Wednesday, March 26, 2014

East African Federation: Long Live the Spirit of Pan-Africanism

Lest we forget..
In November 1958, Nyerere spoke to Mason Sears, the US representative to the UN Trusteeship Council to Tanganyika about regional Federation.  At the time, Nyerere and Kawawa were preparing to attend the All-African Peoples' Conference (AAPC) in Accra, Ghana and had already worked with other regional leaders to establish the Pan African Freedom Movement for East and Central Africa (PAFMECA); AAPC was scheduled to meet in December of 1958.  It was clear at the time that the spirit of Pan-Africanism was already alive and growing. During the discussions with Sears, Nyerere played down the possibility that he would become involved in the affairs of Kenya, Uganda, or Central African Federation.  However, he did inform Sears that Tanganyika was posed to play an important political role in the region once it became independent. A little over a year later, Tanganyika took one of the first steps in proposing regional Federation long before independence. Nyerere shocked the world by announcing through BBC television program in January 1, 1960, that Tanganyika, Kenya, and Uganda should join together in a Federation.  Shortly afterwards, TANU approved a proposal to postpone Tanganyika’s independence in order to join in a Federation with other countries. Nyerere announced in June 1960 that he was willing to delay Tanganyika’s independence for up to 6 months in order to allow the formation of East Africa Federation.  Nyerere stated in Nairobi after leaving the Conference of Independent African States in Ethiopia that: “we want to build unity, and that is why I am in favor of achieving independence on a federal basis.” It is no surprise that East African leaders signed a Federation declaration in June 1963. The declaration stated:

"Our meeting today is motivated by the spirit of Pan-Africanism, and not by mere selfish regional interests...   This is our day of action in the cause of the ideals that we believe in, and the unity and freedom for which we have suffered and sacrificed so much.... We share a common past, and are convinced of our common destinies. We have a common history, culture, and customs which make our unity both logical and natural."

The East African Federation initiative was also designed to put pressure on Britain to grant early independence to Kenya and Uganda and avert insecurity brought by ethnic division. During talks between Tom Mboya and Nyerere in July 1960, Nyerere told Mboya that Federation would help overcome ethnic division in Kenya and Uganda while Tanganyika would benefit from Kenya's advance services and better qualified personnel.

Nyerere also campaigned tirelessly for a union with Rwanda and Burundi.  He spoke to an American diplomat in January 1961 to see if the US government would support union between Tanganyika, Rwanda, and Burundi. One of the reasons he gave for this union was worries of a civil war.  Nyerere went on to make a case for a union with Rwanda and Burundi to the British Prime Minister Macmillan. The initiative for union with Burundi and Rwanda did not receive support from Britain or the US; it does, however, illustrate Nyerere's Pan African vision.  Nyerere wanted to set up regional federation first and eventually a United States of Africa.

There is power in unity. Division based on colonial boundaries, ethnic affiliation, religious background, or class, is a threat to our development.  We owe it to the future generations to build unity and understanding.  It is high time that we revisit this important question of unity if we are to remain relevant in the 21st century.  Long live the spirit of Pan-Africanism!

Azaria Mbughuni is an Assistant Professor of History at Spelman College, Atlanta, USA. ( Follow me on twitter @ AzariaTZ
© Azaria Mbughuni

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