Johannesburg: As European Union (EU) leaders met in Brussels last Friday to seek solutions to the dual crises of debt and the euro, African Union (AU) leaders pondered the fate of Libya’s beleaguered autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi, who had done the most to create their organisation in 2002 and chaired the AU in 2009. Both events highlight the need for visionaries who can help revive stalling efforts to promote regional integration in Europe and Africa. It is worth examining the life and times of two such individuals.
Nigerian scholar-diplomat, Adebayo Adedeji — the chairman of SA’s African Peer Review Mechanism process of 2006- 07 — announced his retirement from public life at the AU summit in Uganda in July last year at the age of 79, after 50 years of service to the continent. Adedeji and Frenchman Jean Monnet are widely regarded to have been the fathers of regional integration in Africa and Europe respectively. Both men came from small towns, which they escaped to attain global fame and recognition. Both were propelled to prominence and achieved professional success at an early age. Both were put in charge of reconstructing their countries after conflicts. Both were men of vision and ideas who enjoyed the trust of powerful political actors. Both were realists who used the force of superior argument and dynamic political manoeuvring to promote their goals.
Monnet grew up in the French town of Cognac working in his family’s brandy business. His travels to Europe, North America, Asia and Africa provided him with an education on other cultures and a "window on the world ". Monnet did not much like school and what he described as "bookish knowledge ". He dropped out of his university exams at the age of 16 and was sent by his father to live with a wine merchant in London. Here, he learned English to communicate with his clientele . The cognac business thus forced the Gallic merchant to become a cosmopolitan citizen of the world.
During the First World War, Monnet co-ordinated the supplies of Allied merchant fleets. During the Second World War, he led Anglo-French supply programmes. Though Monnet was keen to use international co-operation as a means of avoiding war, he also contributed to war efforts to achieve peace. At the age of 30, he became deputy secretary-general of the League of Nations — the precursor to the United Nations (UN) — until 1923, when he returned to private business. Between 1947 and 1955, Monnet headed the commission for France’s post-war reconstruction, the Commissariat du Plan, helping to modernise French agriculture and industry. He then became the chief architect of European integration, authoring the Shuman plan of 1950 — named after French foreign minister Robert Shuman.
Realising that continued French efforts to control the German industrial areas of the Ruhr and the Saar would breed further antagonism between Paris and Bonn, he proposed integrating both countries’ coal and steel industries. The Frenchman then served, between 1952 and 1955, as president of the plan’s main body: the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which involved France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — the six founding members of the European Economic Community in 1957. Led by Monnet, the ECSC created institutions such as the Common Assembly, the Special Council of Ministers, and the Court of Justice: forerunners of the key organs of the current 27-member EU . As Monnet famously noted: "Nothing is possible without men; nothing is lasting without institutions."
After leaving the ECSC, he created the Action Committee for the United States of Europe as a pressure group for European integration that drew on political parties and trade unions across the six ECSC countries. The Frenchman died in 1979 at the age of 90, having devoted his life to promoting peace and regional integration in Europe.
Like Monnet, Adedeji grew up in a small town, having been raised in Ijebu-Ode in southwest Nigeria under British colonial rule. This experience would leave a fierce anticolonial mark on him. Adedeji’s middle-class parents were farmers who left him in the care of his disciplinarian grandmother, Mama Eleja, an enterprising, shrewd and determined fish-seller and indomitable matriarch. Even though she was formally illiterate, Adedeji’s grandmother pushed the young, precocious boy to study consistently and he became an outstanding student.
Unlike Monnet, Adedeji excelled academically, studying economics and public administration at the universities of Leicester, Harvard and London, and eventually obtaining a doctorate. He returned to Nigeria in 1958 — two years before the country’s independence — to take up a senior post in the western region’s ministry of economic planning. He then taught at Nigeria’s University of Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), becoming a full professor of economics and public administration at the age of 36.
Five years later, Adedeji was appointed Nigeria’s economic reconstruction and development minister by the military regime of Gen Yakubu Gowon in 1971. He oversaw the country’s difficult postwar reconstruction efforts after a devastating conflict that left 1- million people dead and wreaked much destruction. The fortuitous discovery of oil helped Adedeji and the country’s powerful mandarins to build much of the infrastructure that laid the foundation for Nigeria’s perennially delayed industrial takeoff.
Adedeji became "the Father of Ecowas" (the Economic Community of West African States), after convincing 16 West African leaders to establish a common market in 1975 after three years of tireless "shuttle diplomacy" across the subregion. The body was based on the Nigerian technocrat’s vision — that regional integration must become an instrument for national survival and socioeconomic transformation.
Adedeji then joined the UN to lead its Addis Ababa-based Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in 1975. His 16-year tenure became the ECA’s longest and most dynamic: he skillfully converted the organisation into a pan-African platform to continue his efforts to promote economic integration, leading the creation of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the Economic Community of Central African States in 1981 and 1983 respectively. Adedeji would later chair and publish a December 2007 report on the AU, which advocated the acceleration of regional integration in Africa and made concrete recommendations for strengthening its regional bodies. Sadly, the AU has failed to give this report the priority it deserves.
Both Adedeji and Monnet headed powerful international organisations through which they promoted their integration visions. Both enjoyed generating ideas, but realised they had to relate such concepts to practical action and muster political support to implement them.
Both men shared an aversion to the operation of blind market forces and regarded politics as inseparable from economics. Both regarded regional integration as a means to promote peace and socioeconomic development. Both were far-sighted visionaries. In the end, however, both men proved to be Cassandras: Adedeji never saw his dream of an African Common Market fulfilled; while Monnet’s dream of a "United States of Europe" has yet to be realised.
* Adekeye Adebajo is Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and author of The Curse of Berlin: Africa After The Cold War.