Africa Policy and Futures Forum

What to the African is Africa’s Liberation? A Discursive Analysis of Post-Colonial Africa’s Journey Since Independence

By Musa AF Sherif on June 27, 2022

The foundation of what is today Post-Colonial Africa, was led on 25th May 1963, when thirty-two heads of states of the continent came together in Ethiopia to carve strategies that would end colonialism and set Africa on the path of self-rule. Since then, every May is celebrated with a deep sense of remembrance; both on the continent and outside. As this year marks the fifty-ninth year of such celebration, the prophetic words of Patrice Emery Lumumba, first democratic Prime Minister of DR Congo, are worth revisiting: “Africa will one day write its own story and, in the south and the north of the Sahara, it will be a story of glory and dignity.” 

Indeed it can be said that Africa has written its own story. Immediately after Lumumba’s execution in 1961, many African territories became free from colonial rule. Old colonial flags were furled for new ones, while new national anthems, often emotive and patriotic, were sung. Sixty-one years have elapsed since Lumumba’s prophetic words, and fifty-nine more since post-colonial Africa was born. The question besets: is Africa’s story a story of glory and dignity in today’s age?

At the macro-level the answer is “Yes”. Africa is home to six of the 10 fastest-growing economies globally, and leader of more than four of the world’s biggest multilateral organizations. Compared to 1963,  the continent has achieved remarkable feats, especially in crucial areas such as poverty and mass illiteracy. It has reduced its poverty rate from 56% in 1990 to 34% in 2019. Whereas there were fewer than 200,000 Africans enrolled in tertiary education by 1970,  by 2022 that number has more than octupled. According to a 2020 World Bank Report approximately 9 million students are enrolled in Africa. Similarly, life expectancy on average has increased from 40 years in 1960 to 63 years in 2021.

In the area of governance, while buoyant democracies such as the United States have not produced a single woman-presidency since their founding more than three hundred years ago, Africa has produced more than twenty, among them: Ellen John-Sirleaf of Liberia, Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia, and Joyce Banda of Malawi. In countries such as Rwanda and Mauritius, there is increased public accountability, complemented by efficient service delivery, greater national security, and  infrastructural development. However, while Africa’s story can be described as glorious and dignified at the macro-level, it remains the opposite at the micro-level where the vast majority of Africans live and where the real challenges of the continent exist.

Although with an increasing economic growth rate, Africa remains the most impoverished and underdeveloped globally. Of every 10 extremely poor persons in the world, 9 live in Africa.  According to the World Bank, Africa accounts for 63% of the global extreme poor population.  Home to 27% of the world's countries, it constitutes the lowest share of global GDP (2.8%). The continent’s GDP is twice less than that of Japan and seven times less than China. Put side-by-side with Asia, a continent with a similar colonial and imperial past, the ratio, both for GDP growth and per capita income, is incomparable. This dismal performance is the same for other crucial sectors such health and inequality. Of the top 10 countries with the highest wealth inequality in 2022, seven are African.

The end of colonialism meant that Africans had the right to participate in their national politics, choose their leaders, and to live free from the subordination their forebears were constricted to during colonialism. In other words, it meant being self ruled and self-reliant. But although self-ruled, Africa, six decades later, is not self-reliant. If any, it is more dependent now than it was at independence. To survive the continent lives on crumbs thrown at it from other regions of the world. This dependency syndrome is such that even institutions named after it look up to institutions of other regions for survival. 

Built to be the main financier of development on the continent, a considerable portion of the African Development Bank’s fund comes from countries outside of  Africa. Similarly, the headquarters of the African Union, a place of sacred memories for the continent’s independence struggle, is a gift from another region of the world, China- a formerly oppressed and colonised region with whom we shared the same conditions less than four decades ago. 

In the same vein, although with the highest record of women-presidency globally, politics in most parts of Africa is unspeakable and exclusionary. Of the fifty-four countries in Africa, only one, Mauritius, is fully democratic. In most of the continent, elections-the only true power in the hand of the citizens-remain rigged, and speaking up for accountability is an invitation to early martyrdom. “Over the last quarter century, no region in Africa has made more democratic progress”, writes Isabel Linzer

To attain a glorious and dignified life, Africans either have to self-immolate, as in the case of Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi, or flee to regions that were formally the colonial masters of the continent. According to the International Organization on Migration, since 2014 about 11, 525 of the continent's young people have gone missing (dead) in their attempt to get to Europe, mostly through. Through these acts, the Mediterranean Sea has become the new cemetery of Africa corpses.  “Sathio told me, ‘I want to go [to Italy]’. “He said that there’s suffering here, that he couldn’t pay for school, and that he had to leave to be able to support his family,” cried Ami Camara, widow of Sathio Camara who died at the Mediterranean Sea in 2021.

One wonders! How glorious is Africa’s story that, to attain a better life, its youths must perish and do so on foreing shores? How dignified is it when, to hold their government accountable, Africans must either self-immolate or take up arms? What pride is being African when our governments, in order to feed us, have to beg for crumbs from regions which our forefathers chased out for the worst? How cursed, resource-less, and poor must Africa be that to discuss its affairs, the headquarters of its Union has to be donated to its leaders?

Pressed on these issues, African leaders and their disciples are quick to preach the colonial sermon. “It is because of colonialism”, the sermon often goes. Of course, the role of colonialism is a major factor in the continent’s underdevelopment. Who would question that? Who, for instance, would forget or question the damages Belgian colonialism did to the DR Congo, or those of apartheid to South Africa? Who would forget the wealth that was stolen from this continent and that still continues to be stolen by other regions? Clearly none. But after fifty-nine years, if colonialism is all that can account for Africa’s woes, of what benefit, then was the martyrdom of the likes of Lumumba, Somara Michael,  Sankara, Cabral, and other brave fighters who died for the continent’s liberation and its future? Even more so, of what importance was independence from colonialism at all? If Africa's story is anything today, it is, to borrow the words of former president John A Kufuor of Ghana, “one step forward and two steps backward.” 

But all is not lost. Bad as it is, there is still hope for Africa. This is so because the continent’s true potential, that which has kept it alive despite all the ordeals it has been through-from slavery to colonialism and neocolonialsm-lies not in its past, for that was conquered. Nor does it lie in its present, as that is already distorted. It lies in its future; for that is neither conquerable nor distortable. 

Young-generation political institutions such as South Africa’s Economic Freedom fighters are blazing the trail in terms of political accountability and alternative leadership. Independent think-tanks like the Mo Ibrahim Foundations are carrying out rigorous research on and promoting good governance across the continent. Coupled with these is the ever-growing entrepreneurial sector of the continent led by the likes of Nigeria’s Tayo Oviosu, Liberia’s Mahmud Johnson, Rwanda’s Christelle Kwizera, among others. Together, these institutions and people are not only asking tough questions about why Africa is impoverished, but are getting involved to make the condition better. Block by block the day is coming when they will build an Africa of glory and dignity.

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