Cracks in national unity
For many African countries, the transition from colony to independent state was not easy. Every new state contained all sorts of conflicting interests, competing power bases and ethnic groups. Africa's nationalists had, on the whole, accepted the boundaries drawn up in the 1880s. But these were boundaries which cut across ethnic groups and across the grazing grounds of cattle owning people.
In other instances, two rival kingdoms or nations were put under one central administration. Somalia alone had a linguistic unity to strengthen its political unity.
Broadcasting change: a selection of coup announcements
• Kenya - In 1982, attempted coup.
• Zambia - In 1990, a coup is launched and cancelled.
• Gambia - Attempted coup in 1981. Alhaji Ismail Suso describes being made to announce a coup.
• Sierra Leone - In 1992, Valentin Strasser's announces a coup.
• Sudan - Osman Khald Mudawi explains to Robin White how he failed to launch his coup, because he didn't know how to operate the radio station.
The Post-independence years have been punctuated with changes of government all over the continent. These have sometimes been military coups or civilian takeovers. The first inkling people would have would be from a radio announcement. And radio stations were, and continue to be, commandeered for that purpose.
For some countries, a deep and continuous divide has remained unresolved. Sudan and Chad, for example, are divided between an Arab Muslim north and an African Christian south. Both countries have suffered destructive civil wars over the decades. In Uganda, the divide was very broadly between the Baganda of the south and Acholi northerners.
President Milton Obote manipulated the divide both times he was President. The first time in power, during the 1962-71 term, he burnt the Palace of the Baganda down and drove the Kabaka (king) into exile. The second time he took power, during 1980-85, he launched a military campaign of destruction in the south. It was left to President Yoweri Musseveni to harmonise the different regions when he came to power in 1986.
In Nigeria, one of the largest countries in Africa with an estimated population of 120 million, the divide went very roughly 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.
The forces of President Gowan took three years to defeat the Biafran forces. Since 1967 Nigeria has, despite its wealth and population, held together despite tensions between Muslim communities and Christians ebbing and flowing.
In addition to internal stresses and strains, a number of countries have nursed disputed borders since independence, despite the broad acceptance of the boundaries set by Europe in the 1880s:
Chad and Libya have fought over the Aozou strip in northern Chad.
Ethiopia and Somalia were locked in a battle over the Ogaden region.
Nigeria and Cameroun have disagreed on the border at Bakassi.
Morocco continues to contest the border running along the Western Sahara.
Whatever vision African leaders have had for their countries, there were a number of factors beyond their control, undermining the practical realisation of their ideals:
Drought and famine in east and southern Africa.
Plummeting commodity prices for a wide range of products, including agricultural and mineral products, on the world market.
A leap in oil prices in the 1970s 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 1980s to remove subsidies on the sort of products which the urban populations of Africa relied on, most importantly sugar and petrol.
All this created tension and unrest which had huge political consequences.
One Party States: rise and fall
Very soon after independence, multiparty democracy gave way to the one party state or military rule. The problem with multiparty democracy was that it had led to the formation of many parties, each with a regional outlook, and none representing the interests of the country as a whole. The rise of the one party state was also influenced by the Soviet model, which declared the people and the party as one.
In the 1970s, the first self proclaimed Marxist Leninist leaders took charge in Africa, setting up one-party systems.
In 1974, the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was deposed in a revolution. He was eventually replaced by Mengistu Haile Mariam who initiated a purge of all opponents. In response Somalia under Siad Barre switched from being pro-Soviet to pro-western. It was the only country in Africa to do this under the same government.
The collapse of Communism in the Eastern bloc in 1989 signalled a revival of multiparty democracy. Rulers found themselves under pressure: firstly from the people, disenchanted with the track record of single party rule, and secondly, from the IMF and the World Bank, which made it a precondition of further loans and aid.