Written by Oluboyo Ayomide, a student of the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria.
Africa after European Departure
The situation in which the African states found themselves after the eventual departure of the Europeans was one where they had control of their political system but were still held by tethers to the European system and politics.
Hence many of the problems associated with post-independent Africa are those which came as a result of its affiliations with the west either directly or indirectly.
In spite of the abundant natural resources that most West African countries possess, they are still economically poor and under-developed. The living standard of the people is very low and basic social services are deplorable. However, some people take the roots of the major socio-economic problems facing African countries today to be traced back to the colonial period and the influence of neo-colonialism.
Lack of Infrastructures and Industries
One of the major post-independence challenges is the lack of infrastructure and Industries. In most African states the unavailability of infrastructures such as good roads, adequate health care facilities, education centres and manufacturing industries has constituted largely to be a problem in post-colonial Africa.
The period of colonialism saw the Europeans establish and develop rail lines, good roads and few facilities all of which were aimed at enhancing their theft and carting away of the mineral resources of Africa.
Leaving Africa with no knowledge of manufacturing coupled with the absence of mines for gold and other materials or even technology to develop primary goods and process them, African states were left with no option other than to export their resources and raw materials and buy them back as finished goods at exorbitant prices.
Nigeria’s Crude Oil and Ghana’s Gold
A very good example is the state of Nigeria which has a large deposit of Crude oil. Nigeria has no mines leaving them with no option except to sell their raw products at meagre rates and buy it back at very high prices. Another example is the state of Ghana whose gold exports contribute about 65% of its exports. This goes a long way to show one problem in Africa.
Africa, an Agricultural Continent
Another post-independence problem is the gradual collapse of the African economy to solely an agricultural engagement with heavy exportations. The colonial period left Africa at a disadvantage in the modern international economy. The African economy focused mainly on agriculture and mining with the Europeans taking the profits and investing in their nations rather than back to Africa. They left Africa with a high export economy a very minute manufacturing base, a lack of technology and populations trained in the way of modern business, social services or public and civil administration.
The System of Unequal Exchange
One of the major problems of the international economy is the system of unequal exchange. African countries were left with a monocrop economy allowing for just one or two commodities for exports. An example is the Rwandan economy which was dominated by coffee. They had no other source of major economic activity to generate additional income neither was there a substitute export in case of bad weather that affected the growth of the crop or a slump in the commodity market.
In all, there was so little demand for the product in the continent as a result they were dependent on the west to buy their products giving them an advantage, they operated a closed market which was used to depress prices in their favour.
The Case of Cote d’Ivoire in 1988
Another example is Cote d’Ivoire in 1988 when the French transnational corporation “SucDen”, bought their entire cocoa harvest. Given that their entire GNP was totally dependent on the sale and there were few alternative companies to sell to “SucDen” received the cocoa at a bargain price leading to the fall of the value of African exports by 20% between 1980 and 2000.
Fallen Prices of Agricultural Goods
Also, the prices of agricultural goods have been falling in the international market since the 1970s. For example, the fluctuating price of cocoa in the 1970s and 1980s nearly ruined the Ghanaian economy, which is heavily dependent on cocoa exports. Côte d’Ivoire, also a major cocoa exporter, experienced similar difficulties.
Continuous Increase in prices of Imported Goods
At the same time, the cost of imported goods continued to rise when the price of primary products was falling. The mining sector has also been plagued with difficulties.
Influence of Foreign Companies
Almost all the major minerals in West Africa are mined by foreign companies and these companies generally have very favourable concessions. They pay little tax to the government and there is hardly any linkage between the mining sector and other sectors of the economy.
World Economic Discrimination
The terms of trade in the Western-controlled international market discriminated against African nations who were unable to earn enough to develop their economies. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), for example, draws trade rules between nations and these rules are generally more favourable to the developed countries. Obtaining better terms for West African products in the international market has been very difficult.
Terrorism as a Challenge
In explaining the level of insecurity in African states, radical terrorism is a huge factor. Terrorism is a global phenomenon, generated by the uncontrolled dissemination of extremist ideology, supported by a vast private wealth of secretive humans, the use of which is not subject to scrutiny.
It poses a distinctive threat to Africa partly because many African countries have substantial multi-ethnic populations that, in conditions of poverty and poor governance, can easily become disaffected. Additionally, the threat is distinctive because the organizations needed to counter it effectively require a level of sophistication and cost that are beyond the means of most African militaries.
The threat from terrorism has recently been evident in Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya and Nigeria. In Mali and CAR, it was existential: without timely French military intervention, both states would have been overrun and fallen to terrorist forces.
Cases of Nigeria and Kenya
In Nigeria and Kenya, the threat has taken a huge price that, while not threatening the states themselves, is highly damaging to their international reputations. This difference in consequences is primarily due to the greater military capacity of Nigeria and Kenya: both countries have economies that are sufficiently robust to finance militaries with the capacity to defeat rebel challenges.
However, their security forces are not adequate for the more demanding task of preventing the escalation of terrorism. The meltdown in Libya, which is ongoing, provided a base from which a rebel force could equip itself sufficiently to defeat the Malian army; the endemic insecurity of vast areas of the Sahel enabled a rebel force to defeat the army of CAR and to infiltrate North-East Nigeria; and terrorists in Somalia were able to mount terrorist attacks in Kenya.
Impacts of Terrorism in Africa
The resultant effects of these activities in Africa are the increased poverty rates in these countries, displacement of people and loss of lives and properties. Over 10 million people have been displaced from their homes leaving them no option but to flee to neighbouring states.
Level of Political Instability
Another example of insecurity is the Egyptian revolution of 2011 which saw the nation thrown into a frenzy as citizens clashed with police officers. With the citizens agitating for better living conditions and an end to police brutality, corruption and lack of political freedom. Apart from this, military coups are also an issue. The most recent in Mali in 2021 shows the level of political insecurity in Africa.
Inexperience African leaders
The inexperienced African leaders are a major problem of post-independence Africa. Educated and highly sophisticated Africans were overlooked from powerful positions and instead the uneducated were given the reins of power. This was a huge misdemeanour.
African leaders have little knowledge on how to run a nation that has led and is still leading nations into bankruptcy. Their inability to run the socio-political and even economic activities is traced to neo-colonialism which Kwame Nkrumah evidently stated is the adverse effect of the African society.
Foreign Interference in African Affairs
The Europeans always have a say in the internal situation of various nations leaders who are sometimes vetted by these European bodies and in turn give the Europeans a high level of control over the activities of African societies. A leader who would not bend to their wishes could be removed from power by a rebelling force ultimately sponsored by foreign powers. Evidence of poor leadership exemplifies in many African states with poor electricity and bad roads and a highly fluctuating economy.
The Debt Crisis
Another challenge faced in post-independence Africa is that of debts accumulation. In their desire to provide needed services for their people and initiate capital projects, West Africa’s leaders resorted to massive borrowing with high-interest rates, from abroad. Nkrumah took huge loans from the World Bank, the United States and Britain for the Akosombo hydroelectric project. The costs of construction soared far beyond the estimates.
The result was to cripple Ghana, which was just emerging from colonial rule, with a huge foreign debt. By 1992, Ghana’s external debts stood at $30 billion. Practically every West African country has huge external and domestic debts and paying interest on these debts alone sometimes consumes an appreciable percentage of the country’s revenue.
1973 OPEC Oil Prices
In 1973, as OPEC increased oil prices, economic shockwaves hit the entire world and the west sank into recession but Africa was pushed even further towards the brink of it. Where the continent had spent just 1 per cent of its GDP on fuel imports in 1970, 10 years later this had risen to 6 per cent.
Consequently, Africa’s declining terms of trade sank even further as the newly enriched oil-producing countries invested large amounts of their wealth in the western banking system. Giving the financial institutions like the IMF and World banks surplus of petrodollars which they then offered to African countries in form of cheap loans. This was the start of the debt increase of African states and further economic conditions which led the African states to borrow.
An example is Zambia in 1973 where the price of their monocrop ‘copper’ crashed in the commodity market which accounted for 97 per cent of her export income and 58 per cent of her government revenue. With no economic activity to fall back on, Zambia was forced to seek loans from the west. By the end of the millennium, Zambia had owed the US 6.3USD which was double her GDP.
Conflict over Colonial Borders
After African states obtained their independence, the artificial and poorly demarcated borders of many countries were considered the most potent source of conflict and political instability. This resulted in heated debates on whether to revise or maintain the colonial borders. However, the continent’s pioneer integration organisation, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), elected for a status quo on borders to avert the likelihood of chaos and anarchy resulting from boundary contestations.
Despite the decisions of the OAU and its successor, the African Union (AU), border conflicts became a source of instability and conflict. Significantly, although intra-state conflicts seem to have replaced inter-state conflicts as the principal source of instability on the continent since the late 1980s, the prospect of destabilising border conflicts is still very real, particularly against the background of Africa’s ever-expanding population, which is accompanied by shrinking economic resources and opportunities, and high levels of migration.
Africa’s borders are very porous because of a lack of proper demarcation and delimitation. This has been identified as the principal reason for the ease with which governance-related national conflicts in individual states have spilt over to entire regions, as has been the case in the Great Lakes region, West Africa and the Horn of Africa. Significantly, many intra-state conflicts in Africa have been sparked by the forceful fusion of incompatible national groups into one state by the imposition of artificial boundaries by colonial powers.
In conclusion, the various post-independence challenges that have plagued Africa have most of the time spanned from the effects of colonialism. As documented above, issues such as the failure of our leaders, the debts accumulation over the years in most African states, the various boundary disputes and economic underdevelopment coupled with unequal exchange systems have summed up as challenges facing African states.
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- Fage, John D. and McCaskie, T.C.. “western Africa”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 Oct. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/place/western-Africa. Accessed 11 December 2021.
- How Britain and Frnace Underdeveloped West African Nations- Tadexprof