With the media constantly covering wars, regional conflicts, and political instability around the world, it is easy for citizens of ‘1″I world’ countries to believe that western society is exceptional in comparison to the rest of the world. The truth is that peace and political stability in Western civilization is a relatively new development. It is the result of a long and messy process of democratization and economic development that most of the African continent has only just begun. I agree that many, though not all, of today’s political issues in Africa can be explained, at least partially, in light of the colonial experience of the African continent in the 19‘h and 20‘” century. The continent’s prosperity was stumped by colonial rule, the process of industrial and political development that Western societies started in their respective countries in the early 19’“ century has only begun in Africa in the last few decades. The underdevelopment of political institutions and economic infrastructure is the direct result of exploitation and neglect by colonial powers.
This, combined with their total ignorance of African social groups when drawing borders, is the reason for continued social instability in many countries in Africa and why the development of political and economic institutions is such a great challenge for these countries. The fundamental metric of the effectiveness of any government is its ability to assume and maintain power legitimately. According to a report by the African Development Bank, “since the years of independence, Africa has experienced more than 200 military coups, counting both successful and failed coup attempts” (Barka 1) This may seem like a startling number but when compared to the political history of 20‘“ century Europe (with the rise of communism, fascism, and two world wars) 200 military coups look quite paltry. But while Europe has stabilized into a union of modern democratic states, many African states continue to languish under the rule of oligarchies and the constant risk of political collapse and turmoil.
Political instability in Africa is rooted in the failure of colonial powers to create involved administrative structures that could later be used to start a government recognized by the people. Instead, all that was left by the colonizers were “political systems inherited from Britain, France, and Portugal” (Barka 2) that were designed for the “control and expropriation” of a country’s resources. These administrative institutions “never sought legitimacy from their subjects” (Thomson 21) therefore, most African governments that were created after independence, even if they were based on previous colonial administrative structures, were weak. The African people felt no personal connection or attachment to these governments. Instead, “African societies and even states functioned through an elaborate system based on the family, the lineage, the clan, the tribe, ultimately a confederation of groups with ethnic, cultural, and linguistic characteristics in common” .
Moreover, many of the borders of these new states were “artificial and poorly demarcated” (lkome 1) and soon became the “most potent source of conflict and political instability” (lkome 1). The Europeans‘ lack of consideration for the societies and ethnic groups ofAfrica led to certain borders splintering ethnic groups between many state and/or grouping many diverse ethnic groups into a single state. Most African nations were an arbitrarily an imposed construct on the African people. When these superimposed governments attempted to assen their supremacy over ethnic groups, there tended to be a great deal of political tension, especially if the ethnic group in control of government was different from the ethnic group it was asserting its authority over.
The early leaders of African nations saw this ethnic competition as poisonous to the building of a strong state. African leaders began the work of suppressing ‘tribalism‘ and espousing the values of nationalism However, in this work of nation building, leaders centralized the power of the state and suppressed civil society so that “members of the political elitemcontrolled the state as they saw fit, becoming the self-proclaimed guardians of national unity”. As the state grew stronger, often instead of suppressing ethnic tension, the control of the state became the objective of each ethnic group “The localized, broad»based, low- risk, self-sustaining subsistence activities gave way to high-risk, stratifying competition for state power and scarce resources, a zero-sum conflict of identities based on tribalism or ethnicity“. It is because of this dynamic that when democratic rule was attempted in many countries was not seen as a debate of political policy but a competition against other ethnic groups for resources and power. Today, many peaceful political systems require a distribution of resources between ethnic groups that, while often economically inefficient, is perceived as equitable by the people.
This sort of jockeying for political and economic power caused by ethnic conflict is one of the reasons for the continued economic malaise in Africa. That, combined with a lack of a well-diversified economy and trade dependency on former colonial powers, is what holds prosperity in Africa back, Most political scientists will tell you that much of a country’s political success is dependent on how an individual perceives his/her economic condition and standard of living When the first leaders of an independent Africa were trying to design a prosperous economic system it is not surprising that capitalism, as applied by colonizers, was rejected when “The economic goals of colonialism were simple: to provide maximum economic benefit to the colonizing power at the lowest possible price”. Seeing how this economic system harmed the people, African leaders tried to reject capitalism. This attempt was ill-conceived as much economy in Africa at the time of independence, and even to this day, was oriented toward trade with colonizers. Economies were/are highly specialized and focused on producing commodities and cash crops and selling them to former colonial powers.
This specialization created a dependence on Western nations to trade and caused for the price of commodities to be the determining factor in the success of the economy. As much as African leaders would love to break with capitalism all together and embrace a system of socialist self»sufficiency, Africa lacks the economic resources and infrastructure to prosper independent from the global capitalist system. African leaders have attempted to use forms of state capitalism and the dependency economic system to gather the resources needed to develop the economy. However, due to the lack of effective democratic oversight, much of the resources meant to develop the country are lost to corruption in thievery. For example, in Nigeria, “estimates close to $400 billion was stolen from 1960 to 1999” (Costa) from state proceeds from the sale of oil.
In this way, government elites steal from money that is meant to help the country develop especially in areas of severe economic destitution like in the countryside As Dr. Matunhu, from Midlands State University Zimbabwe, puts it, “while Europe and America are busy exploiting Africa; the urban areas are also busy exploiting their rural areas”. As you can see, the political problems of Africa are an interconnected string economic, social, and administrative challenges The commonality between all of these challenges is the fact that the colonial experience superimposed a political and economic structure that failed to take into account the realities of African society. Though it may sound grim, the political challenges of Africa will take a long time to solve the same way that the Europe took a very long time to solve their political issues.
There will be wars, coups, and in fighting all of this will occur as the people of Africa try to find a system of political representation and economic prosperity that people find equitable. Bringing about a culture of democracy and prosperity after years of oppression and exploitation is a difficult process but it is one that comes by necessity when the people demand it. The people of Africa are calling for a change of heart and a change in culture. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa once said, “Democracy is notjust constitutional and legislative rules; it is a culture and practice and adhering by the law and respecting international human rights principles,” The people of Africa are calling for respect of their freedoms and rights —one day it will added unto them.