely informal and emphasized job orientation,
social responsibility, spiritual and moral values, and community participation. These aims were
interwoven with the content and learning processes which were derived from the needs /
purposes of the society and its patterns of work. Education was, therefore, relevant and closely
linked with productive activity. There was no division between manual and intellectual
education or between theory and practice; learning occurred in social settings as lived
experience rather than through formal school programs. In teaching farming to the young, for
example, the Mende did not provide their children with elaborate theoretical discussions for
later application. Instead, from an early age, children simply accompanied adults to the farms
where they participated by observing and emulating what adults did. From about age six,
children could be seen with tiny blunt utensils digging the soil, planting seeds, chasing birds
away from crops, and harvesting. Over the years, they acquired necessary knowledge about the
land, the soil, different seasonal crops, and trees that were imbued with spirits and therefore not
cuttable. From years of observing and emulating their mothers and other significant adults,
Mende girls learned how to take care of their families and how to balance household chores
with those of farming.

There were aspects of pre-colonial Mende education which could be described as 'formal'
because there was a specific program and a conscious division between teachers and learners.
Two examples of this kind of 'formal' education were the apprenticeship system and the
education provided by the poro and sande secret societies. In the apprenticeship system youth
(usually boys) from an early age would be assigned for years to experts to learn vocational skills
such as craftsmanship, artistry, weaving and blacksmithing. The poro and sande secret societies
carried out the initiation or 'coming-of-age' education of Mende boys and girls respectively. In
the 'sacred bushes' of these societies, boys and girls were not only circumcised but also
underwent trials of endurance, received information on tribal and sexual customs and learned
the secrets of masked figures like the sowei and the gbeni. The duration of this coming-of-age
education ranged from a few weeks to several years and, like informal education, it was directly
connected with the needs and purposes of the community. Because it was for entering
adulthood, the work and ways of adults provided the material for this education.
How 'formal' and informal educational knowledge was perceived by its
teachers/proprietors (known as karmohs) and received by learners was equally important,
making the pedagogical relationship highly significant in Mende culture. Knowledge was not
seen as having intrinsic value (for elevating humanity) independent of social relations between
the learner and the teacher. Rather, the Mende saw valued knowledge as a key economic and

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 73

political commodity 'owned' by the 'karmohs' who controlled access to it through rituals based
on secrecy and who could demand compensation for imparting it to those who benefited from
it.26 Compensation normally occurred through years of service, deference, and loyalty to the
karmohs by the learners who held the firm spiritual belief that by rendering these services and
dispositions, they were 'buying (earning) blessings' from the karmohs. In return, the karmohs,
parents or elders who imparted this knowledge would ask God, through the ancestors, to pour
His blessings on the learners in acknowledgement that they had fulfilled their
obligations. Acquired knowledge that was unaccompanied by ancestral or earned blessings was
believed not to benefit (elevate) the person acquiring it. Thus the Mende placed education
within "local and authority structures of obligation and mystical agency,"26 a cultural
framework still used by illiterates and the educated alike to reinterpret and subvert the meaning
of the schooling and social relationships imposed by colonial and missionary education.27 For
example, one often hears comments such as "You can have all the degrees in the world but if
you do not have blessings, that education will lead you nowhere (in terms of prosperity, honour
or elevation)."
The foregoing examples of the interwoven nature of Mende indigenous education
demonstrate clearly that the impartation of abstract knowledge that was divorced from the
needs, values and spiritual beliefs of the society was not part of pre-colonial education among
the Mende. The Mende did not believe that people first had to develop theoretical
understanding of things and events and then apply this knowledge to concrete situations.
Rather, understanding was conditioned and constituted by reflection upon how to act wisely in
concrete situations. Hans-Georg Gadamer's argument for an inextricable connection of the
theoretical and practical in all understanding held true in the Mende philosophy of education.28
Any theory emerging from such a system was grounded in practice; knowledge was practice-
based and deeply linked with the spiritual beliefs of the people.
Unfortunately, school curriculum during British colonial administration in Sierra Leone
was far removed from this indigenous view of education. The early founders' motives for
establishing education in the Freetown colony (as the original British colony in Sierra Leone was
known) may have been 'altruistic' (they saw education as a key to the enlightenment and social
and economic improvements of the freed slaves); however, by the time schooling became
specifically targeted for the indigenous population of Sierra Leone, it had become a means of
economic and political exploitation. Short-term and exploitative, the purpose of the British
colonial school system from the late nineteenth century was instrumental to train a small
number of Africans to 'man' the local administration at the lowest ranks and to staff the few
British capitalist firms in Sierra Leone. Curriculum content and the teaching methods employed
in the schools were intended to achieve these limited instrumental purposes. Curriculum
knowledge was intended to 'civilize' and 'civilized knowledge' comprised practical skills like
agriculture and crafts for the boys delivered in government trade schools. There were elite
schools such as Bo Government Secondary School for Boys and Harford School for Girls,
fashioned after English public schools for cultured ladies and gentlemen, where boys studied
European history, science, literature and the arts while girls studied handwork and
homemaking. Curriculum was therefore alien, abstract and divorced from the needs and values
of Mende rural communities. It was transmitted through didactic teaching and assessment

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methods that ensured its digestion without reflection, challenge, or questions. The colonial
intent was for 'civilized knowledge' to be ingested in its purest form, unmediated by local
influences, and passed on intact to subsequent generations. As 'civilized knowledge' was seen
as objective with intrinsic values for elevating and developing humanity independent of social
contexts and social relationships, the teacher was merely a conduit for delivering the
curriculum for the greater good of colonial designs.29
Since independence, education in Sierra Leone has been characterized by the same
instrumental, technical, and human capital approach prevalent in the Western European
countries that have funded educational activities in the country. Human capital theory rests on
the assumption that formal education is highly instrumental in improving the productive
capacity of a population. In the current contexts of economic globalization, this view has had
tremendous influence on, and indeed determined, education policies not only in Western
countries but also in many former colonies where funding agencies and organizations such as
the World Bank, IMF, and OECD (sometimes referred to as 'the new colonizers') have
introduced and demanded the implementation of economic structural adjustment policies (for
example, the introduction of user fees) which stifle indigenous African responses to educational
crises.30 The belief in human capital theory as a key agent for the development of a society has
produced an explosion in educational enrolments and expenditures in both the industrialized
and the developing countries. In Sierra Leone, this expansion has been accompanied by
increasing demands (by the funding agencies) for state interventions in education through
bureaucratized and controlled curricular practices within which education is planned,
implemented, and evaluated in ways that are similar to the values of business culture. This has
led to widespread acceptance of the technical model of education which frames curriculum and
teaching questions in terms of technical management focusing around pre-specified objectives,
identification and organization of learning experiences to obtain the objectives, and the most
effective means of evaluating the achievement of the objectives. The model lends itself well to
the bureaucratic management of education where the aim is to fragment, control, measure, and
rationalize education so that the best economic dividends are reaped from educational
investments. It is a marked contrast from the interwoven approach of indigenous education
where aims, content, and methodology are all merged and grounded in the socio-cultural
values and needs of the people, making education effective and meaningful for the society.

Communalism in Mende social thought and practice: Ghanaian social philosopher, Kwame Gyekye,
describes communalism as the doctrine that the group (society) constitutes the main focus of the
lives of individual members of that group and that an individual's involvement in the interests,
aspirations, and welfare of the group is the measure of that individual's worth.31 The doctrine of
communalism emphasizes the activity and success of the wider society rather than, although
not necessarily at the expense of, the individual. Implicit in communalism is the view that the
success and meaning of the individual's life depend on identifying with the group. This
identification is the basis of the reciprocal relationship between the individual and the group:

It (identification) is also the ground of the overriding emphasis on the individual's obligation to
the members of the group; it enjoins upon him or her the obligation to think and act in terms of

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 75

the survival of the group as a whole..Since this sense of obligation (responsibility) is enjoined
equally upon each member of the group for all the members are expected to enhance the
welfare of the group as a whole communalism maximizes the interests of all the individual
members of society.32

Communalism as a social philosophy was given institutional expression in the social
structures of many rural African societies. Because it was participatory and characterized by
social and ethical values such as solidarity, interdependence, cooperation, and reciprocal
obligations, the material and other benefits of the communal social order were likely to be
available to all members of the community. Furthermore, its intricate web of social relations
would tend to ensure individual social worth, thus making it almost impossible for an
individual to feel socially insignificant.33
Communalism, demonstrated by a strong sense of solidarity with the community and
willingness to live and work together, was an active component and objective of indigenous
education among the Mende in rural Sierra Leone. This component and objective were instilled
into the young from a very early age, and certain activities were undertaken to encourage and
nurture them. For example, youngsters between the ages of ten and sixteen were divided into
groups or age grades, and from time to time, they would be required to perform specific tasks
to contribute to community effort and progress. Thus in a village community, for example, all
young men belonging to the sixteen year "age grade" might be assigned the task of building a
wooden bridge for community use, or helping a community member with the harvesting of his
or her crops. Such assignments were carried out under the supervision of adults and performed
with great enthusiasm, accompanied by community work songs rather than by competitiveness
and selfishness. Individual success or misfortune was seen as community success or misfortune.
For the rural Mende there was no life without the community. Recent research has pointed out
that the communal or collective approach has a long pedigree on the African sub-continent and
has provided the cultural basis for indigenous self-help movements such as harambe in Kenya
and tirisano which is currently being used by the government of South Africa for educational
This communal social structure was, however, weakened considerably by massively-
changing population patterns during British colonial rule in Sierra Leone. British infiltration
into the country's hinterland as well as both World Wars, in which many Sierra Leoneans
participated as British subjects were accompanied by massive migrations of the young from the
rural areas of the country to the main trading and population centres such as Freetown on the
coast where the wars in particular had created a sudden market for unskilled labour. Migrants
were drawn to the high-wage public works which war necessarily required, including
armaments, modern port facilities, communication structures, and civil defence projects. The
equally sudden completion of these projects left large numbers of unemployed labourers in the
towns.35 To survive as town dwellers, the migrants had to abandon their rural outlook and
develop different skills such as literacy, commercial, and professional skills. In the process, they
were forced to rely on individual talents rather than the teamwork involved in rural life. Much
more widespread was the new understanding, based on capitalist individualism, that
individual labour should benefit the person concerned and not some wider collective such as

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the clan or the community.36 Geography and the new culture of city life, therefore, set young
migrants apart from the rural community practices in which they had been brought up.37 This
colonial legacy of individualistic values has continued on in Sierra Leone after independence. In
schooling, for example, the individualistic value of distinguishing oneself from others and
claiming one's autonomy to affirm one's basic originality has produced classroom
arrangements, pedagogic processes, and assessment strategies that have left students with the
belief that their originality and full potential can only be developed through the rejection of
communal values such as interdependence, cooperation, and social responsibility.

Stories and proverbs: Stories and proverbs are primary ways through which a great deal of
African philosophical thought, knowledge and wisdom has been taught.38 Preliterate African
culture was characterized by an oral tradition that found expression in stories, folktales,
anecdotes, proverbs, and parables that provoked a great deal of reflection. As there were no
written records of the ancient past of the Mende people, all that has been preserved of their
knowledge, myths, philosophies, liturgies, songs, and sayings has been handed down by word
of mouth from generation to generation. These oral media preserved, more or less accurately,
the history of the people, their general outlook on life, and their conduct and moral values, and
they were used in Mende rural communities as forms of indigenous knowledge which played
an important role in the education of the young. For example, adults would gather youngsters
around a fire at night and tell them great stories and legends about the past that helped the
youngsters to grasp the prevailing ethical standards of their community. Stories that personified
animal characters were often told, and these stories, while explaining the peculiar trait of each
animal, also transmitted the virtues valued by the society. For example, stories about kasiloi (the
spider), always taught youngsters about the unwanted consequences of traits such as greed,
egotism, disobedience, or cunning. Typically, a spider story would begin with a question such
as "Do you know why the spider has such a slender waist?" The question would then be
answered by an instructional story such as the following:

Spider was invited to two feasts in two villages at the same time. Not wanting to miss
either feast, Spider tied a rope around his waist and gave each end of the rope to each village.
He instructed each village to pull the rope precisely when the feast began. The harder Spider
was pulled in each direction, the smaller his waist became. He screamed and screamed in pain
till his neighbour heard his cries and came and untied the rope. Through greed, therefore,
Spider lost the feast in each village and never regained his waistline.
Proverbs are particularly useful as powerful tools that teach without being intrusive. A
great deal of African traditional wisdom and folklore is expressed through proverbs which have
the ability to reveal the characteristics and qualities of situations, times, and persons in a way
that is hard to capture in clear language or in a direct manner. In addition to stories, therefore,
proverbs were used in Mende indigenous education to teach moral values and appropriate
behaviours without directly and overtly moralizing and criticizing an individual. Many of these
proverbs survived in the lyrics of Mende songs. Others are painted on buses and trucks across
the country, for example (translated from Mende): 'No pain no gain'; 'Don't look where you fell,
look where you tripped'; 'Nobody knows from which direction the wind will blow to bend the

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 77

chicken's ear' (meaning: it's not always possible to predict the sources of one's good or bad
Stories and proverbs can be understood as metaphors to guide moral choice and self-
examination because, when reflected upon, they act as mirrors for seeing things in a particular
way. More than any theoretical discussion or philosophical writing, they throw light on the
concrete reality of lived experience; they serve as important pedagogical devices because they
provide experiential case material on which pedagogical reflection is possible.39 As learners
break into (analyze) the proverbs or stories they are able to reflect on the meanings and
implications embedded in the experiences. Indigenous Mende educators drew on these teaching
devices to informally structure an educational program that encouraged learners to listen to
stories and proverbs and reflect on them to derive meanings that informed and guided conduct
and behaviour. Furthermore, these devices brought together the learners and the community
because the elders, as the sources of the stories, songs, and proverbs and as experts in oratory,
were charged with the responsibility of teaching them to the young.
Unfortunately, these powerful traditional teaching and learning tools were negated in
British colonial education, despite the fact that their usefulness as sources of African wisdom
and cultural knowledge had been well documented by nineteenth-century scholars and
missionaries like J. G. Christaller, who collected and published well over three thousand Akan
stories and proverbs.40 The inclusion of these indigenous educational tools in colonial education
would have also addressed the problem of the separation between the school and the
community that was introduced during colonial administration. This negation of indigenous
knowledge can be explained by the fact that British colonial education was an ideological
process in which education and schooling were used as agents for the internalization and
acceptance of British cultural values, and as vehicles for developing in the colonized peoples the
preferred sense of psychological and intellectual subordination. Cameron McCarthy and Greg
Dimitriades have categorized these practices of negation as ressentiment (after Nietzsche) which
they describe as "the specific practice of identity displacement in which the social actor
consolidates his identity by a complete disavowal of the merits and existence of his social
other."41 With Linda Tuhiwai Smith, I posit that the negation of indigenous views constituted a
critical part of the colonial strategy, mostly because these views would have challenged and
resisted the mission of colonization.42

Educational reconstruction in Sierra Leone: Embracing Sankofa creatively

In this section I attempt to recover, creatively, aspects of the foregoing Mende educational
traditions and integrate them into the content and processes of formal education to make
curriculum proposals that are responsive to the educational needs of Sierra Leone in
postcolonial, post-war, and global times. Creative recovery means taking a critical look at
certain aspects of tradition that may have been effective for earlier purposes but now need to be
re-appropriated in new ways to serve today's purposes. The curriculum proposals I make take
into account the fact that curriculum is not a static system unaffected by change. Curriculum,
like all bodies of knowledge rooted in human experiences, must constantly renew itself and
draw on other currents of thought in order to remain relevant and viable.

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In this regard, the recent move by curriculum scholars worldwide to internationalize the
discourses of educational reform and research should be thought of not only as exhortations of
change but also as a way of reshaping the images of social action and consciousness through
which individuals are to participate.43 Underlying the new discourse of internationalization is
curriculum consciousness that "denotes a collective sense of a group of people, a community
that begins to imagine and feel things together."44 This imagining of ourselves as a community
participating, interpreting/understanding ourselves, and creating knowledge together is critical
to curriculum reform in postcolonial and global times. Hybridity, as articulated earlier, becomes
crucial in the formulation of this reform agenda.
One of the consequences of European colonization and, now, the global migration of
former colonial subjects into the metropolitan centres of Western Europe has meant that,
intellectually, culturally, and politically, the colonizer and the colonized have been brought
together in identity formation that is continually in a process of hybridization. Identity
formation in these contexts occurs in what Homi Bhabha, in his analysis of the postcolonial,
calls "the third space of translation"- a space where the meaning of cultural and political
authority is negotiated without eliding or normalizing the differential structures in conflict.45
Elsewhere, I have referred to Bhabha's "third space" as the place for the construction of
identities that are neither one nor the other.46 1 have argued that because of centuries of Western
European impact on Africa (from missionary and trade activities to outright colonization and,
now, globalization), it is no longer possible to postulate a unitary Africa over and/or against a
monolithic West as a binarism between a distinct Self (as African) and Other (as European).
There is no longer in Africa a unitary set of discourse about progress and change; rather, there is
a hybrid, a third space, where local African and global images meet in a weaving that has its
own configurations and implications. This overlay is best expressed in the response of Giyatri
Spivak (the Indian Diaspora scholar) to critics who have faulted her on not seeking possibilities
of discovering and/or promoting 'indigenous (Indian) theory' in her writings: "I cannot
understand what indigenous theory there might be that can ignore the reality of nineteenth
century history..To construct indigenous theories, one must ignore the last few centuries of
historical involvement. I would rather use what history has written for me."47
Indeed, education itself in Europe's former colonies occurs within an overlay of discourses
that move in the interstices of the colonial and the colonized. The rapid movements and
collision of peoples and media images across the world have further disrupted the traditional
isomorphism between self, place, and culture. The Eurocentric and Afrocentric debates that
have emerged in discourses about curriculum reform are themselves driven by nostalgia for a
past in which Europe and Africa are imagined without "the noise of their modern tensions,
contradictions and conflicts."48 These debates refuse the radical hybridity that is the reality of
today's major metropolitan societies everywhere.
Educational reconstruction in Sierra Leone must be informed by these realities even as
some indigenous traditions are recovered and used to make such reconstruction meaningful
and relevant for Sierra Leoneans. Thus imagined, educational reform does not involve pitting
indigenous Sierra Leonean cultural knowledge against that of the West. Instead, reform would
occur in a 'third space' which recognizes the heterogeneous basis of useful knowledge and the
need to find abiding links that connect African knowledge and values and the knowledge and

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 79

values entailed in Western education. The hybridity entailed in such a process produces
knowledge that can be best described as an alloy of racial, cultural, and ethnic metals.49 For
instance, the technical-rational or managerial efficiency approach that currently pervades
curriculum development in Sierra Leone, which has produced implementation difficulties,
could be reformed by utilizing the Mende indigenous practice of interweaving curricular aims,
content, and methodology to enable successful curriculum implementation and to make
education more functional and relevant to the places and lives of the students. This hybrid
approach would not diminish Western education which produces significant parental
enthusiasm because of the prestige and economic capital it carries. Rather, the approach would
place school curriculum firmly within a cultural framework that can be used by teachers to
provide students with insights into students' own cultural values and the tools they need for
interpreting the ambiguous cultural contexts in which they are now living. The situational and
contextual analysis preceding the development of such curriculum would take into account the
contemporary needs and goals of the society, the local values and dispositions considered to be
important, and the cultural resources available in the society. Such a process would facilitate the
selection of curriculum content and teaching methods based on the environment in which the
curriculum is developed and used, not on educational objectives and principles as defined
solely by outsiders. Curriculum and pedagogy thus become hybrid processes in which
communal values such as cooperation, interdependence, social responsibility (sorely needed in
citizenship education after the civil war in Sierra Leone), and stories and proverbs are
integrated into classroom learning. Curriculum would also be adaptable and open to further
interpretation and renewal in light of changing circumstances and specific contextual needs and
Living in postcolonial, global times involves a rethinking of pre-given categories, histories
and traditions. Therefore certain aspects of Mende indigenous education itself have to be
interrogated for their inherent limitations for addressing contemporary educational needs and
problems. For instance, a crucial objective of indigenous education among the Mende was the
preservation of the ethnic or community heritage, accomplished through the transmission of
values such as unquestioned respect for, and acceptance of, the views of elders and karmohs as
authoritative. The successful transmission of these values required obedience and conformity.
But while this approach may have helped to sustain the ethnic Mende values and hold the
community together, it has been criticized by some Sierra Leonean scholars as transforming
African children into submissive youngsters who, although biologically equipped with the
same keen interests and imagination as their counterparts from other cultures, quickly come to
lack the spirit of initiative, creativity, and critical thinking. There is, therefore, a need to
question whether the tradition of instructing children to accept authoritative teachings simply
out of deference for authority figures will serve them well in today's contexts of globalization
and the multiple post-war challenges requiring creative and expanded critical thinking skills
that appreciate how different cultures and societies solve problems. While an intimate
connection does exist between personal identity and particular traditions, humans are not
passive in the way that traditions define identity or destiny. Human beings can affirm some of
their inherited traditions, transmute them, or recreate them in novel ways.50 Indeed continuing
to be a person means continuously revisiting tradition and upholding certain elements of it

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while rethinking others. On the issue of tradition and change Gadamer writes: ".Tradition is not
merely what one knows to be and is conscious of as one's own origin.Changing the established
forms is no less a kind of connection with the tradition than defending the established forms.
Tradition exists only in constant alteration.51
I interpret Gadamer here to mean that, in addition to having a past which affects us in
innumerable and complex ways, we have a present that to some extent always differs from the
past and is animated by concerns and interests driving it towards the future. Thus the past
shapes us but we contribute to its outcome by responding to it in light of our current needs.
Confronted with new situations that we seek to understand, we are forced to re-examine our
traditions in relation to emergent realities and the meanings and demands of those realities. The
real issue, it would seem, is the political will and preparedness to read tradition as an open-
ended text rather than as a closed entity.52
Cumulative events such as the European infiltration into Africa, the subsequent
colonization of the African continent, the Western-style education that colonization brought,
and the current forces of economic and cultural globalization have all led to a present that
differs from our past and to changed and changing concerns shaping our future. This invites
questions about how to educate students so they become able to function meaningfully and
effectively in these new contexts. In Sierra Leone, it invites critical reflection on certain aspects
of traditional educational practices (e.g., the uncritical acceptance of authoritative teachings)
that may have served well to hold the community together, but that now need to be examined
critically vis-a-vis incoming authoritative ideas about education for development and, since the
end of the country's civil war, lectures about peace, justice, equality and human rights. We must
appreciate that indigenous educational experiences that discourage critical questioning are
likely to shape and mediate how Mende children experience Western-style education. Having
been socialized not to question or disobey authority, children come to extend these values to all
authoritative sources. I believe that children can be taught to assume a critical voice towards
authority without necessarily devaluing, disrespecting, or destroying authority altogether. A
critical voice, rather than merely destructive criticism, attempts the delicate work of
rearticulating the tensions within practices, the constraints, and the possibilities, even as it
questions the taken-for-granted knowledge that shapes everyday life.53
Educational reconstruction based on the creative re-appropriation of tradition requires
improvement in teacher education on two fronts. The first would have to be an emphasis on the
preparation of teachers as critical inquirers who, through offering themselves as models, will
eventually pass the habits of critical inquiry on to their students. On the second front, teachers
would have to be taught the cultural traditions that are important to the people of Sierra Leone
and how to blend these desirable traditional values and principles with current and appropriate
formal educational content and processes. Improvement on these two fronts will equip teachers
to help students develop the knowledge and skills necessary for successful living in
postcolonial/global times.

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Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in Postcolonial and Global Times I 81


My imagination of educational reconstruction in Sierra Leone as a hybrid process in which
the past is retrieved creatively and combined with the realities and needs of the present is partly
informed by Immanuel Kierkegaard's argument that no matter how much is subtracted from
the individual there is always a 'remainder' that could embrace the task of reconstituting the
Self.54 This reconstituting process involves what Kierkegaard calls 'repetition' which, like
Sankofa, is a forward movement that is cognizant of the past. Through the process of repetition
the individual becomes able to press forward, ".not toward a sheer novelty which is wholly
discontinuous with the past, but into the being which he himself is.. Repetition is that by which
the existing individual circles back on the being which he has been all along, that by which he
returns to himself."55
The experiences of European colonization and neo-colonization, in a variety of forms, have
led to self-fragmentation in many Africans. A fragmented self lacks full access both to itself and
the world, thereby impairing capacity for informed action. Amidst such fragmentation, we need
to define ourselves in terms of new memories through which we come to know, understand,
and experience ourselves. These memories, however, need not be lodged within monolithic
African identities, for we are both what we know (our African knowledge and traditions) and
what we do not know (others' knowledge and traditions). As Priscilla Wald has cogently
argued: "Older identities are now estranged and one's 'home' (identity) is no longer located
where one thought it was."56 If, indeed, we are serious about the construction of a new narrative
about education for development in postcolonial and global times, then reform needs to be
based in communities where relations are no longer unidirectional or univocal, whether flowing
from the former colonies to the colonialists or vice versa. The challenges facing the African sub-
continent in the 21st century (for example, poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, consolidating
fledgling democracies, fostering social cohesion) transcend national boundaries and single sets
of discourses. They could be called "supranational or transnational challenges", as Walter Parker
et al have suggested.57 Educational response to these challenges requires hybrid curriculum
thinking and acting which consists of overlays of multiple discourses and plural strategies,
including the creative re-appropriation of substantive traditions. Jomo Kenyatta got it right
when, forty years ago, he enjoined teachers to "promote progress and.preserve all that is best in
the traditions of the African people and assist them in creating a new culture which, though its
roots are still in the soil, is yet modified to meet the pressure of modern conditions."58


1. Busia, Kofi. Purposeful Education in Africa. London: Mouton, 1964; Mazrui, Ali. Political
Values and the Educated Class in Africa. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978;
Tedla, Elleni. Sankofa: African thought and education. New York: Peter Lang, 1995;
Rhomire, Apollo "Education and Development: African Perspectives." In Education and
Development in Africa, ed. Jonathan Nwomonah (San Francisco: International Scholars
Publication, 1998), pp. 3 23.

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2. Stark, Donald. Urbanization and Cultural Assimilation in Africa 1900 1960. Available at
3. Foreign Office Historical Section. Partition of Africa: British Possessions. London, 1920,
4. Bledsoe, Caroline. "The Cultural Transformation of Western Education in Sierra Leone."
Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 62, no.2, (1992): 182 202.
5. Stark, Id.
6. Tedla, Elleni. Sankofa: African Thoughts and Education. New York: Peter Lang, 1995.
7. Pennycook, Alastair. English and the Discourses of Colonialism. London: Routledge, 1998.
8. Hall, Stuart. "The Question of Cultural Identity." In Modernity and its Futures, eds. S.
Hall, D. Held, and T. McGrew (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), pp. 268 288.
9. London, Norrel. "Ideology and Politics in English Language Education in Trinidad and
Tobago: The Colonial Experience and a Postcolonial Critique". Comparative Education
Review, 47, no. 3, (2003), 287 320.
10. Young, Robert. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge,
11. Bhabha, Homi. "Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority,
Under a Tree Outside Delhi." Critical Inquiry, 12, no.1 (1985): 156 169; see also Gilroy,
Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Verso, 1993.
12. "African Traditions, Proverbs, and Sankofa". A Multidisciplinary Online Curriculum by
The Spirituals Project at the University of Denver Centre for Teaching and Learning (2004).
Available at http//ctl.du.edu/spirituals/literature/sankofa.cfm
13. Alridge, Derrick. "The Dilemmas, Challenges, and Duality of an African-American
Educational Historian." Educational Researcher, 32, no. 9, (2003), 25 34.
14. Tedla, 1995, Id.
15. Gross, David. The Past in Ruins: Tradition and the Critique of Modernity. Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press, 1992, p.3.
16. Marx, Karl. "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Loius Bonarparte." In The Marx and Engels
Reader, ed. R. C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), pp. 595 597.
17. Gross, 1992, Id.
18. Ibid, p. 88.
19. Ibid, p. 14.
20. Fay, Brian. Critical Social Science. Ithaca: New York. Cornell University Press, 1987,
21. Ibid, p.162.
22. Ibid, p. 163.
23. Gross, 1992, Id.
24. Id.
25. Ibid, p. 87.
26. See also Caroline Bledsoe, 1992, id.; William P. Murphy, "Secret Knowledge as Property
and Power: Elders Versus the Youth." Africa 50, no. 2, (1980): 193 207.
27. Bledsoe, 1992, p. 182.
28. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: Crossroads, 1984.

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29. Bledsoe, 1992, Id.
30. Ndoye, Mamadou. "Globalization, Endogenous Development, and Education in
Africa." Prospects, 27, pp. 79 84.
31. Gyekye, Kwame. African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.
32. Ibid, p.156.
33. Id.
34. Tikly, Leon. "Globalization and Education in the Postcolonial world: Toward a
Conceptual Framework." Comparative Education 37, no.2, (2001): 151 171.
35. Stark, Id.
36. Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington, DC: Howard University
37. Stark, Id.
38. Gyekye, Id.
39. Van Manen, Max. Researching Lived Experience. New York: SUNY Press, 1990.
40. Christaller, Johannes G. A Collection of 3,600 Tshi (Twi) Proverbs and Stories. Basel:
Evangelical Missionary Society, 1879.
41. McCarthy, Cameron and Dimitriades, Greg. (2000). "Globalizing Pedagogies: Power,
Resentment, and the Re-narration of Difference." In Globalization and Education: Critical
Perspectives, eds. Nicholas Burbules and Carlos Torres (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp.
187 204. Quote is on p. 193.
42. Smith, Linda T. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed
Books, 2002.
43. Popkewitz, Thomas. "Reform as the Social Administration of the Child: Globalization of
Knowledge and Power." In Globalization and Education: Critical Perspectives, eds. Nicholas
Burbules and Carlos Torres (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 157 186. Quote is on p.
44. Rizvi, Fazal. "International Education and the Production of Global Imagination". In
Globalization and Education, eds. Burbules and Torres (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp.
205 225. Quote is on p. 223.
45. Bhabha, Homi in an interview with Rutherford, Jonathan. "The third space: Interview
with Homi Bhabha." In Identity, Community, Culture and Difference, ed. Jonathan
Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), pp. 301 307. Quote is on p. 109.
46. Kanu, Yatta. "Curriculum as Cultural Practice." Journal of Canadian Association for
Curriculum Studies 1, no.1 (2003): 67 81.
47. Spivak, Gayatri. "The postcolonial critique". In The Postcolonial Critique: Interviews,
Strategies, Dialogues, ed. Sarah Harasym (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 67 74. Quote
is on p. 69.
48. McCarthy and Dimitriades. In Globalization and Education, p. 195. On Eurocentrism, see
Bennett, William. The Book of Virtues. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. For
Afrocentrism see Mungazi, Dickson. The mind of Black Africa. London: Praeger, 1996
and Asante, Molefi. Malcolm X as Cultural Hero and Other Afro-centric Essays. Trenton,
NJ: Africa World Press, 1993.

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49. McCarthy, Cameron. The Uses of Culture: Education and the Limits of Ethnic Affiliation.
New York: Routledge, 1998.
50. Fay, 1987, Id.
51. Cited in David Hoy. The Critical Circle. Berkely: University of California Press, 1982,
52. Nandy, Ashis. The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism.
Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983.
53. Britzman, Deborah. Practice Makes Practice: A Critical Study of Learning to Teach. (Revised
edition). New York: SUNY Press, 2003.
54. Kierkegaard Immanuel, cited in Caputo, John. Radical Hermeneutics: Deconstruction and
the Hermeneutic Project. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1987.
55. Ibid, p.12.
56. Wald, cited in Popkewitz, 2000, p. 170.
57. Parker, Walter et al. "Educating world citizens: Toward Multinational Curriculum
Development." American Educational Research Journal 36, no.2 (1999): 117 145.
58. Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu. New York: Vintage
Books, 1965; also cited in Woolman, David. "Educational Reconstruction and
Postcolonial Curriculum Development: A Comparative Study of Four African
Countries."International Education Journal 2, no. 5, (2001): 27 46. Quote is on p. 43.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Yatta Kanu.
"Tradition and Educational Reconstruction in Africa in postcolonial and global times: The case
for Sierra Leone." African Studies Quarterly 9, no. 3: [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

Comparative Assessment of Indigenous Methods of Sweet

Potato Preservation among Smallholder Farmers: Case of Grass,

Ash and Soil based Approaches in Zimbabwe


Abstract: Lack of suitable storage facilities among smallholder farmers continues to
expose farmers to intermittent food shocks. Farmers are thus making use of locally
available preservation methods, derived from indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), to
improve storability of sweet potatoes. However, not much is known about their efficacy
in maintaining the quality of the stored crop. Thus the broad objective of this research
was to assess the effectiveness of using soil, ash and grass as means of preserving sweet
potato variety Mozambican White. The three mediums were tested over a period of 5
months and each treatment had two replicates. Three kilogram of soil, two kilogram ash
and one kilogram grass were used for the analysis and the quantities were informed by
local smallholder farmers. The experiment was conducted at ambient room temperature.
Two parameters were monitored, the rate of discoloration of tubers and weight change
over time. The results indicate that if quality of the stored crop and weight variation of
tubers is considered, then use of soil banks is the most effective. However, weights of
tubers for ash and grass were not statistically different from the soil treatment but some
tubers were discolored. If farmers are to get the best results, a combination of the above
techniques, particularly ash and soil, is recommended.

The bulk of developing countries in Africa are ensnared in abject poverty with individual
households living on less than $1 dollar per day.lIn addition, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has also
ravaged social and economic systems of developing countries, thus compromising long-term
economic development. Contemporary anecdotes reveal that at least 35 million people were
infected by HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa in 2003. By the end of 2004, related estimates showed
that 37.8 million people were infected by the scourge.2_Thus it is not surprising that the gap
between the rich and poor countries has been escalating over the last few years.
Although agriculture remains a key strategy to revitalizing the livelihoods of the rural
poor, bottlenecks of major inputs such as fertilizers, chemicals and other synthetic inputs
required for enhanced productivity remain a challenge for farmers and on household decision

Edward Mutandwa is a lecturer in the Department of Agriculture at Bindura University of Science Education. He has
been involved in research for NGOs such as ITDG Southern Africa, particularly the Women in Construction Project
and Knowledge and Information Systems Project in Epworth. He has worked as an Operations Research Consultant
in ITDG Southern Africa. Christopher Tafara Gadzirayi is a lecturer in the Department of Agriculture and
Environmental Science at Bindura University of Science Education. He has extensive experience in research work
ranging from supervisory management, environmental management and education and training.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

86 I Mutandwa and Gadzirayi

making vis-a-vis crop enterprise choice. Smallholder production trend indicate a shift in
production patterns from the conventional crops such as cotton, maize and tobacco to other
"unorthodox" crops which are less demanding in terms of input usage and labor requirements.3
Crop enterprises such as indigenous vegetables and sweet potatoes are increasingly becoming
an important option for the achievement of household food security in Southern Africa,
including countries such as Zimbabwe. However, one of the major issues exposing farmers to
chronic and transitory food shocks (particularly in the off-season), is postharvest loss. Studies
indicate that postharvest loss due to pest and disease attack can account for as much as 40-60%
of crop output.4 Given that chemical-based systems of crop preservation are expensive for most
farmers, least-cost preservation strategies need to be identified and there is not much literature
on the efficacy of the various indigenous strategies to preservation.
In Zimbabwe, sweet potatoes are becoming an important component of the diet for both
urban and rural households. For urban households, this has been necessitated by the escalating
costs of bread and other starch-based foods such as Irish potatoes. Thus the integration of sweet
potatoes should be considered as a rational coping strategy adopted by households to ensure
food security. Sweet potato is an annual plant that thrives well under warm equatorial and
tropical regions with hot summers. Taubenhouse (1989) noted that every buyer, grower, and
storer of sweet potatoes has his own practices, theories, and beliefs about storing
sweetpotatoes.5_Therefore there is no universal method of managing postharvest losses.
Postharvest losses are often identified as one of the key snags to the achievement of food
security in Sub-saharan Africa.
Most smallholder farmers use methods that have been passed on from generation to
generation through indigenous knowledge systems. Indigenous knowledge is perceived to be
the knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society.6 It creates the basis for local level
decision-making in agriculture, health care, food preparation and preservation, education and
natural resource management.7 Indigenous knowledge is an important ingredient for
development but is grossly under-utilized.8
Most smallholder farmers use methods that have been passed on from generation to
generation through indigenous knowledge systems. Indigenous knowledge is perceived to be
the knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society.6_It creates the basis for local level
decision-making in agriculture, health care, food preparation and preservation, education, and
natural resource management.7 Indigenous knowledge is an important ingredient for
development but is grossly under-utilized.8
Although important, techniques of preserving crops derived from indigenous knowledge
have only rarely been subjected to scientific enquiry. Thus there is a general paucity of
information vis-a-vis their effectiveness in assisting households overcome short and long-term
food shortages. An inventory of methods used in Africa to preserve sweetpotatoes shows that a
number of methods, which include use of grass, ash and soil, are common. In Mali, Kone (1991)
showed that sweetpotatoes could store up to 6 months in temperatures ranging from 12-14
degrees Celsius.9
Drawing from literature, this study investigates the storability of Mozambican White under
room temperature whilst monitoring parameters such as turgidity and color changes using
three preservation techniques viz. soil, ash and grass techniques. This study is premised on the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

Comparative Assessment of Indigenous Methods of Sweet Potato Preservation I 87

observation that local smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe use most preservation methods
informally but not much is known about their efficacy from a scientific perspective. In addition,
storage techniques based on IKS are grossly undervalued because farmers are now using
chemical based methods but these are expensive in the country. These developments are linked
to the volatile macro-economic environment that is besieging the country.


The main objective of this study is to carry out a comparative assessment of the
effectiveness of three techniques of preserving sweet potatoes soil, ash and grass.
The specific objectives are:

1. To assess the effectiveness of soil, ash, and grass methods in terms of:

i. The rate of water loss in tubers

ii. The rate of discoloration

iii. Weight change

2. To identify the most suitable storage facility to use for sweet potato storage among
smallholder farmers.

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88 I Mutandwa and Gadzirayi


Conceptual Framework

Seeds and

Crop output

Food resource

* Incidence of
pests and
diseases coupled
with lack of
access to
techniques of

-II ..

Exposure to transitory and
chronic food shocks
through attack

Food insecurity


Appropriate local


Enhances food

Fig 2.1 Contribution of Indigenous Knowledge Systems to Household food security

Fig 2.1 depicts the role and contribution of indigenous knowledge systems to household food
security. The household typically combines the available inputs (land, labor, capital and
managerial capacity) to produce crop outputs. This has the effect of increasing the food resource
base. However, there are exogenous factors such as pests and diseases, which will lead to
transitory (short term) as well as chronic (long term) food shocks resulting in food insecurity.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007




Comparative Assessment of Indigenous Methods of Sweet Potato Preservation I 89

Lack of access to conventional processing and preservation techniques will also have the same
effect on the food security status of the household. Another scenario would involve farmers also
extracting appropriate local techniques from the indigenous knowledge systems (IKS). These
local techniques are passed on and even improved over periods of time hence improving
storability and leading to improved food security.

Social Context

In Zimbabwe, the smallholder sector consists mainly of poor farmers who comprise over
70% of the country's agricultural producers. This sector is also characterized by social and
economic factors such as heavy reliance on family labor, a generally poor resource base,
inadequate technologies, underdeveloped infrastructure, weak institutional support, and low
production levels. These problems are further aggravated by the lack of an explicit policy
framework guiding national programs on research and development of orphan crops like sweet
potato. Orphan crops consist of a range of crops that do not enjoy formal agricultural policy
support programs to enhance productivity and are therefore marginalized even though
featuring prominently in the household food economy.l _The agricultural policy framework
(1995-2020) identifies its major crops to include maize, wheat, soyabeans, cotton and
tobacco. Sweet potatoes are not explicitly noted as a recognized crop in the framework."
When sweet potatoes are in season, they form a significant component of family diets for
most families in Zimbabwe, particularly the urban and the rural poor. Despite this significance,
the crop is still viewed as a "woman's crop" and does not feature prominently in the allocation
of resources at family the level or national agricultural settings because of the partrilinear
nature of the Zimbabwean society which undervalues the contribution of women to the
household economy.

Agronomic requirements of sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea Batatus) are a tropical and sub-tropical plant that thrives in optimal
conditions of between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. In tropical zones, it can be grown in altitudes
above 2500m.12_At planting, it is important to grow the crop in moist soils to obtain good
germination. The soils should ideally be moist for most of the production cycle of the crop,
which ranges from 60-120 days. It does well in a wide variety of soils but the best are ferratic,
brown humic, and calcimorphic soils.13 The soils need to have good drainage properties. Sweet
potatoes can be multiplied using tubers and stems however the most common method in
Zimbabwe is the use of stems. In addition, planting is generally done by hand, putting the stem
on a mound or ridge and covering it with earth using hoes. Most farmers in Zimbabwe do not
use fertilizers for the crop.14 Sweet potato productivity is stifled by the occurrence of diseases
and pests. The most important diseases are the sweet potato virus complex (SPVD) and
nematode infections.

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90 I Mutandwa and Gadzirayi


Soil based technique

This method involves digging of pits at a certain level of inclination (sloped areas). This is
done to facilitate the complete drainage of the pits which avoids accumulation of moisture
which would in turn lead to rotting or germination of tubers.

Ash based technique

This approach involves mixing ash powder with sweet potatoes. The ash will act as an
absorbent to moisture and has a repelling effect on pests. Ash has alkaline properties, which are
not conducive to development of diseases.

Grass based Technique

In this technique, dry grass is used to create dry and cool conditions within the storage
area. This avoids the development of fungal diseases that normally thrive under humid and
warm conditions.

Studies on the effectiveness of preservation techniques of sweet potatoes

Although sweetpotatoes are increasing in importance worldwide, there seems to be a
relative dearth and paucity of information on the efficacy of local indigenous techniques of
preserving the crop. Kone (1991) argued that sweet potatoes could be stored successfully in soil
or ash for about 6 months.15_However, it is critical to ensure that the stored crop does not have
any bruises as this only aids infection and rotting.16 Anochili (1984) investigated the impact of
using ash on sweet potato storability and was of the opinion that the ash technique is effective.17

Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS)

Most of the existing methods on sweet potato preservation are based on indigenous
knowledge. This is so because the orthodox approaches based on chemicals are relatively
expensive. Thus one can argue that sweet potato preservation in Zimbabwe is predicated on
indigenous knowledge. Berkes (1999) perceived indigenous knowledge as the local knowledge
held by indigenous people and is unique to a given society. This knowledge is used to
distinguish the knowledge developed by a given community from international knowledge
bases or scientific knowledge. Warren's study indicates that IK refers to technical insight or
wisdom gained and developed by people in a particular locality, through years of careful
observation and experimentation with the natural phenomena around them.18_ Within this
context, IK refers to the inventory of locally available techniques used to preserve sweet
potatoes and these have to be derived from the community and have a direct bearing in their
everyday lives.

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Comparative Assessment of Indigenous Methods of Sweet Potato Preservation I 91


Overview of the Storage mediums used for analysis

The broad objective of this study was to comparatively assess the effectiveness of three
techniques used by local communities to preserve sweet potatoes. The research used soil
obtained from local gardens in Mashonaland East Province (Hwedza District) where farmers
typically stored their sweet potato harvest. These soils ranged from loams to sandy loamy soils.
Farmers chose areas with such soil types as they have relatively lower water holding capacity
when compared to clays and this reduces the likelihood of rotting due to moist conditions.
It was important to ensure that the soil was dry and free from observable external foreign
materials such as sticks. Grass for thatch method was collected also from the local area, taking
note of the aforementioned issues. Ash was prepared using wood from local tree species. The
sweet potato variety used is Mozambican White, which was chosen because of its availability on
the local market at the time of conducting the research.

Materials Used

Boxes measuring 20x15x15 cm were used as materials for conducting the experiments. For
each storage technique, two replicates were used making a total of six boxes for the experiment.
Approximately three kg of soil was used for the soil technique and this quantity had to
guarantee total coverage of the tubers. About two kg of ash and one kg of thatch grass was used
for the other replicates used in the study. In each box 12 tubers were placed and subjected to the
experimental conditions. These quantities were derived from local farmers in Zimbabwe.

Research Design

The methodological approach used was the pre- and post-test design. Within this context,
the desired parameters were measured before commencement of the study and after a period of
5 months. The experiments were conducted at room temperature that is 24 degrees Celsius in an
agricultural shed. The diagrammatic presentation of the experiment is presented below.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

92 I Mutandwa and Gadzirayi

Treatment A

Treatment B


Treatment C



Sampling Procedure

A simple random sampling technique was used to select tubers from each treatment and
replicate. The random sampling approach ensured that the parameters under observation were
taken from representative universe of units from each replicate and experiment. Two
parameters, namely weight changes due to water loss and color changes, were recorded for
each treatment. Discoloration of tubers was observed using visual assessment. Any tuber
whose surface area had at least twenty five percent deviation from inherent off-white colour
was categorized as discoloured. The twenty five percent benchmark was based on local
consumer grading systems in major open markets in Zimbabwe. Parameters were monitored
monthly over five months.

Data Analysis

An analysis of variance table was set to investigate whether there were statistical
differences in parameters under observation. A one way ANOVA table was set up to investigate
whether there were differences in the grand means of weights of potatoes before and after the
experiment and across experiments.


Rate of Discoloration

Discoloration in this study was defined as the change of color of the sweet potato tuber of
at least twenty five percent surface area. This is normally evidenced by the presence of lesions
on the tubers. The number of discolored tubers was recorded for each treatment.
There were no discolored tubers in treatment A, in which soil was used. In treatment B,
where ash was used, a total of 6 out of 12 tubers were discolored at the end of 5 months. In

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 31 Spring 2007

Comparative Assessment of Indigenous Methods of Sweet Potato Preservation I 93

treatment C, a total of 8 out of 12 tubers were found to be discolored. The results are depicted in
Fig 4.1.

Fig 4.1 Rate of discoloration over time

According to the graph, the three treatments had no discolorations for the first 2 months.
However, in ash the discolored tubers were observed in the 3rd month whilst in grass this was
observed in the 4th month of the experiment. On the basis of ANOVA test (p<0.05) there was no
statistical difference in the number of discolored sweet potato tubers at the end of five months
(see Table 4.1).

Table 4.1 ANOVA results for number of discolored tubers across treatments

Source of Sum of DF Mean square F value Significance
Variation squares estimates (5% level)
Between 2.733 2 1.367 2.267 0.147

Within groups 7.267




Water Loss in tubers

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94 I Mutandwa and Gadzirayi

The rate of water loss in the tubers from each treatment was observed using the average weight
of the tubers. An implicit assumption made was that the change in weight between two time
periods was attributed mainly to water loss. The research also ensured that the size of the tubers
across treatments were roughly of the same size. In addition, the variety used had been
screened for infections i.e. cultured. Therefore, the incidence of internal infections, which could
lead to changes in weight, was minimal across treatments. The data obtained is shown in the
table below.

Table 4.2 Percentage weight loss of tubers over 5 months

Time period Treatment A Treatment B Treatments C
Soil (grams) Ash Grass
1 0.36 0.354 0.346
2 0.36 0.344 0.321
3 0.32 0.313 0.307
4 0.29 0.270 0.295
5 0.27 0.261 0.243

Grand Mean
Final %
change per




Fig 4.2 Weight variation of sweet potato tubers over time

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Comparative Assessment of Indigenous Methods of Sweet Potato Preservation I 95

The three treatments were tested statistically using one-way analysis of variance procedure
The hypothesis being tested was that the three treatments are equally effective implying
that the observed average weights of tubers are the same for the treatments.

The results of the ANOVA are shown below.

Table 4.3 Comparative assessment of mean weights of tubers for the three treatments

Source of Sum of DF Mean Square F value Significance
variation squares Estimates (5 %)
Between 8.005E-04 4.003E-04 0.246 0.786
Within groups 1.95E-02 12 1.628E-03



Since the observed significance value is greater than 0.05%, it implies that we do not reject
the null hypothesis that the mean weights of the tubers are equal. Therefore, it can be argued
statistically that the above three treatments soil, ash and grass are equally effective in terms of
maintaining the turgid state of preserved tubers. The results of the study are consistent with

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 3 I Spring 2007

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