Africa is in the midst of a turbulent world economic order in which it has been sandwiched to a receiving end both economically, socially and politically. In this respect, all of us must look back over the last four decades of our independence, if only to understand how and why we have got to where we are now, and to find out solution out of this malady. Such a retrospective view will also help us to prepare ourselves for a future course of action.
A large part of Africa won its independence piecemeal at a crucial historical moment when Europe, until then the leading colonial force in Africa, was declining, while the Soviet Union and the US, were establishing themselves as the dominant powers in the world.
As these two superpowers, for the first time in history, represented two opposed and antagonistic ideological fronts, the battle for establishing their respective sphere of influence was fierce and took the form of what has since been described as the “cold-war”.
Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Abdel Gamal Nasser (Egypt) were among the first to face this situation as leaders of independent African States. Nasser devoted a large part of his time to the Palestinian question and only a fraction to Africa, while to Nkrumah Africa demanded all of his time.
Egypt crystallized the national democratic revolutionary movement in the Middle East and North Africa, while the new state of Ghana sparked it off in the rest of Africa.
The imperialist camp in the meantime, was in the midst of one of its worst contradictions, with the US utilizing its huge muscles to establish its past-colonial hegemony, on the one hand, while Europe was vainly struggling to re-instate and maintain its old ways of domination, on the other.
However, if the Us and Europe were locked in conflict where their direct national interests in Africa were at stake, their overall and fundamental interests to ensure their survival as a class converged, especially where these faced a direct challenge from the then emerging socialist camp, headed by the Soviet Union.
For the latter, needless to say, was not only a threat to their colonial and imperialistic interests, it actually posed as a more serious threat on their own home ground.
In Asia, China – the “sleeping giant” – had emerged from a successful socialist revolution and mounted a massive colonial campaign throughout the world.
The US, meanwhile, was beginning to establish itself firmly in Europe through its massive aid and investment programme which came to be known as the “Marshall Aid Programme”, launched in 1947 to stave off the possibility of Communist governments coming to power in Western Europe
The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was rapidly recovering from the devastation of the war and was becoming an economic and military giant in its own right.
In other words, the world was in an unprecedented flux, with decisive shifts in power and influence taking place. The drama that was to unfold in post-colonial Africa must be looked at from this intriguing background.
Nkrumah’s Ghana had just emerged as the first, free, black star of Africa. It was in this unusual, if not altogether unstable, international situation that emerging Africa had to re-establish independent identity
Nkrumah established a diplomatic tradition in Africa of playing off the Us against Europe with the argument that, only the Us could exert pressure on Europe to free the rest of Africa.
From this perspective, it was considered incorrect to lump together the US and its European allies as constituting the capitalist camp. Rather, as far as was concerned, Europe was considered our main protagonist since it occupied most of our continent and our struggle was accordingly to be directed against it exclusively.
To achieve the ends of winning over the US and isolating Europe, Africa was not to show itself as veering towards the Socialist camp since by doing so it might incur the wrath of the US and expose itself to the consequent punitive diplomacy.
To make this policy attractive and acceptable to the US, it was considered important to show the latter that there were economic gains as well.
So, as soon as Ahmed Sekou Toure’s Guinea voted for independence in 1958 and enraged Charles de Gaulle (France) to the point of severing all connections with that country, Ghana immediately went to its assistance and formed the Ghana/Guinea Union which together meant a lot of bauxite, iron ore and other essential minerals. All these were put at the disposal of the US.
Furthermore, Ghana and Guinea joined all the Western economic institutions like the World Bank, IMF and others, thereby establishing a pattern which was to be followed by independent African countries.
These institutions sent out experts to plan national development and squarely established these countries as part of Western economies. This was indeed the real birth of the economic dilemma for Africa.
On the political front, the Ghana/Guinea alliance resulted in the initiation of the first anti-colonial axis in Africa. When Patrice Lumumba’s Congo appeared on the scene in 1960, it immediately joined the axis, to be followed by Modibo Keita’s Mali. Soon afterwards, when the Algerian people won their independence from France, Ben Bella, the first President, immediately tipped Algeria’s enormous revolutionary prestige on the side of the Ghana/Guinea alliance.
This was an unprecedented development in African political evolution in that, for the first time a North African country, in a region which the imperialists had hitherto deliberately isolated from the politics of tropical Africa, now wholly identified its political destiny with that of the rest of Africa, in blood and sweat.
African youths at the time were watching all these developments with excitement and enthusiasm. They saw in them a new type of Africa emerging, not an Africa of reactionary rulers, but an Africa with a (national democratic) revolutionary potential.
They saw in it the dawn of a new era in which the oppressed people would regain their dignity. What went wrong?
This vision was never to be fulfilled. What emerged instead was a series of painful disappointments. Africa was already dividing itself into the so-called “Monrovia” and “Cassablanca” groups, one representing the progressives, headed by the Ghana/Guinea alliance, and the other representing the conservatives, headed by the OCAM countries, the French speaking Africa alliance which had just gained nominal independence and tied itself to the French economic and diplomatic interests.
The Ghana/Guinea axis took the initiative in the formation of the organization of African Unity (OAU) and in doing so, they were obliged to sacrifice some of their precious revolutionary aspirations in order to accommodate the conservatives in this wider Union.
Henceforth, no independent action was to be taken outside the OAU and, as it turned out, all actions emanating from those quarters were compromised, reflecting either French interests or watered-down “national” interests. This was the second Africa’s dilemma toward a speedy socio – economic revolution.
The OAU itself became a formal, respectable organization, a quasi – UN, accommodating all interests at once, hardly a revolutionary vehicle. It isolated Africa from the global struggle of oppressed people and it became pragmatic, cautions, and generally pre-occupied with “realism” and diplomatic frills.
Looking back, we can see that Nkrumah’s diplomatic tactics of trying to win over the US against Europe failed to assess correctly the significance of the historical epoch in which they were, an epoch which was no longer responsive to the old, almost medieval diplomatic acrobatics.
To concentrate on merely playing off the US against Europe while ignoring the existence of the Socialist camp, was a serious miscalculation which gave imperialism an opportunity to play dirty games in Africa. As Nasser later confessed, in diplomacy “we rarely acted”, we only reacted”, which always left the initiative to the opponent.
The political instability with which we are confronted in Africa, the temporary stalling of revolutionary ideas, our economic stalemate and stagnation, military interventions by both local and foreign elements; all these are the logical outcome of the sort of policies which were set in motion at the outset of our independence.
Nkrumah and other progressive leaders, for reasons which are quite understandable but difficult to condone, failed to make an analysis of the concrete situation obtaining in the world and the position of Africa in it, thereby condemning the continent to perpetual external dependence and servitude. This was the birth of Africa’s dilemma and the so called “the whiteman’s burden.