Africa And the Plight of a Wasted Generation

From St. Ives to Inverness; from the Isle of Man and stretching across the City of London; and even in places like Tristan da Cunha, a UK Overseas Territory and the most remote inhabited island chain on the planet, this has been a long weekend of celebrations. It started officially on Saturday (and even with the characteristically gloomy British weather) the streets of all cities have been aglow with images of the Union Jack. It has been a long weekend awash with celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond jubilee.

As I sat watching the incessant dripping of the rain through my window, I could not help but wonder if an average African born 60 years ago will have any cause for celebration – that is if they were fortunate to see their 60th anniversary. As if to lend credence to my thoughts, the double tragedy in Africa’s most populated country on a day so aptly tagged ‘Black Sunday’ seemed to have been the one thing I needed to realise the futility of any struggle to make meaning of life – especially as an African.

I was forced to take a look at what Africa was in 1952 and what did I see? I saw US-educated Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who had been elected prime minister of the Gold Coast (the British Colony that later becomes Ghana). That seemed to be the beginning of a new era for a continent that had not known any form of freedom for centuries since it was enslaved and colonised. There was hope for the continent as continental Africans who were at that time studying in America and Europe such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Leopold S. Senghor of Senegal Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafami Awolowo of Nigeria were all returning to mother Africa, preaching and applying their political ideology for African nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Their political philosophy which assumed the new role of pedagogy for promoting internal liberation.

There were beacons of hope across the continent 10 years later,  by 1962, when a majority of the continent gained independence. But unlike the  about 4200 beacons of the Diamond Jubilee which as they  were  lit, had three generations of Royalty watching, with smiles on their faces, I wonder if anyone can look back and smile at any of the beacons of hope that were lit in Africa in the early 1960s.

Let me look at a few:

The first is Leopold Sedar Senghor. According to Senghor the value of African socialism was founded on the African understanding of family based on philosophical intuition through the concept of Negritude: “The family in Africa is the clan and not as in Europe ‘mum, dad and the baby’ it is not the household but ‘the sum total of all persons, living and dead, who acknowledge a common ancestor.’ As we know, the ancestral lineage dates back to God”.[1]

Leopold S. Senghor – Negritude

Senghor saw a common factor of Africanity as consisting in the state of being ‘black’, ‘negritude’, ‘negroness’. Hence the Afro-Negro worldview could be sustained by an intuitive consciousness that opens itself up in communal embrace to the rest of the world culture. African culture was therefore, a symbiosis of different elements, in a symbiotic encounter, in which association was free and beneficial to all. Senghor felt that Negritude could open up a harmonious basis for integration of black and white values with a view of bringing into being a new African personality which necessarily contributes to the civilization of values. In this light negritude was seen as a cultural heritage of the Negros and an embodiment of cultural, economic, political and social values of the Black people.

It is against this backdrop that negritude was seen as being not just a mere theoretical speculation or simply a philosophy of being but also a philosophy of praxis aimed at liberation. Its aims and objectives were considered the same as those pursued by all African nationalists following independence, namely, the truth of their “being” and “culture” as well as the full mastery of their environment. Negritude was nothing more than the Black man’s attempt to regain what Jean-Paul Sartre calls an ‘existential integrity” on the original purity of one’s existence.

60 years on: the African still lives on an existential mirage. The lines between life and death are blurred. People go to church and do not return. Others board flights or cars but never reach their destination. Children are born only for them to witness the agony of starvation, deprivation and die of curable diseases before their first birthday. Maybe the problem was Negritude – either hoping too much or too little!

Julius Kambarage Nyerere, like Senghor saw in African socialism, the only

Nyerere – Ujaama Socialism

veritable tool that could affect the political and economic liberation of Africa. Like Senghor, Nyerere felt that “the foundation and objective of African socialism is the extended family.”[2]  The familyhood depicted by Ujamaa, therefore, went beyond the basic family nucleus; beyond the tribe, the community, the nation. It must include the entire human race. It x-rayed the traditional life of the African people where the sense of brotherhood was strong: where “society is so organized that it cares about the individual”.[3] In short Ujamaa socialism was said to be an attitude of mind needed to ensure that people care for each other’s welfare. In Nyerere’s conceptual schemes, therefore, the solution to the African predicament and the sure road to freedom, laid simply in the adoption of African socialism which was antithetical to capitalism. Nyerere’s Ujamaa was clearly a theory that was aimed at transforming independent Africa.

60 years on: capitalism reigns supreme in Africa. Individualism is manifested in the grabbing attitude of politicians who think only of making quick gains at the expense of the masses. Even China which is communist at home is capitalist in Africa. May be there should have been a middle way!

Zik – Neo-Welfarism

This was sought by Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) whose major political thought centre around the idea of the regeneration of Africa in socio-political life and what he termed “neo-welfarism”. The idea of the regeneration of Africa represents a call to a New Africa. Beyond the general tendencies prevalent in his time, to favour and refine socialist teachings and to reject capitalist principles, Zik was among the few thinkers who made frantic efforts in the search of a middle way between socialism and capitalism in his later years. Finding the major political systems – capitalism, socialism, welfarism – wanting, Zik, feeling that since none of them is totally bad, there was the need for the harmonization of these systems by combining what he believes to be the good elements in each of them. These results in what he called “neo-welfarism” which is “an economic system which blends the essential elements of Capitalism, Socialism and Welfarism  in a socio-economic matrix, influenced by indigenous African mores, to enable the state and the private sector to own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange, whilst simultaneously enabling the state to assume responsibility for the social services, in order to benefit the citizens according to their needs and officially specified minimum standard, without prejudice to participation in any aspect of the social services by voluntary agencies.”[4] The philosophical basis for neo-welfarism is eclecticism and pragmatism.

Unfortunately, pragmatism and eclecticism have been painstakingly removed from Nigerian political dictionaries and hence the via media has no place anymore. The fuel subsidy crisis was just one of many examples of where socialism and welfarism have been binned in favour of resolute capitalism. This should not have been surprising because Nkrumah had prophesied about them.

One of the most systematic and speculative of the freedom movement of post-

Nkrumah – Consciencism

colonial Africa was the theory of liberation of Kwame Nkrumah, which he expounded in his book Towards Colonial Freedom, written in 1947 and published in 1962. Nkrumah spoke of liberation as being mainly from colonialism, which to him was “…White man’s burden which rest heavily upon the shoulders of the so-called “backward” people who have been subjugated, humiliated, robbed and degraded to the level of cattle.”[5] .Nkrumah saw in the policies of the colonial masters a lot of hypocrisy. In their crafty nature, they masked their real inhumane nature and evil intentions so well that it was very difficult for the people to notice. “ the attitude of Britain, France, Spain, Italy and other colonial powers towards what they call “participation” by colonial people in colonial government and public affairs are half-way measures to keep them complacent and to throttle their aspiration  for complete independence”.[6]

In the light of this, Nkrumah saw the need to present a model theory for the liberation of Africa. He was partly motivated by the hope that the Socialist movement in the world at the time would overtake the capitalist – imperialism that exploited Africa.

Nkrumah, and other Africans having deciphered the distortions and platitude of European colonialism saw the importance of knowledge in the African crusade of decolonization against European colonialism, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the African liberation and development. Knowledge was necessary for power and for action. Nkrumah further wrote that

… there are vast numbers of ordinary Africans, who animated by a lively national consciousness, sort knowledge as an instrument of national emancipation and integrity. This is not to say that these Africans overlooked the purely cultural value of their studies. But in order that their cultural acquisition should be valuable, they needed to be capable of appreciating it as free men.[7]

There was a pressing need for Africans to get engaged in the de-colonial campaign as free historical beings, since, “the main purpose of the organization is to bring about a final death of colonialism and the discountenance of foreign imperialist domination”.[8]. This is because it was glaring that “outside interference does not help to develop their country, for it impedes and stifles and crushes not only economic progress, but the spirit and indigenous enterprise of the peoples themselves.[9]

60 years on: Outside interference has never been far from Africa. Its legacies are clear for all to see. Africa produces no guns but records the highest number of deaths by guns. The DRC, Somalia and Libya are living examples of foreign imperialist domination. The IMF and the World Bank have only succeeded in impeding and stifling economic progress with proposals that never seem to work but are always imposed on African governments.

60 years on after Nkrumah won  the first election in Africa as the PM of the Gold Coast, we are apt to wonder if it will be better if Africa could simple forget all the years of civil wars, genocides, apartheid, famine and diseases. Maybe we can start anew! But should this option be considered, Africa will have WASTED A GENERATION!


[1] Senghor; Poetry and Prose (Selected and trans by Reed and C. Wake) (London: Oxford University Press, !965), p. 43

[2] Nyerere: Ujamaa: Essays On Socialism (Dar-es Salaam :Oxford University Press 1968) p. 2

[3] Ibid p. 3

[4] Nnamdi Azikiwe; Ideology for Nigeria: Capitalism, Socialism or Welfarism. (Lagos: Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Ltd, 1981), p. x

[5] K. Nkrumah; Towards Colonial Freedom. “Africa in the Struggle Against World Imperialism” (London: Panaf Book Ltd., 1962), p. 29

[6] K. Nkrumah; Towards Colonial Freedom. “Africa in the Struggle Against World Imperialism” p. 27

[7] K. Nkrumah; Towards Colonial Freedom. “Africa in the Struggle Against World Imperialism” p. 4

[8] K. Nkrumah; Towards Colonial Freedom. “Africa in the Struggle Against World Imperialism” p. 41

[9] K. Nkrumah; Towards Colonial Freedom. “Africa in the Struggle Against World Imperialism” p. 42

Elites, Politics and Development

Last week, the contention was on whether politics can be pro-poor. While I am yet to come to a conclusion about that, the issue has shown itself to be a real can of worms. The bringing in of elites into the discussion ultimately raises the questions – what have elites got to do with development? And to answer this question another needs to be answered first… who are the elites? These are surely very complex questions and made more so by the fact that I had been following a debate on the Economist with the motion This House Believes That the Global Elite Serve the Masses. I could not help but marvel at the coincidence that the Economist should choose such a topic on the same week that I am grappling with understanding the role of elites in development. It however, became less of a surprise when I followed the massive arguments on both sides, which in one way or the other, pointed to the fact that elites are a massive influence on how the future of the world is to be shaped.

The proposer of the debate felt that the “modern subsidised elite… provide goods and services that the masses value. And, for all we know, the consumer surplus may exceed the subsidy. What is more, the élite pay high taxes that subsidise the consumption of the masses. In America, the bottom 50% of earners pays no federal income tax at all, while the top 10% pay 50% of the national total. In Britain, most people consume more than they earn.” Wow! I literally clapped for him… but not until I read the opposition’s remarks that “Instead… look more closely at the record of the elite in recent years… the question should not be whether such ideas are beneficial but whether the elite could have done better. In many respects their record in recent years, particularly in the West, is poor. Economic growth could arguably have been faster and technological progress more pervasive. The average growth rate in the Western economies is much slower than it was in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Caught within the ‘fly bottle” of this debate, it was not surprising that I had some difficulties at the beginning of Tom’s lecture. From his definition of elites, my mind immediately became flooded with questions… is the concept of ‘elite’ the same in the Western world as it is in Africa? Do they have similar roles to perform? Are the expectations from the masses the same? Is there any such thing as ‘global elite’?

Then I got it! There lies the main area of my confusion… the use of the word ‘global’ in the debate motion and the fact that the Moderator, Proposer and Opposition all failed to capture what they meant by ‘global’. Their arguments failed to reflect the universal nature of the proposition. Maybe by luck or by design, this realisation made it relatively simpler for me to follow the discussions during the seminar. I had arrived at certain conclusions though:

First, there is a marked difference between the African elite and that of the West. This is not only from the perspective that the African elite “…tend to be especially powerful. (And) often command a particularly large slice of the national income, and the influence that goes with it.” (Hossain and Moore, 2002) But most especially that their histories are very different. While it would seem the problem of elite’s participation in the political and/or economic development of the western countries could be seen as an issue that is beginning to decline, the situation of the African elite is different in that their roles were defined by the very process of their creation – to be one that exploits rather than help the masses. Fanon clearly stated that the mission of these national bourgeoisie “has nothing to do with transforming the nation” as it is content with playing “the role of the western bourgeoisie’s business agent” and serving as the local instrument of neo-colonialism. Nkrumah, one of those who was quick to spot this a long time ago pointed out that the African elites (bourgeoisies) were a far more serious problem  than colonialism for while colonialism had been slavery from without, neo-colonialism was slavery from within, and as such more dangerous. (Nkrumah, 1965, 50) Jean-Paul Sartre, who calls them the “manufactured native elite”, cogently explains that

The European elite undertook to manufacture native elite. They picked out promising adolescents, branded them as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture; they stuffed their mouth full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. (Sartre; Preface  to Fanon; p. ix)

These native elites did not limit themselves to high-sounding phrases but in many other ways mortgaged the economies of their countries in a bid to maintain their privileges. This is because the African elites or bourgeoisie:

…lacks something essential to a bourgeoisie: Money. The bourgeoisie of an underdeveloped country is a bourgeoisie in spirit only….consequently, it remains at the beginning and for a long time afterwards a bourgeoisie of the civil service… will always reveal itself incapable of giving birth to an authentic bourgeoisie society with all the economic and industrial consequences which this entails.

Until there is a good and accountable partnership between the government and the people with whom sovereignty resides and through some process of direct dialogue and initiative, a few individuals will continue to present their ideologies and selfish interests as national creed, thereby eroding the powers of the people[i]

[i] Francis O.C Njoku; Development and African Philosophy, p.182