By Mamadi Sawo,
4th year history student
The year 1960 was described as the year of Africa. This was the period when most African countries were freeing themselves from the colonial yolk. Almost all countries in Africa struggled to regain political independence during this period with the help of Liberation Movements, which later turned into political parties. These political parties had broader aims to speed up the process of decolonization. Furthermore, most of Anglo-phone and Franco-phone African countries had tried to gain independence during this period to restore their dignity as sovereign nations.
However, the long and bumpy struggle for independence had led to so many issues that leaders faced in the first decade of independence. There were lots of issues in Africa such as inadequate infrastructural development, poor education, poor health care system, violence etc., that needed urgent attention.
Firstly, after independence, some leaders who came to power were never prepared for leadership. As such they continued to perpetuate themselves in power. The period witnessed the establishment of one-party state, dictatorial regime and autocratic government, thereby leading to the damage of democratic principles. Leaders had not strategised plans that could improve the living conditions of poor people, but they engaged on issues that would entrench them in power. Independence was meant to improve and bring in socio-economic developments, but what we saw after independence was the continued dependence on former colonial powers.
Secondly, the one-party state – that leads to autocratic rule – had led to countless coups in Africa. Most people became disgruntled about their leaderships thus ignited uprisings. For example, in West Africa, the first country to witness a military coup was Togo in 1963. This was followed by other African countries such as Dahomey (Benin) in 1963, Central African Republic in 1965, Congo in 1968, while Upper Volta (Burkinafaso) , Ghana and Nigeria all experienced coups in 1966. These coups had led to total chaos and insecurity thereafter which posed serious threats on democratic values and principles.
In addition, there were other coups in the 1970s in some African countries such as Uganda in 1971, Ghana, Benin Republic, all in 1972, Rwanda in 1973 while Ethiopia and Niger both experienced coups in 1974. Similar coups also took place in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Mali, Chad, Ivory Coast, etc. afterwards and all in the 20th century.
Of recent, Mali, Guinea Conakry, and Burkinafaso have experienced military coups, and their leaders are never ready to relinquish power to civilian rule.
Thirdly, African leaders faced the problems of education. It is estimated that almost 90% of most African population are not educated. The leaders failed to enlighten and broaden scope of their citizens in order to create awareness, but leaders were busy on issues that would only benefit themselves and their political cronies.
This is evidence from the vast majority of the population who continued to wallow in poverty.
In the first decade after independence, there were only few teachers, lawyers, engineers and doctors in most African countries. Leaders also failed to initiate developments that would ameliorate the masses from abject poverty even though most countries have abundant natural resources such as oil, gas, coal, uranium, bitumen, copper, etc. These aforementioned resources cannot transform the lives of citizens. Most of these resources have been exploited by Western powers up to present thus neocolonialism.
According to Prof. Ogunyemi, Africa has laboured and continued to bear in dire consequences of foreign invasion, exploitation and poverty. These problems he believes have continued unabated even after colonialism. Most of the time leaders tend to blame their problems on exogenous factors such as alien rule for most part of the 19th century.
Fourtly, African leaders also faced problems of infrastructural developments. Most of the roads and railways constructed by former colonial powers were still in place or little improvement was done. Colonial masters built them in order to facilitate the transport of raw materials from the production centers to the Coast. In the first decade, communications and transportation were bad which inhibited proper movement of persons and goods. Leaders could have devised in means that could lift its citizens from such terrible conditions.
Fifthly, the first decade also witnessed struggles from the Southern part of Africa where the white minority groups held on some parts, and the issue of Apartheid. The matter was keenly taken up afresh by Liberation Movements in the persons of Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko and Walter Sisulu. They were joined by both students, workers and other anti-communits and capitalists which finally got rid of the white minority rule. The liberation movements such as FRELIMO in Mozambique, ANC, SWAPO, PAIGC, FLN, etc. were all geared towards bringing in positive changes on the lives of citizens.
In conclusion, African political and economic independence in the first decade of independence was mapped by lots of adversaries and turmoil. Leaders had many challenges of which some were caused by themselves; the issue of one-party rule and dictatorial regime for example. However, other factors could be colonial legacy without proper structures in place that could be used to improve the conditions of their peoples in terms of education, health and infrastructure.
African leaders could not establish industries that could manufacture raw materials and export them to earn revenue. The decades of military takeovers retarded progress because of self-centered leaders and their middle class people at the expense of the masses.
Even at present, Africa is bedeviled by a combination of human trafficking problems, failure of investment, corruption among government officials, and so on.
Until we resort to good democratic principles and good governance systems, Africa will continue to wallow in poverty in centuries to come.