Kenneth Kaunda, first President of Zambia
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.
The Organisation of African Unity
In 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:
• colonial rule, especially in Portuguese colonies;
• South African control of Namibia;
• the white minority in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe);
• and support for nationalist movements.
• Many people attended the opening ceremony from different parts of the black Diaspora, including Miriam Makeba.
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.
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 a communist.
Ideals, philosophies and visions
Memories of Radio Cairo in the 1950s
"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.
Despite contact and support from the Soviet Union there was not a single Marxist Leninist among the first generation of African leaders in the 1960s. 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. This was particularly so at the time of the Belgian Congo's independence.
Many African leaders had a sense of purpose which went beyond the borders of their own country.
- 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.
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.
- Julius Nyerere
in Tanzania 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.