Reinventing Africa for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

The Neo-colonial Inheritance

We argue that right from the beginning the political environment at independence was a set up.  Africa was programmed to fail with distorted and disarticulated structures and a marginal location and role in the global order.  But many of the nationalists were too hungry for power that they did not see what they were getting into.  Those that saw it were only too happy with their lucrative but unequal associations with foreign capital. The state inherited was non-hegemonic and lacked the capacity to create the sort of environment that would have allowed public policy to be rational, sustainable, and effective.  Africa did not inherit an environment that was conducive to democracy, growth, and development.  The custodians of state power were equally set up to fail.  They lacked economic power, their political power was fragile, and they were opportunistic and incapable of competing with powerful and fully entrenched profit and hegemony-seeking transnational corporations.  The few that opted for progressive programs were humiliated, frustrated, or eliminated.  Consequently, African policy makers and leaders moved from one error to the other further complicating the already precarious and distorted African condition.  Because they were able to accumulate from the existing dire conditions, they resisted all calls for change. The struggle for power became coterminous with survival.  Some wrote their names into their constitutions.  Others adopted strange names and titles just to scare their citizens.  They closed democratic spaces.  They gave very little or no thought to reviewing the compact between the people and the state by putting in place the sort of constitutions that would protect liberties and ensure that accountability, social justice, and democracy governed the larger society.  In fact, African elites did everything to by-pass the rules of politics, depoliticize the polity, intimidate the people and their communities, and divert attention from the realities of underdevelopment and unequal exchange.
In less than a decade following political independence, irrational politics degenerated into war: the state became the major or primary means of accumulation and constitutions were abrogated, suspended, disregarded and discarded.  State power became arbitrary and an instrument to dominate, oppress, exploit and terrorise the people. To capture that power, which guaranteed wealth, influence and authority, politicians resorted to all sorts of methods both legal, but mostly extra legal: thuggery, vote inflation, ballot box snatching, fake voting centres, bribing the police and electoral officers, fake results, and manipulation of region, religion and ethnicity.  These patterns of politics wasted scarce resources, lives, property, and eroded the credibility of the executive that organised elections, those that were (s)elected, and the policies and laws that they produced.  Africa was back to square one.  In some cases, things were so bad that a culture of authoritarian nostalgia- where people begin to admire previous dictatorships- set in and demands were even made for a return to the colonial days.
Rather than build hope in the people, confidence in the state and encourage productivity and progressive nationalism, the post-colonial leaders did the exact opposite.  They relied on the use of foreign schools for the wards, foreign hospitals for medical attention, use of foreign banks, airlines and advisers; the use of private security in place of public police, private water bore-holes and private electricity generators in place of publicly provided alternatives, and investments abroad rather than in the local economy.   In some way, the African elite lost faith in the substance or quality of post-colonial governance. Coupled with economic mismanagement, rabid corruption, irresponsible political behavior and squandermania, the near abandonment of the state by its very custodians weakened it and made it largely irrelevant to the daily lives of the people.  The state was now seen and treated as enemy by the people, a force that was to be avoided, cheated, attacked, and subverted as opportunity permitted.  Such a state had no room for the rule of law, social justice, human rights, and constitutionalism.  All these were sacrificed on the alter of political expediency, the hunger for power and the arrogance of a political elite with only a tenuous relationship to real production.  It is only by understanding the depth of the deprivations, humiliations, and violence that we can fully appreciate the nature of the new politics in Africa.  And this is exactly why we must reinvent Africa for progress.

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