The Story Continues. In the 1960s Obafemi Awolowo A leader from western Nigeria, spoke about human rights in his newly independent homeland: “Every member of any human association has rights, intangible though they are, which are sacred and inalienable, and which must be protected against invasion, at all costs.” Awolowo believed that it was the duty of the state to preserve these rights. However, in newly independent African nations. It was more easily said than done.

Political Challenges

Africans greeted independence with high hopes. The end of colonial rule, however, brought with it many serious problems. New African leaders were inexperienced in politics and in governing the new states. When they failed to improve conditions as quickly as people wanted, the military often stepped in. Soon many African countries were being ruled by military dictatorships.

Ghana is a good example of the pattern that emerged in many African states after independence. During the early years of Kwame Nkrumah’s rule, Ghana’s main crop -cocoa- sold for high prices on world markets. The resulting prosperity helped make Nkrumah popular. He used that popularity to gain absolute power.

Kwame NkrumahIn 1964 a new constitution made Ghana a one-party state, and any challenge to Nkrumah was seen as treason. “All Africans know that I represent Africa”, Nkrumah said, “and that I speak in her name. Therefore no African can have an opinion that differs from mine”.

Kwame Nkrumah

That did not stop people from criticizing, particularly when the price of cocoa dropped on the world market. This drop, combined with government and corruption, caused Ghana’s economy to collapse. Nkrumah became more and more ruthless and his popularity fell rapidly. In 1966, he was ousted in a military coup. Over the next 12 years Ghana shifted between civilian and military rule. Political instability was linked to shifts in the economy that resulted from changing cocoa prices.

In 1979 a young air force pilot, Jerry Rawlings, led a takeover. Rawlings claimed that the present military leaders were corrupt and had to go. After public trials several leading military officers were executed. Rawlings then allowed elections to take place, and the country returned to civilian rule.
A little more than a year later, Rawlings dissolved the civilian government. He claimed it was worse than the military junta it had replaced. Rawlings tried socialist policies to improve the economy, but they too failed. A new course toward free enterprise worked. By 1990 Ghana’s rate of economic growth was one of the highest in Africa. To achieve this success, however, the people of Ghana had to pay high import, sales, and income taxes. Subsidies on food and fuel were reduced. The currency was devalued to stimulate exports. Ghanaians grew tired of these measures and of Rawlings’s rigid governing style. A new constitution was adopted, and civilian rule was established. Resigning from the military, Rawlings ran for the presidency and won.

1. What kinds of political problems – exemplified by Ghana – did new African nations face?

Ethnic Violence

Ghana’s political experience was typical of many African nations. Some nations, however, had to deal with special problems left over from colonial rule. National boundaries had been drawn by imperialist powers for their own convenience. People of similar cultural backgrounds were often separated, while people of different cultures were grouped together. In some places, such as Nigeria, this led to civil war.

Nigeria. By 1963, four years after independence, Nigeria was a federation of four regions. Each had a large degree of local independence. In the north are the Hausa- Fulani, who are mostly Muslim. In the south are the Yoruba and the Igbo (also called Ibo) , who are mostly Christians, Muslims or animists, who believe that spirits are present in animals, plants, and natural objects. The Yoruba, a farming people with a tradition of kings, live to the west. The Igbo, a farming people who have a democratic tradition live to the east. The government hoped that this loose federation would satisfy people’s ethnic and regional differences and prevent conflicts. It did not.
Hoping to end political conflict and corruption, a group of Nigerian military officers seized control of the government in January 1966. Most of these officers belonged to the Ibo. When word got out that Yoruba and northern leaders had been killed, many people decided that it was an Igbo grab for power.
Biafran territory

Biafra and the division of Nigerian territory into regions. 

In July a second army revolt placed a northerner at the head of Nigeria’s government. In September and October, Muslim mobs in northern cities had killed some 20000 Igbo and other southerners, causing thousands more to flee to their homes in the southeast.
Unable to get help from the military government, in May 1967 the Igbo proclaimed the independence of southeastern Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra. This act set off a two-year civil war that resulted in the deaths of several million Igbo from starvation and disease.
After Biafra surrendered, the Nigerian government gradually restored stability. Ethnic and regional tensions continued, however. The Nigerian civil war showed what ethnic conflict could do within a country. Such violence also spilled over national borders and threatened whole regions.

Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire. In the 1990s in Rwanda and Burundi, tensions between the two major ethnic groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu, exploded into violence. In late 1993 about 50,000 Burundians -mostly Hutu- lost their lives in violence following a Tutsi- sponsored coup attempt. Marie Kaboinja, a survivor of the massacres, told of the violence:

“Tutsis charged us with spears and pangas [machetes] … We ran away with
my family. But many of us were killed, including my grandfather, father, mother,
aunt and my three children.” (Marie Kaboinja, quoted in “Burundi Still Bleeding”,
The Economist).
Rwandan genocide

The remains of several hundred Tutsi civilians who were massacred during the country’s 1994 genocide were exhumed and reburied as a memorial to the victims of genocide in Kaduha in 1995. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandan children died as a result of genocide and war. Those who survived have lived through unspeakable atrocities.  

In 1994 an estimated 500,000 Rwandans were killed. Most were Tutsi slaughtered by Hutu. The genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. Within hours of the attack, a campaign of violence spread from the capital throughout the country, and did not subside until three months later when the Tutsi army then captured the capital of Rwanda. About 2 million people fled to refugee camps in Zaire and in other neighboring countries. Many refugees died of disease and starvation. The killing in Rwanda continued.

The presence of so many Rwandan refugees destabilized Zaire. In 1995 the government stood by as Hutu refugees forcibly expelled Tutsi whose ancestors had settled in the eastern Congo as early as the 1700s. The Tutsi responded with force.
It was feared that the Tutsi-Hutu conflict would engulf the entire central African lakes region. The Tutsi rebels were joined by forces who opposed Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko. The Tutsi and the anti-Mobutu forces, led by Laurent Kabila, marched on the capital city of Kinshasa. In May 1997 they forced Mobutu to flee the country. Kabila renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He promised to rebuild the country and halt foreign interference. After Kabila was assassinated in a failed coup attempt in 2001, his son Joseph took his place as head of the government.

2. Explain how ethnic conflicts contributed to problems in the independent countries of Africa.
3. What triggered the clash between ethnical and regional groups in Nigeria in 1966?
4. What were the events that caused the conflicts in Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire?
5. How might ethnic conflict have been reduced in Africa?

Economic and Environmental Problems

Almost all new African nations experienced economic difficulties. Their colonial economies had been tied to their imperialist rulers. After independence, they lacked the balance between agriculture and industry that is needed for economic stability.

Limited economies. Many new African nations depended on a single crop or mineral resource. For example, Ghana depended on cocoa, Zambia on copper, Sudan on cotton, Zaire on cobalt, and Nigeria on oil. All these products were subject to large price swings in the world market. Dependence on one product puts an economy at risk. When prices for that product drop, the whole economy -and therefore the nation -suffers. This is what happened in Ghana when cocoa prices dropped.
A similar situation occurred in Nigeria. By 1979 Nigeria had returned to a democratically elected civilian government. Because of the country’s oil wealth, Nigerians had the chance to escape the poverty that threatened most other African nations. Industrialization looked promising. Then in the1980s the international price of oil dropped. Oil had accounted for 95 percent of Nigeria’s export revenues. With the drop in oil prices, the country’s economy faltered. As in Ghana, the military took over in 1983 and introduced strict new measures to try to turn the economy around. In 1985 this government was itself overturned by Major General Ibrahim Babangida. He introduced bold reforms to restore economic and political stability. Babangida renegotiated the country’s foreign loans and applied for assistance from international financial organizations. In the 1990s he and other generals tried to return the country to civilian rule.

Like Nigeria, many new African countries turned to international organizations such as the World Bank for loans. However, bad planning, poor management, and corruption often left the countries worse off than before. Soon most African countries were deeply in debt. In addition, their economies remained highly vulnerable to changes in the global economy. Rising prices often forced Africans to pay huge amounts for imported goods.

Population and environment. Under colonial rule improvements in health care, disease control, and nutrition led to population growth. After independence this growth continued. To provide food farmers overused their land and planted crops on dry areas where fierce winds stripped away the topsoil. Acres of trees were cut down for firewood. The combined effect of these practices was desertification – the spread of the desert. In addition, severe droughts have brought starvation to millions.
Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, new diseases emerged and new strains of viruses appeared. AIDS, for example, spread rapidly through many regions of the African continent. In 1995 the deadly Ebola virus struck in Zaire, causing the government to close the borders of an entire province in an effort to halt the disease’s spread.

Superpower Rivalries

As African nations pursued peace and stability, they soughtHorn of Africa assistance from both the Soviet Union and the United States. The Cold War between these two superpowers added to Africans’ problems.
When civil war broke out in Angola after independence in 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba rushed military support to the rival factions.

 The Horn of Africa      

For the next 12 years, Angola became a battleground, or “hot war:’ for the Cold War. When tensions between the two superpowers eased, attempts were made to end the Angolan civil war. A regional agreement linking the independence of Namibia to the withdrawal of Cuban troops was reached in 1988. In 1991 the rival sides agreed to hold free elections the following year.

Tensions still result in breakouts of hostility, however. Soviet-American rivalry was even more complex in the Horn of Africa, the area that includes Ethiopia and Somalia. The Horn borders the Red Sea as well as the Indian Ocean sea-lanes to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. When Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974, a Marxist regime came to power. The Soviet Union provided military aid. Ethiopia’s traditional enemy, Somalia, was also a socialist country supported by the Soviet Union. When Somalia invaded Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviet Union sided with Ethiopia. Somalia was defeated by Cuban troops with Soviet weapons.
African nations, however, often sought aid for practical reasons rather than ideological beliefs. A worldwide relief effort tried to help Ethiopia during a severe drought in 1984. Somalia, also devastated by drought, called on its Arab neighbors as well as the United States for aid.
In 1991 after the Cold War had ended, the military dictatorships in both Somalia and Ethiopia collapsed. Somalia descended into civil war as different clans and rival warlords fought for power. The fighting prevented aid from reaching victims of the drought. In 1992 a United Nations force intervened. Unable to stop the bloodshed, it withdrew in frustration in 1995. Although warring factions reached agreement in 1998, fighting continued. Many Somalis have sought refuge in other countries.

6. What economic and environmental challenges did some of the newly independent African countries face?
7. What are some reasons that the world’s powerful nations have taken an interest in Africa?


~ by on January 22, 2008.

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