‘The post-colonial state in Africa’
2013-05-30, Issue 632
In his latest work ‘The Postcolonial State in Africa: Fifty Years of Independence, 1960 – 2010’, Professor Crawford Young has, with habitual lucid simplicity of text, encyclopaedic gaze and insightfully nuanced analysis, joined in the flowering of celebrations of golden jubilees of Uhuru that bloomed across the African continent since 2010; with Uganda’s turn arriving in 2012 when the book was published. In the mid-1960s Young had taught at Makerere College, University of East Africa, and also conducted research on the Cooperative movement in the country.
Young’s work has appropriately come at a time of a pandemic of book famine and an epic struggle in Africa’s universities to recover from decay inflicted by what Adebayo Adedeji, as executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), labelled as ‘economic, social, economic and political warfare’ by the IMF and the World Bank through the imposition of Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, policies. This condition makes most poignant his incitement of reflexes to urgently raise the call of who ‘will utter a counter narrative from the perspective of Africa telling her own story?’. For his narrative comes from a tradition that is given authoritative dignity by a dominant mission of comparative politics (of non-American and non-European countries) as a field of study to promote the continued existence of the ‘dominated of the world’.
A commendable starting bolt of the book is the rejection of the bifurcation of Africa by giving the Sahara Desert a racial role by inventing ‘Sub-Sahara Africa’, a view recently propagated by those who in 2011 were quick to see convulsive revolutionary youths of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as located outside of Africa. They had to be ‘Arab’ if their volcanic eruptions were to enjoy the positive climatic virtues of a ‘spring’. With Muamar Gadaffi racing forward to being crowned as Africa’s ‘King of Kings’ by an assortment of traditional rulers - following his transition from the post of the Chairman of the African Union - it is easy to understand Young’s impatience with those scholars who insist on pushing away Kwame Nkrumah’s rebuke that the Sahara had never been a sand and dust curtain dividing Africans. There are, however, many cataracts in Young’s narrative which jolt a shout for one’s own paddles. We shall narrate some bellow.
He is comfortable with the view that anti-colonial nationalists were fired by impatience with slow paces with which colonial authorities ‘managed the public purse’. Alternative voices do insist that it was the exportation of resources to colonizing economies, and racist wealth maldistribution in favour of European settlers and businessmen, which provoked nationalist anger. To him a ‘democratic’ episode which bore independence quickly went into ‘erasure’ due to the rapid onset of failures by Africa’s leaders who soon invented one-party rule, rule by decrees, and imprisonment of critics. There is no consideration of Mahmud Mamdani excellent exposition of how, from 1922, British colonial administrators in Darfur engineered the shattering of the trans-ethnic and trans-racial nationhood which el-Mahdi had aroused with the revolutionary warfare he led against Turkish colonial exploitation and oppression. That disruptive investment in future conflict in post-colonial Darfur became a core feature of British and French gifts to ex-colonies.
The silence over Mamdani’s thesis leads to his non-cynical declaration of “mutually reciprocated goodwill between former colony and former colonizer”. Politicians in Uganda saw Britain’s failure to return districts she had punitively transferred from Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom to Buganda before independence as a cruel gift meant to yield bloodshed and political instability in a toddler postcolonial state. Wole Soyinka’s wrath against a legacy of boundaries between a territorially vast northern Nigeria and a much smaller southern section is buttressed by critics of colonial constitutional provisions which guaranteed the Northern Region over 50 per cent of seats in the federal legislature. It would take saintly northern politicians to squander these advantages in their contest for power in postcolonial Nigeria. The resultant civil war, in which Biafra recorded over a million deaths, was hardly the fruit of British “goodwill”.
In similar vein his view of relations between France and former colonies cannot contain the wrath which met Thomas Sankara’s initiatives for arousing creative self-reliance across Francophone states and Laurent Gbagbo’s rejection of the legacy that French companies must be the first bidders for all contracts awarded by former colonies. The long term impact of brutalities which wiped out over 5 million people across Central Africa - as noted by the historian Jean Suret-Canale and others - get glossed over. Readers who come without such historical searchlights are doomed to blindness.
The readiness to quote Arthur Lewis’s view that “To be a minister is to have a lifetime’s chance to make a fortune” is complemented by silence over the widely celebrated ascetic and selfless leadership by Mwalimu Nyerere, Samora Machel, Abdel Nasser, , Augustinho Neto, Kwame Nkrumah, Milton Obote, Nyerere’s long-serving minister of Finance Jamal.
The historic protracted wars for the promotion of democratic politics by Africa’s liberation movements led by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-Patriotic Front, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola, and the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde- against brutal anti-democracy opposition by NATO powers - is not included in what Young calls the “tsunami of dramatization”. He asserts that it was only a case of late “washing up in Africa”. The prospect of seeing the “Orange Revolution” in Rumania as being washed up from victorious liberation struggles by Soweto children bleeding in streets, is not allowed into gates of Young’s analysis.
Jonathan Frimpong-Ansah is quoted approvingly for characterising Ghana as a “vampire state”. It is not clear what he would call the French colonial regime in Ubangi Shari (now Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cameroun) if he is allowed to know the texture of that historical nightmare. Crawford Young succeeds brilliantly and seductively in inciting a yearning for “another history” of governance in Africa in the last 50 years.