Most African colonies became independent in the 1950s and 1960s amid hopes that this would be the prelude to an era of democracy and development (Cooper, 2002). By the end of the 1980s, Africa was plagued by instability, authoritarianism, poverty, war and famine. In some countries, the state itself had begun to disintegrate.
There are many reasons for Africa's current state of political instability. For one, continuous rivalry between tribal units is a constant source of disunity (Cooper, 2002). For most of the 19th and early 20th century Africa had lived under colonial rule of the Europeans. Because the European leaders left Africa immediately after it gained independence, many African leaders are relatively inexperienced. Also, many leaders are greedy, corrupt and act entirely based on self-interest. Basically, because multi-party rule encouraged ethnic conflict, one party controlled most African states. This has largely contributed to Africa's political instability.
In addition to political challenges, post-independent Africa faces many social challenges, which have stagnated the nation's development and growth. For one, massive debt to other countries was built when attempts were made to modernize Africa (Cooper, 2002). The country has also experienced massive food shortages due to rising population, drought and poor agricultural methods. Many leaders have also failed to support and provide basic educational services to most of the population. Finally, health concerns such as leprosy, malaria, sleeping sickness and AIDS have ravaged much of Africa's population.
As the countries of Africa became independent, African leaders and citizens alike had high hopes for progress. However, change came at a slower rate than expected and violence and instability became the African way of life.
Africa's Post-Independent State
In 1961, Ghana's first President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah stated: "Never before have a people had within their grasp so great an opportunity for developing a continent endowed with so much wealth. Individually, the independent states of Africa, some of them potentially rich, others poor, can do little for their people. Together, by mutual help, they can achieve much. But the economic development of the continent must be planned and perused as a whole. A loose confederation designed only for economic co-operation would not provide the necessary unity of purpose. Only a strong political union can bring about full and effective development of our material resources for the benefit of our people (Ahmed-Rufai, 2001)."
This quote describes the dilemma that Africans faced in its early post- independence years. For decades, African nations have struggled with the idea of building a continental body to relieve the negative effects of European interference in Africa's destiny, created by colonialism.
In 1884, European nations interfered with Africa's destiny when they met in Berlin and divided Africa among themselves, failing to consider the nations' ethnic diversity and political systems (Ahmed-Rufai, 2001). Most African societies at the time had their own governments, which challenged this European interference. However, Europe's superior military strength and technology quickly defeated the Africans' military response. European colonization inspired motion nationalist and Pan-Africanist forces, which later led to African independence.
Blacks in the Diaspora, which was led by the Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams, promoted pan-Africanism in 1900. However, it was not until 1945 that Africans on the continent became leaders of the movement through anti-colonial struggle. This concluded in the 1945 Manchester Conference, which declared the right of all colonial peoples to control their destiny and ordered decolonization. As African colonies became independent and sovereign states in the early 1960s, nationalist statesmen introduced strategies for continental unity.
Immediately following independence, which started with Ghana in 1957, many of the newly independent states were eager to safeguard their newly acquired sovereignty (Ahmed-Rufai, 2001). Many continental leaders refused to sacrifice their national interest for continental survival. For this reason, Africa struggled for many years to come together as a nation. Finally, in 2001, uniting Africa became a reality when Nigeria became the 36th nation to agree to the establishment of the African Union and formally end the Organization of African Unity.
According to OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim, the years between 1963 and 2001 "have been thirty-eight years of holding on together as a people, deriving strength in our common identity, and pursuing the vision of a shared destiny (Ahmed-Rufai, 2001)." The African Union, he stated, demonstrated the rebirth of Africa into a new entity, much stronger, more capable and closely connected to the people.
Political Struggles in Africa
For many African countries, transitioning from colony to independent state was not an easy process (Ayittey, 1999). Each new state held all types of conflicting interests, competing power bases and ethnic groups. Africa's nationalists had, in general, accepted the boundaries drawn up in the 1880's. However, these boundaries cut across ethnic groups. In some cases, two rival kingdoms or nations were placed under one central administration. Somalia alone had a linguistic unity to strengthen its political unity.
As a nation, Africa's post-independence years have seen changes of government all over the nation. These have sometimes been military coups or civilian takeovers. In many cases, the news of a takeover would come from a radio announcement, as radio stations in Africa are commandeered for that purpose.
For some African countries, a deep-rooted divide remains unresolved, causing a crisis in Africa. Sudan and Chad, for example, are divided between an Arab Muslim north and an African Christian south. As a result, both countries have experienced destructive civil wars over the decades. In Uganda, the divide between the Baganda of the south and Acholi northerners has caused many hardships for the country. In Nigeria, a large African country with about 120 million residents, the country was divided in three ways: the Muslim north, Ibo east and Yoruba south. In 1967, the country collapsed into civil war with the eastern part (Biafra) led by Colonel Ojukwu declaring Biafra an independent state. It took the forces of President Gowan three years to defeat the Biafran forces. Since 1967 Nigeria has, despite its wealth and population, been somewhat crippled by continuous tensions between Muslim communities and Christians ebbing and flowing.
In addition to various internal stresses and strains, many African countries have fostered disputed borders since independence, despite the broad acceptance of the boundaries set by Europe in the 1880's. For instance:
Chad and Libya have fought over the Aozou strip in northern Chad.
Ethiopia and Somalia battled over the Ogaden region.
Nigeria and Cameroun disputed over the border at Bakassi.
Morocco disputes the border running along the Western Sahara.
Also, in the Republic of Djibouti, a Somali president and an Afar prime minister share political power, with cabinet posts roughly divided. However, the Issas dominate the government, civil service, and the ruling party. This situation has caused resentment and a political struggle between the Somali Issas and the Afars. In 1991, civil war erupted in Djibouti between the government and a predominantly Afar rebel group. The country has since found peace, but the situation has caused a major setback for the country.
Despite the different visions African leaders have had for their countries, many factors were simply beyond their control, undermining the practical realization of their ideals:
Drought and famine in east and southern Africa.
Rapidly decreasing commodity prices for a wide range of products, including agricultural and mineral products, on the global market.
A leap in oil prices in the 1970's for non-oil producing countries.
Mounting debts resulting from money borrowed.
Weak currencies many of which became non-convertible.
Pressure from the IMF and World Bank, forcing governments in the 1980's to remove subsidies on the sort of products which the urban populations of Africa relied on, most importantly sugar and petrol.
These factors created tension and unrest, which have had huge political consequences for Africa.
According to author Harry Nau (2002): "African countries do not need strong states to develop. They need strong societies -- that is, a strong sense of community and common purpose. These qualities a state may symbolize, but cannot create."
This connection also explains why it is so unfortunate that Africa's post-independence authoritarian leaders have often used the state to establish personal fiefdoms.
According to Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, they created "an acute form of 'winner-takes-all' politics, where victory at the ballot box has translated into total control over a nation's wealth and resources (Nau, 2002)."
For these reasons, democracy could do much better. Currently, the only country in Africa that has achieved the growth seen in Asia (of around 8% per year during the period from 1965 -- 1990) is Botswana, which is a democracy. Of course, it must be noted that the same party has won every election since independence.
Democracy accommodates diversity, unleashing economic incentives -- and developing a sense of common worth. Democracy in Africa, which may take decades to achieve, should not be delayed because it is believed to complicate development. Instead, it should be treated as something that will promote growth.
According to Nau (2002), Africa's elites and the state apparatus they build and control, rather than ethnic pluralism, are…
"Africa's Political Crisis And Major Events In Egypt And Djibouti Post Independence" (2003, September 29) Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.paperdue.com/essay/africa-political-crisis-and-major-events-155245
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