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9-08-2015, 23:36

THE END OF WHITE RULE IN WEST AFRICA

For a British university graduate in the early 1950s, the Colonial Service offered a fine opportunity for a fulfilling and worthwhile career. After a brief apprenticeship, in his late twenties or early thirties, he could expect to become a district commissioner in the Fiji Islands or an African colony and to be given responsibility for thousands of ‘natives’ as the ultimate magistrate and authority on the spot. Such opportunities for young men to exercise paternalistic power did not exist in the Western world. The only drawback of Colonial Service was the question of marriage, or more accurately the problem of how a single white male might find a suitable wife to take to the bush. Marrying locally was impractical; there were few, if any unattached white girls, and an interracial marriage was unthinkable. Fulfilment of this basic human need therefore had to be arranged rather rapidly on a spell of leave back home; the district commissioner’s wife thereafter fulfilled an important role in the white colonial society, which had its strict pecking order from the governor and his wife downwards. On the surface, little had changed for half a century in the customs and mores of colonial government and the same held true for the French. A career in the colonies was a career for life. But then, little more than ten years later, it all came suddenly to an end. District commissioners are no more. Black Africa asserted its political independence in country after country. The story of the demise of the colonial civil servant, a mere microcosm of history, has a wider bearing; it illustrates a phenomenon historians can repeatedly observe. Major upheavals often occur abruptly, surprising contemporaries with their speed and dynamism. It is historians – themselves actually no better than anyone else at anticipating the future – who later analyse how changes have been gradually in the making over a period of decades. As empires go, European rule over most of the African continent was of relatively short duration; apart from forts and territories on the coast, political empire began much later than in Asia and the Americas and ended sooner. Economic empire was, however, older. Europe’s interest in Africa was predominantly economic long before partition in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Europeans replaced the Arabs in linking Africa’s produce with the rest of the world. Until the nineteenth century the most important African product was human beings – slaves. Other resources were harnessed to serve Western needs in the world economy. From an African perspective the dominant theme is white exploitation. But eventual Western political control also led to the imposition of a new order, the creation of embryonic nations. These took the form of European colonies with internationally agreed frontiers, and they were opened to the influx of Western ideas of government, which included the doctrine of selfdetermination. The supplanting of the African means of exchange by European money and the introduction of market economies, roads and infrastructures and capital investment transformed traditional African societies. Over the course of three generations the continent evolved into numerous independent nation states. Within them tribal and cultural divisions continue to cause tension and conflict; colonial national boundaries were not everywhere willingly accepted in the post-colonial era. In Nigeria and the Congo there was civil war in the 1960s and in the Horn of Africa – Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia – devastating fighting continued for decades. Nevertheless the pre- and post-independence maps of divided Africa have remained remarkably similar. The boundaries drawn by the British, French, Belgians, Germans, Spaniards and Portuguese in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflected penetration by missionaries and traders, the strategic and political interests of governments in Europe or of enterprising colonialists in Africa and the outcome of their rivalries. They did not coincide with any natural geographical, ethnic or tribal divisions. The diversity of the fifty-odd countries so created is extraordinary, ranging from the immense to the tiny, from those rich in resources to the desperately poor. The great religious divide between Islam in the north and north-west and Christianity further south splits Nigeria, the Sudan and Ethiopia. The new African countries were also divided ideologically, between Marxist Mozambique, for example, and the feudal kingdom of Ethiopia. It is remarkable how little fighting there has been over the many colonial frontiers between the new African nations. Plans for a powerful ‘Pan-Africa’, such as was urged by the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s (the Gold Coast’s) first leader after independence, proved completely unrealistic. The transfers of power created new ruling groups and leaders who wished to exercise authority in their own countries and were, with few exceptions, unwilling to contemplate fusing with others. The voice of independent Africa as a whole is a regional international organisation made up of sovereign nations, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), created in 1963 and modelled on the United Nations. In the new millennium its successor is the African Union, which is no more cohesive. The divisiveness of independent Africa has not made it an influential or effective body. Its main effort was to work for the completion of liberation, the decolonisation of those parts of Africa still under European rule, and to defend black rights where they were being denied, as in South Africa. It provided a means of mediation in inter-African disputes but accepted the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the sovereign states. The inherited colonial frontiers were specifically recognised by the OAU at its second meeting in Cairo in 1964. Could they have acted otherwise? Given the artificiality of the colonial African frontiers, to have attempted to redraw them would have invited chaos. Nor, as in the Balkans, could viable nations based simply on tribal identities be formed without subdividing the continent into hundreds of parcels. The principle of self-determination thus took second place in fashioning the political shape of independent Africa. The colonial era created ‘facts’ – the clock could no longer be turned back. Even Nkrumah had to accept this. The conflicts in Africa thus became internal, civil conflicts within existing states, an ethnic group fighting for independence, such as the Ibo revolt in Nigeria or the long Eritrean struggle against the Ethiopian state, or straightforward civil war, as in Mozambique and Angola, former Portuguese colonies, where the strife was for decades prolonged by outside interference. Independent African countries also aided the black population in what was Rhodesia to gain majority rule. And Black Africa supported the black majority in South Africa in its struggle for equal rights. By the twenty-first century Africa had not yet found a continent-wide peace. The timing of independence was not primarily determined by the readiness of the colonies, by the stage of economic, social and political development they had reached. The political complexion of the governments in Europe, the perception of their leaders, economic considerations as they affected the mother country – all played a greater role. Crucial too was the differentiation between colonies with unhealthy climates as in West Africa and those with temperate zones on the southern coast or along the highland ridge running north from South Africa to what was Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) or those where mineral wealth had attracted European immigration. The white farming settler families, some of whom have been in Africa for generations, or the Dutch, English and Indian immigrants who had built up a modern industrial society as in South Africa, the majority of them born in Africa, regard Africa as their homeland too. The whites and Asians in South Africa constitute a large minority (whites about one in five, Asian rather less than one in twenty-five, and of mixed race, the so-called coloureds, one in ten). There and in the Belgian Congo (as formerly in Southern Rhodesia), the whites owned most of the useful land and wealth. A transfer of power, enabling the black majority to rule the country, threatened the white Africans not only with a loss of political power but also with social and economic revolution. White resistance, with their control of the armed forces, especially if they were backed by the colonial power, as the French settlers were in Algeria, was an enormous obstacle to independence with majority rule. The large increase of white settlers after the Second World War, soaring in British Rhodesia from 55,400 to 160,000, in Northern Rhodesia from 9,900 to 50,000, in Kenya from 18,000 to 42,000, in Portuguese Angola from 30,000 to 80,000, in Mozambique from 10,000 to 50,000 and in the Belgian Congo from 18,600 to 77,000, created interest groups not easily set aside. Not surprisingly, the white settler colonies were the last to gain independence – Mozambique (1975), Angola (1975), Zimbabwe (1980), Namibia (1989) – while majority rule in South Africa in 1992 had not yet been established. In the colonies where the whites were most numerous the black majority resorted to arms. In Algeria, Rhodesia, Angola and Mozambique there was no bloodless transfer of power. The history of European colonialism in the various African countries and their emergence to independence has some common features but is also distinctive for each region and country. How can a balance sheet of European colonialism in Africa be set out? The question is unanswerable. The link between Africa and the rest of the industrialised world in the twentieth century was bound to bring about a transformation of African society, African economic development and, indeed, every aspect of African life. The question might better be posed thus: how far did the colonial era facilitate the transformation to the benefit of the African peoples? Education and technical training were one key aspect and both were woefully inadequate, yet a base was created that generally made rapid expansion possible after independence. Medical advances and the control or eradication of diseases were an obvious benefit derived from colonial administration. But undeniably the main purpose of colonial rule was to profit from the links with Africa and to enhance the European nation’s own wealth and power. Missionaries and others too acted out of a sense of genuine paternalism but in the last resort the lives of the African peoples were shaped by the economic needs of the colonial power and by the political, administrative, economic and social conditions created by the interplay of European governments, colonial bureaucracies, trading companies, merchants, white farming settlers, skilled white professionals and workers. In this process, the rivalries of the European nations and their respective strengths decided the geographical colonial entity, not ethnic affinities or the vestiges of former African empires. These were obliterated. The Africans were not a homogeneous group either, but themselves varied in beliefs and in their roles in society. When the Europeans expanded all over Africa in the nineteenth century, African textiles, pottery, and weapons comparable to artefacts from pre-industrial societies were mismatched with European market needs. Some were carried off to London, Paris and Brussels as artistic curios and housed in museums. Africa’s ‘export trade’ had early on consisted of minerals, above all gold, and agricultural produce, tobacco, salt, spices, cotton and later palm oil from the Niger delta. Not all agricultural produce was indigenous to Africa. Cacao was introduced by missionaries in the 1860s and in the twentieth century became the Gold Coast’s principal export. Manufacturing industries in Europe found markets in the colonies for their goods, but except in South Africa no substantial manufacturing industries developed in the European colonies despite the abundance of cheap black labour. The Europeans gained virtual monopolies of trade; inland, with territorial occupation, they replaced the African merchants who had previously controlled trade to the coast. The African capitalists who did emerge were few and were dependent on Europeans in powerful trading-company monopolies. European capital abroad was more profitably invested in the booming white industrial societies of Europe and the Americas, which were already technologically advanced. Investment in Africa flowed into rapidly expanding mineral and plantation resources that required a large unskilled labour input and relatively little skilled labour. Ideology and racism played a role in this too. Black Africans, with few exceptions, were simply not considered capable of learning technological skills: Europeans tended to regard them as more like children. But, in the last resort, neither prejudice nor government policies dictated African economic development as decisively as the workings of a global capitalist economy in the twentieth century. The dependence of the African economies on the West for their monetary system, credit and development and for the nurturing of African resources and trade was so well set by the time of independence in the 1950s and 1960s that fundamental changes would have been difficult to bring about. Black Africa in the 1990s remained chiefly in the role of primary producer; attempts to create self-sustaining growth through industrial production, as in the West or in parts of Asia, had ended in failure. But manufacture was increasing and beginning to substitute manufactured imports. The primary products were restricted to two or three in each country, so that African wealth continued to be largely dependent on the world prices of these commodities, whether of oil as in Nigeria and the Gabon or of phosphates and cacao in Togo or of diamonds and coffee in the Central African Republic. Meanwhile food production in Africa had not kept pace with population growth; in the 1980s and 1990s Ethiopia suffered from terrible famines. Looking to the future, the spread of AIDS was yet another devastating problem faced by black Africa, whose own resources were inadequate to cope with the crisis. The imperialist European nations were parsimonious when it came to colonial expenditures. The British, French and Portuguese relied on private finance, the great chartered companies such as the Niger Company and the British South Africa Company, which in return for subjugating and administrating stretches of Africa received trade and land concessions in the conquered territories. The opening of Africa was accomplished by force and by African manual labour. Nowhere was this human exploitation conducted with greater systematic cruelty than in King Leopold’s personal fief in the Congo. Here the creation of an administration, of an infrastructure of roads and of a labour force to collect rubber resulted in torture and genocide. Even white Europe, used to regarding black people as racially inferior, was shocked when this state of affairs was revealed shortly before the First World War. But this was not an isolated instance. In the process of developing Africa’s resources, the European was not prepared to undertake the unskilled manual work necessary to harvest plantations, extract ores from mines or construct the roads and railways to the coast. A conscripted force of black people, in conditions at times worse than slavery, created the foundations of modern Africa. Feudal conditions of forced native service persisted in French West Africa as late as 1946. In South Africa, cash taxes could be paid by black people only if they earned cash in the mines. Men were recruited on contracts, running for a year or other specified periods, and immigrant labour became a feature of African economic life. The continent’s human reservoir was also used beyond its shores. Africans were no longer sent across the Atlantic to develop other continents; they were used in the twentieth century to develop Africa and so created the profit necessary for further development. But the financial investment came from outside Africa; the technological skills were also almost entirely confined to the white man, which left black Africa dependent and weak. Moreover, during two world wars Africans supplied soldiers in the internecine conflict of Europe. How then did the colonial powers view Africa’s future, how did they see the relationship between the Africans and their conquerors? Would it forever remain one of master and servant? The European enlightenment had expounded the notion of human progress. Africans could not be entirely excluded; they were after all a part of the human family. But crude racialism divided this family and its state of civilisation by ‘colour’ from white to black, with ‘brown’ Indians at an intermediate stage. In the British Empire the white people were regarded as fit to rule themselves; Indian independence was accepted before 1914 as inevitable at some distant date; but, for black people, the time when they could be considered ready was not even envisaged. After the First World War the German colonies of German East Africa, South-West Africa, the Kamerun and Togoland were divided as spoils between Britain (German East Africa, renamed Tanganyika), South Africa (German South-West Africa, later Namibia), France (most of Togo and the Cameroons) and Belgium (Ruanda and Urundi, formerly part of German East Africa, and later the independent countries of Rwanda and Burundi). But these territories were not supposed to be regarded simply as colonies; they were placed under the guardianship of the League of Nations and ‘mandated’ to Britain, South Africa, France and Belgium, who were to act as ‘trustees’ for the advancement of their inhabitants. Their special status did not, however, help them to advance to independence sooner. Indeed, one of the mandated territories, Namibia, was among the last to gain independence in 1989. A small number of Europeans controlled Africa. They could only do so by leaving to Africans – under European supervision, administration and command – the task of managing their fellow Africans. This was the model of ‘indirect rule’. As the first task was pacification, European officers and black soldiers played a large role in Africa. Later, Africans filled the lower administrative positions in all the colonies; there were simply not enough Europeans for the task. In the British Gold Coast colony for example, less than 850 European officials in the 1930s filled the senior administrative, military, police and technical posts in a country of 4 million African inhabitants. This meant that Africans had to be educated to fill clerkships and lower supervisory roles. Schools were established, but even so in the 1930s less than two out of a hundred Africans received formal education and very few had the opportunity of university training. Yet the Gold Coast was more advanced in African education than the rest of Africa. The situation improved in the 1950s, but primary and even more so secondary education was open to only a small minority of Africans. The lack of African technical and professional training before independence undermined any chance of fast development afterwards and created a small group of African politicians and soldiers in whose hands real power lay. This was not the kind of society where democracy could strike roots. The neglect by the colonisers of the Africans was the consequence of a policy that was economically exploitive and which provided government on the cheap for the European colonial powers. Though they recognised African needs after the Second World War, European governments were slow to effect fundamental improvements in the decade or two before independence. In any case there would have been more catching up to accomplish than there was time for. Their ideas about the future of their colonies also differed. The French had established a hierarchical, highly centralised and authoritarian form of administration with African chiefs acting as executives, overseen by provincial commissioners and a governor-general who, in turn, was responsible to the Colonial Ministry in Paris. The French followed the doctrine that black Africans could be elevated to equality with white French citizens through education and acceptance of French civilisation, French beliefs and French attitudes. In short, their ultimate aspiration was to become indistinguishable from the French except by the colour of their skin. They then acquired all the rights and obligations of French citizens, including being able to vote and to hold ministerial office. On the face of it this was an enlightened ideology, but it had nothing to do with guiding African colonies to their own independence. The capital of French Africa was Paris. The number of Africans who qualified for equal rights was kept very small and the idea was that they would be grateful enough to defend the virtue of a system so beneficial for them as to distinguish them from the poor African masses. The objective then was ‘assimilation’ not ‘independence’. When at the famous Brazzaville Conference of French African governors in January 1944 the ‘Free French’ discussed the future of French colonial Africa, there were proposals for economic reforms, but not for independence. De Gaulle afterwards spoke of a future in which each of the peoples would develop and administer themselves and later even govern themselves – ‘later’ meant ‘much later’. There was talk of some form of association and federation with France; it was all very vague, and no African was invited to attend. The impact of the Second World War and the emergence of an educated and well-to-do African leadership protesting against economic disadvantages and voicing African grievances began to bring about change. In the Ivory Coast Felix Houphouët-Boigny founded an African Democratic Party in 1946 which won widespread support, in large part fired by the continuing system of forced labour and low wages – that is, grievances directly affecting African life. Meanwhile, French governments were ready to abandon the more blatant forms of centralised colonial control, to introduce reforms in their colonial administration and to allow more representation in the French Assembly. The idea being propagated was internal autonomy in a French Union freely supported by the African peoples. In fact, the Union was intended to maintain and indeed strengthen economic and political links between metropolitan France and French Africa, and indeed with the whole French empire, now so unfashionable. The vision was one of partnership in a common cause in the service of a French Republic restored to greatness as a world power. It was never intended as an equal partnership. It proved an illusion that led France and its former empire in Indo-China and North Africa to much grief and bloodshed. Independence was conceded only after bitter conflict. In black West Africa, however, unlike Algeria, armed conflict was avoided, except in the Cameroon. The transfer of power from the mid- 1950s was peaceful and inevitable. But the setting up of territorial assemblies with elected African deputies, increased representation in the French Assembly in Paris, and the establishment of a federal Grand Conseil for French West Africa to assist the governor-generals, now renamed high commissioners, were no more than palliatives. Black Africans remained second-class citizens. After Ghana had become independent in 1957, with the struggle in Algeria still at a crucial stage, de Gaulle marked his return to power in 1958 with an elaborate initiative: he devised a new constitutional settlement. The French Union would now become the French Community; its members would continue to receive French economic and technical aid; the former French colonial territories would receive internal autonomy and titular independence but would still be tied to Paris. The French Community was submitted to a referendum in the French colonial territories in November 1958. As economic aid was still indispensable, all but one West African state, Guinea, voted to approve the Community and to remain within it. But during 1959 and 1960 the African governing elites all demanded complete independence, and Paris had to accept that its efforts to maintain imperial political control in ever more ingenious guises had failed: the remaining black African nations of former French West and Equatorial Africa were granted independence in 1960. The Côte D’Ivoire, the most populous of the former French territories, was economically better off in the early 1990s as an independent country, though it was still impoverished by Western standards. In the 1930s agricultural development had been rapid, and cacao, coffee and palm oil became the chief export crops. As the 1990s began, the Ivory Coast was a one-party state and had been ruled since independence in 1960 by Frencheducated Felix Houphouët-Boigny, formerly a minister in Paris and a member of the Assembly who had abandoned his early adherence to communism. Economically the Ivory Coast advanced and diversified as the pragmatic Houphouët- Boigny welcomed Western capital and French aid and associated the country closely with France. Eighty-seven years old in 1992, he no longer enjoyed reverential respect. The fall of the prices of cocoa and coffee had had an adverse effect on the economy, and servicing the foreign debt swallowed up a sizeable proportion of export earnings. Economic conditions rapidly deteriorated. A new generation of students, teachers, professionals and trade unionists was no longer prepared to accept meekly the rule of the ‘fathers of the nation’, the corruption and one-party states. The West became dominant on the continent following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Houphouët-Boigny had to make the gesture of allowing for the first time in October 1990 a contested presidential election. His control of the levers of power until his death in 1994 ensured victory, but that did not end demands for a transition to a broader sharing of power and spoils. Like Nkrumah, Houphouët-Boigny wasted millions on imposing architecture in his poor country. The capital boasts the famous basilica modelled on St Peter’s in Rome with space for 18,000 people. It was (reluctantly) consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1990. It is not easy to assess which is the worst region of misrule and conflict, too many qualify. The Côte D’Ivoire, once stable, was rent by civil war in the new millennium. French troops and peacekeepers from West Africa imposed an armed separation and mediated a shaky peace deal in 2003; this did not halt sporadic fighting. Over a million people out of the population of sixteen million fled from their homes contributing to yet another humanitarian tragedy. Guinea was also a one-party state until the military took over in 1984. But, in contrast to the Ivory Coast, it began independence by cutting its ties with France in 1958. The strongman of Guinea and its leader for decades was Sékou Touré, who had built up his support through the trade union movement. He erected an authoritarian state and adopted an African Marxism, though rejecting the basic tenet of the class struggle. What he took from communism was the highly organised one-party state, and his harsh regime drove hordes of refugees into neighbouring countries, estimated at between 1 and 2 million. At one time it looked as if Guinea would fall into the Soviet orbit, but Sékou Touré was a passionate African nationalist, ready to accept aid from all sides and adjusting his relationships with West and East to suit his perception of Guinea’s national interests. Potentially rich in mineral deposits, especially of bauxite for aluminium, Guinea by the 1990s had earned too little from their export. The Russians, who developed the extraction of bauxite, paid a low price and Guinea remained at the mercy of a few foreign buyers. With Sékou Touré’s death in 1984 the repressive control his party had exercised ended. There was to be no opening to civilian party rule, however. The armed forces seized power in a bloodless coup led by a new strongman, Colonel Lansana Conté, who denounced Sékou Touré’s bloody and ruthless dictatorship. The economy was in a terrible state after twenty years of Marxism, and the new leader turned to the West. With nowhere else to go for economic aid, he ended the policy of isolation. France, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund offered assistance with aid and in liberalising the economy. Opposition to military rule mounted and the military procured a five-year programme in 1988 for a transition to civilian rule, with elections for a parliament in 1992 and a presidential election in 1993. One-party states and authoritarian leadership became the norm for the newly independent French African territories in Benin, Niger, Cameroon, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The same was essentially true of Senegal, although its leader, Leopold Senghor, was an impressively educated man in the Christian humanist tradition, a Catholic and a professor at the Sorbonne who expounded ‘negritude’, the identification with African culture; Senghor’s very French education led him to seek the value of black culture and to set limits to assimilation, yet he also adopted the socialist Western model of a dominant one-party state. With the collapse of the people’s republics of Eastern Europe in 1989 and the economic failures of communist economic state management, which became so evident as the 1980s drew to a close, the authoritarian rulers sought to change their image. A further cause of change was the perilous economic condition of developing Africa. African states overspent lavishly in the 1970s, only to suffer economically from the upheavals of the mid-1970s and from falling commodity prices in the 1980s. Most African states became saddled with heavy foreign debts. To gain access to essential new funds from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, their leaders had to accept a painful restructuring of their economies and their politics. But the impoverished masses ceased to be docile; workers, teachers and civil servants went on strike to halt the steep falls in their standards of living. Corruption became the most obvious target for their anger. As a result, the style of African government began to change: African leaders at least had to appear accountable to the people. The president of Benin in 1990 renounced failed Marxism and introduced a multi-party system. The presidential election in 1991 marked a first in continental Africa. It was free and an incumbent president lost it, accepting defeat and bowing to the democratic process. The military gave way to civilian rule. In Gabon, where President Omar Bongo ruled uninterruptedly for more than twenty years, the one-party system ended in 1990. Bongo survived the transition and retained power. But the old problems of underdevelopment, lack of mass education (though there were remarkable improvements), ethnic conflicts and past political traditions did not augur well for the establishment of deeply rooted, democratically based representative governments in the 1990s. The British colonies followed another path to independence, which differed from the French; retention of imperial control, or – in the case of the white settlers – of the settlers’ control, was after all the common objective in both French and British African territories until the 1950s. British governments allowed more initiative to the men on the spot, allowing a colonial administration that was less rigidly centralised than the French. British territories were ruled by a mixture of direct and indirect control. There were so few Europeans that what became known as ‘indirect rule’ was almost inevitable; agreements were made with indigenous African chiefs and potentates, who accepted British suzerainty but were left to rule their fiefs under ultimate British supervision. Administration by indirect rule is particularly associated with Frederick Lugard, who conquered northern Nigeria (1900–6) and then combined it with southern Nigeria into one large colony. But northern Nigeria, with 10 million inhabitants, could not be directly governed by a handful of Europeans, so Muslim Fulani emirs were left with a semblance of their old authority to maintain order and undertake the administration. The significant point about British rule over tropical Africa is that what began as expediency became a general doctrine of ‘indirect rule’, a means of British–African cooperation in the development of colonies. Thus, so it was believed, African society – shorn of its worst features, such as slavery – would be preserved for an eventual African future. But indirect rule generally functioned only in the least developed regions of Africa; on the West African coast direct rule had long replaced the older African society. Where significant numbers of white settlers were claiming the territories as their African birthright, as they were in southern Rhodesia, Kenya or South Africa, or where large-scale mining of copper had given rise to important industrial enterprises, as in northern Rhodesia or South Africa, traditional African structures were subservient to white needs and exploitation. In West African colonies, educated Africans were emerging as an elite group, participating in the administration. The great majority of such Africans hoped to play a role in the colonial hierarchy and to profit from the status thereby achieved; European control was far too tight to give Africans any realistic hopes of African ‘independence’ before the Second World War. Africans collaborating with the colonial government could thereby exercise some influence in defence of African rights but could not challenge overall colonial dependency. But it was possible for Africans to combine together to protect their interests, a move which at the same time served to identify and strengthen an African identity and solidarity. Examples ranged from the association of prosperous African cocoa farmers on the Gold Coast to organised strikes in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal in the 1920s. African political stirrings in the 1920s and 1930s are significant only insofar as they represent the roots of African politics after the Second World War, when movements at last began to achieve a mass following. But the depression of the 1930s and the Second World War itself were fundamentally to change the face of Africa and undermine the pillars of European colonial control. The British bestowed on Africa all the trappings of parliamentary democracy – the speaker’s mace, the judges’ wigs and legislative institutions. The French superimposed the accoutrements of their democratic civilisation. But this panoply of democracy did not correspond to the realities of colonial rule. Judged positively, Britain and France had begun to guide Africa along the road to democracy, but that road was intended to be a long one indeed. Governments in London and Paris after the end of the Second World War believed that Africans would only be capable of complete self-rule after one or even two generations. In the event, independence was conceded much sooner, little more than a decade later. Representative constitutions were conferred on peoples who lacked technological skills, who were poorer than most of the other peoples of the Third World and of whom the great majority were illiterate. The strongest groups and individuals gained power and held on to it as long as they could, repressing any opposition, which was treated as sedition. Thus black Africa was ruled for decades by strong leaders or, if the political leadership did not prove powerful enough, the soldiers would rebel and clear out the corrupt politicians until government corrupted them too. Post-independence, many African countries have a bad record. Some, such as Uganda, have suffered more through internal conflict and tyrannical rule since colonial rule was ended than they ever did before independence. But this too is one of the legacies of the era of colonialism and underdevelopment. The Gold Coast was the most developed and prosperous of Britain’s African colonies. The Western-educated elite of teachers, administrators, lawyers and businessmen became increasingly frustrated by the continuing dominance of British interests in the management of the colony after the Second World War. But though Britain now had a Labour government, which felt greater sympathy for the African people, its own interests, especially given the parlous state of sterling, ruled out independence: the Gold Coast’s cocoa was too valuable an earner of dollars. India was granted independence speedily for fear of serious political unrest, but none was expected in the African colonies, which would be permitted to govern themselves step by step through a long period of partnership, with Britain controlling the pace. That pace was too slow for the Gold Coast African elite, and Dr Danquah, a prominent lawyer, in 1947 formed a moderate political party, the United Gold Coast Convention, to hasten constitutional reform. The fiery young Kwame Nkrumah was appointed its secretary. In February 1948 there were riots in protest against economic restrictions and European businesses, which led to widespread destruction after a British police officer had fired on demonstrating ex-servicemen and killed two; twenty-nine more died in the violence. The Labour government in London reacted positively, hoping to win over the moderate nationalist leaders. Danquah was invited, together with other moderates, to advise on a new constitution that would allow more African representation. It was established in 1951. Nkrumah, who was far more radical than the African establishment, opposed this development, which he regarded as a sell-out to the British. He passionately believed in African power, in pan- Africanism. Although inspired by Lenin’s writings on anti-imperialism, he was to be no tool of Moscow or slavish follower of communism. His prime objective was Africa for the Africans. In the Gold Coast he discovered his talent for oratory and organisation. Objecting to the elitism of the United Gold Coast Convention, he resigned as secretary – the Convention leaders were probably ready to remove him anyway – and organised his own mass base in June 1949, the Convention People’s Party, adroitly choosing the platform ‘self-government now’ – not total independence. He challenged the 1951 constitution, and government efforts to suppress his movement prompted him to respond with ‘positive action’ and a general strike. The British governor arrested and imprisoned him and other leaders of his party, but – not for the first time in colonial history – this coercion simply rebounded to create a national hero. Nkrumah’s party won nearly all the seats in the Legislative Assembly when elections were held in 1951. Britain now showed a characteristic sense of realism, without the least regard for saving face. Nkrumah was released from prison and, almost at once, he was invited with his colleagues to assume ministerial office. From 1951 to 1957, the Gold Coast administration was Africanised, with Nkrumah as prime minister, and yet another election and constitution in 1954 became the penultimate step to complete independence. If the British hoped that a strong rival would emerge with the help of an alliance of parties led by Dr Kofi Busia, whose strongest backing came from the Asante region, they were disappointed. Nkrumah’s party once more enjoyed a clear majority in the 1956 election, and on 5 March 1957 the peaceful transfer of power was ceremonially enacted; the Gold Coast became Ghana and its red, green and gold flag replaced the Union Jack. As an African leader taking his country to independence, Nkrumah has a well-deserved place in history. But, as the first political leader of Ghana, he exhibited some of the worst features of postindependence rulers. Political freedoms were speedily curtailed and abolished. Danquah and other political opponents were imprisoned without trial. Nkrumah went on to destroy the parliamentary and independent legal institutions the British had left behind. Power corrupted him. His megalomania found outlets in wasteful public buildings and a personality cult, and – made redundant by his dictatorial presidency – his party withered away. His grandeur impressed the masses, but his inconsistent economic policies, which passed from capitalist enterprise to state socialism and massive public spending, speeded the economy on a downward path. There was hardship and Nkrumah was deservedly blamed, but a root cause was the decline in the world price of cocoa; between 1954 and independence in 1957 it had almost halved, and then between 1957 and 1965 it nearly halved again. A military coup in 1966, while Nkrumah was abroad, ended his rule and he died in African exile. The subsequent political history of Ghana is one of military coups interspersed by periods of civilian rule. The military, whose officers were frequently trained by the West, proved more powerful in many independent African states than the politicians, who also derived their training and models from Western or Eastern Europe. Without secure party bases and electoral legitimacy, power has been too often concentrated in the hands of one leader. When the leader is removed in a coup it becomes relatively easy to change the power elite and its beneficiaries. The masses accept the change because they have to, or they may welcome it optimistically, hoping for better times. Reliance on one or two commodities has resulted in violent swings in the fortunes of African countries. The people suffer when prices are low and blame the rulers then in power, whose corruption becomes even more provoking. General Ankrah led the first Ghanaian military coup in 1966, but he had little success in solving the complex economic problems, and his policies tended to benefit the military. Ankrah did, however, intend to return Ghana to civilian government, and Nkrumah’s political opponents were released. The fourth coup in May 1979 brought into the limelight a charismatic leader who promised to rid Ghana of corruption and to return the government to civilians. Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings was of mixed Ghanaian and Scottish parentage and enjoyed widespread popularity. After a grisly period of punishment and a bloodbath of executions of prominent Ghanaians, including three former heads of state, Rawlings did hand over to civilian government in September 1979, but this lasted only until December 1981, when Rawlings once more seized power. Rawlings ruled Ghana throughout the 1980s, a decade of great economic difficulty for the people. In 1984 he declared his intention of working towards a representative system of government, but he insisted that in the meantime the failures of economic development would have to be remedied. The economy improved slowly, but hardly any progress towards representative government was made in the 1980s at all. The reality was a country ruled by a military regime, whose political opponents were arrested and detained. Rawlings increasingly associated civilians with the government, while making sure that he retained control, but the lack of accountability inevitably bred corruption. By the close of the decade the demands for democracy were growing louder, even though opposition leaders had been detained. Internationally, there was more confidence in the economic policies of the regime than there was in its claim to be leading the country back to representative democratic government. But in 1991 there was at last some progress. Opposition groups combined and Rawlings called on a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. He promised to lift the bans on political parties and to hold national and presidential elections in 1992. But a new constitution was approved by a referendum in April 1992 with a multi-party legislature and a president directly elected. The president’s and legislature’s terms are for four years and the president may only serve two terms, thus breaking the common post-colonial era of long lasting authoritarian leaders relying on the support of the army. Jerry Rawlings was elected president again in 1992 and 1996. The real test was whether or not he would quietly go in 2000 or organise another coup. After the elections of December 2000 the first peaceful democratic change of power took place when John Kufuor, an educated lawyer and Christian was elected president and his New Patriotic Party narrowly beat Rawlings’ National Democratic Congress. Rawlings has since respected the constitution. Ghaniaians now enjoy civic freedoms, there is a free press and media. Rawlings’ biggest contribution to Ghana was the manner of his going. The history of his eighteen-year rule is chequered. Corruption here too became widespread, there was human-rights abuse and, despite its resources, Ghana has remained trapped in poverty. On the positive side though, apart from the ethnic violence in the north in 1994 and 1995, there has been relatively little ethnic conflict compared to other African countries. In the new millennium the 21 million Ghaniaians have a happier future to look forward to. The same unstable military–political rivalry for power is evident in the history of Nigeria, by far the most populous of African nations. It reached independence in 1960, soon after Ghana. In addition to the problems of underdevelopment common to the rest of British West Africa, Nigeria presented a post-colonial dilemma rooted in its territorial conquest and administration under the British. In the Muslim north, the ethnic Hausa- Fulani ruled indirectly through their own emirs, while the Yoruba inhabited the Western region and the Ibo the eastern. Each region overwhelmingly supported its own political leader and party. In the 1950s and 1960s Nigeria produced some outstanding political leaders, who transcended tribal and regional outlooks even though their electoral bases were largely regional and ethnic. Among the earliest Nigerians to fight colonial status was the American-educated Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who started a chain of newspapers, the first in 1937, to spread his ideas about racial injustice, opposition to British rule and the need for positive action. His papers clashed with the British authorities when in 1945 they backed strikes by workers in government service. Azikiwe’s electoral power base was in the eastern, Ibo-dominated region, which supported the party he had founded in 1944, the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC). The Yoruba, in the western region, supported the party led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. But together the peoples of the western and eastern regions constituted no more than half of Nigeria’s total population. The Muslim-dominated north of the Hausa-Fulani created its own party, the Northern People’s Congress, whose most impressive politician was the deputy leader Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The early misfortunes of Nigerian independence stemmed from the fact that the cultural and regional clashes and the militancy of regional groups proved more powerful than the urge to create a united Nigerian nation that would allow each region some measure of autonomy. The parliamentary system that Britain had created before independence gave no regional party the majority, though the north was allowed a representation larger than the west and east combined. Immediately after independence in 1960, power was exercised by a coalition of the north and east, Ibo and Hausa, who had nothing in common except the desire to gain patronage. Azikiwe became head of state and Tafawa Balewa federal prime minister, and Awolowo headed the opposition until imprisoned in 1962. Electoral rigging and corruption created intense bitterness, and there were serious disturbances. In January 1966 Ibo officers of the federal army led a mutiny and assassinated prominent politicians, including the federal prime minister Abubakar Balewa. The officers all came from the south; their objective was to overthrow the north’s political domination. Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi re-established control and assumed power, the military taking over from the failed politicians. Ironsi, adopting a policy of unifying Nigeria and abolishing the federation, favoured Ibo advisers and so aroused the apprehensions of the conservative north. The Ibos who had migrated to the north to take up posts in the railways and banks and who had established themselves as enterprising traders formed a better-off elite deeply resented by the Hausa. Ironsi’s military coup was soon interpreted in the north as an Ibo plot to dominate the country. When the false rumour was spread that the many Ibo officers in the north planned to kill their fellow officers, the northern junior officers and NCOs in July 1966 organised a second coup which began by mass killings of Ibo officers. Among the victims was Major-General Ironsi. His chief of staff, Colonel Yakubu Gowon, a Christian from a Muslim region without ethnic prejudice, was chosen by the coup leaders as the new military ruler. Gowon, who had so accidentally come to power, was to play a major role in Nigeria’s history. But during the following months, despite conciliatory efforts, he was unable to master the growing fanaticism in the north and east. In the north, the unrest culminated in the massacre of thousands of Ibos. Hausas who lived in the east were driven out and retaliatory killings took place. Two million panic-stricken refugees, mainly Ibo from the north, tried to get back to their own people. Nigeria was threatened with anarchy, each region going its own way. The biggest tragedy was yet to come – civil war. The military commander of the eastern Ibo region, Odumegwu Ojukwu, on 30 May 1967 declared the region’s independence as the new state of Biafra. Fighting on the ground began in July as Gowon, despairing of a peaceful resolution, was determined to maintain Nigerian unity. The civil war lasted nearly three years, until January 1970. The Biafrans, with the main oil reserves and the refinery at Port Harcourt in their region, had for a time the resources to secure weapons and help from abroad, especially from France, Portugal and South Africa. Their secession was soon recognised by a number of African states. Although the Ibos fought fiercely, they faced an overwhelmingly larger federal army, and when a blockade was imposed, food supplies to the civilian population dwindled. Famine killed hundreds of thousands, many more than died in the fighting. Pitiful television pictures and newspaper reports reached the West and aroused widespread sympathy for the cause of Biafra, but Britain refused to intervene. Gowon made it clear that the federal government and army were not engaged in genocide. Gowon’s statesmanship was proven when Biafra surrendered. There was no revenge such as the Ibos had feared, for Gowon wanted to heal the wounds. Ojukwu fled into exile. A few Biafran officers were imprisoned for a short time, but many Ibos were reinstated in federal jobs. Unfortunately, Gowon proved to be indecisive and incompetent as a peacetime leader. Despite the oil boom which followed the price rise of 1973–4 and huge increases in export earnings, the development plans of the 1970s and 1980s did not bring greater prosperity to the majority of the people. Money was made by a business elite; industry, transport and social services expanded; but agricultural growth could not keep pace with a rapidly increasing population. In 1975 General Gowon was overthrown by another military coup, and the anti-corruption drive that followed led to the dismissal of some 10,000 bureaucrats. During an army mutiny in 1976 the head of state was murdered and another general succeeded. By then the oil boom was over and the Nigerian economy fell into deficit. Economic development was hindered by political instability. In 1979 the military handed the government back to the civilians, but this Second Republic lasted only until 1983, when another coup restored the military to power with promises to hand the country back to civilian rule, when the corrupt politicians of the First and Second Republic would be barred from office. Although Nigeria’s oil earnings reached a peak in 1982 following the 1979–80 price rise, a flood of imports created a huge foreign debt in less than a decade. Nigeria, once a country of promise, at independence has suffered sixteen years of military misrule. The eighth-largest oil producers in the world, the influx of petrodollars into the state coffers have utterly corrupted the country and brought it to the brink of ruin. The lowest point was reached when a general, Sani Abacha, manoeuvred himself into power in 1993. The Yoruba chief Moshood Abida who had won the elections was thrown into prison, his wife was mysteriously shot in 1996 and he died in prison. Abacha and his family looted the coun- try on an unprecedented scale, by as much as four billion dollars according to some estimates. The lucky ones shared in the fortunes, skimming contracts, accepting bribes that made generals, state governors, civil servants and Abachas’ cronies rich beyond their dreams. The money was sent abroad, deposited in currencies which, unlike the Nigerian, retain value. But Nigerian corruption had to be matched by the readiness of firms doing business with Nigeria to comply with the condition set, and by banks in London, New York and Switzerland who until recently accepted huge cash deposits of dubious provenance. In November 1995 the world’s attention was drawn to the brutality of the regime when the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight activists were hanged for campaigning for the autonomy of the Ogoni people. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth; sanctions did not bother Abacha. Elections were drawing near in 1998 with Abacha as only candidate when fortunately for Nigeria he had a heart attack apparently during the course of a Viagra-assisted sex orgy. After a brief period of military rule under General Abdulsalam Abukabar with the promise kept to hand over to civilian rule, the elections in February 1999 brought another ex-general to the presidency, Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo’s credentials were better than that of previous generals. When previously in power (1976–9) he had voluntarily handed it over to a civilian government. In April 2003, Obasanjo won the elections for a second term in office. Although the elections were far from free of local manipulation and corruption – state offices, and so the ability to acquire money, being dependent on party and personalities in power – Obasanjo would have won anyway though by a smaller majority in the multi-party contest. Nigeria is the largest and most powerful country in the continent with a population almost three times as large as South Africa’s but a Gross Domestic Product of only a third, its export trade consisting of practically nothing other than oil sent mainly to the US. Yet, too little of what Nigeria earns from oil benefits the people, whose standard of living has not improved, indeed, has declined. Hospitals, schools and public services have deteriorated. Obasanjo has promised to root out corruption, but it is so embedded and endemic that it will require a wholly transformed civil service as business and contracts remain predominantly controlled by the state. The religious and tribal fault lines added to the country’s problems when the Muslim renaissance in the north and the attempts to introduce sharia law were met by the resistance of the Christian minority; in the Nigeria delta, the people see the oil wealth taken from them. After Abacha, Obasanjo could not fail to be an improvement. Economically progress has been slow, corruption persists, but for the first time civilian rule has been established, the military curbed, human rights respected during Obasanjo’s presidency. A devout Christian, he has tried to steer a middle course between religious tolerance and checking excesses. The future is a little brighter. Conflict and turbulence since independence are not just consequences of European colonial rule in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is shown by the history of Liberia and its war-torn condition in the early 1990s. Liberia was the only part of West Africa to avoid outright European colonisation. It is unique in Africa in another way: the overseas settlers who imposed their rule on the indigenous African peoples were not white but black. Early in the nineteenth century the philanthropic American Colonisation Society had the romantic notion of undoing some of the harm done by the slave trade by resettling freed slaves in Africa and so returning them to an African way of life. The Society induced indigenous African chieftains to allow a settlement on the coast of what became Liberia. The first freed slaves landed in 1822. But it was a white American, Jehudi Ashmun, who during his stay in the territory (1822–8) organised the government of the black settlers and so became the real founder of Liberia. The dependence on Anglo-Saxon Americans was to be characteristic of the next 150 years of Liberia’s history. Its independence was recognised by the European nations in the mid-nineteenth century, but it remained under American protection, though the US was actually the last major nation to recognise its independence, in 1862. A constitution modelled on that of the US was adopted and the capital was named Monrovia in honour of the American President. But only the ‘civilised’ had the vote, and that meant the descendants of the American freed slaves known as Americo-Liberians. The hinterland, where the great majority of the population lived, was administered by indirect rule through chieftains. The majority of the population was thus colonised as in white settler colonies. In 1919 part of this hinterland, which the Americo-Liberians could not control, was simply ceded to France. A worse scandal came to light in the 1920s when a League of Nations investigation uncovered forced labour and the shipment of virtual slaves to the Spanish plantations in Fernando Po. Greed for profit knows no colour bars. Liberia was ruled by one party, the True Whig Party, which monopolised power and patronage for more than 100 years. The majority living in the hinterland only gradually became associated as citizens of Liberia after the Second World War. During the era when William Tubman was president from 1944 to 1971 (he was always re-elected!), a minority representation was achieved by the majority of the people. Tubman, conservative and always ready to welcome Western economic penetration, died in office. His successor, Vice-President Tolbert, inaugurated a more liberal regime and was sworn in wearing an opennecked shirt. He followed a policy of moderate reforms and closer integration with the peoples of the hinterland. The world economic problems of the mid- 1970s and the growth of opposition groups undermined Tolbert. Corruption remained endemic. In 1980 Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe organised a military revolt, and a new generation of soldiers seized control from the political elite. Former ministers were publicly executed by firing squad, Doe ordering the executions to be filmed. His bloody coup ended the reign of the True Whig Party and the Americo-Liberians. The new military People’s Reception Council confiscated the assets of the former political leaders and raised wages. But Liberia remained poor and underdeveloped, and government deteriorated once more into corruption. Liberia’s ties with the US, and Western loans and aid, failed to lift the population out of poverty. To the outside world the Liberian economy became synonymous with the Firestone Rubber Company, which introduced rubber plantations in the 1870s. Rubber became Liberia’s most important export and was invaluable after the fall of Malaya during the Second World War. After the 1950s the mining of iron ore replaced it as the principal export, and together iron and rubber contributed 90 per cent in value to Liberia’s export trade. Industry remained very small, so that Liberia’s economy is typical of Third World countries in depending on world trade conditions and the prices of a few basic commodities. But a description of Liberia would not be complete without noting one more peculiarity. It possesses, nominally, the largest merchant fleet in the world. These are, of course, not Liberian but foreign ships registered under the Liberian flag, notorious for lax regulations and low registration fees, and so widely favoured by shipowners. President Doe ruled the country tyrannically for ten years. In 1989 Liberia erupted in civil war between rival ethnic groups. The savagery of that conflict, with ill-disciplined rebel forces shooting and pillaging, has wrecked the country. Doe grimly held on to dwindling power in his palace in Monrovia, refusing American offers to escort him to safety. In the summer of 1990 an African peacekeeping force entered Liberia and in September one of the rival forces captured Doe and killed him. The state was bankrupt, and administration collapsed as rival factions spread terror throughout the country. Black African intervention with troops and through mediation succeeded in establishing a ceasefire and an agreement on an interim president, but Liberia’s uneasy settlement proved fragile. Civil war and political chaos continued, despite the presence of a peacekeeping force from neighbouring West African states. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and the western region of the Côte D’Ivoire were all enmeshed in internal civil wars supported by marauding groups from across their frontiers in struggles for power. Even by the lowest standards of warfare, the savagery of the ill-disciplined militaries has shocked the world, child soldiers are brutalised and join in an orgy of mutilation, hacking off limbs of men, women and even children. There is nowhere to flee to safety. In Liberia, Charles Taylor who led the rebel movement won an ‘election’ organised in a peace deal in 1997. The ruthless rebel leader was metamorphosed overnight into a president and head of state with all the trappings of legitimacy, a government, ambassadors and a representative at the UN. But the man had not changed. His power was not undisputed when another rebel group attacked to seize the fruits of power. They fought to oust Taylor and committed atrocities on the helpless villagers in their path. To gain control of diamonds Taylor armed another set of murderous rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Belatedly an international mediating group of Britain, France and a number of African countries have tried to broker peace between Taylor and the rebels in Liberia who hold large parts of the country in their grip. The struggle for diamonds continues to blight the whole region. One in ten of Liberia’s population have fled from their homes. The capital Monrovia is a city in ruins. In August 2003 the Nigerian-led West African peace force returned with US support under UN auspices and Taylor, facing a war crime trial, departed for a comfortable exile in Nigeria. The road to peace is hazardous but conditions could not get worse. The 1990s were also disastrous for Sierra Leone, rent by civil war. The Nigerians were the largest component of West African peacekeeping forces which kept fighting in check for most of the decade. When they left United Nations peacekeepers from thirty-one countries were unable to stop renewed carnage and soon UN soldiers were trapped by rebel militia which approached the outskirts of Freetown. The ill-organised Sierra Leone army was close to collapse. In May 2000 Britain sent paratroops and marines to stop and turn back the rebel advance. Washington in a deal with Taylor secured the release of the detachment. The rebels in Sierra Leone controlled the diamond mines, and were supported by Taylor who provided an outlet for illicit diamond sales, profiting in the process. The diamond earnings provided the rebels with arms. The rebels control large areas of the country by committing atrocities and a reign of terror whose most visible evidence are the stumps of amputated legs and hands of the people considered, at a whim, to be enemies.

 

 

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