For one to have a clear understanding of today’s world, one must delve into history. When history is disregarded in the discourse of the political economy of African countries, the objectivity needed to analyze the events of today becomes clouded. When history is not taken into account, the national consciousness of African people, and everyone else in the world at large, becomes heavily weakened. At every instance, it is of paramount importance to factor in history for positive policymaking.
The African continent shares one common thread regarding its history – colonialism. Pre-colonial polities were dismantled through the imperial conquest of the European powers. The setup of the pre-colonial societies was supplanted by a capitalist-based model, which was premised on the primitive accumulation of capital through the cheap labor of subjugated Africans. Racialism was an integral part of the colonizers’ modus operandi regarding the sanctification of getting as much private property as possible.
What resulted from this callous process were dual/enclave economies; where on one hand there was a minimal formal sector which formally employed a handful of the population (mostly white and a few Africans who aspired for middle-class status) and a non-formal sector which was marked with pre-capitalist modes of production. The non-formal sector had the bulk of the rural peasantry and some urban workers and dwellers.
To super-impose a political economy premised on capitalism over the Africans, the European colonizers had to employ unimaginable force and cruelty, as well as capturing the mind of the colonized. This echoes the famous words by Steve Biko, “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” The imperialists painstakingly strove for the alienation of the African populace, indoctrinating them with the notion that they were inferior, and that they were second-class citizens on Earth. The reverence of everything by the white man was something the Africans adhered to religiously. All African customs, practices, and religions were discarded as paganistic and regressive in this new, alienating political economy.
Traditional authorities were used as pawns by the colonial authorities, particularly with the scheme of indirect rule. The relevance of traditional kings/chiefs was relegated to apply to rural areas only. They were not necessary for the civil life’ set up by the European settlers in the urban areas they had established. What came from this was a dual legal system – where African customs could not be applied to the general law created by the settlers.
The fight for liberation mostly began through labor movements, and when the futility of strikes and other non-violent means became apparent, armed struggle was the only way out. The armed struggle in several African countries was strongly underpinned by socialist principles for achieving independence for all African peoples. There was a people-centered approach to the armed struggle as the sons and daughters of the African continent fought gallantly for their right to self-determination.
When independence was won by African countries, the new leaders were beset with problems emanating from inheriting the rampant, biting inequalities created by colonialism. International capital kept its firm grip on the continent, often dictating the course of political events after independence (this explains the many military coups that characterized the African post-colonial society). Where other African leaders such as Nkrumah, Nyerere, and Cabral realized the inequalities had to be dealt with, they were disturbed by the global capitalist order. And some leaders succumbed to dictatorial tendencies as they became familiarized with proximity to state resources.
The African postcolonial society, up to now, signifies one important element – what was gained was more of ‘flag independence’ and less of political and economic independence. Socialist principles that guided the liberation struggle have been abandoned in favor of neoliberal capitalist principles. African countries remain beholden to the gatekeepers of international capital i.e., the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These often dictate conditions to African countries for lines of credit (another form of unending colonialism).
Public resources in Africa have been privatized to international private and local capital. Mineral resources rarely benefit African societies. Oil resources have only caused chaos for African economies, as the dependency syndrome is exacerbating. African leaders are selling their countries away to the highest international bidders from Europe, the United States, and China.
The hyper-capitalism of African countries, which heavily revolves around individualism, narcissism, and materialism/hedonism, is not sustainable. Social services continue being killed. The local bourgeoisie (the leaders of African countries) is in a traitorous agreement with international capital to take all African resources while Africans themselves have nothing to show for their resources except inept social service delivery and class-based society where inequality is constantly justified.
African is still colonized, and action must be implemented as soon as yesterday. Kwame Nkrumah sternly warned of neocolonialism, arguing that neocolonial masters will never let African countries determine their destiny, according to their own will. If the social-based economic principles that immediately followed the attainment of independence failed, then it should also be loudly stated that neoliberal capitalism has utterly failed more than any other political and economic system.
There is an urgent need to return to the source, in the words of Amilcar Cabral. There is a need to return to people-centered approaches when determining policymaking. So that opportunities are available to everyone regardless of class, gender, or race. Social services must be delivered by states for everyone regardless of class, gender, or race. This must be done universally and affordably.
African leaders should cease pandering to the interests of foreign private capital. The dual economies set by colonialism persist in more brutal forms, and it is the prerogative of governments to ensure the rural peasantry and the rest of the urban informal sector are properly emancipated in economic terms. As well as their access to basic social services such as health, education, water, power, transport, land, and housing.