Post colonial Africa discussed in lecture

Katy Stanton

Monday, Jan. 22 Africanist Crawford Young presented his lecture, “Beyond State Crisis in Post-Colonial Africa,” in the Wriston auditorium.
Young began by stating that Africa is in a state of crisis. Young chose his title carefully, emphasizing the word “beyond,” referring to a potential path out of the current mess.
He explained that the countries in Africa went through four phases since the independence movement began in 1960, each influencing the continent.
Phase one began in 1960. During this time of independence, there was “a general sense of optimism” held by the citizens, governments and economists worldwide, Young stated.
Africa in the 1950s had been a relatively prosperous place, full of potential in natural resources, rising real wages, and rapid expansion of public services, said Young.
It was believed that these trends would carry forward, fueled not only by the economy, Young said, but also by the energetic, inspirational leaders of the independence movements.
However, they did not.
After their independence from the colonial powers, countries transitioned power to a nationalist generation. These fledgling governments, Young said, found themselves surrounded by strong social pressures, including that of ethnic struggles.
The new leaders discovered a solution in the single-party system of government. This system contained ethnic and cultural diversity, at least for a time.
The economic development that carried over from the 1960s gave these governments legitimacy; however, they did not allow any mechanisms of political change. By 1965, military coups were the sole means of political change, and ironically, these coups also turned into single-party systems. Their legitimacy did not last long either, Young added.
Phase two, in the 1970s, saw an expansion of the single-party system. Leaders understood that their power was beginning to wane, so they staged elaborate rituals of public support using formal and informal methods to maintain their influence, including state-controlled media and “The Big Men,” a system of political favors and resource distribution for those who enforced the leader’s power.
Young explained that phase three began at the end of the 1970s when those in and around Africa realized the extent of the corruption inside of the government and the burgeoning state crisis.
African regimes had become a system of “patrimonial politics” where supporters were rewarded with state money. As the economic gap between classes widened and the continent’s economic performance fell behind Asia, people began to see the state as “a predator rather than a developer,” Young stated.
Many blamed the world economy; others cited the Cold War and its ideological battles; some said governments had mismanaged their countries.
By phase four, at the beginning of the 1990s, Africa started to come around, Young said. Countries moved toward a more open, democratic process; however, civil wars ravaged almost 20 countries.
These changes occurred because of a weakening of state control, public frustration with extensive state corruption, and the breakdown of Communism. The 1960’s optimism was misjudged, Young said.
The new nationalists took the strength of the colonial powers for granted and tried to replicate it through the single party system, an approach that ultimately failed to secure countries.
Countries also overestimated their ability to organize and operate their own economies; by the 1970s and 1980s, “the global economy victimized Africa,” said Young.
This victimization coincided with poor resource and wealth distribution, resulting from complete state control and corruption. Ethnic struggles and the impact of the Cold War also influenced the path of Africa through the second half of the 20th century.
Young concluded, however, that we have reason to be optimistic again. He cited South Africa’s turn to democracy in 1994 as a major achievement for the whole continent: It now serves as an example and a peace-keeping force within Africa, and a diplomatic voice around the world.
New leaders in countries such as Tanzania are building new nationalistic sentiments.
The number of civil wars has dropped precipitously since 2000, with the help of international brokering. Outside sources have implemented mechanisms for debt relief.
Even the inexperienced African Union has an expanding role across the continent. Young finished his lecture with a cautiously optimistic tone, hoping that African countries will not repeat the mistakes of the 1960s.
Young’s lecture opened the five-part Povolny International Studies Lecture Series, “Africa Today: Problems and Solutions.” The next lecture will be given Tuesday, Feb. 20 by Joseph Sebarenzi, former head of the Rwandan parliament.

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