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Why did independence not bring peace to African politics?

Why did independence not bring peace to African politics?

After decades of slavery which later metamorphosed into colonial rule, the pronouncement of independence to African states brought joy and happiness to Africans and some non-Africans who were advocates of independence.  However, such a description seems to me the best way possible of describing with what hope and optimism independence was received by Africans. Even internationally, it cannot be denied with what positive prospects these new states were viewed, sometimes serving as a beacon of hope for nations struggling towards statehood everywhere. Within Africa, the struggle for independence became a creed; no African state would be content in its independent status till its continental sisters were equally liberated.

The question The Voiceless wants to ask is: What happened between independence and post independence? Many of Africa’s countries have been plagued by decades of war, persistent poverty, and premature deaths from avoidable diseases. Why did Independence fail to bring the peace and prosperity hoped for?  (Photo: l-r Superil Sannoh the Author, and Professor Jimmy Kandeh from the USA )

The Voiceless would attempt to answer these questions. The first is based on allegations that Africa has evolved negatively due to a lot of conditions imposed on it from the outside. The second is that Africa is responsible for her sorrows through her irresponsibility since independence. Africa has been influenced by a lot of issues through no fault of hers.

According to Niccolo Machiavelli, Africa has been doomed to produce the unprofitable and fluctuating primary produce in exchange for finished goods. This situation holds so true, that even in climate change politics Africa has been given the role of primary producer (maintaining forests, etc) in exchange for finished produce (polluted air and water, changing seasons, etc.).

 A very important point to be noted is the level of change between pre-colonial and post-colonial times: nothing much changed. Power was simply transferred from one master to the other. This is why Africa’s issues cannot be treated as having stemmed after independence. All occurrences have been based on a continuous flow, a continuous process whose origins did not suddenly come forth with independence.

It is believed that when competition is very tough, weakness becomes an invitation for invasion. Within this context, Africa was weak enough to permit conquest in the form of colonization. When the colonial system was no longer relevant to the powerful states, they relinquished it. However, the selfishness of the system means that till these new African states can become strong, they would remain at the mercy of the more powerful states, which in any event need them to remain weak as a way of securing their own Power. Africa thus becomes a center stage of subversive activity aimed at keeping it at the bottom of the food chain, and a dumping ground for the remnants of the superpowers. In another vein, the cold war was a destabilizing factor to the newly independent states and marred their proper development. While struggling for independence, it was very logical for African states to try as much as possible to break away from everything epitomizing their erstwhile colonial masters; one such way was shifting towards socialist or seemingly communist ideologies.  This period also served as a hard lesson for those who did not partake in the bounty on what decisions to make in the future. In other words Africa had to learn to joy-ride on the existing power politics.

Last but definitely not least of external factors which decided Africa’s fate can be found in a collectivity of factors present as at Africa’s independence. These factors did not grow or come up after independence, but were present there, forever to cast a negative pall on the new states.

Africa is a victim of every kind of ethnic conflict imaginable as a result divisive decision during the 1884/5 Berlin Conference. Even more noteworthy is the fact that little or no attempts were made to breed unity within these borders after they were drawn up. Burkina Faso for example, after being created in 1920, was dismembered in 1932 and divided up among its neighbours, only to be re-established in 1947, thirteen years before it became independent. Such a constant shift would definitely affect any build up of loyalties which could occur.

Africa was thrust into an already existing and thriving system, relatively undeveloped by those who had been in charge of her affairs for almost a century. I do not know how probable it is that within another century these states would be able to catch up with this very dynamic system. This is closely linked to technological backwardness, therefore after how many decades of Western dominance there were still not enough Africans sufficiently educated to handle their own bureaucracy and service industries? I have to lay all blame for this at the doorstep of colonial policies because sixty years should be sufficient time to build up a literate population.

Dr. Osman Gbla, while lecturing on Comparative African Political System (CAPS) at the E.J. Hall, Fourah Bay College-University of Sierra Leone, said: “I find it very significant that even in the most autocratic African pre-colonial societies, there was a greater sense of responsibility by rulers to their community because the community actually had a say, and the checks and balance system was always intricately developed. It would seem like the democratic institutions imposed disrupted the real democracy which African societies had very carefully developed.”

This disruption has led to what The Voiceless today describes as an ‘authoritarian syndrome’. If African leaders after independence have refused to let go of authoritarian tendencies, there’s a basic question to be asked: Is Africa after independence different from Africa during the colonial times with regards ruling policies? The Voiceless will say NO. The colonial state was not only conceived in violence, but it was maintained by the free use of it.

Professor Jimmy Kandeh uses the Zimbabwean situation to explain why independence did not bring peace to Africa politics. He said those states where power had to be violently struggled for, leading to the instinctive development of authoritarian institutions, the militant groups which fought the good fight transformed into political parties when independence was attained, but they already had the authoritarian outlook and no force or occurrence has been able to alter that. On the other side of the coin are those states which were able to attain a bloodless independence. However in these states there was simply a transfer of power from the colonial masters to particular elite group. No steps were therefore taken to build institutions concerned with, for example, popular participation.

However, it would be very unusual if all the problems Africa is facing can be dumped on the doorstep of external factors. Several internal factors have also played a role in the general deterioration of conditions. By internal I mean factors which could be changed, corrected, or at the very least, controlled. Leadership is one of these factors. According to Professor Joe A.D. Alie, Dean of Arts Fourah Bay College, Africa’s problems lie ‘at a political doorstep, rather than being due to lack of resources or manpower’. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria, whose name permanently entrenched in history as one of those who fought the war for independence, his face is on Nigerian currency, and yet he had this to state:

“Nigeria is not a nation. There are no ‘Nigerians’… The word ‘Nigeria’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish between those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.”

Also, Siaka Probyn Stevens, who ruled Sierra Leone for more than twenty years, was known for: ‘Den Say Bailor Barrie U Say Davidson Nicol’. Meaning loosely that acquiring wealth is more important than acquiring education.

The Voiceless is not disputing the fact or truth of these very popularly quoted statements, but just a bit saddened by the hopelessness insinuated. If the heroes themselves do not believe in the possibility of a peaceful nation-state, how can it ever come to pass? This pessimistic attitude on the part of African leaders has definitely had very negative effect. This is one of the reasons why Africa has remained in a downward spiral.

Dr. Arthur Abraham said the political scene in Sierra Leone in 1968 as experiencing ‘increasing corruption and authoritarianism, a rigged election, and finally a series of coups (political change) both dramatic and deleterious. With all the aforesaid issues, how can peace or prosperity ever come to be? Africa has political, sociological, economic and geographic issues, embedded within her state system. Some of these issues are new and can be blamed on Africans themselves, however, some of them are far more complex and can only be traced to the process of colonization which for almost a century disrupted the natural course of development, and then left behind a rotten legacy.

The wrongs have already been done, no amount of accusations or apologies can ever correct the past. Enough of casting blame and time to move on. One thing that must be noted is, the tortoise has a heavy shell through no fault of its, but folklore graces it with enough cunning that it can win the hare in a race.

Superil Sannoh, The Pen of the Voiceless

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