University of Cape Coast
Wednesday 7 November 2007
Independent Africa and the World
Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, Your Excellencies and members of the Government, distinguished dons and students, ladies and gentlemen:
My very first words must be to thank the Governing Council of this university for conferring on me this special distinction of delivering the seventh of the series of lectures instituted in memory of Kwame Nkrumah. As you would expect, I have in my time delivered many lectures around the Commonwealth and the wider world but I count this a special honour for reasons which I will make clear in my concluding remarks. Suffice it for me at this very beginning to say a few words on which I will elaborate later about the man in whose name and honour these lectures have been instituted.
Kwame Nkrumah occupies a unique place in the pantheon of Africa’s heroes. He was not only the leader of Ghana, the first black African nation to truly cast off the shackles of colonialism, he was in his time, the symbol and most compelling advocate of pan-African unity.
Kwame Nkrumah inspired many of my generation, in the words of Martin Luther King, “to have a dream”. And it was a dream of an independent and united Africa in which Africans, endowed with the benefits of economic and social development, would regain and reassert their human dignity which had long been denied them first by the historical phenomenon of the transatlantic slave trade, and later by European colonialism.
In the view of very many people, the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah on 24 February 1966 more than any other military coup d’etat of the period was meant, and in reality did prove, to be the coup that, when it mattered most, changed the course of Africa’s political evolution in the second half of the twentieth century.
I am glad to be giving these lectures here at the University of Cape Coast, one of the practical legacies of the Kwame Nkrumah administration. It was typical of the man’s foresight and autochtonous sense of national development that he established a University with the mission “to play a unique role in national development by identifying national needs and addressing them”. Reading further from the Whikipedia encyclopedia entry on the internet the range of the academic disciplines now existing here, I must congratulate your University for continuing to live up to the noble aspirations of its founding fathers.
In inviting me to deliver these lectures the Governing Council also gave me a free hand in deciding the subject of my lectures. The broad theme is The Condition of Africa: A Cramp in the Will; and in keeping with what has become the established tradition, I will be delivering three lectures under this head. The first is entitled Independent Africaand the World in which I will deal with the fortunes of the continent since the recovery of independence. The second lecture is on The Cramping of the Will, the process by which the early promise of independence was blunted and the forward march of the continent halted and reversed. The third and final lecture will be a discussion on how Africa can regain its place in the development stakes, end the retardation and re-enter international life as a force with which to be reckoned. I have called this last lecture Recovering the Will to Reconstruction and Development. And as the choice of the subject is mine I suppose I owe you an explanation.
At independence in the early years of the second half of the last century, African countries, beginning with Ghana, were full of confidence and optimism. Driven by the desire to unite their efforts in pursuit of shared objectives, they met in May 1963 at Addis Ababa and established the Organisation for African Unity (OAU). They also proceeded to set up a Liberation Committee with the task of mobilising their respective contributions to the liberation of the countries in Western and Southern Africa which were still under brutal Portuguese colonialism and the racist minority and inhuman apartheid regimes.
On the national front, there was shared optimism throughout the continent that political independence would be followed by social and economic development which in the words of Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria, the first lecturer in these series, would result in “life more abundant” for the people.
On the international front, most of the newly independent African countries joined the Non-Aligned group of countries in the hope of at worst, avoiding entanglement in the Cold War of the Super Powers and their acolytes and at best, bringing influence to bear in mediating international conflicts that were fuelled by the Cold War. Indeed so confident and determined were African leaders that following the unilateral declaration of independence by the racist minority regime of Ian Smith on 11 November 1965 in what was then Rhodesia, they adopted a resolution to break diplomatic relations with the government of the United Kingdom which was widely blamed for not using force to stop Ian Smith from wanting to create another apartheid regime in Rhodesia. I must recall here that in the Commonwealth, Nkrumah’s Ghana and Nyerere’s Tanzania were the first in proceeding to implement the resolution.
Africa has been independent for almost fifty years and in that period two generations of Africans have arisen who have no living memory of colonialism, who saw nothing of the heroism and idealism which accompanied and sustained the anti-colonial campaign. Nor did these generations see the remarkable gains of independence in its first decade and a half when it was truly bliss to be alive! What these generations have largely inherited is not the splendours of independence but its miseries; and knowing only the miseries and the attendant humiliations there is a real risk that they will be forced into lives dominated by resentment and fatalism. The continuation of the present situation in Africa will gobble up the purposefulness and initiative of the rising generations. This must not be allowed to happen. There is a related danger.
If Nkrumah was about anything, it was the recovery of Africa’s lost dignity resulting from the centuries of slavery and, as he himself put it, “the long, long night of colonial rule”. But today’s Africa has a new darkness which threatens and which has already made short shrift of much that was achieved in the early years of independence. It is also bringing into prospect what a former senior official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has described as “a geopolitical version of Continental Drift” in which “Africa has fallen almost completely off the map.” Robert Calderisi, the IMF official in question, published a book this year entitled The Trouble with Africa. It was published after his retirement and is therefore written with the most remarkable candour. And in that spirit, this is how he portrays the image of Africans in international gatherings: “if not for their colourful national dress at international conferences, Africans would scarcely be noticed on the world’s stage.”
Many people before me and in other fora have dealt with the implications of Africa’s decline for the image of the continent and its people. But speaking in memory of Kwame Nkrumah and doing so on Ghanaian soil, it would be remiss of me not to cry alarm political against a trend which, in addition to demoralising and blunting the mettle of our people, will return us to the contempt which was part and parcel of slavery and colonialism. I will return to the issue of dignity in nation-building later in this lecture.
In the course of these lectures I will be making comparisons with other parts of the world and I will be doing so in full knowledge of the pitfalls. Somewhere in Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare says that comparisons are odious. Maybe - on the other hand, I cannot forget what Luigi Pirandello said “A fact is like an empty sack. It won’t stand up unless you put something in it.” Often times, the only way to put a fact into relief is by the medium of comparison. And so, on this occasion I shall ignore Shakespeare and be guided by Pirandello.
What then is the condition of Africa? All the official publications coming out of the international organisations, especially the international financial institutions, are agreed that of all the regions of the world, Africa is the only continent that has not only failed to make progress over the past many years but has in fact regressed in many important areas. Of these official publications, the most recent and authoritative is the report of The Commission for Africa (the Blair Commission) published in 2005. Reading that document it is difficult to believe that Africa is part of our world. It is a big document to summarise; so I will focus on some of its principal findings.
The report opens with a description of a world “awash with wealth, and on a scale which has never been seen before in human history. Unlike the opulence of the past which belonged to a handful of individuals and elites, this wealth is shared by unprecedented numbers of ordinary people across the planet. Growth and globalisation have brought higher living standards to billions of men and women. Yet it is not a wealth which everyone enjoys.” The one continent excluded from a share in this wealth and prosperity unprecedented in human history is Africa. In short, Africa is not part of the globalisation process.
In Africa millions of people die each day in abject poverty and squalor. Children are hungry and suffer from malnutrition. They can neither read nor write. In fact some forty million African children are unable to go to school on a daily basis. Even more disturbing perhaps is the new phenomenon in a growing number of African countries where educated parents are bringing up illiterate children because they cannot afford to keep them in school. What better evidence could there be of a society going backwards? Each year some four million African children die under the age of five with malaria the biggest single killer. These deaths could have been avoided with a drug that costs no more than one US dollar per dose. A quarter of a million African women die each year from complications in pregnancy or childbirth. There are an estimated twenty five million people infected with HIV/AIDS. On the basis of one estimate, Africa alone accounts for two-thirds of AIDS cases. European and Japanese cows even have a higher standard of living than most Africans. Europe on average spends two dollars a day on subsidies on each cow which is double what the poor in Africa subsist on. In Japan the comparable figure is four dollars per cow per day.
A vicious circle has set in as a result of the continent’s growing poverty and immiseration. It is estimated, for example, that seventy thousand skilled graduates who are the very people who might have made the African renaissance a reality, leave the continent every year. In some countries the drain of skilled personnel threatens to bring the national social services to a stop. Zambia, to take one example, in recent years has lost all but 400 of its 1600 doctors. And this in one of those countries where the HIV/AIDS crisis is at its most acute!
Human flight is complemented by capital flight out of Africa. According to a report prepared by the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa and published only last year, some 148 billion US dollars a year leaves the continent through corruption. Other estimates of the amount of total illicit proceeds coming out of Africa, including corrupt commercial and criminal proceeds, varies between US$100 and $200 billion. According to one witness who appeared before the Group, for every one dollar of foreign aid that “we are generously handing out across the top of the table, we are taking back some four to eight dollars in dirty money under the table.”
Let us now move to the economic indicators. Among the great weaknesses of African countries is their continuing dependence on the same export commodities which first attracted Europeans to the continent and with which they have continued through colonial rule and into the independence era. Outside South Africa there is no major industrial power on the continent and manufacturing exports constitute only a tenth of exports, which means that to speak of an African economy is to speak of agriculture supplemented in some cases by mining.
The continuing fall in commodity prices which we have seen over the past many years has greatly weakened the economic basis of many an African country. Between 1980 and 2000 the price of a number of key commodity exports from Africa and other countries fell dramatically: sugar fell by 77 percent, cocoa by 71 per cent, coffee by 64 per cent and cotton by 47 per cent. The falling commodity prices came on top of years of severe drought, especially in the savannah zones which put considerable pressure on the production of consumer staples such as maize, rice and millet.
Consequently far from growing, Africa’s economy has shrunk dramatically. There have of course been some exceptions to this general picture including seventeen countries whose Gross Domestic Product growth rate exceeded 5 per cent in the last year. However, according to Calderisi, by the year 2000 the typical African economy had an income no larger than the suburb of a major American city, such as Bethseda, just outside Washington DC. In terms of international trade sub-Saharan Africa barely accounts for 1.5 per cent.
I hope I have said enough to give you an idea of what I mean by the condition of Africa and therefore the enormity of the challenge that faces us. How did we come to this pass? In what shape did African countries regain their independence and what steps were taken to make a reality of that independence if in ourselves the remedy did lie as Shakespeare might have said?
In every human enterprise it is the human factor that is decisive. To put it in modern parlance, it is primarily the quality of the human resources that shapes the destiny of a nation, always bearing in mind that we live in an interdependent world. And adequate trained human resources was what an African country on the eve of independence did not have, beginning with those who would man the institutions of government.
Colonial rule was of varying duration from country to country, lasting for the best part of a century in some, in others lasting well beyond a century. In a few exceptional cases, such as Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau, it lasted centuries. But whatever its duration, colonial rule meant first and foremost the exclusion of Africans from any meaningful part in the direction and management of executive government. Of course Africans occupied junior clerical positions but they were rigorously excluded from those positions where the real important decisions were taken; they were kept out of where it mattered.
Africans in colonial governments were and were meant to be no more than appendages, incidental to other men’s business. The absence of a critical mass of educated Africans was often used as a handy excuse to justify the absence of Africans from government. But even when Africans overcame the restrictions and hurdles and acquired the necessary educational qualifications, they were still debarred from executive office. This practice became policy, even a doctrine, with the arrival of Joseph Chamberlain in the Colonial Office in 1895 and was continued through the system of indirect rule with its unreasoning suspicion and distrust of all educated Africans.
This policy of keeping Africans out of government at all cost meant in the case of Ghana, for example, that between the formation of the Aborigines Right Protection Society in the 1890s and the appointment of A L Adu (under whom I worked when I joined the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1966 and he was the Deputy Commonwealth Secretary General) and Dr Busia to the positions of Assistant District Commissioners (ADCs) no Ghanaian took a hand in running this country until the achievement of internal self-government in 1951 and full independence in 1957. To take an even more extreme example, in South Africa in 1951, Eric Verwoed then Minister for Bantu Education said that the policy of his government was to educate Africans to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.
Apartheid was an unmitigated evil and a disaster, but in its rising it had at least one merit – it clarified the issues. The apostles of apartheid had no use for the sophistries of liberal imperialism and Africans knew what to expect from them. As a result, black South Africans outside the Bantustan system did not begin to acquire experience of government until May 1994! In fact apart from the few who might have slipped through the apartheid net to acquire professional skills outside the country, there were no black South African professionals to speak of until the end of apartheid.
Where there was African representation in colonial legislatures, as happened here in Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere in the early days of colonial rule, it consisted of standing the principle of representation on its head. In the first place, as John Mensah Sarbah pointed out in his Fanti National Constitution of 1906, those appointed were usually chosen “for other reasons than the knowledge they possessed of the country and its requirements.” Then the mercantile portion of the community which was still substantial in the latter part of the 19th century was either not represented or improperly represented. The other interests, he concluded, “are in no way represented at all.” This pattern of popular representation on the basis of adventitious reasons remained one of the defining characteristics of the colonial legislatures almost right up to the eve of independence. On the eve of independence therefore no African country which had gone through the colonial harrow had a body of experienced legislators standing ready to take over the reins.
To Africans, the civil service was even more of a closed corporation especially in its upper echelons. As I said, the only place in the colonial civil service where Africans were to be found was in the junior ranks of the service. At independence therefore with the exception of Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, where efforts to inject natives into the higher reaches of the civil service had begun only a few years before, the usual situation confronting the new nation was a government with an ex-patriate senior civil service and a junior African corps and nothing in between. Nkrumah deployed an apt military metaphor to depict the resulting situation. The victorious party might provide the General Staff and the inherited African junior civil servants might be the other rankers; but it meant there were no linking officers.
Education outside missionary enterprise was usually of an exiguous nature. In 1951 the illiteracy rate in Ghana was 80 per cent; in 1954 there was only one high school in the whole of Mozambique and although in formal terms race was not a bar to admission, ability to pay was and that in effect kept out all African children. In Tanganyika, soon to be Tanzania, Julius Nyerere said he inherited practically an illiterate society. For, in a population of some ten million in 1961 only 12,000 children were at secondary school. In Kenya, despite the White Paper of 1923 issued by the Duke of Devonshire as Colonial Secretary enshrining the primacy of African interests over those of the immigrant races, a declaration reaffirmed seven years later by his Labour successor, Lord Passfield, (better known as Sydney Webb), the local white ascendancy government set its face firmly against African education. As a result, the Kenyans had to do many things for themselves. They established their own churches, built their own schools through the Kenya Independent Schools Association, and the Kenya Teachers College to train teachers.
Transport and communications in colonial Africa were rudimentary. Most colonial roads outside the resource centres were little more than tracks and practically impassable during the rainy season; and where there were railways, they too led from sources of economic assets such as gold, diamonds and agricultural commodity exports to ports and harbours. African railways have consequently been rightly described as “a series of drains rather than a network”. The economy of the country about to be independent in 1960 would have been almost wholly an agricultural economy and a primitive agriculture at that. It has been rightly said that one of the most decisive failures of colonial policy was that the African peasant went into colonialism with a hoe and came out of it with the same hoe.
The export sector of a newly independent African country in West Africa, for example, would usually depend on one dominant crop such as cocoa, coffee, ground nuts or palm oil. Productivity would depend on human muscle power and rainfall. Anthony Kirk-Greene, a friend and a scholar and in his time a distinguished colonial official, has written that in every colony “the first four decades of colonial rule after occupation were characterised by a fits-and-starts policy of development, regularly halted by a world disaster (1914, 1930, 1939).” He goes on to say that “what forcibly strikes the student of inter-war colonial administration…..is the paucity of funds available to initiate and sustain plans for rural development, whether infrastructural, economic, social or political. Progress had perforce to yield to prudence.”
The fits-and-starts policy of development was a feature of the entire colonial period and had its origins not in any international crisis or disaster but in colonial policy itself. The limitations of colonial economic policy were therefore part of a wider failure which placed a brake on the development of the colonies. It would be tedious to list all the missed opportunities of colonial policy in terms of economic development but there is one which I must bring to your attention because of its subsequent implications for the attempts to make a reality of independence.
Frantz Fanon and many others after him have highlighted the absence of a productive industrial middle class as one of the defining characteristics of the post-colonial state in Africa; but these critics rarely give the historical explanation for this phenomenon. I would therefore like to crave your indulgence as I give an account of what happened in West Africa in the opening years of the last century.
The building of the national economies of most of the West African states, whether based on the export of cocoa, palm oil, ground nuts or any other agricultural export, was entirely the work of African producers responding to new economic opportunities opened up by the end of the slave trade and its replacement by what came to be called ‘legitimate’ trade. This was the beginning of West Africa’s so-called merchant princes. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century they had occupied a strategic, even unassailable position, in West Africa’s trade with the wider European world. The expatriate trading firms depended upon them to access the resources of the interior; and from their beginnings as middle men a number of these African merchant princes came to own businesses which rivalled some of the expatriate concerns. Something then happened at the beginning of the twentieth century which would lead ultimately to the disappearance of this rising African mercantile class.
The development of better communication networks greatly facilitated the reach of the expatriate firms in the colony and they began to place their own representatives in the interior. That was the first decisive step in elbowing out the African traders from large scale commerce. The next decisive measure to this same end was the amalgamation of the European firms into bigger and bigger combines. The resulting advantages were considerable. They were able to undercut their African competitors and derive other advantages of economy of scale. They were now also in a position to begin to hire the African merchants who had been their competitors as their employees. Finally, they formed a trade union called the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM), a combine of the combines. With their greater capital resources and commercial skills, the expatriate firms were better able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the growing market, especially in the period after the First World War.
Already as far back as the 1890s, some Africans had realised that indigenous entrepreneurs were in danger of falling behind the expatriate firms in the commercial race but it was not until the end of the First World War that this apprehension became widespread. With the depression of the inter-war period and the rationalisation of the expatriate firms, it now became abundantly clear “that in the higher levels of business Africans were going to play only a secondary role.” Then came the coup de grace, administered by the colonial banks.
The colonial banks began to refuse loans to the remaining and struggling African businessmen on spurious grounds, including allegations to the effect that when repayment fell due on loans, African traders tended to run into the bush! It is not surprising that AWAM has entered West African English to mean cheating and dishonest dealing! Anyway it had now become clear, in the words of the economic historian of West Africa, A G Hopkins, that “the cosmopolitan society of the nineteenth century in which African merchants conducted businesses that compared with at least some of the expatriate firms had finally dissolved…and that it would need an immense effort to restore the position, if it could be restored at all.” A few did make gallant efforts to restore the position and one of them was a Ghanaian businessman by the name of Tete-Ansa from Manya Krobo in the Eastern Region of Ghana.
Tete-Ansa, who became known as the Napoleon of West African commerce, founded producers’ co-operatives in Nigeria and Ghana between 1925 and 1935 in an attempt to strengthen the bargaining position of farmers vis-à-vis the expatriate firms and to lower their production costs. His next venture was to form the Industrial and Commercial Bank in Nigeria to finance African participation in external trade, and he also set up an agency in New York to sell West African produce in North America and to buy goods for shipment to West Africa. Tete-Ansa’s plans did not bear fruit. His companies were liquidated and he himself went into exile in Canada. But as Professor Hopkins points out, it was more than the failure of an individual’s enterprise; it was the failure of a brand of moderate leadership which did not aim at the overthrow of colonialism but sought to find a place within it for African aspirations.
Tete-Ansa’s failure and similar failures on the part of others on the same path may grieve us but should not surprise us. Commercial capital would have led to industrial capital and ultimately the establishment of manufacturing industries. And a colony with a manufacturing capacity would have been unacceptable. It would have rendered the colonial project pointless.
By the beginning of the Second World War the African mercantile bourgeoisie on the West Coast was beginning to be a thing of the past. It led to a more fundamental reappraisal of the predicament of the African within the colonial system. George Arthur Grant, popularly known as Pa Grant, was the last of this mercantile class still active on the Gold Coast in the period after the Second World War and it is no accident that he was to be the inspiration and the financier as well as the President of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the first nationalist political party in Ghana founded to fight for independence in the post war period.
Was the colonial period then a barren interlude in African history? The arrival of the colonial conquerors was described by a Ghanaian cleric, Alhaji Umar of Kete-krachi, as “a sun of disaster” which had risen in the west. I am also familiar with Walter Rodney’s famous characterisation of colonialism as a one armed bandit. But was it really as bad as that? To be sure, colonialism was not a venture in altruism whatever its apologists claimed at the time or subsequently. But in the course of pursuing their own interests, the colonial powers did result in some benefits.
It would be churlish not to admit that scientific approaches to the treatment of diseases, the building of roads and railways, the introduction of schools and some new crops and modern systems of government and administration, are among the benefits of colonial rule. No useful purpose would be served by debating whether Africa could have gone it alone and still acquired what colonialism gave it. That is to indulge in what has become known as counter factual history. We must judge European colonialism for what it really was: the domination of one race over another which had its happy accidents – schools, hospitals, modern systems of government administration. Seen in this perspective, we have the guidance of Thomas Babington Macaulay in assessing this historical experience of colonialism:
“…we must judge a form of government,” Macaulay said
in 1832, “by its general tendency, not by happy accidents.
Every form of government has its happy accidents.
Despotism has its happy accidents. Yet we are not disposed
to abolish all constitutional checks, to place an absolute
mask over us, and to take our chance whether he may be a
Caligula or a Marcus Aurelius.”
This is how colonialism in Africa, I would urge, is to be judged; not by its happy accidents but by its general tendency.
Some scholars, Peter Calvocoressi among them, have argued in the context of the institutions of state which Africans inherited at independence, that what “the new men took over was not a state but a shell” and that “never in history have new states been conjured into existence so denuded of the capacity to govern their affairs.” This is what makes the achievements of the early years of independence so remarkable in retrospect.
At independence in December 1961 Julius Nyerere said that “in the coming ten years, we, the people of Tanganyika, would do more to develop our country than the colonialists had done in the previous forty years.” Accordingly, in September 1971, the Government produced a detailed audit of the progress the country had made since independence. Clearly I will not attempt to summarise that document but I would like to draw your attention to a number of key areas where Tanzania made great strides in this period.
Tanganyika was the poorest of the three East African countries. As a trust territory of the League of Nations and then later a mandated territory of the United Nations, the colonial government was even more reluctant to spend money developing the country . As a result, despite its vast agricultural potential and mineral wealth, Tanganyika, largely stagnated throughout the colonial period. I have already referred to what Julius Nyerere said about inheriting a basically illiterate society at independence with a total of only 12,000 children in secondary schools. The corresponding figure was 486,000 pupils in primary schools. Ten years later there were 31,662 children in secondary schools, of whom 1,448 were in the sixth form, while the enrolment in primary schools stood at 848,000. In addition some 1,347 students were studying overseas. Outside the formal education system there were by 1971 560,000 attending literacy classes. A medical school had been opened at the University College of Dar es Salaam, together with a law school. By 1971 the 98 hospitals inherited at independence had increased to 122 and rural health centres had increased from 22 to 90.
There was something else which the independent Tanzania did that had a bearing on nation building. This was the Africanisation of the public services. The exclusion of Africans from the senior ranks of the civil service was even more pronounced in the case of Tanzania (as was the case in other countries of Eastern and Southern Africa) because it was complicated by the racial factor which had done so much to undermine the dignity and self-confidence of Africans. Accordingly, as the official document puts it, “the most immediate task after independence….was the assertion of the dignity” of all Tanzanians. And so for nearly three years Africans were appointed and promoted in preference to anyone else “and many of their promotions were very rapid and involved the suspension of normal qualification requirements about experience and education.”
The document goes on to amplify this point in the following terms:
The urgency of this Africanisation policy arose out of the
need to build up the self-confidence of the people of
Tanganyika. Once we had demonstrated – to ourselves
and others – that being an African did not have to mean
being a junior official, the nation was able to accept
that in some fields we can, without shame, hire the
skilled people who are needed.
I have used the case of Tanzania as an illustrative example but it was by no means unique. In other parts of newly independent Africa similar strides were being made. Again in the field of education – and I cannot overemphasise the importance of a trained or educated society - the great majority of African states on the threshold of independence were also predominantly illiterate societies. Kwame Nkrumah says in Africa Must Unite that in 1951 Ghana was 80 per cent illiterate. The comparable figure was about the same for many others and considerably higher still in places like Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.
Yet within the first decade and a half of independence, literacy rates had risen to 48 per cent and above in many African countries, the most prominent in this regard being Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Botswana and Sierra Leone. Women, neglected in education as in much else, began to receive increasing attention. In 1970 for example, only 17 per cent of adult women could read and write in sub-Saharan Africa. By 1985 the number had increased to 38 per cent. In some cases the increases were quite dramatic. In the same period, the number of women who could read and write rose from 18 per cent to 88 per cent in Tanzania; from 47 per cent to 77 per cent in Zimbabwe; and from 44 per cent to 69 per cent in Botswana.
Health, after education, was the other priority area in the immediate post-colonial period. The infant mortality rate in the period before independence was generally very high – 284 children out of every 1000 died before the age of five. In some cases the rate was in excess of 350 per thousand. By 1988 the infant mortality rate had fallen by more than a hundred per thousand in many countries.
How did Africa achieve all this? There were a number of reasons but the one applicable to all African countries newly released from their respective colonial enclosures, was to prove to themselves and the world that they could manage their own affairs. They worked with the determination and grit typical of a people emerging from darkness, whether it be the medieval darkness out of which Renaissance Europe emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries or the colonial darkness of contemporary Africa.
William Hazlitt has left us a description of this spirit as it was displayed in 16th century Elizabethan England and which I believe cannot be bettered. This is what he wrote:
They looked grave upon the work before them, with
a seriousness which amounted to devotion. There
was a heartiness and determined resolution and a
superiority to ease and pleasure. They addressed
themselves to study as to a duty, and were ready
to leave all and follow it.
Africans too, in their first flush of freedom, approached the task of reconstruction with a seriousness which amounted to devotion, a heartiness and determined resolution and a superiority to ease and pleasure. In all this, the greatest devotion of Africans on the morrow of freedom was to education because they knew in their hearts that it held the key to the world they intended to enter.
Yet by the beginning of the third decade of independence sub-Saharan Africa was in the throes of a deep socio-economic crisis. The expansive moment of optimism and achievement had come to an end and with it Africa’s forward march. This was the beginning of the cramping of the will, the will of Africa to succeed and to take its rightful place in honour and dignity in the community of nations. In my second lecture I will explore the reasons for this cramping of will.