Politics and Government in Post-Colonial Africa

Political Issues in Post-Colonial Africa

History is one of the keys to understanding politics in post-colonial Africa. The reasons for political violence, authoritarian governments, or corruption in some African countries are complex. They do not reflect the inability of Africans to govern themselves.

The key components of the political legacy of colonialism were:

  • Colonial states were weak and lacked capacity. With limited capacity, it was difficult for the first independent governments in Africa to meet the huge social and economic needs of their countries.
  • Colonial states were not democratic and had little respect for human rights. Many post-colonial governments resorted to the same undemocratic practices to control and deal with opposition.
  • Ethnic rivalry over scarce resources and political power to control resources has lead to political conflicts and even to serious violence. The colonial powers used a policy of divide and rule and indirect rule to establish ethnic rivalries that have become a common part of politics in post-colonial Africa.

Post-colonial politics 1960 -1990

Most of the problems facing the first African governments after independence belong to three large categories:

  • Sovereignty and security. Sovereignty is the authority and power to insure security. The new independent governments were concerned that once colonial rule ended, there was a strong chance that the newly independent countries would disintegrate. A top priorities of the new governments was to ensure the sovereignty and security of their new nation-state.
  • National Unity. A nation-state has no chance of remaining a nation-state if it is deeply divided along ethnic or religious lines. Another priority of the new African governments was the development of national unity. Citizens needed to develop a stronger loyalty and identity to the nation than to an ethnic group.
  • Basic human services: New nationalist governments needed to meet the needs of all citizens in the areas of education, health-care, housing and adequate employment opportunities. The legitimacy of the first independent governments in Africa depended on their ability to meet these needs.

At their independence, each Africa country had a constitution that established the “rules and regulations” of government.

One of the ways to deal with political crisis is to change the system of government. These changes weren’t necessarily for the better.

Military Governments

Almost all African countries that gained their independence in the 1960s started out with multiparty systems. Within a decade, only a handful of African countries maintained a multiparty system. By 1970, half of the independent countries in Africa had military governments.

Due to the weak political systems inherited from the colonial era, the first African governments did not have the capacity to govern effectively. Military leaders, afraid that their countries would fail politically, decided that they could do a better job of governing.

The military governments in Africa were no more successful than civilian governments at addressing the political, social, and economic issues facing their countries. Furthermore, military regimes are undemocratic.

Source: Politics and Government in Post-Colonial Africa
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