The Anti-Colonial Mass Struggle Myth
Africa’s anti-Colonial struggle has been portrayed as a monolithic dialectical conflict between the oppressive forces of Colonialism represented by European Imperialism on one hand, versus the African resistance on the other pole.
However, considering the internal class differences amongst Africans themselves during the Nationalist struggle may possibly explain the divisions and dictatorships that emerged in Post-Colonial Africa once the euphoria of independence had fizzled out.
African Class Divisions In Colonial Africa
Africans in Colonial Africa were not all of the same Socio-Economic class.
Whilst the majority were either labourers or peasant farmers, occupying the lowest rungs of the Colonial economy, there remained a sliver of a Black Professional and Business class.
Amongst these were the Teachers, Doctors, and Lawyers like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe and Kenneth Kaunda who would go on to spearhead the Protest Movements that would evolve into the Mass Movements that achieved African Independence under the banner of African Nationalism.
However, these mass movements did not initially start out with the objective of achieiving mass independence, rather they began as vehicles for the advancement of the small Black elite.
Examples are Ghana’s United Gold Coast Convention, South Africa’s ANC, and Zimbabwe’s ZANU (PF).
These movements were at least in part a response by the Black elite to their exclusion from full participation in the Colonial economy.
However, the Black elite were too few in number to bring about the Social Revolution that would allow their full participation in the African Economy on their own, and so by necessity, the Black elite recruited the ‘Masses’ of the Worker and Peasant Classes under the banner of a unifying Nationalist narrative.
The co-opting of the lower Black classes can be seen by the extension of the Black elite movements in various African Countries to include the Trade Union Movements which had the necessary support base to bring about a Revolution.
In order to deal with the urgent need to reverse Colonialism, the unifying Nationalist narrative glossed over internal Black class distinctions.
From this point onwards, the resistance gradually acquired sufficient momentum to overthrow the Colonial system. It was portrayed as a Monolithic Black ‘Mass struggle’ with little consideration being given to how the Mass Movements had actually been birthed, as well as how the glossed over internal Black class distinctions would come to haunt Post-Colonial Africa.
Post-Colonial African Mass Mythology
The arrival of independence meant the divisions in the African anti-Colonial struggle now had to be reckoned with as the Black elite that formed the core of the Black Intelligentsia which had led the resistance movement emerged as the leaders of the newly formed Post-Colonial States.
At this stage, the questions of individual class mobility that had sown the seeds of the Revolution emerged once again and this time, the Black elite was able to advance its interests free from the restrictions imposed by Colonial Rule.
A Post-Colonial Black middle class was also created, and this can possibly be understood as the second phase in co-opting a segment of the Black population by the Black elite in order to maintain the new system that now served its interests in a Post-Colonial Africa.
The situation was also complicated by the fact that African States found themselves on the loser’s side at the end of the Cold War. This state of affairs coupled with the arrival of Neo-Liberalism meant that the room to manouvre from already restrictive Colonial Independence Settlement Agreements providing Constitutional gaurantees protecting the Private Property of the former Colonial class was further curtailed.
As such, the Black Post-Colonial elite has been hardpressed to deliver on both the promise of African Independence to the African people, as well as its own promise to itself to advance its own interests as the true catalyst of the Anti-Colonial struggle.
The result has been the sharpening of class distinctions amongst the Black Population in Post-Colonial Africa, as well as the emergence of a range of government styles ranging from fully autocratic to democratic, all of which have advanced the interests of the Black elite at the expense of the Worker and Peasent classes without fully reversing the systemic inequalities perpetuated by Colonialism.
For more on Black resistance to Slavery, Colonialism and Jim Crow segregation, you can check out our article archive:
In Conquest Undone, the nature of African Anti-Colonial Nationalist Settlement compromise agreements and their impact on Post-Colonial Africa is explained through the lens of the South African experience.
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