Africa’s Decolonisation, Independence and New Forms of Dependence

Our current epoch should be characterised by unfettered belief in building an African Developmental State, with a solid foundation in the virtues of selfless, people-centred and people-driven development.

The Construct ‘African State’ Africa as a continent was of particular interest to the colonisers because of its strategic geographic location and for advancement of religious hegemony. The pre-colonial era had as its anchor in sea-trading routes, and was a calculative factor in improving trade with the Mediterranean, India and the Far East (Osaghae and McGowan, 2002:180). Two streams of religion were competing ideologies during pre-colonial times. These were Christianity (Roman-inspired) and Islam (Ottoman Empire).

The evolution of African statehood has its origins within a particular context, and the Berlin conference (1884) imposed substantive limitations on its formations. Little regard was held for historical, social, economic and political conditions which were present in African states. The Berlin product had the state not as a voluntary social construct, which should have arisen as consensus between the various tribal kings, but as an imposition of those foreign to the African people (Francis Fukuyama, 2012). Africa’s underdevelopment has as a result rampant poverty, human deprivation and low levels of human capital development (Maxi Schoeman, 2002:209).

Osaghae et al. (2002:179) argues that the majority of the forty-eight independent African countries were granted freedom ‘under duress’, in the late 1960s as European imperialism reached its apogee. It is therefore important to celebrate African independence as a set-back for her colonisers, as her emancipation was not as a result of the magnanimity of the imperialist states, but was occasioned by the liberation movements themselves and the shifting of the global balance of forces. It took the fifty American states more than 200 years, since 1776, to have an agenda of national cohesion.

Africa also requires time; it must be given the opportunity to dispense with more than 350 years of enslavement.

The arrangement and demarcation of Africa into manageable, smaller regions has enabled Africa to better organise herself (Van Nieuwkerk and Hofmann, 2013:56). The formation of regional African organisations was premised on enhanced economic integration and security cooperation. They further served as an instrument for African states to “overcome their inherent weaknesses”, thus leveraging their interface within Africa and World Affairs (Khadiagala and Lyons, 2001:4).

In Pursuit of Power

During the colonial epoch, regional conflicts took the express form of the colonial masters managing and or protecting their historical footprints, whilst advancing their future economic potential. The post-colonial dispensation has produced a new African body-politic, wherein state conflicts are extended into regional conflicts the moment they involve neighbouring African countries. The pursuit of national security at all costs has its unintended and antagonistic outcomes, since the accumulation of security measures leads to insecurity for a country’s immediate neighbouring states (Philip Nel, 2002:28).

Before the ‘wave of democratisation in Africa’, overarching reliability for security was assumed by former colonial powers, in particular France.

The American-driven African Crisis Response Initiative was a policy instrument founded on the precepts of African ownership for African crises (Khadiagala et al., 2001:11), and sought to change the responsibility paradigm between and amongst African leadership as well as between African and European leaders. The Cold War served in many ways as an antithesis to colonialism in Africa, and spurred many liberation movements to solidify linkages with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and other Socialist countries. Colonialism of a Special Type Neo-colonialism and the balkanisation of Africa after the Cold War was characterised by a liberated Africa which was, however, under a new stewardship.

In addition the ongoing indoctrinated subserviency to the European way of life had the effect of entrenching colonial dependency (Ruth First, 1970:70). A vestige of Western post-neo colonialism was the instructive note of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to African countries that initial trade privilege allotted under the Lome agreement would be done away with (Southall et al., 2002:199). This insistence by the WTO pre-supposes that the African economy is capable of competing on an equal footing with other, more developed economies, having little regard for the history of political economy within the African states, or the elementary nature of statehood in Africa.

Even as we continue to advocate for Africa’s independence, our continent continues to be intertwined with the West out of necessity, as it provides our primary export markets. McGowan and Nel (2002:5) correctly argue that “interdependence does not exclude asymmetrical relations of dependence.” It does mean that a subservient relationship does exist, wherein the marginalised and underdeveloped has been accorded a pedigree of power, equal to its standing in the broader global body politic.

We, as Africans must ‘contest’ for a development trajectory which is intertwined with the world economy, but one which will be immune from failures of the capitalist market orientations (ANCYL, 2008:60).

An instructive economic challenge which must be overcome is trade liberalisation, and in particular the Doha debate in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on agricultural subsidies. The central topology of trade stagnation is the requirement that Africa remove produce subsidies, whereas the developed economies continue with the allocation of huge subsidies to their own agricultural farmers. A complete new mind-set must be encapsulated by our leaders, to ensure a dramatic shift from exporting commodities and importing ‘high value’ consumables to one where value is added to the production of primary products.

African Solidarity: Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance Optimistic and unrealistic suggestions to constitute one Africa, as a catalyst for its sister states, in the form of a united African Federation (pan-Africanism) produced the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The forebears of African statehood, leaders such as Zambia’s Kaunda, Tanzania’s Nyerere, Ghana’s Nkrumah and Senegal’s Senghor propagated African unity and pan-Africanism. The OAU was formed to realise African unity, and the inaugural summit which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopa, in May 1963 gave serious consideration to it.

However, the 1964 summit laid bare stark African contradictions, when it subscribed to the colonial boundaries, and by implication entrenched the sovereignty of individual African states. The idealism and euphoria of postindependence, from the 1960s, quickly subsided in the 1980s, due to increasing repressive one-party states, the failure of the African-socialism model, military rule and patrimonial states, aptly earning Africa the title as the ‘lost continent’.

The African Union (AU) was established to defend the sovereignty of its Member States; to promote peace and stability; and to advance democracy (Constitutive Act of the African Union, 2000).

Africa’s resolve to enshrine good governance is firmly embedded in initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and its embryonic governance apparatus, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) (Nicky Oppenheimer, 2007). Because of the voluntarily nature of its membership, it is an opportune moment for Africans to respond with African solutions to essentially African problems.

In his book Africa since Independence, Colin Legum categorises some periods in the history of our continent as the Romantic Period, from 1939 to 1970; the Period of Disillusionment, from 1970 to 1985; the Period of Realism, from 1988 onwards, and the Period of Renaissance, which is the period towards the end of the last Century, and the beginning of the 21st Century.(Thabo Mbeki, 2003). Our current epoch should be characterised by unfettered belief in building an African Developmental State, with a solid foundation in the virtues of selfless, people-centred and people-driven development.

The Path to Power: a New World Order

The emergence of China as a potential superpower has reconfigured the global body politic, which presents itself as a shift from uni-polarity to multi-polarity. World capitalism has been firmly engrained in the global community and this is reflected in the dominance of the USA, a peculiarity of the ‘hyper-power’. The emergence of BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – has the possibility to change the international economic landscape. Although uni-polarity had decaying features such as unilateralism and injustice, it is not guaranteed that multi-polarity will usher in a better developmental paradigm for Africa (ANCYL, 2008, p.60). Central to any economic interest of a country, a friend or an enemy, is the betterment of their domestic people’s interest. It remains an unanswered question if BRICS’ approach to the development of Africa will be different to that of the rest of the developed world.

The growing danger which confronts Africa is the ‘war on terror’, which has been depicted as a humane campaign against terrorism and, by implication, evil. The so-called ‘collateral damage’, i.e. the intended targeting of civilians in conflicted areas, is inhumane and repugnant. It often increases support for terrorists and their causes, especially when it leads to the dangerous phenomenon of militarism (ANC, 2007:34).

The singular objective of these ‘big-brother’ postures is to serve as an expostulator to African leaders never to underestimate the West’s superiority, a lesson the oil-rich Libya assimilated too late.

The African Dependency Syndrome African’s over-reliance on its former colonisers is a direct result of the neoliberal policies which it embraced in the past, under the stewardship of the Bretton-Woods institutions. Africa faces the dangers of a failure to tackle the scourge of Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality. That should be the central topology which underpins the African Century. But how are we to meet and recognise of the challenges of underdevelopment, and the channelling of ‘development aid’ to Africa?

Bauer (1981) highlighted the misendeavours of such artificial efforts by stating that “the argument that aid is indispensable for development runs into an inescapable dilemma. If the conditions for development other than capital are present, the capital required will either be generated locally or be available commercially from abroad to governments or to businesses. If the required conditions are not present, then aid will be ineffective and wasted.” Increasing development aid has a decaying effect on the African Renaissance, whereby Africa should free herself from economic bondage, through producing a competing economic system and encouraging ‘respect for an honest day’s work’.

Moyo (2009) argues that the receipt of concessional (non-emergency) loans and grants has an identical effect of holding a precious stone: it has minimal incentives for integrity and productivity.

He further highlights that at the epitome of the development aid paradigm in Africa, between 1970 and 1998, the poverty rate rose from 11 percent to a staggering 66 percent. Maxi Schoeman (2002:227) augments this argument by stating that “only strong, cohesive states can withstand the threat of internal decay and collapse”.


A key challenge for African leaders is how to convert the potential which the continent offers into realisable political dividends. To paraphrase Karl Marx, the role of leadership, including African leadership, is to change the world. Inherited colonial boundaries should become links of cooperation and trade, instead of boundaries of exclusivity (Kwame Nkrumah, 1965).

It is correct that “nothing is more precious than independence and freedom” (Ho Chi Minh, 1966) as long as the dialectical and accompanying thesis is that “nothing is more precious than the defeat of poverty and underdevelopment” (Thabo Mbeki, 2007).

The regeneration and development of Africa is entirely dependent on the consciousness of its leaders and the active participation of the masses in socio-economic development and political processes.

1. African National Congress (ANC) (2007). Strategy and Tactics document: Building a National Democratic Society, 52nd ANC National Conference.
2. ANC Youth League (2008). National Conference Discussion Documents: International Perspective, 23rd National Conference of the ANCYL, Mangaung, Free State.
3. B T Bauer (1981). The Third World and Economic Delusion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
4. Eddy Maloka Umrabulo, 1st Quarter, 2013. ‘Celebrating 50 Years of the Formation of the OAU: Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance’.
5. Ruth First (1970). The Barrel of a Gun: Political Power in Africa and the Coup d’Etat. Penguin Press.
6. Fukuyama Francis (2012). The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. London: Profile Books Ltd.
7. Gilbert M Khadiagala and Terrence Lyons (2001). Foreign Policy Making in Africa: An Introduction.
8. Kwame Nkrumah (1965). ‘None of Us Can Stand Alone’. Speech delivered to the OAU, reprinted in the New African magazine, July 2007.
9. Vladimir Lenin (1916). Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Lenin’s Selected Works, Progress Publishers, 1963, Moscow.
10. Marx Karl . Theses on Feuerbach. Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, 1969.
11. Thabo Mbeki (2007). Umrabulo, ‘Debating Globalisation: The World Economic Forum’.
12. Thabo Mbeki (2003). ‘Elections, Democracy and Governance in Africa’. Opening address by President Mbeki, at the Africa Conference on Elections, Democracy and Governance.
13. J Patrick McGowan and Philip Nel (2002). Power, Wealth and Global Equity: An International Relations Handbook for Africa. Second edition. Cape Town: UCT Press.
14. Ho Chi Minh. (1966). ‘Nothing is More Precious than Independence and Freedom’. Address on the occasion of the anniversary signing of the Geneva Agreements, Vietnam.
15. Dambisa Moyo Dambisa (2009). Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
16. Philip Nel (2002). ‘Theories of International Relations: Power, Wealth and Global Equity’. In McGowan and Nel (op cit).
17. Nicky Oppenheimer (2007). Lecture delivered at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies (RUSI), London.
18. Osaghae E. Egosha and Patrick J. McGowan (2002). ‘Africa in the global system, 1600 to decolonisation’. In McGowan J and Nel (op cit).
19. Maxi Schoeman (2002). ‘Africa’s International Relations. In McGowan and Nel (op cit).
20. Roger Southall and Daniel Conway (2002). ‘Africa in the
contemporary world’. In McGowan and Nel (op cit).
21. A Van Nieuwkerk, and K Hofmann, (eds) (2013). Southern African Security Review 2013. Johannesburg: CDSM and Maputo: FES.

Comrade Alvin Botes is the Deputy Chairperson of the ANC Northern Cape

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