The Republic of New Afrika's Constitution for a Black Nation:
"Even though New Afrikans organized a government structure, some activists argue that the RNA initially functioned much like other Black Power organizations insofar as it conducted political education classes and promoted community-organizing rhetoric. However, the RNA founders initial and enduring intention to constitute and maintain an independent government distinguishes New Afrikan activism from that of their contemporaries. Not only did this aspiration set them apart from most other Black power formations; it also developed among New Afrikan ranks a nuanced understanding of black people's relationship to the United States. Their advocacy of political independence and territorial autonomy as only solutions to black Americans' problems attests to New Afrikans profound departure from the objectives endorse by the more popular Black power organizations."
Professor Edward Onaci, Free the Land, 2020
In the archive of Black Power organizations conceived in the tumult of the 1960s and 70s, the Republic of New Afrika [RNA] remains singularly unique in its journey to create a Black nation-state.
In 1968, the RNA drafted a Declaration of Independence dissolving the bonds of what the RNA called coerced "paper citizenship" from the United States. At its founding convention in Detroit, the RNA proclaimed a new Black nation in five Southern states and created a Provisional Government. In 1970, the RNA adopted a constitution--the Code of Umoja--enumerating the principles and laws of its republic, the government's powers and duties, and the rights of its citizens. Over the next five decades, the RNA and its offshoots--the New African Peoples's Organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Cooperation Jackson's--theoretical contributions and actions strengthened the Black Nationalist nation-state wing. As a result, of their activism, the Code of Umoja was amended in 1999, and revised again in 2007. This second installment of the New Black Nationalist Network's critical reading of 'Free the Land' by Professor Edward Onaci, explores the principles and logic underlying the RNA's constitution. We examine the separation of powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and the checks and balances deployed to mitigate potential abuses of power. We probe how citizenship was defined and what rights were derived from its estate?
At the nexus of these data points our inquiry seeks to understand if a discernible theory of republican governance courses through the Code of Umoja's table of laws, citizen engagement and institutional structure.
Professor Onaci brackets these questions in "Free the Land," with primary sources and critical insights. We begin with his interesting explanation of why the RNA created a provisional government.
"The founders consciously framed the Black Government Convention...because they wanted to create an entity that adhered to post-World War II understandings of a "state," with "space for a president, vice-president, ministers, consuls, judges, and other officials. The PG RNA fully expected to operate as a government with sovereignty eventually recognized by the United Nations and the United States."
Driven by its legal and political strategy, the RNA needed a Provisional Government to acquire standing before the United Nations. It sought to prevail on the U.N.'s offices to sanction a globally recognized plebiscite on Black self-determination. The RNA's legitimacy also hinged on identifying a defined national territory (Black Belt South), building mass support among the Black Commons, and adopting a governing constitutional document embodying its national sovereignty.
What Kind of Republic?
The RNA's decision to create a republican form of government in 1968, was a given. Republics are the global default form of governance. Of today's 206 sovereign states, 159 are self-identified republics. Arguably, apart from Switzerland, most republics atrophied and plummeted into the soulless chasm of default templates masking the domination of capitalist ruling classes. Even totalitarian regimes seeking international legitimacy like North Korea brand themselves as republics, staging elections to project the veneer of representative democracy.
From Greece's ancient republics to the fourteenth century city-state of Florence, republican governments rose to oppose oligarchy and the hereditary rule of despots on the one hand while erecting a bulwark against the distempers of mass democracy and mob rule on the other.
The question before the RNA was how the Code of Umoja would facilitate achieving the expansive and transformational goals expressed in its Declaration of Independence. Those goals included the following issues.
-- End exploitation of man by man or his environment.
-- Assure equality of rights for the sexes.
-- End color and class discrimination, while not abolishing salubrious diversity and promote self-respect and mutual respect among all people in the Society.
-- Assure justice for all.
-- Place the major means of production and trade in the trust of the state to assure the benefits of this earth and man's genius and labor to society and all its members.
Peering back at the historical ark of republican governments, the RNA had a wide spectrum of republican governance variants to adopt or reconfigure to suit the republic's unique needs: Parliamentary Monarchy, Peoples Republic, Parliamentary Republic, Federal Republic, Social Democracy, Democratic Republic, and Presidential Republic, just to mention a few.
New Black Nationalists argue that the RNA created a new hybrid model that could best be described as a 'People's Constitutional Representative Republic.'
We assert that the Code of Umoja constructed a default unitary constitutional state. We characterize the republic as a 'default unitary state' because despite the RNA's territorial claims to five Southern states, no references to the status of these states or their relationship to the central government is contained in the CoU's text.
The RNA's constitutional republic is comprised of three distinct branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. However, we contend the CoU arrogated supreme powers to its legislature, the People's Center Council [PCC]. These powers included appellate and judicial review authority over the New Afrikan People's Court. The PCC also presided over a significant portfolio of ministerial and other day-to-day operational duties normally under the remit of the executive branch.
Further, we submit that the absence of checks and balances between the three branches exposed the central government to the dangers of legislative overreach and abuse by the PCC. As Professor Onaci charitably observed, "The People's Center Council functions as the top decision-making body in the RNA."
We also assert that the Code of Umoja contains no formal or codified citizens Bill of Rights. A central tenant of vigorous republican governance is striving for the broadest participation of the commons, not just voting, but participating in the administration and decision-making processes to run society. In our view the absence of a Bill of Rights significantly restricts the Commons' ability to contribute to the administration of the republic's civic affairs.
New Black Nationalists commend the RNA for its excellent and inclusive policy on citizenship, particularly its extension of citizenship to persons of Afrikan descent in the diaspora.
Article 1 of the Code of Umoja grants birthright citizenship to any "Afrikan person born in America," any child born to a citizen of the Republic of New Afrika," and all "persons of Afrikan descent, wherever their original place of birth or domicile in the world. " It also provides procedures to obtain citizenship for any "non-citizen" through naturalization. Article 1 also correctly provides "the right of any person to deny expressly or renounce his/her citizenship."
This is an important democratic principle and vital administrative procedure for persons wishing to opt out of the republic. Establishing an accurate census of citizens and tracking 'out migration' will be critical to calculations required for reparations formulas and population transfer policy.
The absence of a formal citizens Bill of Rights is a deal breaker.
In New Black Nationalists view, the absence of a Bill of Rights in the Code of Umoja will be a very tough sell and more than likely a "deal breaker" for the Black Commons. Historically, the struggle to win equality and civil rights has always been at the heart of the Black liberation movement. It is embedded in our national culture and psychological profile. Moreover, a half-century later, Black Nationalists continue to be saddled with the narrative that we are an anti-inclusion, intolerant, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQI, and anti-Black feminist ideological trend. This narrative coalesces under the catch-all moniker of "Narrow Nationalism."
While we believe contemporary Black Nationalists have made enormous strides to overcome these tendencies, we, like others, still have a long road to travel. For New Black Nationalists striving to erect the first post-modern non-heteropatriarchal society, our path is even more challenging.
In our view, assuring the "equality of rights for the sexes," as stated in the RNA's Declaration of Independence does not go far enough. The eradication of heteropatriarchy will require a thoroughgoing revolution in social relations. For example, in the Vesey Republic proposal we call for an autonomous majority women-led province/region with its own legislative and judicial authorities, and the right to secede.
Notwithstanding those considerations and the other basic rights listed below that are not codified in the Code of Umoja, we firmly believe any new Black republic must establish the rights of its citizens in clear and unambiguous constitutional guarantees. Not to do so is to risk the entire Black Nationalist project.
The following rights are not codified in the Code of Umoja.
-- The right to petition the government
-- The right to create political organizations and parties
-- The right to freedom of free speech
-- The right to peacefully assemble
-- The right to a free press
-- Rights prohibiting unreasonable search and seizures
-- Rights prohibiting the imposition of excessive bail
-- The right to bear arms
-- Rights and protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation
-- Right to abortion and reproductive freedoms
The following rights are codified and affirmed in the Code of Umoja
-- The right to vote at age 16
-- The right to recall elected officials and District Court judges
-- All persons residing in areas claimed by the Republic of New Afrika or where the Republic of New Afrika exercises jurisdiction may initiate an action in District Court or to request that the People's Court assume jurisdiction in a given matter.
The following issues are not guaranteed as rights in the Code of Umoja but are included in the RNA's Declaration of Independence as part of "the aims of our revolution."
-- To assure equality of rights for the sexes.
-- To create conditions in which freedom of religion abounds and man's pursuit of God and/or the destiny, place and purpose of man in the Universe will be without hindrance.
The Supremacy of the People's Center Council--Legislative Branch
As previously asserted, New Black Nationalists believe the CoU's design did not create the executive, legislative, and judicial branches as co-equal branches of government. As a consequence, the CoU did not create checks and balances to maintain an equilibrium between the three branches, thereby opening the door to the legislative abuse of power.
Article 4 of the constitution established the supremacy of the legislative branch by stating, "The People's Center Council [PCC] shall have power to make law and policy for the developing New Afrikan Nation-State." Typically, the legislature body makes the law, while the executive branch has a broad role in developing policy to carry out the law. In the CoU, the PPC legislative branch arrogates to itself broad policy making prerogatives.
The CoU constitution could have devised a check to restrict the People's Center Council [PCC] legislative overreach by providing a presidential veto rejecting legislation the executive branch opposes. The rejected legislation could then be sent back to the PCC for reconsideration and another vote.
Because the legislative branch of People's Center Council is a unicameral body, there is no check on the legislation it passes by a second legislative body or chamber. For example, before bills reach the U.S. President's desk for signature, they must be passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Concerning the process to amend the constitution the CoU states"Changes in this Code of Umoja may be proposed by New Afrikan citizens in People's Conventions, or by a majority vote of the People's Center Council voting membership present in a People's Center Council session. An amendment or change shall become part of the Code of Umoja by a two-thirds vote of the entire certified voting membership of the People's Center Council."
Here again, changing the constitution is almost entirely within the purview of the People's Center Council. As perverted as the U.S. Presidential Republic system is, the voters in the states can weigh in on amendments to the constitution by voting to approve or reject them during the state level ratification process.
The Code of Umoja also made no provisions to hold people's initiatives or referendum to pass or reject laws and policies through a direct popular vote. Thus, forms of direct democracy to empower the Black Commons are prohibited by the CoU.
The lack of access to national initiatives and referendum in the Code of Umoja is somewhat stunning. In New Black Nationalists view, the Black Commons is a highly sophisticated electorate, experienced at the state and local levels in voting on referenda and ballot initiatives.
Size matters when considering governing structures. Direct democracy works best and is generally most effective when population size is smaller. By all accounts, Switzerland is one the best run governments in the world. It is also the country with the greatest participation in direct democracy initiatives and referenda, including changing its national constitution. Switzerland has a population of nine 9 million people. Whatever Black nation-state, city-state (s) or autonomous regions emerge out of American Empires' collapse or civil war in the 2020s, territories under the control of a Black-led government will likely be relatively small. In these instances, direct democracy components should be part of the electoral architecture.
The Vesey Republic proposal incorporates direct democracy contingencies along with a multi-party parliamentary model. Unlike the United Kingdom, for example, which has no constitution, the Vesey Republic will have a constitution, a Bill of Rights, and a first prime minister who is 'head of government' who is also head of state--not the king or queen of a dysfunctional family.
Denying the Black Commons these forms of civic engagement, while privileging the People's Center Council with supreme powers is a profound contradiction. To be clear, the Code of Umoja's intent to privilege the legislative branch with the most decision-making authority is not uncommon in republics. Legislatures are generally thought to be closest to the people they represent and are uniquely positioned to express their political will. Whether the RNA founder's intent was to grant extraordinary powers with such anemic checks and balances on the legislature is a separate issue we cannot divine. Nevertheless, New Black Nationalists see it as danger that merits repair.
A Weak Presidency
In the RNA's government structure, the president is more or less the symbolic 'head of state,' but not the 'head of government.' The only time the president is head of the government is serving temporarily as the Chairperson of the People's Revolutionary Leadership Conference [PRLC], when the People's Center Council is not in session.
As it concerns the 12 ministries or what is typically the executive branches cabinet, Section 2 of the Administrative Handbook of the CoU says, "The President has the ultimate responsibility to coordinate all Ministries when the PCC and the PRLC are not in session."
Section 2 continues by stating, 'The President has the duty to ensure that all PCC and PRLC decisions are communicated to, followed by, and implemented by all national officers and unit leaders. The national officers and unit leaders follow the direction given by or overruled by the PCC or PRLC."
These two passages from Section 2 of the Administrative Handbook attach the government's ministries to the legislative branch instead of executive branch, which is a common practice in presidential and parliamentary republics. They are further evidence that the constitution clearly contemplates a weak president and executive branch.
A Subsidiary Judicial Branch
The constitution established the New Afrikan People's Court as highest court of the nation, and lower district courts in the African Population Districts. However, the CoU goes on to state in Article 6, Section 1 that, "Furthermore, the People's Center Council shall be the highest judicial power of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika."
The CoU also states that, "At its discretion, the People's Center Council may hear and decide the appeal of any case from the New Afrikan People's Court if it deems that case to be of National Importance."
Further, Article 5 also reads "A People's Revolutionary Leadership Council is hereby created, which shall have power to interpret and execute the law, implement the policy and enforce the decisions of the People's Center Council when the People's Center Council is not in session."
The constitution confers no power on the Supreme Court to declare any legislative act passed by the People's Center Council as 'unconstitutional'. The inability of the judicial branch to declare a legislative act unconstitutional further contributes to the supreme authority vested in of the legislative branch.
Given the PCC's powers of judicial review and appellate authority to interpret the law and reverse New Afrikan People's Court decisions, New Black Nationalists we can only conclude the Code of Umoja contemplates no judiciary independence.
The profound concentration of executive, legislative, and judicial power vested in People's Center Council is far-reaching and equally as dangerous. New Black Nationalists have no quarrel with a weak presidency per se. We prefer an energetic executive branch and leader. It is, however, a preference. Many republics have a weak executive branch. If the government has a legislature or federated system that effectively absorbs those executive functions, and those powers are regulated, we have no issue with that.
However, the independence of the judiciary is another matter. The appearance and the substance of an impartial and uncompromised judiciary is paramount to maintaining the legitimacy of the republic. The proposed Vesey Republic model provides for an independent judicial branch.
The Territory of the Republic of New Afrika: Is it a Unitary State?
In Article 2, the Code of Umoja proclaims "The territory in North America, now known as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina as the core of the National Territory of the Black Nation in North America, the Republic of New Afrika."
After the establishment of the national territory clause, the constitution is silent on states. The only territorial government entities codified in the constitution are 'New African Population Districts.'
Article 4, Section 4 states that, "Areas where New Afrikans reside in significant numbers in North America shall be called a New Afrikan Population District. Each New Afrikan Population District certified by the People's Center Council shall be entitled to representation in the People's Center Council. The People's Center Council shall determine the boundaries of each Population District it certifies and shall determine how many representatives each certified Population District is entitled to elect."
In as much as these New Afrikan Population District's may be eligible for representation based on their population size, these districts appear to be tantamount to assembly or congressional districts in the U.S.
New Black Nationalists assume the absence of language clarifying the relationship between the five states of the national territory to the central government, likely resulted from the RNA's provisional status and the uncertainties of how the revolutionary process would unfold. Still, that didn't preclude the RNA from projecting a model.
In this respect, New Black Nationalists design of the proposed Vesey Republic governance structure differs in that we foresee the possibility of gaining territories that accommodate a Black nation-state, independent-majority Black-led city-states, and autonomous regions possibly attached to other sovereign states.
Some Concluding Thoughts:
If this abbreviated reading of the Republic of New Africa's constitution seemed unduly critical of the 46-page RNA's constitution, that was not our intention. As Professor Onaci intimated in Free the Land, the Code of Umoja as a constitution should be read in conjunction with the other founding documents of the RNA, which include the Declaration of Independence, The New Afrikan Creed, The New Afrikan Oath, and The New Afrikan Ujamaa.
We attempted to cull the RNA's constitution and founding documents for the most critical issues that are likely to surface as the Black Commons weigh their political options amid the fog of a gathering existential governing crisis. Looking at the questions of citizenship, a Bill of Rights, how a mixed government balances the distribution of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the one, the few, the many, and where the Black Commons political power resides are paramount questions that will define the character and cosmos of the Black Nationalist revolution.
Our reading of the Code of Umoja is an attempt to envision the RNA's conception of what a new Black nation and 'firstness' looks like after having been something else (an oppressed nation) for 400 years.
Unless our new Black-led polity is led by the monarchy of King (Lebron) James or a dynasty coronating Barak Obama's daughter as queen, we are going to have a republic of some type. We will vote. Representatives will be elected to forward the interests of their constituencies. Some governmental mix of an executive leader, a law-making legislature, and judges to call balls and strikes.
Ideally, the more the Black Commons votes directly on policies that ensure collectively we leave no one behind; the faster we can get to direct democracy. But that takes time, and work and ethics. Innovative republican governance at its best is a stormy transition toward direct democracy, not a magic bullet. The RNA provided Black Nationalists with our first roadmaps to national independence. Together we must continue to build on their invaluable contributions.
Whether Black Nationalists have acquired the experience, autonomous doctrine, and moral rectitude to furnish table of laws and civic conduct to create a self-governing nation is the question time will soon test. We can't until the moment of reckoning arrives to debate these issues. It's already a Quarter to Nation Time!