The Politics of Dependency in Africa

Related to the other thread regarding the impact of colonialism upon I’d like to argue that there are several distinct economic, political and social effects that still resonate over much of the continent due to colonisation, and crucially the manner of decolonisation as well.

First though I’d like to undermine my argument :slight_smile: and say that the term colonisation subsumes a vast variety of historical situations, depending, for example on whether military occupation was violent or through local alliances; whether it was followed by settlers rapidly, slowly or not at all - what the social background/class of those settlers was, whether diaspora from India or Lebanon made up large sections of the population, or the time period’s involved ranging from over a century in parts of Senegal to years in the Angolan interior.

Also important is whether colonial governments were based upon British ideas of monarchy and government, French belief in the Republic, Portuguese corporatism or Belgian despotism. Other factors are the different social conflicts embodied in each area be it colonial administrators/missionaries, agrarian/industrial (Kenya) or different white groups (South Africa).

There are 100’s of possible permutations of these factors from the Imperialist side.

These are also matched by the variety of strategies used by indigenous actors; the BaKongo and Fang used the colonial system to maintain, extend and adapt their economic system, to expand their power and influence. The Songhai and Zerma used colonial rule to defend themselves against the Touareg and Peul. In Cameroon the Bassa resisted Germany through military might.

OK this is long enough for a first post :slight_smile: I suppose I’d like people to use this to consider the range of factors involved in colonisation and speculate upon the different impacts that they can have upon future states.

Next post I’m going to go into the politics of dependency and explain extraversion which I believe is a good explanation of how colonialism came to influence the current development of African states - along with vast culpability from African elites and independence movements.

The strategy of extraversion can roughly be summarised as the creation and capture of rents generated by dependency. (Left wing political parties are often accused of this in the west).

Colonial governments did this in order to control large populations with minimal expenditure i.e. preventing sale of goods or raw materials to others, arming one side of a conflict then acting as a barrier etc. in this manner African economies became reduced to purely extractive activities which benefited a small elite of colonialists.

Through these economic desires and results I would argue that European occupation transformed almost all African states through the institution of private property rights, making guns a central feature of warfare and introducing new systems of state coercion.

As a part of this only a very small middle class developed naturally and many of these were hastily educated in the west when it became clear that colonialism was coming to an end and crucially these elites did not feel particularly attached to their fellow countrymen as a result of having such different life experiences. The central committee of the Uganda National Congress in 1952 “consisted of five shopkeepers, four journalists, three full-time politicians, two clerks, two lawyers, two schoolteachers and a student studying abroad”*

Due to this I believe that many independence movements in Africa simply adopted the policies of the governments they replace, firstly because social change is hard and takes decades (many would argue that Italy has taken over 150 years to get where it is now), secondly the elites were too isolated from the countries they ran and thus saw the opportunities to benefit themselves and thirdly they had an economic base (extraction of resources) from which they can isolate themselves from the consequences on their population.

In case I haven’t been very clear I think that colonialism left a legacy of a weak state structure, raw resource dependency and damaged social institutions all of which are important (not solely!) causes in the politics of dependency we see in Africa today.

Thanks for reading!

*Alex Thompson, “An introduction to African Politics”. pp 17

You overlook two factors, political boundaries that do not societal boundaries and socialism. When tribes or other groupings do not match political boundaries then government becomes about who can extract the most from the country for one’s group rather than who can govern the best. Members of a group have to support the dictator who shares affiliation with them no matter how poorly the dictator governs because if someone from the other group gains power they will lose whatever the dictator doles out to them. Members of opposition political groups only reflect group grievances and are expected to reward group members if they ever take power. Thus politics became solely about fighting over how big a slice of pie your group gets and no one is concerned about creating value. This is true all over the world in countries with diverse populations, but is especially powerful in Africa because the political boundaries are so artificial that the population’s ties to the country are very weak relative to tribal ties.
Much of decolinization happened at a time where socialism and marxist critiques of imperialism were rampant in the intellectual zeitgeist. Some of it was due to Soviet trying to create client states by supporting like minded leaser with money and arms. Much of it was due to good faith and trust in ideas that turned out to be false. The Leninist critique of colonialism was that the western countries deliberately kept the third world poor in order to exploit resources out of greed and rascism. Just like capitalists kept workers poor out of greed and class consciousness. This critique implied that become richer would be relatively easy once the greedy imperialists were banished and the third world could start using its resources to enrich itself. This turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to do as most of wealth comes from human and institutional capital and banishing capitalists meant getting rid of the people who knew how to create wealth. Creating strong institutions capable of creating wealth also means allowing sources of power to grow outside the state which was counter to the third world socialism which tried to direct everything from the state.