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Coping With the Crises: A Reflection From an African University

13 min read.

Every university is unique and similar to other universities in its own way. This is especially evident in the types of challenges and crises it faces and how it deals with them, which is determined by its institutional contexts, capacities, and culture.



The Possibilities and Perils of Leading an African University
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Every university is unique and similar to other universities in its own way. This is especially evident in the types of challenges and crises it faces and how it deals with them, which is determined by its institutional contexts, capacities, and culture. By the time I joined USIU-Africa as Vice Chancellor in January 2016, I had been in academia for more than forty years in six countries on three continents and the Caribbean region at nearly a dozen universities of different types.

So, I thought I was inured to surprises. As it turned out, I faced both familiar and unfamiliar challenges and crises over the next six years. The routine challenges in universities were of course there. The surprises reflected the larger national and international contexts in which the university operated and revealed our institutional strengths and weaknesses as crises tend to do.

The Sovereignty of Nations

The first major crisis erupted while I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts attending a training seminar on Advancement Leadership for Presidents at Harvard University. It was Saturday, July 8, 2016, when I got a message that land belonging to USIU-Africa had been grabbed by a property developer. I was on the way to lunch with an old friend who had kindly agreed to take me to the airport later that day. In my wildest dreams I would never have imagined that as vice chancellor I would be dealing with land grabbing!

The question of land is central in Kenya’s history, political economy, and social imaginary. The country’s settler colonial capitalism rested on the dispossession of large tracts of fertile lands in central Kenya and coercive mobilization of cheap labor around country. The struggles over land between the British settlers and indigenous people lay at the heart of the nationalist movement that culminated in the liberation war led by the Land Freedom Army in the 1950s.

Also known as the Mau Mau rebellion or uprising, the conflict crystallized and unleashed complex forces and negotiations that shaped the trajectory of Kenya’s decolonization and postcolonial dispensation. I had done my PhD dissertation on Kenya’s colonial economic history from 1895-1963, so I understood the dynamics of land dispossession, squatting, grabbing, and ownership, how land was a source of accumulation and wealth, and a powerful symbol of status, identity, and belonging.

USIU-Africa had purchased the grabbed land in 1990, comprising 30 acres, which was not too far from the main campus, from an insurance company that in turn had bought it from another company that acquired the land in the mid-1980s from the former president of the country, Daniel arap Moi. It was high stakes land politics. Before long, another claimant, a major tycoon, joined the fray.

On the long flight from Boston to Nairobi, I was concerned about how this tragic saga would pan out. Immediately after my return the management team and I made some crucial decisions. We visited the two nearest police stations and began planning a peaceful demonstration against the land grabbers to raise public awareness. There was overwhelming support rom the university community.

The march took place on July 13. The chancellor, then in his late eighties, and I together with the management team led the six kilometer demonstration on Thika Superhighway, one of the city’s major thoroughfares, from the campus to the Muthaiga police station to deliver a petition. We deployed marshals to ensure there were no outside agitators to cause mayhem, hired a music band to keep spirits high, brought lots of bottled water and an ambulance. We wore headbands, carried placards, and marched under the banner “Our Land Our Future.”

The demonstration was widely hailed as the most peaceful ever conducted by any university in the country. While we were proud of that, we knew the hard work of reclaiming the university’s grabbed land had only begun. Over the next several days and weeks we visited the ministries of lands and education, organized seminars on land grabbing in Kenya with NGOs, and above all, our internal and external legal counsel began to pursue the legal avenues available to secure the university’s interests.

Months turned into years. It soon transpired that the university’s external legal counsel had allegedly been involved in the company that bought the land from the former president, so we had to get new legal counsel, which introduced complications as the former tried to work with some members of the Board of Trustees and University Council behind management’s back. This was my first encounter with counterproductive interference in legal matters by some members of the governing bodies. Others were to come.

The court case moved at a snail’s pace. No legal resolution had been reached by the time I left more than five years later. In the meantime, we fenced the adjacent ten acres to the grabbed 30 acres that were not disputed, and enhanced security for all of the university’s undeveloped lands on the main campus by constructing perimeter walls.

Security was a paramount institutional consideration because Kenya lives in a dangerous geopolitical neighborhood. The country has suffered several terrorist attacks, the most heinous in recent times include the attacks on the US embassy in 1998 that killed 213 people, the Westgate Mall in 2013 that killed nearly 70 people, in Mpeketoni in Lamu county in June 2014 that killed more than 60 peopleGarissa University in April 2015 that killed almost 150 people mostly students, and on the DusitD2 complex in Nairobi in January 2019 that killed 21 people.

Consequently, campus security was a constant preoccupation for the university leadership. Regardless of where I was at any time of the day or night, I was reachable by our security team. Universities in Kenya are expected to maintain and constantly monitor high levels of security. The name of our university added to our potential vulnerability. In addition to our own campus security team and a contracted security firm, we worked closely with the police, other security agencies, and the immigration department. We conducted periodic security forums and drills for the university community.

In 2019, following instructions from the relevant government ministries we established a biometric system for the entrance to campus. With the outbreak of Covid-19 we introduced an RFID card system. We discovered that daily there were dozens if not hundreds of outsiders without campus affiliation who had been coming on campus to use our facilities including the sports gyms.

Some students protested as these security measures made it impossible for those who had not paid their tuition or taken up deferred payment plans to enter campus. As I noted in another reflection, affordability is a serious problem for many students in Kenyan universities including USIU-Africa. On this matter, the Board and Council unequivocally supported management.

Personally, I was troubled by the emerging surveillance regime, but as vice chancellor I was committed to ensuring utmost security and safety for the university community. However, I declined traveling with armed bodyguard or acquiring a gun as I was advised as xenophobic attacks directed at me escalated. I took pleasure in walking freely on campus and in the neighborhood I lived.

The Politics of Authoritarianism and Anti-intellectualism

As a long-standing academic, public intellectual, and creative writer I relish vigorous debate and abhor anti-intellectualism. As a lifelong activist for democracy and human rights, I detest authoritarianism and the cultures of intolerance, bullying, mobbing, and harassment which are all too rampant on many campuses in Africa and around the world. USIU-Africa was no exception in this regard.

In many contexts, authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism radiate from the top including the governing bodies, which are increasingly comprised of businesspeople and politicians with poor understanding of universities. They seek to impose corporate and partisan modes of governance that flout the core values of academic freedom and shared governance for universities. Aside from the president or vice chancellor, and provost or deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs, management bodies are also increasingly occupied by non-academics who are sometimes indifferent or even hostile to the culture of universities as epistemic communities.

There is now a vast literature on the corporatization and politicization of universities, the imposition of business models and autocratic leadership styles. However, while universities cannot be reduced to businesses, they must exercise prudent business management to survive and thrive. Moreover, universities have never been splendidly isolated from the political dynamics of their societies, nor are they immune from their own internal politics that often reflect and reproduce prevailing and conflicting tendencies and trends in the wider polity.

In many universities, anti-intellectualism manifests itself in a growing disdain for the “argumentative” and “useless” humanities and social sciences, and the valorization of the STEM disciplines and the marketable professional fields.  The devaluation of the liberal arts that prize critical thinking, inquiry, search for truth, humanism, ethics, justice, and the indispensable literacies for interdisciplinary, intercultural, international, information and interpersonal engagement is accompanied by the instrumentalization of knowledges, skills, and outputs.

A Kenyan scholar, Wanjala Nasong’o, laments in The Daily Nation of April 6, 2022 “the rise of anti-intellectualism that intensified in Kenya under Moi, and that has become ubiquitous in the world on account of the rise of right-wing populist nationalism. Its essence is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who represent it; and a disposition to constantly minimize the value of that life. The result of this is the current general disdain towards all forms of intellectual activity and a tendency to denigrate those who engage in it… Anti-intellectualism is identified with religious anti-rationalism, populist anti-elitism, and unreflective instrumentalism… Religious anti-rationalism is the belief in the superiority of faith over reason and the fear that scientific endeavors will lead to the elimination of religion. The growth of religious fundamentalism around the world and the popularity of new-age religions in the face of contemporary life challenges is a testament to this.”

It was not unusual for academic or professional meetings to be opened by Christian payers oblivious to the fact that attendees were multi-religious or even agnostic and atheists. As I noted in a previous reflection, at USIU-Africa I was struck by the lack of a vigorous academic culture outside the classroom. Serious debates in leadership meetings were rare, save for those in management and occasionally the Senate.

Another troubling dimension of institutional cultures in many universities including USIU-Africa is the growth of incivility. In a speech I delivered virtually on May 26, 2021 to the USIU-Africa community and other participants, titled “Higher Education in a Post-Covid-19 World: Challenges and Opportunities for African Universities,” I commented extensively on this problem. I urged the audience to seriously embrace the values of academic freedom, shared governance, diversity, equity and inclusion, respectful internal and external communication, civility and collegiality, the role of universities as generative spaces in the rigorous search for truth, and their social responsibility by eschewing institutional naval gazing for the higher purpose of social impact.

On civility I stated, “The academic bully culture, as Darla Twale and Barbara De Luca call it in their book by that title has grown. Some call it academic mobbing. Incivility and intolerance in universities has several manifestations. At a macro level it reflects the frictions of increasing diversification of university stakeholders, growing external pressures for accountability, and the descent of political discourse into angry populisms. Student and faculty incivility are also fueled by rising sense of entitlement, consumerist attitudes, emotional immaturity, stress, racism, tribalism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, social media, and other pervasive social and institutional ills that universities must confront and address to foster healthier institutional climate.”

The culture of incivility at USIU-Africa was expressed in contradictory ways. There was exaggerated respect for authority, as evident in the pervasive reference and reverence for titles, undoubtedly a survival tactic from the legacies of national and institutional authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism. There was also fear to confront dysfunctional behavior perpetrated by peers. I would often be approached by faculty, staff, and students who disapproved the attitudes and actions of their leaders and colleagues, saying “we don’t agree with what they are doing.” I would always ask them why they didn’t say so and openly debate their opponents.

In the first few years, I found meetings of the Faculty Council, which I attended upon invitation, quite vigorous, before they descended into sterile monologues by an intellectually insecure and intolerant leadership that would only allow their supporters to speak. Similarly, student politics tended to be constructive, notwithstanding predictable, and understandable protests over tuition increases. Things changed when the government imposed a uniform way of choosing student leaders.

This was prompted by efforts to curtail the power of longstanding popular leaders at some public universities. Instead of direct elections, the new system required all universities to establish an electoral college that would select the student leadership. This introduced increasingly sectarian political mobilization at a private university like ours that had not indulged in such politics before in which the populist factional leaders, who were not necessarily universally popular, could enjoy more power than the selected leaders they sponsored.

One event captured rising anti-intellectualism among some students.  In March 2019, students in the recently established pharmacy degree program sued the university for not changing the grading system to lower pass rates, which other students had rejected! They lost the case with costs. Ironically, the case raised national awareness that the university’s grading standards were high, contrary to colonialist stereotypes about the laxity of private and American-style universities. The following year enrollment in the pharmacy program shot up!

Throughout this saga, the Management Board and University Senate remained firm, confident that the university would prevail to maintain high grading standards. A few disgruntled faculty egged the pharmacy students on. The Council was unnerved and called for an emergency meeting and demanded daily updates. I even had to cut short my vacation to Mozambique where I was visiting my son. The propensity for misguided interventions by the Council worsened during the Covid-19-19 pandemic.

The Wrath of a Pandemic

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 forced universities around the world to confront unprecedented challenges that simultaneously exposed and exacerbated existing deficiencies and dysfunctions. Six stand out. First, in terms of transitioning from face to face to remote teaching and learning using online platforms. Second, managing severely strained finances. Third, ensuring the physical and mental health of students, faculty, and staff. Fourth, reopening campuses as safely and as effectively as possible. Fifth, planning for a sustainable post-pandemic future. Sixth, contributing to the capacities of government and society in resolving the multiple dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At USIU-Africa management began preparing for the Covid-19 pandemic almost immediately after it erupted. I subscribe to key higher education magazines in the United States, Britain, Canada, such as The Chronicle of Higher EducationTimes Higher EducationUniversity Affairs Canada, that send daily updates, and regularly read other academic media including University World News. By the end of January 2020, it was clear to me the world was facing a major health crisis.

Management activated the university’s business continuity plan that had been created a year before, set up a task force for Covid-19 and mobilized the occupational safety and health administration (OSHA) committee, and the governance bodies. We also began preparing faculty, students and staff through a comprehensive communication strategy using multiple platforms and disseminating information from authoritative sources to curtail misinformation and mitigate panic. A training program for transition to online teaching and learning was launched by the recently established USIU Online. A survey showed 94% of the students had access to smart gadgets.

By the time the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic and the Kenyan government announced closure of all education institutions from March 19, 2020, we were ready. The campus closed on March 17, and the following day we started offering classes online. The Spring and Summer semesters were concluded successfully online, and so was the Fall semester, during which improvements were made based on the experiences of the previous two semesters. This continued for the first two semesters in 2021, while during the third semester we partially reopened the campus. The provision of essential services in ICT, Library, Finance, Admissions, Counseling, and other areas continued online.

The University’s relatively successful online transition can be attributed to four key factors: robust business continuity planning; massive investments in electronic infrastructure in previous years and new investments during the pandemic; remarkable commitment by faculty, students, and staff, facilitated by continuous training; and using experiences to make improvements. We managed the welfare of international students unable to leave immediately by keeping them on campus until end of the 2020 spring semester.

Management and I were committed to managing the pandemic as effectively as possible, as well as actively planning for the future, exploring how to turn the challenges into opportunities. The university became a national leader in Kenya on e-Learning as evident in its partnerships with the Commission for University Education in organizing forums on the subject, CUE’s approval of the first online degree program in the country at USIU-Africa in 2020, and the university’s selection as a lead partner of the Mastercard Foundation for a major e-Learning initiative for some of the foundation’s partner institutions including eleven in Africa.

Personally, I participated in numerous national and international forums on the implications of Covid-19 as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Kenya Education Network, the country’s NREN, member of the Administrative Board of the International Association of Universities, and the Advisory Board of the Alliance for African Partnership, a consortium of about a dozen African universities and Michigan State University, and numerous other forums. I began researching on and writing a series of papers on the implications of Covid-19 for various aspects of higher education in Africa and around the world.

However, we faced challenges. One was ensuring quality of instruction and delivery of essential services. In the first few months, management and OSHA conducted daily reviews. Another centered on connectivity and devices for many of our students and faculty. We engaged the two telcos, Safaricom and Telekom, to provide subsidized subscription Wi-Fi rates. The integrity of the assessment process posed a special challenge. The schools adopted various mitigation measures including open book exams, using projects, online presentations, and prorating existing assessments. In addition, we acquired appropriate technology tools, such as the Responders Lockdown browser and monitoring system.

One of the biggest challenges was financial. The closure of the campus resulted in reduced revenues from auxiliary services and some student fees. Most significantly, for the rest of 2020, student enrollments fell significantly, and as a tuition dependent institution our finances became severely strained. Enrollments dropped because students’ parents or guardians faced job losses and salary reductions. Further, national examinations for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 2020 were postponed so there was no new pipeline for the fall 2020 semester.

Management organized numerous meetings in which the Director of Finance and I informed staff and faculty, as well as the governing organs about the dire financial situation we were facing. We invited the Faculty and Staff Councils for detailed briefings. I spent several weeks calling individual staff and faculty members to find out how they were doing, offer support, and solicit their views on how we could catalyze lessons from the pandemic to make the university more resilient and effective in future.

Within months of the outbreak of the pandemic several Council members demanded drastic measures including immediate salary cuts and furloughs. Management preferred a more measured approach to begin in the 2020-2021 budget year to maintain essential operations, morale, and as part of the duty of care to employees. Unconscionably, when there was blowback from a minority of faculty to measures adopted in the 2020-2021 budget, those same Council members tried to distance themselves from the budget over which they enjoyed the sole authority of approval according to the university’s charter and statues.

Prior to and after the approval of the 2020-2021 budget by the Council various consultations and engagements were held with the schools, staff and the faculty council executive committees to brief them on why it was necessary to implement the anticipated austerity measures. This was part of a tradition of wide consultations with stakeholders by management as it drafted the university budget for Council deliberation and approval.

The measures included graduated salary cuts (6%-23), suspension of institutional contributions to pension payments, placing some employees on unpaid leave, and suspension of the Employee Tuition Waiver. We indicated the measures would be reviewed each semester and based on student enrollment adjusted accordingly.

In addition, management developed several mitigation measures, such as strengthening fundraising, external partnerships, student recruitment and retention, and the university’s customer service and support. It is instructive that we secured the $63.2 million dollars for scholarships from the Mastercard Foundation that I mentioned in another reflection during the pandemic, and later huge support from the Foundation’s e-Learning initiative.

Before implementation we asked all employees to sign-off their approval. The majority approved. However, a minority group of opposed faculty applied for a court injunction to stop the implementation of the measures. They argued, against all evidence, that the university had enough resources to navigate the crisis without undertaking any drastic measures. Their blatant dishonesty and shenanigans would have been hilarious if the implications were not so serious.

Management believed it had a firm case to prevail in court. Many employers in Kenya including universities had implemented similar measures, so had much richer universities in the developed countries, as I shared continuously in my presentations to faculty and staff. The court issued a temporary injunction against implementation of the measures and encouraged mediation. After several futile attempts in which the litigants refused to consider any of the cost containment measures, it was clear to management that the court case should proceed in an expedited manner.

However, some members of the Council preferred more negotiations which persisted for the rest of the academic year. The litigants succeeded in running down the clock. Informed advice from management and the external legal counsel to Council hit against a wall of an inexplicable fear of the court process. The university continued to bleed financially. By January 2021 nothing had come out of the negotiations and the university found itself in dire financial straights.

The university was forced to undertake two drastic measures. First, dozens of employees on unpaid leave were furloughed. I found this deeply painful. A suit against the redundancies by the two unions that represented a few dozen staff failed because we had scrupulously followed labor law and institutional policies and procedures. It was the exercise of such due diligence that made management confident of prevailing in the suit lodged by the faculty litigants.

Second, various options were explored to secure temporary revenues to sustain operations including bank loans. In the end, the Board of Trustees, which has fiduciary responsibility over university assets, approved the liquidation of more than a third of the university’s limited endowment. It had never been tapped before waiting for it to grow large enough for the conventional annual endowment spending rate of 4-5% to support institutional priorities such as student aid.

This crisis compromised the university’s financial future. Institutional culture, on which I will say more in another reflection, had eaten prudent management and made a mockery of an otherwise effective pandemic management strategy. It was a case of institutional exceptionalism, entitlement, self-sabotage, and financial illiteracy by a litigious minority run amok. I was deeply saddened.

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Paul Tiyambe Zeleza is a Malawian historian, academic, literary critic, novelist, short-story writer and blogger. He is the Associate Provost and North Star Distinguished Professor at Case Western Reserve University.


The Axis-of-Evil Coalition in the Horn of Africa

The “Tripartite Agreement” signed between Ahmed Abiy of Ethiopia, Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo of Somalia, and Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea is a “Trojan Horse” deal that could eventually destabilise the entire Horn of Africa region.



The Axis-of-Evil Coalition in the Horn of Africa
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The political dynamics in the Horn of Africa have always been tense and volatile. Being a geographically strategic region, it has historically attracted competition among the big powers, with the region’s diversity in terms of population, norms, politics, and history rendering it susceptible to proxy politics emanating mainly from Western countries.

The countries of the Horn of Africa are Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, and by extension, Kenya, and Uganda. In this article, we focus on Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. More specifically, we shall examine how the incumbent leaders in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea have created a coalition to extend their terms of office under the pretence of “Horn of Africa Integration”.

The Horn of Africa region has been vulnerable to multipolar politics ever since, at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, 13 European countries laid claim to Africa’s territories: Britain signed the Rodd Treaty with Menelik II of Ethiopia in 1897 that dominated the country’s administration, Djibouti came under French control while Italy took Somalia, Italian Somaliland, and Eritrea. By 1914, with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia, all other African countries were under colonial rule.

Russia joined the race during the Cold War and supported the regimes in Somalia and Ethiopia, with President Siad Barre of Somalia and Prime Minister Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia becoming close allies of Russia. But despite their allegiance to the former Soviet Union, the two countries fought a vicious war from 1977 to 1978.


From 1960 to 1969, Somalia was a fledgling democracy led by civilian governments established through peaceful transfer power. The military seized power in 1969, led by Siad Barre who ruled with an iron fist until he was ousted in 1991, leaving in his wake a civil war that killed thousands of Somalis, and pushed thousands more into exile. In 2000, Djibouti called a reconciliation conference that brought together civil society groups and culminated in the formation of the first government since the beginning of the civilian war. The new government was short-lived, however, as the warlords who controlled most of the south-central regions resisted and revolted. In 2004, the second government was formed under the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia under the leadership of the late President Abdullahi Yusuf.

However, this government made the same mistakes as its predecessor, calling on the African Union to send troops to support President Yusuf’s government and escort him to the capital, Mogadishu. The new government and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU)—which controlled most of the south-central region—held several meetings in Sudan to try to reach an agreement, but the talks failed. A military confrontation between troops of the Islamic Courts Union the Transitional Federal Government backed by Ethiopian forces ensued and, after a bitter fight and great loss of life, the TFG entered Mogadishu. Following a political fallout between the president and his prime minister, President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned, and the leader of the ICU, Sheekh Sharif, succeed Yusuf after negotiations between the leader of the ICU and the international community.

The first elections since the outbreak of the civil war were held under President Sheekh Sharif and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a civilian and veteran academic, was elected. Somalia became a federal state with five federal member states under President Hassan who oversaw the implementation of the provisional constitution which had been adopted in August 2012.

Although there were allegations of corruption, President Hassan’s government was relatively stable. One person one vote elections were scheduled to take place in 2016, but they were postponed for various reasons, including the insecurity caused by the Al-Shabaab and disagreement between the federal government and the leaders of the federal member states and others. Despite the challenges, however, President Hassan Sheikh’s administration pioneered indirect parliamentary elections where 51 delegates from each clan would each elect the members of parliament. Although the process was not considered a fair fight, the transition was smooth. In February 2017, Hassan Sheikh lost his re-election bid, and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo became his successor. President Farmajo received a warm welcome from the public and many accolades from the international community and the neighbouring countries. Indeed, many Somalis believed that he would be better than his predecessors and would deliver the one person, one vote in 2021.

The situation turned when the government extradited Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) commander Abdikarim Qalbi Dhagah to Ethiopia, leading to a public backlash, protests, and fierce criticism of the government. It was the first time that a Somali person had been extradited to Ethiopia, a country that many Somalis consider the archenemy. Since then, public support for the government has plummeted. Intimidation, attacks, smear campaigns, extrajudicial actions, and incarceration have become the modus operandi of the current government and the Somali people’s hope in Farmajo’s government has declined dramatically. Meanwhile, Farmajo’s government declared the UN Ambassador to Somalia persona non grata and expelled him, leading to international condemnation of his government. The government of Somalia also cut ties with Kenya, a country which has hosted the largest number of Somali refugees since 1991.

It was the first time that a Somali person had been extradited to Ethiopia, a country that many Somalis consider the archenemy.

The mandate of the sitting president ended on 8 February 2021 without elections being held for a successor government. In March 2021, the Somali parliament unilaterally extended the term of the president for another two years, which resulted in a confrontation and a split within the National army. After two weeks of chaos, the parliament reversed its decision.

The long-awaited one person one vote elections became a pipedream and indirect parliamentary elections were maintained albeit with an increase in the number of the delegates from 51 to 101. The May 2022 parliamentary elections were been mired in fraud, favouritism, rigging, and massive irregularities and the country has been plunged into uncertainty.


Historically, Ethiopia has never held free and fair elections. On the contrary, the country has lived under a political dynasty and patrimonial leadership interspersed with coups. There has always been a power struggle between Ethiopia’s diverse communities. The Amhara, who collaborated with the colonial powers, enjoyed the support of the British Administration under the Rodd Treaty of 1897 agreement, and dominated the country’s politics. Both Menelik II and Haile Selassie marginalized other communities, especially the Oromo, the Somali, and Tigrayans. In 1974, Mengistu Haile Mariam overthrew Haile Selassie in a coup d’état and moved the country’s allegiance away from the West to the Soviet Union, leading to a proxy war in Ethiopia between the US and Russia. Mengistu was ruthless to his critics, especially the Oromo, Tigray, and Somali; he was known as the “Butcher of Addis Ababa” and the “Red Terror.”

Led by Meles Zenawi, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) ousted Mengistu’s regime in 1991 and Ethiopia adopted federalism under the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition party made up of the TPLF, Amhara, Oromo, and the Southern Nations and Nationalities. The first mistake committed by the Zenawi regime was to disregard other communities, particularly the Somalis, who are the third largest community in terms of population. The second mistake was to nullify the results of the elections in the Somali region where the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) had won by a landslide, resulting in a confrontation between the Zenawi regime and the ONLF. After three years of demonstrations emanating from the Oromo region and spreading to the Amhara region, Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn resigned in 2018. It was the first time in Ethiopia that a public office holder had resigned due to pressure from the citizens. Abiy Ahmed took over as prime minister in April 2018.


Eritrea was an Italian colony before World War II, but after Italy was defeated in the war in 1952, the United Nations tried to federate Eritrea to Ethiopia to as a compromise for Ethiopia’s claim of sovereignty and Eritrea’s desire for independence. Unfortunately, after nine years, Haile Selassie dissolved the federation annexed and annexed Eritrea.

As a result, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), which was created in 1961, revolted against Haile Selassie. When Haile Selassie was dethroned by the Derg regime, former Prime Minister Mengistu Haile Mariam, who had led the revolution, tried to reach a settlement with the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) without success and insurgencies against his rule increased. In 1991, when Mengistu was ousted by the rebel movements led by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Prime Minister Meles Zenawi tried to keep Eritrea as part of Ethiopia, leading to renewed conflict with the rebel groups. After two years of fierce fighting Eritrea gained its independence in 1993 but the country has never held an election since; Isaias Afwerki, the first president, is still at the helm. After five years of a territorial dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Badme War erupted in 1998, lasting until 2000 and claiming more than 100,000 lives.

Mengistu was ruthless to his critics, especially the Oromo, Tigray, and Somali; he was known as the “Butcher of Addis Ababa” and the “Red Terror.”

Several peace agreements were brokered, including by the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), the Algiers Comprehensive Peace Accord (ACPA), the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), all culminating in deadlock, and Addis Ababa and Asmara remaining at loggerheads.

Horn of Africa Integration Project

With the exception of April 2018, when the former Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn resigned following three years of demonstrations against EPRDF rule, Ethiopia had never experienced a peaceful transition of power. Abiy Ahmed, who was part of the EPRDF rule, succeeded Desalegn.

In the beginning, under Prime Minister Abiy, Ethiopia enjoyed relative press freedom, there was greater inclusion of women in politics, and the 20 years of animosity between Ethiopia and Eritrea came to an end, paving the way for Abiy to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. Abiy Ahmed visited Mogadishu in June 2018, where he met his counterpart President Farmajo. In a joint statement, the two leaders talked about strengthening diplomatic and trade relations between their two countries, with Ethiopia pledging to invest in Somalia’s port facilities. But apart from that brief statement, nobody knows precisely what the agenda of Abiy’s meeting with Farmajo was. President Farmajo has also visited Addis Ababa several times, but has not informed Somalia’s parliament what has been agreed between the two leaders. In December 2018, Eritrean president Afwerki visited Mogadishu and had talks with president Farmajo; the agenda of the meeting between the two leaders remains unknown. Somalia’s president also paid a visit to Asmara in July 2018.

Eritrea used to supply weapons and ammunition to the ICU during its conflict with the Somali government of the late President Abdullahi Yusuf, leading the Somali government to accuse Eritrea of supporting the extremist Al-Shabaab rebel group and as a result, the United Nations imposed an embargo on Eritrea in 2009. The UN lifted sanctions on Eritrea in November 2018 after the country reconciled with Ethiopia and Somalia. The leaders of the three countries, Abiy, Farmajo, and Afwerki, signed a little-known “Tripartite Agreement”. In hindsight, Abiy’s reconciliation with Afwerki was to enable Ethiopia to ostracize Ethiopia’s Tigrayan community and launch an attack on the Tigray region. Abiy’s secret agenda came out into the open on 4 November 2020 when he attacked the Tigray region backed by Eritrean troops. The coalition forces have committed gross human rights violations in the Tigray region, which has led to international condemnation against the brutality of the coalition troops and calls for Eritrean forces to withdraw from the Tigray region.

In hindsight, Abiy’s reconciliation with Afwerki was to enable Ethiopia to ostracize Ethiopia’s Tigrayan community and launch an attack on the Tigray region.

Meanwhile, although there is no smoking gun, there is a strong possibility that the Somali troops being trained in Eritrea are involved in the Tigray war. The Somali government had denied that Somali soldiers were sent to Eritrea for training but later confirmed this.

Despite the ongoing civil war and the political discontent in Ethiopia resulting from the delayed polls that were supposed to take place in September 2020, Abiy has decided to remain at the helm by hook or by crook.

The regimes in Addis Ababa, Mogadishu, and Asmara that I have called the axis-of-evil coalition have led the region astray through lack of an adequate response to the protracted drought, the unbridled corruption, the instability, and the internecine conflicts. The reasons behind the “Tripartite Agreement” between the three leaders were not and never have been to serve their respective people, enhance the trade relations, or improve security, but to keep a hold on power through their “Trojan horse” deal. This may lead to a revolt by the oppositions in the three countries that could finally destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region.

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Moving or Changing? Reframing the Migration Debate

The purpose of the mass and civilizational migrations of Western Europe was the same as now: not simply to move from one point to another, but also from one type of social status to another, to change one’s social standing in relation to the country of origin.



Moving, or Changing?
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Do we move to change, or do we move to stay the same?

That seems to depend on who we were, to begin with. In most cases, it seems we move in an attempt to become even more of whatever we think we are.

A good Kenyan friend of mine once (deliberately) caused great offense in a Nairobi nightspot encounter with a group of Ugandans he came across seated at a table. There were six or seven of them, all clearly not just from the same country, but from the same part of the country.

“It always amazes me,” he said looking over their Western Uganda features, “how people will travel separately for thousands of miles only to meet up so as to recreate their villages.

He moved along quickly.

“Most African Migration Remains Intraregional” is a headline on the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies website:

Most African migration remains on the continent, continuing a long-established pattern. Around 21 million documented Africans live in another African country, a figure that is likely an undercount given that many African countries do not track migration. Urban areas in Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt are the main destinations for this inter-African migration, reflecting the relative economic dynamism of these locales.

Among African migrants who have moved off the continent, some 11 million live in Europe, almost 5 million in the Middle East, and more than 3 million in America.

More Africans may be on the move now than at any time since the end of enslavement, or perhaps the two large European wars. Even within the African continent itself. They navigate hostilities in the cause of movement—war, poverty and environmental collapse.

The last 500 years have seen the greatest expression of the idea of migration for the purpose of staying the same (or shall we say, becoming even more of what one is). The world has been transformed by the movement of European peoples, who have left a very visible cultural-linguistic stamp on virtually all corners of the earth. It is rarely properly understood as a form of migration.

It took place in three forms. The first was a search for riches by late feudal Western European states, in a bid to solve their huge public debts, and also enrich the nobility. This was the era of state-sponsored piracy and wars of aggression for plunder against indigenous peoples. The second form was the migration of indentured Europeans to newly conquered colonial spaces. The third was the arrival of refugees fleeing persecution borne of feudal and industrial poverty, which often took religious overtones.

Certainly, new spaces often create new opportunities, but only if the migrants concerned are allowed to explore the fullness of their humanity and creativity. The historical record shows that some humans have done this at the expense of other humans.

A key story of the world today seems to be the story of how those that gained from the mass and civilizational migrations of Western Europe outwards remain determined to keep the world organised in a way that enables them to hold on to those gains at the expense of the places to which they have migrated.

We can understand the invention and development of the modern passport—or at least its modern application—as an earlier expression of that. Originally, passports were akin to visas, issued by authorities at a traveler’s intended destination as permission to move through the territory. However, as described by Giulia Pines in National Geographic, established in 1920 by the League of Nations, “a Western-centric organization trying to get a handle on a post-war world”, the current passport regime “was almost destined to be an object of freedom for the advantaged, and a burden for others”. Today the dominant immigration models (certainly from Europe) seem based around the idea of a fortress designed to keep people out, while allowing those keeping the people out to go into other places at will, and with privilege, to take out what they want.

Certainly, new spaces often create new opportunities, but only if the migrants concerned are allowed to explore the fullness of their humanity and creativity.

For me, the greatest contemporary expression of “migration as continuity” has to be the Five Eyes partnership. This was an information-sharing project based on a series of satellites owned by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Its original name was “Echelon”, and it has grown to function as a space-based listening system, spying on telecommunications on a global scale – basically, space-based phone tapping.

All the countries concerned are the direct products of the global migration and settlement of specifically ethnic English Europeans throughout the so-called New World, plus their country of origin. The method of their settlement are now well known: genocide and all that this implies. The Five Eyes project represents their banding together to protect the gains of their global ethnic settlement project.

In the United States, many families that have become prominent in public life have a history rooted, at least in part, in the stories of immigrants. The Kennedys, who produced first an Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and then through his sons and grandsons, a president, an attorney general, and a few senators, made their fortune as part of a gang of Irish immigrants to America involved in the smuggling of illicit alcohol in the period when the alcohol trade was illegal in the United States.

Recent United States president Donald Trump is descended from a German grandfather who, having arrived in 1880s America as a teenage barber, went on to make money as a land forger, casino operator and brothel keeper. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States was the paternal grandson of a trader named Warren, a descendant of Dutch settlers who made his fortune smuggling opium into China in the 1890s.

While it is true that the entire story of how Europeans came to be settled in all the Americas is technically a story of criminality, whether referred to as such or not, the essential point here is that many of the ancestors of these now prominent Americans would not have passed the very same visa application requirements that they impose on present-day applicants.

The purpose of migrations then was the same as it is now: not simply to move from one point to another, but also from one type of social status to another. It was about finding wealth, and through that, buying a respectability that had not been accessible in the country of origin. So, the point of migration was in a sense, not to migrate, but to change one’s social standing.

And once that new situation has been established, then all that is left is to build a defensive ring around that new status. So, previously criminal American families use the proceeds of their crime to build large mansions, and fill the rooms with antiques and heirlooms, and seek the respectability (not to mention business opportunities) of public office.

Many of the ancestors of these now prominent Americans would not have passed the very same visa application requirements that they put to present-day applicants.

European countries that became rich through the plunder of what they now call the “developing world”, build immigration measures designed to keep brown people out while allowing the money keep coming in. They build large cities, monuments and museums, and also rewrote their histories just as the formerly criminal families have done.

Thus the powers that created a world built on migration cannot be taken seriously when they complain about present-day migration.

Migration is as much about the “here” you started from, as it about the “there” you are headed to. It is not about assimilating difference; it is about trying to keep the “here” unchanged, and then to re-allocate ourselves a new place in that old sameness. This is why we go “there”.

This may explain the “old-new” names so common to the mass European migration experience. They carry the names of their origins, and impose them on the new places. Sometimes, they add the word “New” before the old name, and use migrant-settler phrases like “the old country”, “back east”. They then seek to choose a new place to occupy in the old world they seek to recreate, that they could not occupy in the old world itself. But as long as the native still exists, then the settler remains a migrant. And the settler state remains a migrant project.

To recreate the old world, while creating a new place for themselves in it, , such migrants also strive to make the spaces adapt to this new understanding of their presence that they now seek to make real.

I once witness a most ridiculous fight between three Ugandan immigrants in the UK. It took place on the landing of the social housing apartment of two of them, man and wife, against the third, until that moment, their intended house guest. As his contribution to their household, the guest had offered to bring a small refrigerator he owned. However, when the two men went to collect the fridge in a small hired van, the driver explained that traffic laws did not permit both to ride up front with him – one would have to ride in the back with the fridge. The fridge owner, knowing the route better, was nominated to sit up front, to which his friend took great and immediate exception; he certainly had not migrated to London to be consigned to the back of a van like a piece of cargo. After making his way home via public means, and discussing his humiliation with his good wife, the arrangement was called off – occasioning a bitter confrontation with the bewildered would-be guest.

There must have been so many understandings of the meaning of their migration to Britain, but like the Europeans of the New World, the Ugandans had settled on replicating the worst of what they were running from in an attempt to become what they were never going to be allowed to be back home.

A good case in point is the ethnic Irish communities in Boston and New York, whose new-found whiteness—having escaped desperate poverty, oppression and famine under British colonial rule on what were often referred to as “coffin ships” —saw them create some of the most racist and brutal police forces on the East Coast. They did not just migrate physically; they did so socially and economically as well.

It starts even with naming.

The word “migrant” seems to belong more to certain races than to others, although that also changes. When non-white, normally poor people are on the move, they can get labeled all sorts of things: refugees, economic migrants, immigrants, illegals, encroachments, wetbacks and the like.

With white-skinned people, the language was often different. Top of the linguistic league is the word “expatriate”, to refer to any number of European-origin people moving to, or through, or settling in, especially Africa.

According to news reports, some seven million Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion were absorbed by their neighboring European countries, most of which are members of the European Union. Another 8 million remain displaced within the war-torn country.

This is an outcome of which the Europeans are proud. They have even emphasized how the racial and cultural similarities between themselves and the Ukrainian refugees have made the process easier, if not a little obligatory.

This sparked off a storm of commentary in which comparisons were made with the troubles earlier sets of refugees (especially from the Middle East and Afghanistan) faced as the fled their own wars and tried to enter Western Europe.

And the greatest irony is that the worst treatment they received en-route was often in the countries of Eastern Europe.

Many European media houses were most explicit in expressing their shock that a war was taking place in Europe (they thought they were now beyond such things), and in supporting the position that the “white Christian” refugees from Ukraine should be welcomed with open arms, unlike the Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians before them.

Human migration was not always like this.

Pythagoras (570-495 BC), the scholar from Ancient Greece, is far less well remembered as a migrant and yet his development as a thinker is attributable to the 22 or so years he spent as a student and researcher in Ancient Egypt. The same applies to Plato, who spent13 years in Egypt.

There is not that much evidence to suggest that Pythagoras failed to explain where he got all his learning from. If anything, he seems to have been quite open in his own writing about his experiences, first as an apprentice and later a fellow scholar in the Egyptian knowledge systems. The racial make-up of Ancient Egypt, and its implications, was far from becoming the political battleground it is today.

Top of the linguistic league is the word “expatriate” to refer to any number of European-origin people moving to, or through, or settling in, especially Africa.

Classic migration was about fitting in. Colonial migration demands that the new space adapt to accommodate the migrant. The idea of migrants and modern migration needs to be looked at again from its proper wider 500-year perspective. People of European descent, with their record of having scattered and forcibly imposed themselves all over the world, should be the last people to express anxieties about immigrants and migration.

With climate change, pandemic cycles, and the economic collapse of the west in full swing, we should also focus on the future of migration. As was with the case for Europeans some two to three hundred years ago, life in Europe is becoming rapidly unlivable for the ordinary European. The combination of the health crisis, the energy crisis, the overall financial crisis and now a stubborn war, suggests that we may be on the threshold of a new wave of migration of poor Europeans, as they seek cheaper places to live.

The advantages to them are many. Large areas of the south of the planet are dominated physically, financially and culturally, by some level of Western values, certainly at a structural level. Just think how many countries in the world use the Greco-Latin origin word “police” to describe law enforcement. These southern spaces have already been sufficiently Westernized to enable a Westerner to live in them without too much of a cultural adjustment on their part. The Westerners are coming back.

This article is part of a series on migration and displacement in and from Africa, co-produced by the Elephant and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s African Migration Hub, which is housed at its new Horn of Africa Office in Nairobi.

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The Iron Grip of the International Monetary System: CFA Franc, Hyper-Imperial Economies and the Democratization of Money

Cameroonian economist Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi died in 1984, either poisoned or by suicide. His ideas about the international monetary system and the CFA franc are worth revisiting.



The Iron Grip of the International Monetary System: CFA Franc, Hyper-Imperial Economies and the Democratization of Money
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Despite being one of Africa’s greatest economists, Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi is little known outside Francophone intellectual circles. Writing in the 1970s, he offered a stinging rebuke of orthodox monetary theory and policy from an African perspective that remains relevant decades later. Especially powerful are his criticisms of the international monetary system and the CFA franc, the regional currency in West and Central Africa that has historically been pegged to the French currency—at first the franc, and now the euro.

Pouemi was born on November 13th, 1937, to a Bamiléké family in Bangoua, a village in western Cameroon. After obtaining his baccalaureate and working as a primary school teacher, Pouemi moved to France in 1960, where he studied law, mathematics, and economics at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. Pouemi then worked as a university professor and policy adviser in Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire. In 1977, he joined the IMF but quit soon after, vehemently disagreeing with its policies. He returned to Cameroon and published his magnum opus, Money, Servitude, and Freedom, in 1980. The recently elected president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, appointed Pouemi head of the University of Douala in August 1983—then fired him a year later. On December 27th, 1984, Pouemi was found dead of an apparent suicide in a hotel room. Some of his friends and students argue he was poisoned by the Biya regime (which still governs Cameroon), while others believe that harassment by Biya’s cronies drove Pouemi to suicide.

International Monetary System

Writing in the turbulent 1970s after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates, Pouemi anticipated the three “fundamental flaws” with the international monetary “non-system”: one, using a national currency, the US dollar, as global currency; two, placing the burden of adjustment exclusively on deficit nations; and, three, the “inequity bias” of the foreign reserve system, which makes it a form of “reverse aid.” All three issues have been highlighted by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long recognized as a problem, the challenges with using the US dollar as the world’s currency have once again become apparent. Low- and middle-income countries (which include essentially all African countries) have to deal with the vicissitudes of the global financial cycles emanating from the center of the global capitalist system. As the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to combat inflation by engineering a recession—because if borrowing costs rise, people have less money to spend and prices will decrease—they are increasing the debt burden of African governments that have variable-rate loans in US dollars. Already, the World Bank has warned of a looming debt crisis and the potential for another “lost decade” like the 1980s. Moreover, higher interest rates in the US lead to the depreciation of African currencies, making imports more expensive and leading to even higher food and oil prices across the continent.

Pouemi viewed the IMF’s attempt to create a global currency through the 1969 establishment of the special drawing rights (SDR) system as an inadequate response to the problems created by using the US dollar. The issuance of SDRs essentially drops money from the sky into the savings accounts of governments around the world. The IMF has only issued SDRs four times in its history, most recently in August 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With African governments dealing with falling export earnings and the need to import greater amounts of personal protective equipment—and, eventually, vaccines—there was a clear need to bolster their savings, i.e., foreign reserves. The problem is that the current formula for allocating SDRs provides 60% of them to the richest countries—countries that do not need them, since they can and have borrowed in their own currencies. Of the new 456 billion SDR (approximately US$650 billion), the entire African continent received only 5% (about US$33 billion).

Decades ago, Pouemi had slammed SDRs as “arbitrary in three respects: the determination of their volume, their allocation and the calculation of their value.” Instead, Pouemi advocated for a truly global currency, one that could be issued by a global central bank in response to global recessions and that prioritized financing for the poorest countries. Such a reorientation of SDRs could provide a way of repaying African nations for colonialism and climate change.

Secondly, unable to get the financing they need, African governments with balance-of-payments deficits (when more money leaves a country than enters in a given year) have no choice but to shrink their economies. Pouemi strongly criticized the IMF, which he dubbed the “Instant Misery Fund” for applying the same “stereotypical, invariable remedies: reduce public expenditures, limit credit, do not subsidize nationalized enterprises” regardless of the source of a country’s deficits. Devaluing the currency is unlikely to work for small countries that are price takers in world markets and instead improves the trade balance by lowering domestic spending. The IMF has become “a veritable policeman to repress governments that attempt to offer their countries a minimum of welfare.” The current international monetary non-system then creates a global “deflationary bias,” since those countries with balance-of-payments deficits must reduce their spending, while those with large surpluses—like Germany, China, Japan, and the Netherlands—face little pressure to decrease their surpluses by spending more.

The third major issue with the current international monetary non-system is that developing countries have to accumulate foreign exchange reserves denominated in “hard” currencies like US dollars and euros, which means they are forced to transfer real resources to richer countries in return for financial assets—mere IOUs. Pouemi claimed that “if the international monetary system was not ‘rigged,’ reserves would be held as other goods like coffee or cocoa, gold for example. But the system is ‘rigged’; coffee reserves are quantified as dollars, pound sterling or non-convertible francs.” Instead, in the late 1970s, governments like that of Rwanda effectively lent coffee to the United States by using export earnings to purchase US treasury bills, whose real value was being quickly eroded by high inflation in the US. Hence, we live in a world where developing countries like China and Brazil lend money to rich governments like that of the US. As Pouemi explains: “The logic of the international monetary system wants the poor to lend to—what am I saying—give to the rich.”

CFA franc

Pouemi was also a harsh critic of the CFA franc, since maintaining the fixed exchange rate to the euro implies abandoning an autonomous monetary policy and the need to restrict commercial bank credit. Pouemi also argued that the potential benefits and costs of currency unions are different for rich and poor countries, and that therefore it is inappropriate to analyze African monetary unions through a European lens. His thoughts are especially relevant at a moment when the future of the CFA franc and West African monetary integration are up for debate.

In theory, by fixing the exchange rate to the euro, the two regional central banks that issue the CFA franc—the Banque centrale des états de l’Afrique de l’ouest (Central Bank of West African States) and the Banque centrale des états de l’Afrique centrale (Central Bank of Central African States)—have relinquished monetary policy autonomy. They have to mimic the European Central Bank’s policy rates instead of setting interest rates that reflect economic conditions in the CFA zone. The amount of CFA francs in circulation is also limited by the amount of foreign reserves each regional central bank holds in euros. Therefore, “the solidity of the CFA franc is based on restricting M [the money supply], a restriction not desired by the states, but one proceeding from the very architecture of the zone.” As a result, the economies of the CFA franc zone are starved of credit, especially farmers and small businesses, hindering growth and development. In Pouemi’s words, “There is no doubt, the CFA remains fundamentally a currency of the colonial type.”

When discussing the possibilities for a single currency for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Pouemi stressed that the potential benefits and costs of currency union are different for rich and poor countries. “There is not only a difference of perception of the mechanisms of cooperation” between Europe and Africa, “there’s a difference of the conception of common life. Economic cooperation as it is conceived in the industrialized West is the Kennedy Round, North-South dialogue, the EEC, etc.—in other words, essentially ‘customs disarmament’ or common defense; armament is the rule, disarmament the exception.” In Africa, however, economic cooperation is a positive-sum game. Conventional economic theory argues against monetary integration among African countries, since they trade little with each other. But to Pouemi, the goal of monetary integration is precisely to get these countries to trade more with one another. He also questions the view that monetary integration should come last, following the same sequence as the European Union from free trade zone to customs union to common market and, finally, to currency union. “This view is not only imaginary, it is practically non-verified; we have seen examples. Theoretically, it is indefensible: a 10% decrease in tariffs could be … offset by a devaluation of 10%.”

Pouemi also dismissed arguments that Nigeria would dominate the proposed ECOWAS single currency as another example of the classic colonialist tactic of “divide and conquer.” While he acknowledged that “monetary union between unequal partners poses problems,” these are “only problems, open to solutions.” They do not make monetary integration unviable. Such integration need not limit sovereignty. In a regional or continental African monetary union, no “currency would be the reserve of others. Each country would have its own central bank, free to conduct the policy that best suits the directives judged necessary by the government. The only loss of sovereignty following such a union would be the respect of the collective balance. It would not be appropriated by anyone; it would be at the service of all. It would be, for that matter, less a loss of sovereignty than the collective discipline necessary to all communal life.”

Pouemi advocated for an African monetary union with fixed exchange rates between members, the pooling of foreign reserves, and a common unit of account—like the European Currency Unit that preceded the euro. He thought that the debate over whether the CFA franc is overvalued is misguided, since there is no a priori reason for its members to have the same exchange rate. Fixed but adjustable exchange rates—as in the Bretton Woods system or European Monetary System—would allow each nation greater monetary and exchange rate policy autonomy. Settling payments using a common unit of account instead of foreign exchange reserves would help economize on the latter. Moving toward the free movement of capital, goods and labor—as envisioned by the African Continental Free Trade Area—would help diffuse shocks through the monetary union. Finally, such a union would need to have a common policy on capital controls or at least collective supervision of international capital flows.

As Pouemi so eloquently lamented: “History will hold on to the fact that all of [Africa’s] children that have tried to make her respected have perished, one after the other, by African hands, without having the time to serve her.” We do not know what Pouemi could have accomplished had he had the time to serve Africa for longer. All we can do is heed his call that “in Africa, money needs to stop being the domain of a small number of ‘specialists’ pretending to be magicians.”

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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