The damage left by the ex-colonial powers is devastating. It is not putting it too strongly to say that, to this day, their legacy has been to help keep African citizens in extreme poverty for years longer than was necessary, and it still pervades every aspect of African life.
One of their disastrous mistakes was to tell Africa’s fledgling nations to use a type of government that was completely wrong for their situation. Western politicians and bureaucrats who were largely ignorant of Africa decided they knew better than Africans (who in fact were hardly consulted), and that Western-style democratic government was what was best for them. Unfortunately, this was never going to work several reasons:
- Full democracy cannot work where per capita incomes are too low, small elites have too much power, education standards are too low or too much internal division exists. All four situations apply in Zimbabwe, as well as most African nations.
In fact, the colonial powers positively invited internal divisions with their badly-drawn national boundaries. In the belief that “All Black Africans are the same”, they took no notice of tribal or ethnic territories when they carved up the continent between them. So in some cases they lumped together tribes that were antagonistic to each other and, in others, they divided tribes and kingdoms among up to four nations (as in Zimbabwe). Although great for the dominant tribe in each country, this took no account of the fact that tribes considered themselves to have identities as different as any two nations in Europe, and the less dominant ones felt just like European nations did when they were taken over by Germany in World War II. That caused bloody conflict in Europe, it was bound to do the same in Africa, and it still is.
- No colonial power had used democracy in governing its colonies – far from it. Every colony was based on subjugation and disenfranchisement, and often brutality and worse as well. In fact African nations could not have had worse role models than the colonial powers in how to apply democratic government. They were taught how not to rule unless you believe in authoritarianism, and that is still the reality in Zimbabwe and throughout Africa today where governments would much prefer it if they were authoritarian – and often are in reality.
The result was that at independence few new African leaders and politicians had practical experience of a democracy that put citizens first.
The problem was compounded by the colonial powers making little or no effort to train Africans in national government. In fact they deliberately held back the development of a strong middle class without which it is almost impossible for a modern nation to function properly. That legacy still exists today where Africa’s middle, business and professional classes are tiny compared to those in developed nations, and still far too small to overcome its repressive regimes (however, if only African citizens would grasp the potential of Agenda 2063 and its accompanying First Ten-year Implementation Plan 2014-2023, they could overcome this problem).
- Democracy was not a system Africans related to anyway because they were used to paternalistic rule. Indigenous rulers were seen as ‘The Big Man’ acting as ‘Father of the People’. Elders were ‘the fathers of the tribe’ in age if not in fact. Colonialists followed on with a similar attitude towards their African employees and subjects. This paternalistic even authoritarian attitude to citizenry has been copied by African governments, and it is still how MNCs and foreign-owned businesses manage their African employees today. Because of that, it has also become the model for how most African-owned businesses manage their staff and workers.
- Colonialism often pitted tribe against tribe as a method of defusing potential opposition, thus teaching Africans that ‘divide and rule’ was the way to govern. Unfortunately, this is a policy African governments still employ, but it is contrary to the practice in true democracy which aims to smooth over differences and disagreements in the interests of national harmony.
- If independence was to lead to a fair and equal society in which Africans would have equality with Westerners (and, by definition, that means a lifestyle as good as Westerners), what they needed was not political but economic or financial freedom. Do political theories and ideologies put food on the table of starving millions? No, and those that claim to be the best for the working classes (Marxism/communism, socialism, labour and all left-wing ideologies) have all done far worse than capitalism in creating the best lifestyles for the working class.
Political freedom is overrated in Africa anyway. Westerners rabbit on about it as if it is a holy grail, but if they were to ask an African whether they would rather have a wealthy lifestyle but not be politically free, or be politically free but live in extreme poverty, they would look at you as if you are mad. Freedom is a luxury for Westerners who already have decent lifestyles.
African nations have yet to recover from this huge mistake by the ex-colonial powers.
So when the colonial powers pulled out, they left behind novice governments largely composed of politicians, ministers, members of parliament and bureaucrats with only basic education and a middle class that was almost non-existent, floundering to manage millions of people most of whom could not read or write and trying to communicate with them through a multiplicity of mother tongues, with flaky national cohesion where tribal or ethnic divisions rose easily to the surface, and endeavouring to sort out the mess using a system of government they had no experience of, had not been trained in, did not relate to and was wrong for their circumstances anyway.
Also no one seems to have been prepared for the impact on a largely uneducated and politically naïve population of going from foreign totalitarian or paternalistic control to self-government virtually overnight.
One could virtually guarantee this would lead to conflict, civil war and ethnic cleansing as one ‘Big Man’ or potential dictator vied with another for power. So it was Western colonial powers, not Africans, that created ideal conditions for a chaos that should have been easy to predict and not surprised to anyone. But instead of recognising this, the West keeps blaming African incompetence.
So if Western-style democracy has proved to be such a disaster, what should Western bureaucrats and politicians have advised instead? In fact, a limited form of democracy had been used by many African pre-colonial societies, and they had worked very well in keeping social order. But these had been destroyed in the colonial takeover of Africa. And White people were too arrogant to believe that Black Africans might actually have a better form of government than the one the West was proposing, at least for the stage of development African nations were in when colonialism ended.
There is only one possible solution to extreme poverty – or, more importantly, to take Africans from poverty to Western-style affluence. And that is for governments that are totally focused on helping their entrepreneurs and businesspeople to develop a business-base as rapidly as possible that will give the majority of Africans a quality lifestyle as rapidly as possible. In other words, a government that is based on Agenda 2063 and its accompanying First Ten-Year Implementation Plan 2014-2023.
Whether that government is democratic or not is irrelevant, and China has proved this conclusively.
If the MDC creates Agenda 2063 as its manifesto, it will sweep Mugabe and ZANU-PF from power at the next general election.
Source: The Zimbabwean