World Cultures Portfolio/Africa: Decolonization
World Cultures Africa
Africa has had a long and complicated history. That story started millions of years ago (Diamond). According to Jared Diamond, humans first evolved near Africa. Some left Africa and went to Europe where they found good farmland with many domesticatable plants and animals (Diamond). This agricultural efficiency left the Europeans able to research and develop tools as well as knowledge (Diamond). Over the years, the Europeans invented guns and steel as instruments of war (Diamond). They also created complicated, efficient industrial processes which required large amounts of raw materials. One place they knew, Africa, had lots of these materials. They realized that they could use their superior weaponry to invade Africa and claim it for themselves (Africa). They stormed in and quickly overthrew the native governments and took control. The enslaved the Africans in their own country and carted out resources by the ship load. They denied blacks any say in their own country. They grew rich on the backs of the natives. This, however, worked for about 50-100 years. Soon the locals, both whites and blacks, demanded an end to direct European control and imperialism.
In 1910, South Africa declared independence, the first among the African nations ("South Africa"). However, they achieved independence because of the disagreements between the Afrikaners and British people of South Africa ("South Africa"). Native blacks still had almost no say in their now independent government ("South Africa"). In 1961, South Africa became a republic (World Cultures: A Global Mosaic). However, it remained staunchly white supremacist until the 1980's ("South Africa"). The 80's brought great rebellious and outside pressures forcing the government to change its attitude towards blacks ("South Africa"). However South Africa did not hold true, nonracial, democratic elections until April 27, 1994 ("South Africa").
In 1922, Egypt achieved independence - in kind ("Egypt"). Even though Britain declared Egypt an independent monarchy, the British reserved the right to intervene in Egyptian affairs if anyone threatened their interests. This robbed Egypt of any real independence. However after World War II in 1952, radical Muslims overthrew this puppet government ("Africa"). They redistributed the land to the peasants and nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 ("Africa"). This became a symbol to other African colonies that Britain no longer remained as powerful as before ("Africa").
Ethiopia, however, managed to remain independent for most of its modern history, except for when it Italy invaded it in 1935 ("Africa"). The Italians took over Ethiopia until the British fought back in 1941 ("Africa"). After that, Ethiopia continued its independence.
In general, as World War II ended, European powers felt it increasing difficulty to hold on to their colonies in the face of weakness at home and growing internal demands for independence. The wave of freedom started in Liberia in 1952 ("Africa"). This independence went smoothly and then spread to Morocco and Tunisia in 1956 ("Africa"). However, in Algeria, independence did not occur as smoothly ("Africa"). The bloody Algerian War occurred against the French until 1962 ("Africa").
However, the French quickly granted political reform in their sub-Saharan colonies ("Africa"). Local governments started in return for agreeing to maintain economic ties with France ("Africa"). All of the French Sub-Saharan colonies became independent in the 60's except Guinea in '58 and Djibouti in '77 ("Africa").
British colonies, however, did not gain their independence this fast or this easily. The process needed to driven by the Africans and it occurred much more dispersed ("Africa"). The Gold Cost split first in 1957, becoming Ghana ("Africa"). Afterwards, most sub-Saharan African nations became independent, separately, as their people agreed on forms of government ("Africa"). The colonies with substantial numbers of white people resisted quick change to democracy ("Africa"). In addition, the British government did not stop Rhodesia and Zimbabwe from civil war or prevent minority lead governments from gaining power against blacks ("Africa").
Belgium tried to withhold from decolonizing its Belgian Congo until 1959, when it panicked while watching its rapidly democratizing neighbors ("Africa"). In 1960, they had an ill-prepared transfer of power ("Africa"). Problem arose both because Belgium handed power to a weak government and because they still tried to control the country economically ("Africa"). Civil war has plagued the country ever since; as well as a string of assassinations, coups, and military dictatorships ("Africa").
Additionally, Portugal showed reluctance to give up its colonies. In 1974 and 1975, they withdrew from Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique ("Africa"). However, they left behind Marxist governments to attempt to repair the damaged economies which had suffered after long periods of guerrilla wars ("Africa"). Until the end of the 1980's the countries represented pawns in the Cold War ("Africa"). After the conflicts cooled down between the Soviet Union and the United States, the countries started their own civil wars which lasted until the 1990's ("Africa").
In 1990, Namibia ended the process as the last African nation to achieve independence (Map). South Africa's occupation of the country slowed down the process ("Namibia"). Finally in 1990, the process was over; Africa finally did not have any European colonies (Map).
However, Africa's troubles did not end with the departure of European control. In fact, stability has suffered since the Europeans left. In the 60's, right after the Europeans left most African nations, the newly formed countries tried to set up one party states ("Africa"). They thought that they entire country could work together for common goals ("Africa"). Unfortunately, these rulers soon became dictators, because no one challenged them ("Africa").
Most of the urban population often favored military intervention during the first decade of independence ("Africa"). They thought that these new governments would bring an end to the corruption that the previous government had ("Africa"). However, the new government soon became as corrupt as the previous one, providing an invitation for yet another coup, leading the vicious cycle.
Some of these governments became incredibly powerful and venomous. In order to protect themselves against the next coup, they rooted out their opponents ("Africa"). Examples include Idi Amin Dada of Uganda and Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central Africa Republic ("Africa"). They murdered anyone they thought wanted to take over power from then, and they ignored their citizens. In general, they ran their countries as their personal playgrounds.
In the 80's, the problems only got worse. Cold War interests kept dictators in power ("Africa"). Not until the 1990s did African nations have a chance to have good, accountable, multi-party governments ("Africa"). At that time, citizens voted out some long time dictators which they did not like, and elected, for real, the ones they did like ("Africa"). However, this did not work in all African nations. In some where corruption ran deep, the change did not come easily. In others, the existing governments canceled their elections if the outcome did not go their way ("Africa").
And such the instability in Africa remains. Many have failed to build a solid, democratic government in the face of continuing economic hardships. The culture of violence also haunts Africa; for many they express their wills through violence. For those who lost political power, the process occurs difficulty, especially for those who can not come to terms with that loss.
This permanent sense of instability stems from several sources. Democracies, naturally, when citizens have more say, creates more conflicts. Absolute leaders, although very aggressive about rooting out other points of view, generally can keep the peace, however this is at the price of violence. Strong colonial rulers did not allow rebellions to impede the operation of their country.
Economic hardship also continues as a problem. Without jobs or work, no income comes in. Without income, no food or shelter can gets purchased. This makes the people of Africa angry, and rightly so according to Maslow's Triangle. However, jobs can not exist with instability permeating the country. This vicious cycle, similar to the chicken and the egg, continues to hold Africa back.
However, the Berlin Conference of 1884 often gets pointed out as the main cause of instability ("Africa"). At that conference the Europeans arbitrarily set the boundaries of the African nations to fit their needs. They split tribes and united rivals together. This mixing of tribes caused conflict between opposing groups who have hated each other for thousands of years. These ancient conflicts continue to this very day.
In addition, the Europeans hoped to maintain their superiority, either by direct racial policies, such as South African apartheid, or by indirect taxation or debating which made life hard for the natives. In addition, the western powers hoped to maintain their interests by influencing the politics of the supposedly independent nations. For example, the CIA supposedly murdered Patrice Lumumba of the Congo because of his non-western friendly policies ("Africa").
This combination of internal and external factors continues to shape Africa's volatile political climate in the present day. Because the Europeans arbitrarily set the boundaries of Africa without the consideration of African tribes, it seems these conflicts will go on forever. The hostility and insecurity continues despite peace agreements. These can never go away as long as the the root cause of the problem still exists. These tribes have hated each other for thousands of years. Add to that the religious differences and the special powers to some which the Europeans granted, and a recipe for conflict develops. Yes they can sign peace agreements, but that will not stop the hatred deep down inside.
This map of Africa which I drew has let me delve into Africa's post colonial history. The nations became independent after World War II. But for the black natives, they continued oppressed. No longer by a foreign nation, but by local minority-white run governments. Only recently have blacks gained the right to steer their political future. But some have abused this privilege. For example, Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe takes black independence too far. He supports soldiers who kill whites and take their farms. He makes his country poor and his people destitute. He overrides elections and his people's will. African governments should not do these sorts of things, even if whites are no longer involved.
Whilst anger still exists, democracy finds itself hard to achieve. The rival tribes do no want to work together. Entire countries suffer economically. Improving this situation takes time and stability. Without stability, businesses can not grow. And without business, the people will remain poor. And while the people remain poor, they will revolt. They will call for a different leadership and use power to get him in power. This will cause instability and the cycle will continue.
Africa has had a rocky history - that only seemed to get worse of the Europeans left. I see no real direct solution. Dividing up the land again would make the situation worse (take Israel for example). More peace agreements may work, but the root causes still remain. Economic development, it seems, can take the people's minds away from their age old conflicts. Africa's deeply rooted problems can only vanquish if the fighting stops, and people's lives become better.
- "Africa." Encarta. Microsoft. 19 Oct 2006 <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761572628_22/Africa.html>.
- Ahmad, Ifikhar, Herbert Brodsky, Marylee Susan Crofts, and Elisabeth Gaynor Ellis. World Cultures: A Global Mosaic. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001.
- Diamond, Jarad. "The Shape of Africa." National Geographic. Sept 2005.
- "Egypt." Encarta. Microsoft. 19 Oct 2006 <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761557408/Egypt.html>.
- "Namibia." Encarta. Microsoft. 28 Oct 2006 <http://encarta.msn.com/content_761574992/Namibia.html>.