Remaking Africa

August 30, 1994|By A. R. M. BABU

Africa is in bloody crisis. But it is a crisis due in good part to the fact that we Africans failed to undo the pseudo-nation-states our colonial rulers left behind. To end the suffering once and for all we must break free from our colonial legacies and move boldly to reshape the entire continent of Africa.

The late and still revered Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of free Ghana, in 1954 urged fellow Africans to redraw the continent's colonial boundaries and reunite the traditional nationalities they had broken up. Furthermore he called on them to form a Continental Union of African States. Otherwise, he warned, Africa would be condemned to stagnation and unending colonial mischief.

But, when our countries became independent, instead of developing independent national economies, African leaders merely consolidated the colonial economies. They not only preserved but strengthened the repressive colonial armies recruited from backward tribes. Africa, in short, kept colonialism without the colonialists.

Our colonial states were based neither on democracy nor unity but on force or the threat of force. Their principal intents were to disunite our countries according to the well-known colonialist strategy of ''divide and rule.'' Our African state institutions thus became inherently repressive, designed to instill fear rather than to nurture consent.

The colonial nation-state was based on plantation economies. Those economies extracted everything of value to the ''mother country'' and imposed poll taxes on the impoverished natives to finance their enslavement.

Our post-colonial African states by and large continued this practice, though they lacked the ruthless administrative efficiency of ourerstwhile colonial masters. As a result we developed unworkable mini-states, top heavy with huge bureaucracies and armies, extremely costly to maintain.

Not surprisingly African economies, almost everywhere, are contracting instead of expanding. And national wealth continues to pour out of our countries: Current U.N. estimates put the figure at $150 million or more -- per day. That leaves little capital accumulation for domestic development.

The military, the only organized force in our countries, is tailor-made to run the repressive post-colonial state. Some of these states are benevolent; most are not. All are insecure and easily resort to repression. In the words of the Nigerian writer and 1986 Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, most African states are ''clinically dead.'' The post-colonial state structures of Algeria, Liberia, Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, Mozambique can no longer govern. Most other African states are on the brink of ungovernability.

When the rest of Africa is in flames not a single country on the continent can be secure. If leaders concentrate on trying to correct their domestic turmoil without any vision of a stable, unified Africa they are not likely to achieve either internal stability or social equity.

However, all is not bleak. After years of civil conflict and repression, the current leaders of Ethiopia have been introducing remarkable political innovations. The new South Africa offers great hope for the continent. South Africa, after bitter and prolonged ethnic struggle, has emerged as a unified, multi-national, democratic state. If the leaders of that country decided to use their enormous prestige to lead a campaign for continental unity, such a move would arouse great swells of hope throughout Africa.

In 1974, during a speech to the U.N., Deng Xiaoping, now the 90-year-old ruler of China, made remarks that still echo in Africa: ''countries want independence, nations want liberation, and peoples want revolution.''

People all over Africa, finally fed up, are revolting against the horrors being committed around them. Africa is a continent of many nationalities. Its peoples now want real liberation from the remnants of colonialism and the brutal hands of the post-colonial state. And more and more they are demanding continental unity so that Africa's 900 million impoverished people can, after 500 years of subjugation, be independent of all foreign domination -- economic, political or cultural.

All the brutalities and conflicts, even the Rwanda genocide, are the products of decisions made decades ago by African elites to take over the colonial states handed to them by the colonialists instead of heeding Nkrumah's call for a bold new continent-wide political approach. Confronted with so much hopelessness they have no other choice but to heed Nkrumah's advice and rethink the principles on which their pseudo-nation-states are based.

A.R.M. Babu, former economic development minister of Tanzania, wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

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