Endogenous Governance Systems in Africa May 2022

Int’l Symposium “Revisiting Theories and Practices of Endogenous Governance in Africa” Co-Convened by Global Humanity for Peace Institute and AfroSpectives on 11-12 May 2022


Session One: 11th May 2022

Showcasing Endogenous Systems of Governance in Africa

Panellists’ presentations addressed some of the following questions:

  • What are the metaphysical, spiritual and philosophical foundations of the studied system of governance?
  • How is power organised, shared, delegated, and expressed within the system of governance? What roles do the stakeholders play (elders, youth, women, spiritual leaders, healers and other entities)?
  • How does the governance system facilitate consensus-building on major issues of concerned communities?
  • What are the approaches and processes involved in dealing with unexpected situations, such as contestation, divergence, disagreement, and so forth?
  • How does the community monitor and evaluate the working of the system and the roles of the decision-makers and leaders?
14:00 Welcome and Introduction by the Founding Director of AfroSpectiveAli Moussa Iye
14:05 Welcome from the Director of the GHfP InstituteScherto Gill
14:10 First Human social organisations and Governance in AfricaAugustin Holl
14:25 Philosophy and Cosmogony of Ancient EgyptYoporeka Somet
14:40 Philosophy of Ubuntu and Well-BeingMongane Wally Serote
14:55 DISCUSSIONPanellists & Participants
16:00 The Oromo Gada SystemZelalem Tesfaye Sirna
16:15 The Kurukan Fuga Charter of Mali EmpireIbrahim Iba N’Diaye
16:30 Xeer Issa: a pastoral democracy Ali Moussa Iye
16:45 Awale: Dialogue and consensus building through a GameMartial Ze Belinga
17:00 DISCUSSIONPanellists & Participants

Session One’s discussions sought to identify core values, processes, approaches and practices that are common to African systems of governance, on which an African political philosophy might be built.

These discussions were skilfully and excellently facilitated by Mshaï Mwangola, an oraturist and performance scholar who uses the lens of culture in her work as an artist, academic and activist.

Session Two: 12th May 2022

Experiences of Revalorising Endogenous Systems of Governance

Panellists’ presentations addressed some of the following questions:

  • In what specific contexts and at what levels are these traditional African systems of governance applied?
  • What are the various limitations and the challenges met in these experiences?
  • What are the main results and lessons to be learnt from these experiences?
14:00 Experience in SomalilandKenedid Hassan
14:15 Experience in RwandaAlice Urusaro Karekezi
14:30Experience in BotswanaDavid Sebudubudu 
14:45Experience in BrazilLarissa Oliveira e Gabbara
15:00Experience in Surinam Martina Amoksi
15:15DISCUSSIONPanellists & Participants
16:30 DISCUSSION & CONCLUSIONPanellists & Participants

Session Two’s discussions aimed to highlight the main principles, values, and paradigms of African endogenous systems of governance. It explored how these might contribute to the current debate and understanding on governance and collective well-being.

The recommendations are especially concerned with how these shared insights might be applied in the following situations:

  • mechanisms and processes of consensus building,
  • mode(s) of representation, including the protection of minority groups’ representation,
  • approaches to and practices of decision-making,
  • processes to select leaders and establish leadership, e.g. symbolic representation of authority and unity
  • systems of civic education

Session Two may also define key guidelines for African countries who are interested and willing to explore and revitalise traditional or indigenous African systems of governance.

Discussions were skilfully and excellently facilitated by Professor Augustin Holl.

Augustin F. C. Holl, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Africa Research Center at Xiamen University, China, founder of Afrospectives

It is particularly difficulty to pinpoint the key characteristics of the Earliest forms of social organizations put in place by our remote ancestors. There are however subtle ways to rely on the available archaeological record to highlight some aspects of the social dynamics involved. The first is the very existence of very early archaeological sites, suggesting the gathering – sometime repetitive – of some individuals in specific spots of the landscape. The second aspect is the transfert of raw material across the landscape. Humans belong to the order of primates, very close cousins to the Chimpanzees who are social animals. Primatology research then allows to formulate hypotheses on Early humans forms of social organizations.  

For a very long time, in fact most of human history (99.99 %), our remote ancestors lived in small hunter-gatherers bands, highly mobile, within a certain territory. As shown by studies of contemporary hunter-gatherers, decisions are made by conscensus and the group-size varies according to seasons and available resources. Sharing is the dominant ethic. Around 8,000 BCE, with the adoption of agriculture and livestock husbandry, slowly, steadily, but differentially, humans initiated larger settlements with higher concentration of people. Early agricultural and herders sites in rock-shelters or small hamlets, such as Nabta Playa in Eastern Sahara(Egypt), were however small for a long period time. It is during the last 7/6,000 years that diverse forms of social organizations, ranging from scattered pastoral camps, agricultural hamlets, villages, chiefdoms, and states entered Africa historical record.  Studies on the 2000-5/300 BCE Pre-Ghana social formation from the Dhar Tichitt (Mauretania), 1900 BCE-1800 CE Chadic Chiefdom of Houlouf (Cameroon), and 7/600 BCE-1400 CE Self-sustaining autonomous villages from the Mouhoun Bend (Burkina Faso) are relied upon to showcase the diversity of ancient forms of governance in Africa.  

Yoporeka Somet, Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for African Renaissance Studies (CARS) at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Kenya

[FR] La cosmogonie pharaonique pose qu’à l’origine, il y avait une matière incréée, chaotique et inorganisée (le Noun), d’où jaillit, à un moment indéterminé, une sorte de démiurge qui, en se dilatant, a causé l’existence de tous les existants : divinités, êtres humains, animaux, végétaux, minéraux, etc. Tous les êtres sont ainsi dotés d’une parcelle du démiurge. Cela explique d’une part, la confraternité entre tous les êtres de l’univers et d’autre part, le privilège d’une vie post-mortem réservé aux êtres humains, assortie de l’obligation de concourir à l’équilibre et à l’harmonie dans l’univers et dans la société.  

Cet équilibre, Maât, à la fois cosmique, social et eschatologique est placé sous la responsabilité d’un personnage à la fois humain et divin : Pharaon. Sa mission, qui est une sorte de suppléance du démiurge, consiste à instaurer Maât en repoussant tout ce qui lui est opposé : injustice, violence, désordre, mensonge, vol, etc. De fait, sa gouvernance est d’emblée placée sous le signe de la vérité, de la justice, de la solidarité, de la bienveillance, du droit, etc. Une série de conséquences en découlent : respect de l’équilibre de la nature et de toute vie, recherche d’un ordre social juste et équitable, égalité de tous devant la loi, respect du droit de chacun : homme, femme, enfant, étranger, etc. Telles sont quelques-unes des principales caractéristiques de l’État pharaonique, le tout premier dans l’histoire des institutions, qu’une égyptologue contemporaine n’a pas hésité à qualifier de « premier État de droit connu » et qui demeure aujourd’hui, plus que jamais, une source d’inspiration…  

Mongane Wally Serote, Poet, novelist, political activist, member of the Black Consciousness Movement and African National Congress, Commander uMkhonto weSizwe and Member of Parliament

Boys who become Men and girls who become Women are the foundation of an African family. They are gradually nurtured and anchored to become adults, who will become Mme or Ntate respectively, as their responsibilities mature within the African Primary Institution (API), the so called extended family.  

They are anchored and steeped in the knowledge of themselves as individuals, within family responsibilities so that they can be nurtured and in turn, they nurture themselves, their species, their home, their community, their environment- their Culture and eventually, their history begin.  

Their education about self- knowledge is knowledge; that knowledge is to fathom all of knowledge which is taught within the experience of a family and later the community which are as a result of them and their children and institution. Besides the fact of their being institutions themselves, as I will indicate later, it would be crucial not only to identify but to also probe the meaning of the institutions they have to go through, and to look into what the institutions bestow to them so that they are members of their families and community.  

Bojale and bogwera as institutions and education systems for women and for men respectively were/are a base and basis for community building. Was Life taught and lived according to need and interest and also, according to interest and need within the family which was anchored on mother and father to be a family?  Was this a foundation of the community, to shape relations of individuals as collectives?  One other most important institution which has played and still plays and will play a great and an important role-if protected, promoted and innovate-is Bongaka (the healing institution). 

Was the Family founded to nurture the species through children, siblings and the family as a collective to shape the community whose highest institution is Lekgotla? Was it age, experience, interest and need which then shaped interests, need and social circumstances and relationships within the context of lekgotla? 

What is paramount here, is: how and what is it which was taught? How was a female child taught to be a mosadi(woman); how was a male child taught to be a monna(man)? Mosadi and Monna were  taught to  be a ngoanenyana and moshimane;  mmee and to be a ntate respectively; to be a rakgadi and  to be a malume respectively; to be a kgaitsedi; to be mangoane, to be rangoane respectively; to be Mmemogolo and tatemogolo respectively? 

Was it the physicality of persons a consideration which then shaped and resulted in the systems of hunters and gatherers? Mosadi (one who remains; nurtures, looks after, protects and gathers ) Monna(one who sits; watches, scouts, protects and hunts);Mosadi- the one who nurtures Family and a Home maker to fulfill the need of the collective as a need and therefore gatherers; and Monna-the one who sits, guards and protects and therefore also a hunter. 

It will be necessary to identify and to examine how the institutions which nurtured future generations to not only be objects of culture and therefore of history were educated. What institutions were founded to do so and how did those institutions mold a woman, as an individual, to be six institutions in one as also, how a man was molded to become six institutions as an individual? 

While Imperialism, Capitalism, Colonialism, racism and the apartheid systems, strived to own the lives of what it regarded as its subjects, hordes to be harnessed and therefore to destroy within them any and every semblance of being human, why have the cultures, history, social and institutional context of being African remain? What has sustained them? The utter brutality of the Slave Trade; the ravaging cruelty of imperialism, the inhuman capitalist system, all systems which survived on the basis of the exploitation of human beings by other human beings and by meting out the most cruel oppression systems so as to subdue the humanity of the other-seem to have failed. On the one hand it was not in the interest of the oppressor to do away with their oppressed subjects( eg through genocide), precisely because the objective to turn them into subjects was to meet the need of the oppressor to be human; but also on the other hand, the oppressed and exploited, always knew and knows that because they are human and must be human, they cannot submit to being non-human. 

The last and final dance then, begins here, when all hear the sound of the explosions and the smell of gun powder. 

Zelalem Tesfaye Sirna, Assistant Professor of Law at Salale University, Ethiopia 

The Oromo Gadaa system is an indigenous egalitarian socio-political, and religious system practiced among the Oromo nation of East Africa. The Gadaa system has root in the ancient Egyptian civilization and it has continued until today in several parts the contemporary Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia. As a system of governance, the Gadaa operates in an age based social structure and often accompanied by rites of passage. It has four main offices; the executive (adula), legislative/general assembly (chaffee), judiciary (mana murtii aadaa) and religious leader (qaalluu). The Gadaa system has five parties that orderly succeeded each other every eight years in assuming political responsibilities. The party in power is headed by the president (Abba Gadaa). The Abba Gadaa and his council changes with the party. The Gadaa General Assembly takes place under the sycamore tree (Odaa) once every eight years. The purpose of the paper is to: discuss the the metaphysical, spiritual and philosophical foundations of the Gadaa system of governance; investigate how power organised, shared, delegated, and expressed within the Gadaa system; and analyse how the Gadaa governance system facilitate consensus-building on major issues of concerned communities. This paper has benefited from different literatures written on the Gadaa system, and also utilized ethnographic works on the Boran and Guji people of the South Ethiopia. The paper finds that although UNESCO  recognized  the Gadaa  system  as intangible cultural heritage; it is not given official recognition by national constitutions. Instead, Gadaa functions parallel to the state political institutions. Nevertheless, despite its limitations and challenges, the Oromia Regional States’ initiative to accommodate the Gadaa customary court system (mana murtii aadaa); and the introduction of the Gadaa course into the country’s curriculum may be considered as a milestone in promoting the Gadaa system from local to regional state level. 

Ibrahim ‘Iba’ N’Diaye, Director, Centre d’Etudes Multipolaire “Do” Kayidara” 

Heir to great empires (Wagadu, Mali and Songhay) and kingdoms (Jara, Tekrur, Sooso, Manden, Masina, etc.), the Malian Nation has traditional systems of governance that have helped to prevent, manage and/or resolve conflicts, promote living together and guarantee peace, to a very large extent. Because it has survived several violent episodes of conquest to control areas of wealth production and trans-Saharan trade, this Malian Nation has become a crucible of solidarity-based governance tinged with a distinct humanism called ‘mOgOya’ or ‘Maaya’, which demands that the ‘human person’ be honoured and the condition of ‘animality’ or ‘baganya’ rejected. Our aim will be to explain the cardinal values and essential principles that have served as the basis for this form of governance, which has been accepted and validated in Mali since the Assizes of Kurukanfuga I in 1235-36 and Kurukanfuga II in 1255-56, on the basis of the teachings drawn from the traditional initiatory school called ‘do ‘kayidara’. The sedentary, semi-nomadic and nomadic components of the Malian nation had formalised and codified ways of maintaining personal peace in the home, social cohesion in the city and shared prosperity in the country. Today, it is essential to explore the contours and contents of such schemes for organising society and governing the city in order to bring about the emergence of a renewed civic consciousness and to succeed in the process of rebuilding the modern state. 

Ali Moussa Iye, writer and independent researcher in political anthropology, founder of Afrospectives 

This  paper presents an endogenous system of governance that Somali-Issa pastoralists developed in order to cope with the issue of power-sharing, justice, social cohesion and conflict resolution. Elaborated in the sixteenth century, this socio-political contract called the “Xeer Issa” is a concrete illustration of the responses given by pastoral communities to the critical questions of human existence: relationship between culture and nature,  individual rights and collective obligations,  ethics and politics, temporal power and spiritual force, and authority and power. The paper highlights the political philosophy on which this system is built 

Presenting  the Xeer Issa as a holistic system to humanize or civilize social relations in a troubled period, it sums up the specific historical context of the Horn of Africa in the sixteenth century, which gave birth to such a governance system. It analyses its two main components, namely, the Constitutional Laws, which are at the basis of the so called “Pastoral Democracy” of Somalis  and the Penal Code, which regulates conflicts and preserves the physical integrity, honour and property of individuals and groups. 

In light of current political developments in Africa and particularly in the Horn of Africa, the paper discusses the potential contribution of the Xeer to the debate on the issues of democracy and the rule of law in modern States in Africa.  

Martial Zé Belinga, independent researcher in economy and sociology, co-founder of Afrospectives

The process of decolonizing the world from western/westernised epistemologies has come to be a global challenge, for the humanity has produced many ways and elaborated solutions to the complex issues of a peaceful coexistence, through the time. If contrary to Francis Fukuyama’s well known position we assume that there’s no «end of history », that capitalism and western democracy are not the normative limits of human imagination and inventivity facing existential problems, then where from and how to find out alternatives to the one-fits-all approach. Our communication will use culture, artifacts and mentifacts to draw from a popular game called « Awale/Wari/Adjito/Songo/Kisoro» spread from Africa to its diasporas (Guyane, Surinam, Brazil, Barbados, …), social rules dedicated to the protection of life, and even to dialogue and consensus building.  

Kenedid Hassan, Associate Professor, Mount Kenya University, Kenya 

Academic conventions and popular views associate Somaliland’s political success with the political role and place of the Guurti, supposedly left intact by the British colonial administration’s policy of indirect rule. In former Italian Somalia, this has prompted the incorporation of traditional authority into the political system because beeldaaje, boqor, caaqil, isim, malaaq, suldaan and ugaas, briefly banished by Mussolini in 1925, are assumed to play a major stabilising role against political vicissitudes. In pre-1991 Somalia, the pendulum was swinging to the other extreme. Nascent Somali political formations as well as successive post-colonial regimes viewed traditional authorities as anachronisms doomed to disappear, out of step with progressive ideas of social cohesion and nation-building. Studies and political ideologies on both sides of the debate view traditional authorities in ahistorical terms: one sees customary authorities as eternally cyclically institutions, bound to return in the same form as before, and the other as immutable. Using concrete examples, I want to show the historicity of the Somali traditional authority, vigorously contested and criticized constantly, and how various actors continuously reinvent the legitimacy of the Guurti

Alice Urusaro Karekezi, Lecturer in Peace and Development studies, Center for Conflict Management (CCM), University of Rwanda (UR)

Two major views about endogenous systems of governance in Africa have been competing, though in relative isolation. One stresses their loss of relevance and popularity and another is concerned about their meaning and place in contemporary polities and societies. While the former doubt their compatibility with nowadays democracies and have a big faith in externally driven beliefs and practices, the latter have deployed important resources in putting forward their time-proven sophistication and suitability. Clearly, both sides have importantly advanced our understanding of systems of governance in Africa. Both sides have often neglected to empirically examine the extent to what endogenous systems of governance in Africa are being revived in particular African context. The present paper seeks to contribute to the debate by addressing this weakness. By employing a Post/decolonial approach to trace the revival of Gacaca in Postgenocide Rwanda, one also uncovers the prospects and problems of reviving endogenous systems of governance in contemporary Africa. 

David Sebudubudu, Professor,  Department of Political and Administrative Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Botswana

This paper offers a critical account of Botswana’s endogenous governance system, which has been sustained to complement its modern governance system, since the country’s self-rule 56 years ago. Botswana’s governance system fuses endogenous and modern systems of governance, which renders it peculiar – compared to countries that ditched endogenous systems of governance at independence. Although Botswana was considered as a liberal democracy, it is not a pure liberal democracy because its system of governance was designed to suit local conditions. Thus, this paper argues that its endogenous system of governance plays a critical role in shaping and influencing the country’s system of governance, as an instrument of participation and building consensus, and self-preservation. It is further argued its endogenous system could have contributed to the country’s relative political stability. Evidently, its endogenous system of governance was underpinned by the country’s political culture.  

Larissa Oliveria e Gabbara, Professor at the University for International Integration of the Afro-Brazilian Lusophony

In Brazil, studies on the African diaspora have their origins in the research on slavery. It was not until the 1980s that slavery studies began to think about Africa in Brazil, which brought the field of knowledge closer and closer to African studies.

This academic movement is the result of the participation of the United Black Movement (MNU), which brought to the debate the black protagonism in history. In this sense, Zumbi do Palmares (leader of Brazil’s most populous maroon) became the main representative of what would be the construction of a world organised by Africans in Brazil. However, other forms of socialisation and political organisation in the Colony reappropriate and revalorize African governance system in the hostile world, such as the case of the Congo Kingdoms. In this perspective, I propose to present the maroon resistance (such as Palmares) and the Kingdoms of the Congo, as different forms of African governance systems in Brazil, from the point of view of the Brazilian historiography on black social movements.

Martina Amoksi, Historian and Professor at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname

From the last quarter of the 17th century, enslaved persons from West Africa were imported on a large scale to Suriname, who were employed on the sugar plantations. They had to work and live under extremely harsh conditions. As a result, despite the risks, many fled into the immense forests of the Surinamese interior. There the Maroons were able to build up their society, although the relationship with the whites always remained tense. The achievement of these people is that under extremely difficult circumstances they have developed a new culture whose building blocks are largely African, but the structure itself is largely original. The Maroons have also developed their own system of governance. 

The traditional authority of the Maroons has its origin and derives its foundation and recognition from the peace treaties concluded between the colonial authorities and the Maroons in the eighteenth century. Central leadership was imposed on the pacified Maroons by the colonial authorities. The function of going man was also introduced. In matrilineal succession (via the female line), the man is chosen from a historically determined lo. The gambler has a protocol and a representative task. He exclusively regulates relations with the central government in Paramaribo and is in charge of the doenkuutu, the tribal assembly. In addition to the function of doenman, the traditional authority among the Maroons also includes the functions of edekabiten (chief captain), kabiten (captain) and basiya.