The Nation State
The borders of the countries which African leaders inherited at independence were created by Europeans in the 19th century. This 19th century map was drawn up with no regard to the boundaries between different ethnic groups, linguistic variations and regional power bases.
Somalia stood alone as a unit which was uniform both ethnically and linguistically. There was general agreement among the new leaders of Africa to stick with these borders.
One of the major tasks facing these leaders was to generate a sense of national unity which went beyond the unity created by being in opposition to colonial rule. This meant creating an effective administrative machinery and good communications. It also meant having a shared vision and sense of identity. The obvious person to generate this vision was the head of state.
CULT OF PERSONALITY
Originally the cult of personality grew in response to a need to bring people together. Through oratory and image, the African leader himself became more than a leader, he became symbolic of something bigger, which brought all people together. So Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast was known as The Ram who Defends his People; Kenyatta of Kenya was The Flaming Spear of Kenya; Nyerere of Tanzania was Mwalimu or teacher. Banda of Malawi combined a severe European look of trilby, and three piece suit, with an extraordinary capacity to play the crowd.
1963, The Organisation of African Unity was established in Addis Ababa,
providing a forum for all African heads of state. There were still another
nineteen nations waiting to become independent, but the occasion was a moving
one, representing the idea of an African collaboration and strength in unity.
The main things on the agenda were:
Many people attended the opening ceremony from different
parts of the black Diaspora, including Miriam
- colonial rule, especially in Portuguese
- South African control of Namibia;
- the white minority in Southern Rhodesia
- and support for nationalist movements.
to musician Miriam Makeba speaking about the independence of African
In terms of philosophical outlook, socialism was attractive to new leaders. It rejected the premise of profit and accumulation of capital, which Europeans had so ruthlessly put to work in Africa. The Soviet Union was ideologically committed to helping newly independent countries, as well as increasing its sphere of influence in a world increasingly defined by the Cold War and antagonistic relations between America and the Soviet Union.
When Europeans turned their backs on the efforts and needs of new leaders,
or else proposed economic and political relationships with African countries
which were one-sidedly in favour of the West, the Soviet Union offered help,
mainly military. In the hysterical climate generated by the Cold War, any
African leader visiting Moscow or accepting material support was branded
PHILOSOPHIES AND VISIONS
Despite contact and support from the Soviet Union there was not a single Marxist Leninist among the first generation of African leaders in the 1960's. Rather, people like Nkrumah were searching to define different brands of African socialism. But many western observers were obsessed with trying to spot ideological converts, and so assign the status of Soviet puppet to leaders with policies they did not like.
to Kwame Nkrumah's Independence day speech.
This was particularly so at the time of the Belgian Congo's independence.
to Patrice Lumumba on the day of Congo's Independence.
African leaders had a sense of purpose which went beyond the borders of their
to Professor Ali Mazrui, director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies,
reflect on the Nation State
- Kaunda of
Zambia, for example, became increasingly concerned with the problems
of the front-line states confronting an aggressive apartheid in South
Africa. At home he evolved an outlook called Humanism, combining socialist
ideas with Christianity.
- Nkrumah had
a pan-African vision with a modern industrialised and socialist Ghana
at the helm.
- Colonel Gamal Abd al-Nasir
(referred to by the British as Nasser) dreamed of a pan Arab unity and
was a major influence on Nkrumah, introducing him to an Egyptian woman
who became his wife.
Coming to power in 1954, after a coup in 1952 had overthrown a corrupt
monarchy and aristocracy, Al-Nasir was a model for many African people
and leaders. He distributed land among the peasants and defied the British
and French by nationalising the Suez Canal, (a crucial shipping route
for Europe), nationalising many businesses.
Despite his economic policy and his 'Philosophy of Revolution', al-Nasir
was never a Marxist.
- Sekou Toure of
Guinea having said no to a union with France at independence, evolved
a policy of what he called 'positive neutralism.' This amounted to continuous
purges of those he suspected of opposition. He justified this in part
by drawing on what he described as traditional collectivism:
"Africa is fundamentally communocractic.
The collective life and social solidarity give it a basis of humanism
which many peoples will envy. These human qualities also mean than an
individual cannot imagine organising his life outside that of his family,
village or clan…The ability of intellectuals or artists, thinkers or
researchers, is only valid if it coincides with the life of the people…"
Sekou Toure, quoted by UNESCO General
History of Africa Volume VIII.
- In Tanzania Julius
Nyerere took up major
and largely unsuccessful social engineering. He believed in a form of
collectivisation, bringing together different groups of peasant farmers,
so that they might benefit from communal cultivation, shared facilities
and infrastructure such as roads, schools and water.
In practice, people didn't want to move and when they did the new facilities
were often not there.
| "We heard on the radio of the Egyptian
revolution. We were told that this had put the people of Egypt
in control of their destiny. So dreams were actually exported
to us through the soundwaves into the island of Zanzibar, and
we were living a dream as reality.
The Radio Cairo broadcaster talked about British Imperialism and
came up with the phrase, 'the bloody dogs of imperialism.' I've
never taken dope, but this was the nearest that I can imagine
one would have felt, when I listened to Radio Cairo."
Journalist and political
observer Mohammed Adam.