. 8
( 12)


all the people from our villages and from surrounding areas who spoke about
the same language.™21 Stress on larger rather than smaller identities, growing
competition for resources, the integration of local economies into national
markets, and state penetration of the countryside all fostered ethnic rivalry.
Thus most early twentieth-century Africans saw the locality as the relevant
political arena. Many local intellectuals were eager to collaborate with heredi-
tary chiefs to defend and advance their homelands. Lewanika of Bulozi chose
a young Christian chief minister in 1898 and bound the educated into alliance
with the monarchy. Yet these alliances weakened between the wars as colonial
governments, alarmed by nationalism elsewhere, used hereditary rulers against
emerging elites. In Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, for example, govern-
ments discouraged native associations through which educated men sought
to foster local development, insisting that all initiatives must come from or
through chiefs. This embittered rural politics. Basutoland™s National Council,
dominated by chiefs, was opposed after 1919 by a Council of Commoners, partly
inspired by the South African Communist Party:

The Chiefs of Basutoland have become men at the expense of the poor Basuto.
Chiefs are tax collectors and are looked upon as ˜detectives™ by the rank and
¬le. The chiefs tour round in big motor cars and have no association with
the peasants. In consequence they have lost the con¬dence of the people, but
they cannot see it.22

Buganda™s Christian chiefs were challenged during the 1920s by peasant cotton-
growers who saw them as exploitative landlords, by clan heads whom they
had excluded from power, and by their own sons impatient for advancement.
Although the British replaced Sir Apolo Kaggwa and his contemporaries with
younger men, there were serious riots against the Buganda government in 1945
and 1949. Attempts by governments to domesticate critics seldom succeeded for
long. In Kenya, for example, many Christians who formed Young Kikuyu and
Young Kavirondo Associations after 1918 were chiefs or Local Native Councillors
by 1939, but others continued to express discontents through the Kikuyu Central
Colonial change, 1918“1950 241

Association, rural Africa™s most vigorous interwar political body, with perhaps
six hundred to seven hundred active members.
The locality was one major political level in tropical Africa at this time. The
other was supraterritorial. In 1914 the French African citizens of Senegal™s coastal
towns elected their ¬rst African representative, Blaise Diagne, to the French
Assembly in Paris. Dahomey also had a lively elite politics between the wars,
but like other colonial rulers, the French sought to prevent urban politicians
from mobilising rural support, so that educated men from their other African
colonies found political expression before 1945 chie¬‚y as students in France,
where they were attracted by notions of n´gritude propounded by Caribbean
intellectuals. The same was true of Portuguese colonies after Antonio Salazar™s
regime from 1928 suppressed urban political groups, largely among people of
mixed race. The Belgian Congo had no modern African political activity. In
British Africa, supratribal politics concentrated among the commercial and
professional elites of the West Coast who in 1920 created the National Congress
of British West Africa (NCBWA), with branches in the Gold Coast, Nigeria,
Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. It pressed for an elected element in territorial
legislatures, which was conceded in coastal towns during the 1920s and stimu-
lated the ¬‚amboyant Herbert Macaulay, ˜the Napoleon of Nigerian politics™, to
create a Nigerian National Democratic Party, which won wide support among
the chiefs, Muslim associations, trade guilds, and market women of Lagos. The
NCBWA also helped to inspire the West African Students Union of 1925, which
introduced many young Africans in London to pan-African politics. This West
African focus was common among radicals who reasoned that the people of
one colony could not defeat the entire British Empire. As Nnamdi Azikiwe
wrote in 1938, ˜So long as we think in terms of Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra
Leone, Gambia, and not as one United West Africa we must be content with a
Colonial Dictatorship.™23
That Africans should focus on their locality, region, continent, or race was
logical, for territorial boundaries and identities were colonial creations with
little claim to be criteria for future states. Political action on the territorial level,
as in North Africa, was therefore rare among tropical Africans before 1939. It
existed where a pre-colonial state composed a colony, as in Basutoland, Rwanda,
or Burundi. It existed among some intellectuals in northern Sudan who in 1938
formed the Graduates General Congress, although many desired union with
Egypt. It existed in embryo in Tanganyika because the territory™s status as a
former German colony encouraged a separate identity and its widespread use
of the Swahili language enabled an elite organisation, the African Association of
1929, to establish branches throughout the country. Kenya™s land issue obliged
the Kikuyu Central Association to take the political offensive, seek Legislative
Council representation, and coordinate protest with other local bodies until
proscribed in 1940. Young Nigerians critical of Macaulay created the Nigerian
242 africans: the history of a continent

Youth Movement in 1936, seeking ˜complete autonomy within the British
Empire™ and ˜the development of a united nation out of the conglomeration of
peoples who inhabit Nigeria™,24 the ¬rst truly nationalist programme in tropical
Africa. In 1938 the movement claimed some twenty branches and ten thousand
members, but it divided three years later amidst rivalry between Yoruba and
Igbo. At that time British of¬cials saw no danger in Africa of the nationalism
threatening them in India, given that African colonies were ˜only geographical
The war helped to focus African politics in the direction of territorial nation-
alism. As the Nigerian Youth Movement realised, nationalism was not just
opposition to European control. It was the desire and attempt to create nation
states like those in Europe and America that dominated the world. National-
ists had both to acquire state power and to form the people into a nation, an
exceptionally dif¬cult task in Africa because the normal basis of nationality,
a common language, seldom existed. The war™s contribution was not mainly
through recruiting African soldiers, for although some gained sharper political
awareness, most settled quietly back into civilian life. The impact of shortages,
in¬‚ation, and repression on civilians was more important, as was increased
awareness of world events and especially the wartime controls that focused
discontents against territorial governments. ˜When I say “we” I mean the Gold
Coast™, the lawyer J. B. Danquah wrote in 1943. ˜I do not mean black men; I
do not mean negroes. This is not a question of race at all.™25 He was the chief
bene¬ciary of the limited constitutional change that took place during the war,
giving the Gold Coast Legislative Council an unof¬cial majority.
Yet European nations still needed their colonies to aid their postwar recon-
struction. At the Brazzaville Conference of 1944, therefore, France ruled out
colonial self-government. Instead, each colony was given electoral representa-
tion in the French Assembly in Paris. Britain also wanted to exploit African
resources but believed that this required concessions to modern elites, whether
white settlers in East and Central Africa or black nationalists in West Africa.
In May 1947, a Colonial Of¬ce committee, reporting amid the chaos of Indian
decolonisation, urged the development of the larger African colonies into
viable and friendly successor states within the Commonwealth. Events, it

have set in motion aspirations of virtually irresistible force . . . we must
assume that perhaps within a generation many of the principal territories of
the Colonial Empire will have attained or be within sight of the goal of full
responsibility for local affairs. . . . Unless machinery can be devised which
will substitute links of consultation for the present links of control there is
very real danger of the ultimate dissolution of the Colonial part of the British
Colonial change, 1918“1950 243

Although of¬cials did not fully realise it, the crucial ˜links of consultation™ in
British Africa were to be elected legislative councils.
Electoral representation in French and British West Africa was the major
postwar innovation, for it was in order to ¬ght territorial elections that polit-
ical elites narrowed their perspectives from a racial to a nationalist focus and
sought votes by convincing people with local perspectives that their aspirations
could best be met by supporting nationalist parties. Nationalism (as distinct
from anticolonialism) in West Africa was chie¬‚y a response to elections. Cote
d™Ivoire illustrated the process. In 1944 its African cocoa and coffee planters
formed a Syndicat Agricole Africain, chie¬‚y concerned to end forced labour.
It was led by a planter and doctor named F´ lix Houphouet-Boigny. When the
¬rst parliamentary voting took place in 1945, the Syndicat mobilised support
for Houphouet-Boigny™s election to Paris, where he won the abolition of forced
labour and allied with other West African representatives in a nationalist party
called the Rassemblement D´ mocratique Africain. The new electoral system
also transformed the politics of Senegal, where French citizens had long pos-
sessed the vote, for its extension enabled rural elites to elect deputies, especially
L´ opold Senghor, who created a national party to break the urban monopoly
of modern politics.
Elections were also crucial in British West Africa. In the Gold Coast, the Burns
Constitution of 1946 created a partly elected unof¬cial majority in the Legisla-
tive Council. Danquah and his professional friends launched the colony™s ¬rst
nationalist party, the United Gold Coast Convention, to contest the elections,
hiring a young pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah, to organise it. But when
economic discontent bred riots in 1948 and the British accelerated constitu-
tional advance, the nationalists split and Nkrumah formed the more radical
Convention People™s Party. Sierra Leone, by contrast, followed Senegal™s model
of ˜green revolution™, with hinterland politicians led by a local doctor, Milton
Margai, ousting the Krio elite of Freetown. In Nigeria the Richards Constitution
of 1946 created unof¬cial but not elected majorities in the Legislative Council
and in three new regional legislatures for the North, East, and West. When
elections were added in 1951, fear of the Igbo-led National Council of Nigeria
and the Cameroons (NCNC) led western and northern politicians to create
regional parties, the Action Group and Northern People™s Congress.
Elections were not part of Britain™s postwar strategy in East Africa, where
Africans were thought unready to compete with white settlers, especially in
Kenya. But East African politicians had before them models of nationalist
action elsewhere and of territorial organisation by local Europeans and Asians.
When the ¬rst African was nominated to Kenya™s Legislative Council in 1944,
educated Africans formed a Kenya African Union to support him, but radical
and less educated men, denied political advancement or a solution to the fes-
tering Kikuyu land problem, broke away to prepare an armed insurrection,
244 africans: the history of a continent

which British repression in 1952 converted into the Mau Mau guerrilla war
fought from forest retreats. In Tanganyika, African fear of settler domination,
plus the example of the Convention People™s Party, led to the conversion of
the territory-wide African Association into a nationalist party, the Tanganyika
African National Union, in 1954. In Uganda the social discontent against
Buganda™s chie¬‚y oligarchy began to broaden into a countrywide organisa-
tion of cash-crop farmers, the Uganda African Farmers™ Union of 1948, and
a political party, the Uganda National Congress of 1952, but the process was
aborted in 1953 when the British deported the Kabaka of Buganda for opposing
his kingdom™s incorporation into Uganda; the Ganda reacted to this by reunit-
ing in a tribal patriotism that made a united Ugandan nationalism impossible.
In Zanzibar, too, younger members of the Arab ruling class sought to preempt
African nationalism by creating their own Zanzibar Nationalist Party in 1956.
In Central Africa, Britain™s desire to create viable successor states produced in
1953 a federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, designed
partly to meet the fears and ambitions of white settlers but chie¬‚y to pre-
vent them joining with Afrikaner-dominated South Africa in an alliance that
might breed what a British Cabinet paper called ˜terrible wars . . . between a
white-ruled Eastern Africa and a black-ruled Western Africa™.27 To this end,
the British overruled opposition from Africans, who replied by expanding the
Nyasaland African Congress (formed in 1944 as a federation of local native
associations) and the Northern Rhodesian Congress (formed similarly in 1948)
into nascent nationalist movements. In Southern Rhodesia, where federation
enlarged African political opportunities, the ¬rst substantial movements were
the Youth League of 1955 and the African National Congress of 1957, both
following South African models.

the family
Colonial change penetrated beyond politics into daily life. As during the slave
trade, the chief refuge from the insecurity of alien rule was the family, but
even that experienced much change. Its young men gained greater freedom,
although only with quali¬cation and amidst con¬‚ict. The early colonial period
saw intense competition to control young men™s labour as slavery ended, colo-
nial demands increased, agriculture was commercialised, and population often
declined. ˜What must we do, we, the “former masters”?™ a chief in the French
Sudan mused. ˜Work and make our sons work.™ Some colonial changes strength-
ened elders. The ability to bequeath freehold land or a coffee farm, like the
capacity to pay schoolfees or bridewealth, enabled prosperous fathers to retain
their sons within complex households while those of poorer men fragmented.
The young also lost the power of violence. But education gave them access to a
larger world than their parents and sometimes enabled them to escape the harsh
Colonial change, 1918“1950 245

discipline of initiation systems. Youthful self-assertion, so long a dynamic force
in Africa™s polygynous societies, found new expression in Christian churches,
dance societies, football clubs, and political associations like the Nigerian Youth
Movement. Much con¬‚ict focused on the ancient competition between gen-
erations for wives. Labour migration and wage employment gave the young
a new economic freedom and access to accelerated seniority, especially when
it enabled them to pay their own bridewealth or even their father™s tax. The
old replied by using their control of marriageable daughters to extract migrant
earnings or demand bridewealth in prestige goods that mere money could not
buy, although bridewealth™s real value probably often kept pace with in¬‚a-
tion. By preventing the monetisation of bridewealth and land, Mossi elders
remained dominant throughout the colonial period, despite their densely pop-
ulated country™s dependence on labour migration. There is evidence that edu-
cation, labour migration, and in¬‚ated bridewealth raised the average age of
men at ¬rst marriage in some areas, but perhaps more evidence that it fell
elsewhere, chie¬‚y through access to wage employment.
For women, there are indications of earlier marriage in a few areas, per-
haps more indications of later marriage, chie¬‚y owing to schooling, but most
evidence of little change, for most women in the colonial period continued to
marry soon after they could bear children. Indeed the striking points about mar-
ital and family relationships at this period were how resilient they proved, how
successfully they absorbed change, and how diverse they remained, dispelling
any notion that colonialism shattered an ancient tradition. As a Liberian axiom
put it, ˜Family tree bends but does not break.™ Novelettes might stress roman-
tic love and colonial courts emphasise free consent, but marriage remained an
aspect of family strategy rather than a purely private matter. One small study in
eastern Yorubaland of women married before about 1960, for example, found
that a large majority had entered arranged marriages and all claimed to have
been virgins.28 Even Christians defended bridewealth, on which both brides
and parents insisted. Only a minority practised Christian marriage, deterred
by its intolerance of polygyny and divorce. Although chiefs™ harems gradually
disappeared, ˜middle-class polygyny™ probably expanded in the labour-hungry
early colonial period in West Africa, where over 40 percent of wives were typi-
cally still in polygynous unions when colonial rule ended. In North Africa, by
contrast, polygyny declined “ French ¬gures suggest that 16 percent of Alge-
rian husbands were polygynous in 1886 but only 3 percent in 1948 “ and the
same happened in Central and East Africa, where the proportion of polygy-
nous wives typically fell to 20 or 30 percent at independence, possibly owing
to labour migration, land scarcity, and high levels of bridewealth in cattle.
Matriliny also showed much resilience. Parents in matrilineal societies might
resent their inability to transmit cocoa farms or trading companies to sons
who had worked in them, and some divided their property between sons and
246 africans: the history of a continent

nephews, but matrilineal inheritance remained normal because no one was
prepared to forego his own matrilineal rights.
Colonial change was less liberating for women than for young men. Women™s
experiences, of course, were diverse, for women were not homogeneous, but
many suffered by economic change. While female slaves found it dif¬cult to
escape dependence, the work of former male slaves often fell to women. Men
usually took most of the income from cash-crop farming, while women did
some of the extra work. Many women pro¬ted from expanding food markets,
but few gained independent property in land or cattle. Labour migration gave
men cash and wider experience while leaving women to grow food and care for
children, themselves a growing burden where populations increased. Where the
migrant husband was ill-paid, the wife might have to undertake casual wage
labour. West African women retained their place in trade, but most new eco-
nomic opportunities went to men, while women were ˜tertiarised™, supplying
quasi-domestic services or being reduced to prostitution in towns dominated
by wifeless young men. Women also found few political roles in the colo-
nial order, while men dishonoured by European rule sometimes reacted by
crudely asserting dominance over women, especially in southern Africa where
male supremacy had historically been strongest and European oppression was
greatest. Male initiation might atrophy, but both sexes considered it a matter
of honour to preserve female rites.
Women could bene¬t from religious and educational change. The ¬rst three-
quarters of the twentieth century saw improvements in female status in North
Africa, chie¬‚y through education. Egypt™s ¬rst feminist association was formed
in 1920 and its urban middle-class women rivalled Tunisia™s as the most eman-
cipated in the Islamic world, although uneducated women remained repressed
by their lack of employment opportunities and rights to scarce land. Islam™s
impact in tropical Africa was ambiguous, for although it gave women protec-
tion and legal status, that status was sometimes more restricted than before. The
extreme case was Northern Nigeria, where the seclusion of women, hitherto
con¬ned to families of notables, extended to all who could afford it, replac-
ing agricultural drudgery by complete domestication. Christianity also had
ambiguous effects, for although it made divorce more dif¬cult for women and
the risks of unsupported widowhood higher, its schools emancipated by raising
marriage ages, expanding horizons, and giving access to employment. In sum,
family relationships displayed most clearly twentieth-century Africa™s unique
syntheses of continuity and change.

health and demography
The natural disasters of the early colonial period eased during the 1920s. Rainfall
in the tropical savanna rose slowly and erratically to a peak around 1960. This
Colonial change, 1918“1950 247

was one reason why Africa ceased to experience widespread famine mortality
after the mid-1920s, but not the only reason. Serious mortality did occur in
certain localised famines (especially in Rwanda in 1928 and Niger in 1931),
in Ethiopia on several occasions, and more widely during the Second World
War. Drought caused all these famines, but mortality was due to the absence
or breakdown of measures to prevent it which otherwise became general in
colonial Africa between the wars. The most important was motor transport,
which not only expanded grain trade but enabled food to be transported when
drought prevented men and draught-animals from travelling. It was a lack of
roads that made Ethiopia uniquely vulnerable and ˜the dearth of lorries™ that
exacerbated the wartime crisis. Niger™s disaster of 1931 was chie¬‚y due to its
government™s refusal to recognise or relieve hunger, for elsewhere more effective
government did much to reduce famine mortality, as did the peace generally
reigning after 1918. Cassava spread as an antifamine crop. Wage employment
provided a new survival technique. Colonial medicine separated dearth from
mortality by controlling diseases hitherto associated with famine, especially
smallpox. Yet these measures had costs. Not only did colonial land alienation
and labour migration expose hitherto prosperous peoples like the Ndebele
of Southern Rhodesia to recurrent scarcity, but motor-lorries supplied de¬cit
areas by removing food from ˜surplus™ areas, often at the expense of the poor, for
whom permanent undernutrition might replace occasional starvation. The ¬rst
nutritional studies in the 1930s identi¬ed especially undernourished regions
with poor soils and extensive labour migration, such as Bemba country in
Northern Rhodesia and Futa Jalon in Guinea. Later work in the 1950s focused
on ill-nourished social groups, especially mothers and infants in poor rural
families with absent fathers. In general, however, African nutrition probably
changed little during the colonial period. In the 1960s and 1970s, Nigerians were
on average two or three centimetres taller than their ancestors 150 years earlier,
whereas Afro-Americans were up to ten centimetres taller.29
The ¬rst European medical workers were generally missionaries. Govern-
ments quickly overtook them in equatorial colonies, but not until the 1920s
elsewhere. Governments cared ¬rst for their own staff and then for epidemic dis-
ease and the relief of manifest suffering. They undertook preventive medicine,
public hygiene, and rural dispensaries only during the 1930s. In 1921, 1937,
and 1954, Nyasaland™s government health service treated 19,000, 729,000, and
3,600,000 cases, respectively. The main success of European medicine before
1945 was against epidemic disease. Smallpox ceased to be a major killer during
the 1920s, thanks to mass vaccination. Mobile teams using mass screening and
treatment with effective new drugs brought sleeping sickness under control by
the 1940s, while African cash-crop farmers began to reclaim land lost to tsetse
bush. Treatment of venereal diseases was less effective because the drugs that
were exceptionally successful in repressing yaws appear thereby to have removed
248 africans: the history of a continent

immunity to venereal syphilis, which continued to spread until after the Second
World War. The major new threat was tuberculosis, a disease of poverty that
became established in cities throughout the continent. Colonial doctors had
less success against endemic diseases. They devoted most attention to leprosy,
creating huge settlements to treat sufferers with a substance that proved to have
no effect. They also concentrated on urban sanitation and water-supply, dra-
matically reducing both waterborne diseases and urban malaria, but they did
little about rural malaria, which was expanding with the clearing of land for
agriculture, and they were especially ineffective in combating the routine com-
plaints of infants and mothers. During the 1930s, two-thirds of all Nigeria™s
hospital admissions were males and the only colony to target mothers and
children successfully was the Belgian Congo. This distinction between success
against epidemic diseases and failure against endemic complaints before the
late 1940s was crucial to colonial Africa™s demographic history.
In the equatorial region, which had suffered most severely before 1918, demo-
graphic crisis continued until the mid-twentieth century. French Equatorial
Africa™s population probably declined until the 1920s; Gabon™s, until the 1950s.
Some 36 percent of Gabonese women whose childbearing years spanned the
period 1930“54 never bore a child, compared with a normal average of about
5 percent.30 The chief reason was gonorrhoea, exacerbated by such customary
male responses to infertility as trial marriage, polygyny, and frequent divorce.
Areas of low fertility outside French Equatorial Africa included much of south-
ern Uganda and adjoining areas of Tanganyika, the East African coast, and
parts of Upper Volta, central Nigeria, the Belgian Congo, and the Portuguese
colonies. Equatorial Africa showed a growing contrast between areas of declin-
ing and increasing population. In the Belgian Congo, whose overall decline
probably ceased during the 1930s, growth rates in neighbouring districts of the
Lower Congo region in 1932 varied from 0.4 to 2.6 percent a year. Such variations
generally correlated with the prevalence of venereal diseases but were also in¬‚u-
enced by malnutrition, itself often associated with labour migration. Infertile
women were colonial Africa™s chief reservoir of misery, for male-dominated,
pronatalist societies commonly blamed women for their own childlessness,
attributing it to adultery or malicious abortion. The af¬‚icted might express
their anguish in the Bwiti cult of Gabon or in the Watchtower movement™s
promise that in the coming kingdom all women would bear children.
Yet areas of low fertility became ever more exceptional, for between the wars
Africa™s total population grew with gathering speed. Growth began at different
times in different regions. Some areas had enjoyed it continuously since the
nineteenth century, especially South Africa, Algeria, and Egypt whose census
of 1917 ¬rst aroused fears of overpopulation. By the 1930s, all three had popu-
lation growth rates approaching 2 percent per year, as did other countries in
the Maghrib. Continuous growth may also have occurred in the West African
Colonial change, 1918“1950 249

forest and in favoured highland areas of East Africa. After 1918 the new regions
of rapid increase were chie¬‚y the well-populated areas of cash-crop farming,
intensive missionary work, and widespread primary schooling. The most rapid
growth in the Belgian Congo was among the Kongo people, who had survived
smallpox and sleeping sickness to prosper from commercial food production,
urban labour, mission work, and unusually stable marriage. In the French
Congo during the 1930s and 1940s, Kongo women bore on average 5.35 chil-
dren, compared to 3.57 for all women. Gold Coast censuses showed exceptional
growth in cocoa-farming districts, although partly owing to immigration. Even
in Gabon, cocoa-growing Woleu-Ntem stabilised its population a decade before
other regions. Yet growth was not con¬ned to such favoured areas. Ethiopia™s
population appears to have increased continuously since the early twentieth
century, possibly beginning with a baby-boom to replace infants lost in the
famine of 1888“92. By the Second World War, the population of Africa was
probably growing at about 1 percent a year. Growth had become the norm.
The reasons are obscure and contentious. Some students point to falling
deathrates, others claim rising birthrates. The view taken here is that many
changes were involved “ almost all those described in this chapter “ but that
the dominant mechanism at this time was a declining deathrate, as in other
Third World regions entering rapid demographic growth.
The few available statistics generally support this view. Egypt™s estimated
birthrate was broadly stable over the ¬rst half of the twentieth century, while
its deathrate declined by nearly one-third.31 Estimates for the Belgian Congo,
the best available for tropical Africa, suggest that the deathrate fell between 1938
and 1948 from 33 to 28 per thousand per year, while the birthrate remained stable
at 43 per thousand.32 Detailed studies there indicated that the lower deathrate
was due largely to falling infant mortality, especially in famine years, which
supports the impressionistic view that the main achievement of the period was
in preventing crisis mortality, perhaps especially through vaccination against
smallpox. Yet Belgian Congo evidence also suggested that maternity facilities
contributed signi¬cantly to infant survival, which was generally much higher
in areas of rapid population growth than elsewhere. In the Gold Coast in
1931, infant mortality varied from 145 per thousand in Asante and 148 in the
Western Province “ both cocoa-growing regions “ to 214 in the more remote
and backward Northern Territories.33 More recent research has shown that
girls™ primary schooling can halve infant mortality rates. Such schooling was
not widespread enough before 1950 to have had such dramatic effects, but
it probably contributed in developed areas, alongside the reduction in crisis
To attribute any signi¬cant part of population growth before 1950 to higher
birthrates faces the problem that, with three exceptions, there is no evidence
that birthrates rose and much evidence that they did not. One exception was
250 africans: the history of a continent

Algeria, where population increase between 1916“20 and 1946“50 appears to
have been due chie¬‚y to a birthrate that rose from 35 to 42 per thousand.
Morocco also had a rising birthrate. The third exception was Burundi, where a
small increase in the number of children born to each woman appears to have
resulted in part from a decrease in the numbers infertile.34 In Egypt and the
Belgian Congo, by contrast, birthrates were remarkably stable between 1920
and 1950, while interviews with women of different ages in the Gold Coast and
Southern Rhodesia showed no signi¬cant change in fertility between 1880 and
1945. It was widely believed at the time that Christian and Muslim teaching,
urbanisation, and other pressures were reducing birth intervals, so that Igbo
women organised a ˜Dancing Women™s Movement™ in 1925 to preserve the
old practices. But there is no hard evidence that birth spacing did shorten
before 1950.35 Women were not generally marrying earlier. Changes in poly-
gyny (whose demographic effects are uncertain) were far from dramatic. Until
evidence of rising fertility is found, population growth before 1950 must be
attributed mainly to reduced mortality.
Between 1920 and the late 1940s Africa™s population may have increased from
some 142 million to 200 million.36 It was the most important consequence of
colonial occupation. Greater infant survival preserved generational tension as
a dynamic of change, carrying African history forward on a surge of youth.
Some contemporaries sensed the change. During the 1940s, Igbo were ceasing
to build the elaborate Mbari houses at which they had prayed for fertility and
offspring. Algerian settlers saw their own population growth overtaken during
the 1930s by ˜the retaliation of Eastern fertility™. And in 1948 Britain™s Colonial
Secretary gloomily glimpsed the future:
We apply better health arrangements only to be faced with a population prob-
lem of appalling dimensions. We have to feed that increased population while
they employ agricultural methods and ways of living hopelessly inadequate
for such numbers. . . . We must expect a troublesome period ahead. We cannot
pursue development schemes fast enough to absorb all the rising generation
in useful wage-employment. We cannot get for all of them a place on the land
and many of them would not wish it. The increasing numbers cannot be sup-
ported or fed in the reserves. They cannot on their present economies enjoy
all the services which they begin to demand. They clamour for the bene¬ts
of civilization without the economic basis to sustain them. . . . We cannot for
a long time hope to satisfy all the new appetities of the colonial peoples and
consequently there must be discomfort and agitation.37

Independent Africa, 1950“1980

these were the years of optimism. unprecedented demographic
growth swelled Africa™s population from something more than 200 million in
1950 to nearly 500 million in 1980, driven by medical progress and increased
fertility. A youthful, liberating momentum destroyed European rule, fostered
individual opportunity and mobility, and inspired attempts to create nation-
states. A generation of global economic growth brought new prosperity to
many parts of the continent. Only during the 1970s did the costs of expan-
sion become clear as numbers outran employment and resources, nationalist
heroes hardened into aging autocrats, and global recession exposed the frailties
underlying growth rates.

rapid population growth
Around 1950 population growth accelerated swiftly. In the Belgian Congo, for
example, the annual growth rate increased between the earlier 1940s and the
late 1950s from about 1 to nearly 2.5 percent. By the 1970s, the average for
sub-Saharan Africa was 2.8 percent. In Kenya in 1979, it was 4.1 percent, the
highest ¬gure recorded.1 The chief reason for acceleration was a further fall
in deathrates. Between 1950 and 1988, life expectancy at birth in sub-Saharan
Africa rose from 39 to 51 years.2 Its deathrate fell between 1965 and 1988 from
22 to 16 per thousand.3 The decline was due chie¬‚y to lower infant and child
mortality. In the 1950s, there were many African countries where 30 to 40 percent
of children died before age 5, but few where less than 22 percent died by that age.
By the mid-1970s, however, few African countries lost more than 27 percent of
children by age 5, while many lost fewer than 22 percent, although more than
half of all deaths were still during the ¬rst ¬ve years, and mortality rates were
markedly higher in western Africa than elsewhere.
One reason for lower deathrates after 1950 was that crisis mortality, already
much reduced between the wars, declined still further. Even the famines begin-
ning in 1968 apparently had little lasting impact on population totals, while
mass vaccination reduced several epidemic diseases and eradicated smallpox
in 1977. More important was the discovery of cheap synthetic drugs and their
widespread use after the Second World War. Their most spectacular successes
252 africans: the history of a continent

were against severe complaints such as tuberculosis, syphilis, and leprosy, for
which a cure was at last found during the 1980s. But their chief demographic
impact was on endemic childhood complaints like pneumonia and malaria,
which could at last be attacked “ along with measles, polio, diarrhoea, and mal-
nutrition “ through the extension of health services to children and mothers.
In 1960 tropical Africa had one quali¬ed doctor for every ¬fty thousand people;
in 1980, one for every twenty thousand. Population per ˜nursing person™ may
have halved between 1960 and the late 1980s. Use of modern remedies depended
crucially on the education of mothers. The Ghanaian census of 1960 was typical
of tropical Africa in showing that mothers with no education lost almost twice
as many children as those with elementary schooling and over four times as
many as those with secondary education.4
In contrast to the interwar period, however, Africa™s population growth after
1940 was also generally fuelled by rising birthrates, hitherto con¬ned to the
north. The Belgian Congo™s birthrate rose between 1948 and 1956“75 from 43
to 48 per thousand, although its deathrate fell more dramatically from 28 to 19
per thousand. In Kenya in the late 1970s, a woman completing a full childbear-
ing life could expect on average to bear eight children.5 One reason for rising
birthrates was that antibiotic drugs reduced the proportion of infertile women
so that by the 1960s even Gabon had a rising population, giving an upward
demographic trajectory to the entire continent for possibly the ¬rst time in its
history. Despite much local variation, uneducated women were probably not
generally marrying earlier. Educated women often married later and had more
say in their choice of partner but became sexually active at much the same
age as before, incurring criticism from traditional moralists but scarcely affect-
ing birthrates. Birth intervals, on the other hand, were shortening, especially
in eastern Africa where women perhaps had less control over their fertility
than in the west. The chief means of birth-spacing was breastfeeding, which
often continued for eighteen to twenty-four months in the tropical country-
side but was abbreviated in urban and intermediate environments, especially
where women had education and wage employment. Sexual abstinence beyond
weaning continued in parts of West Africa but probably became uncommon
elsewhere; often, indeed, renewed pregnancy became the signal for weaning.
Since birth-spacing was designed to maximise the survival of mothers and chil-
dren, declining infant mortality may itself have encouraged parents to shorten
birth intervals, but there is no direct evidence for this and parents may have
seen matters differently. Certainly the desire for large families survived. Not
only did they demonstrate virility and success, but most children soon became
economic assets, they increased the chance that one of them might be spec-
tacularly successful, and they gave parents some guarantee of support in old
age. As poor Nairobi women said of their children, ˜Those are my ¬elds.™ Large
families were rational for individuals, if not for society. Modern family planning
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 253

was little used before the 1960s, when contraceptive pills ¬rst because available.
Meanwhile, the inherited attitudes of an underpopulated continent joined with
modern medicine to produce the most sudden and rapid population growth
the world is ever likely to see.

Nationalist leaders and metropolitan statesmen had only dim perceptions of
the social forces underlying Africa™s liberation during the generation after 1950.
Both had more immediate concerns. Nationalists wanted to seize central power
in each colony and use it to entrench their own authority and create modern
nation states. Colonialists had diverse aims in the early 1950s. Britain planned
gradual devolution to friendly successor states. France and Portugal planned
ever closer integration between colonies and metropoles. Belgium scarcely
thought about the matter. In responding to nationalist challenges, however,
all were alert to Cold War calculations. ˜Had it not been for Russia™, Kwame
Nkrumah re¬‚ected, ˜the African liberation movement would have suffered
the most brutal persecution.™6 Colonial powers also had to count the cost
of repressing nationalism and modernising colonialism, which escalated with
population growth. The bene¬ts of retaining power became doubtful once
Europe recovered economically in the early 1950s. French technocrats began
to think colonies merely a burden on the most progressive sectors of industry.
British of¬cials concluded in 1957 that it mattered little economically whether
the colonies were kept or lost. Many businessmen agreed: their priority was
good relations with whomever held power. By the late 1950s, therefore, it was
unpro¬table to resist nationalism. ˜We could not possibly have held by force to
our territories in Africa™, Colonial Secretary Macleod recalled. ˜Of course there
were risks in moving quickly. But the risks of moving slowly were far greater.™7
General de Gaulle made the same calculation after returning to power in 1958.
The Belgians made it in 1959. All found it easier to transfer Africa™s growing
problems to African successors. Only the Portuguese and southern African
settlers chose to ¬ght, judging political power vital to their survival. Yet all
these calculations were compelled by nationalist action. Although the fruits
of Africa™s liberation later disappointed many Africans and Europeans, the
liberation itself was a major achievement of the human spirit.
The initial momentum was strongest in the north. The two former Italian
colonies, Libya and Somalia, became independent in 1951 and 1960. In Sudan the
British were secure so long as Egypt claimed the territory, for that compelled
the Mahdi™s political heirs to ally with Britain. When military of¬cers took
power in Egypt in 1952 and renounced claims on Sudan, the British accepted
its independence in 1956. In the Maghrib, the French resisted nationalism
254 africans: the history of a continent

13. Independent African states. Source: Adapted from Roland Oliver, The African experience
(London, 1991), p. 232.

until 1954, when defeat in Indochina led them to reduce commitments by
granting self-government to Bourguiba™s Neo-Destour in Tunisia and restoring
the exiled King Muhammad in Morocco. Both countries became independent
in 1956. In Algeria, young militants, mostly former soldiers, took advantage of
French weakness in 1954 to launch urban terrorism and guerrilla war in the
mountains, but French opinion rejected another retreat. ˜Here, it is France™, the
prime minister insisted. During the next eight years some half million French
troops largely defeated the Front de Lib´ ration Nationale (FLN) within Algeria,
but its survival across the borders in Tunisia and Morocco made continued
occupation unbearably costly to France. In 1962 the FLN obliged de Gaulle to
accept complete Algerian independence. Some 85 percent of European settlers
left immediately, often destroying what they could not carry.
West Africa saw no violence on the Algerian scale. The breakthrough here
was the Convention People™s Party™s (CPP) sweeping victory in the Gold Coast™s
¬rst election in 1951, presenting the British with a type of nationalism to which
they had never expected to transfer power. ˜We have only one dog in our kennel™,
the governor re¬‚ected. ˜All we can do is to build it up and feed it vitamins and
cod liver oil.™8 The CPP leader, Kwame Nkrumah, left prison to become leader
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 255

of government business. During the following six years of joint rule, he skilfully
used the risk of disorder to ease the British out, but the delay gave time for
his party™s centralising ambitions and willingness to tax cocoa farmers in the
name of development to alienate the Asante kingdom and the Muslim north.
Consequently, the CPP won only 71 of 104 seats in 1956 and Ghana gained
independence a year later as an unhappily divided country. Competition to
succeed the British also emphasised Nigeria™s divisions. The election of 1951
entrenched a dominant party in each of the three regions. Fearing the ambitions
of educated southerners, northern leaders delayed independence until their
region received a majority of seats in the federal legislature, an arrangement
certain to provoke con¬‚ict after independence in 1960. In Sierra Leone and the
Gambia, parties representing hinterland peoples won decisive majorities over
coastal elites, securing independence in 1961 and 1965, respectively.
Nationalism initially took a different course in the two French federa-
tions of West and Equatorial Africa. In the west, the federal Rassemblement
D´ mocratique Africain (RDA) became the dominant party in most colonies,
but not in Senegal where Senghor™s Bloc D´ mocratique S´ n´ galais represented
e ee
the majority inland peoples. As the electorate expanded, however, local forces
strengthened in each colony, especially in wealthy Cote d™Ivoire, which feared
the burden of ¬nancing poor inland territories, and in its equatorial coun-
terpart, Gabon. Their interests coincided with de Gaulle™s, for he wished to
exclude African representatives from the French Assembly while tying individ-
ual colonies into close dependence upon France. Forced to choose in 1958, only
Guinea™s radical RDA branch preferred total autonomy to continued associ-
ation with France, but that arrangement proved ephemeral and each colony
became independent in 1960. Serious violence occurred only in Cameroun,
where the local RDA branch had radical roots in communist trade unions
and among land-hungry peasants, a conjunction that led other political elites
to form a moderate coalition, with French support, whose electoral victory
in 1956 precipitated a rebellion suppressed only after independence. A more
successful liberation war began three years later in Portuguese Guinea and
contributed largely to the coup d™´ tat that destroyed the Portuguese empire
in 1974. The truly disastrous decolonisation took place in the Belgian Congo,
whose paternalistic regime provided no representative institutions or govern-
mental training before major riots shook Leopoldville in January 1959. Con-
scious that empires were collapsing around them and that domestic public
opinion would not tolerate armed repression, the Belgians hastily arranged
elections, intending to transfer political authority to Africans in 1960 while
retaining administrative and military control. In this huge and sparsely pop-
ulated colony with no previous political organisation, over a hundred parties
contested the elections, some promising to return all taxes and even resurrect
the dead. The most successful, led by Patrice Lumumba, and its allies won only
256 africans: the history of a continent

41 of 137 seats. Its centralising aims alienated larger ethnic groups in outlying
The early provision of elections ensured that West African nationalism took
a predominantly constitutional form. In East Africa, by contrast, violence was
crucial. Although the British defeated Kenya™s Mau Mau insurrection in 1956,
the revolt enabled the colonial government to compel Kenya™s European set-
tlers to accept African political advancement, leading in 1963 to the transfer
of power to nationalists, led by Jomo Kenyatta, who were prepared to safe-
guard property rights, contain militants, and reduce unrest by distributing
land bought from departing settlers. The threat of violence, but not its reality,
was also vital in Tanganyika, where the Tanganyika African National Union
(TANU) of 1954 won exceptionally widespread support, thanks to its base in
the earlier African Association, its use of the widely spoken Swahili language,
and the absence of strong tribal politics “ conditions largely inherited from Tan-
ganyika™s nineteenth-century experience. TANU™s total victory in the country™s
¬rst election in 1958“9 led to rapid independence in 1961. Three years later,
Tanganyika united with Zanzibar as Tanzania when the Arab-led Zanzibar
Nationalist Party was overthrown by an African insurrection. Uganda™s poli-
tics, by contrast, were deeply divided, for there was no substantial white enemy
to unify the powerful indigenous kingdoms, especially after Britain revitalised
Ganda patriotism in 1953 by deporting the Kabaka. Two coalitions of regional
notables contested power and one, the Uganda People™s Congress, secured it in
1962 by an opportunistic alliance with Ganda leaders.
The liberation of Central Africa was even more violent, moving far from the
elections and constitutionalism of West Africa. In the British territories, two
nationalist parties, the Malawi Congress Party (in Nyasaland) and the United
National Independence Party (in Northern Rhodesia; UNIP), mobilised almost
universal African opposition to the settler-dominated Central African Feder-
ation. Their civil disobedience in Nyasaland in 1959 and Northern Rhodesia
in 1961 convinced Britain that repression would be intolerably costly. The
federation disintegrated in 1963, leaving Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia
under African governments (as Malawi and Zambia) but provoking Southern
Rhodesia™s white settlers to declare ˜independence™ in 1965. African national-
ists there launched guerrilla warfare, but with little success until 1975 when
Mozambique™s independence enabled young guerrillas to in¬ltrate Rhodesia™s
African reserves. Escalating violence and military stalemate led both sides to
accept an election in 1980, which both hoped to win. The victor was the largely
Shona liberation movement led by Robert Mugabe, who became independent
Zimbabwe™s ¬rst prime minister. The events in Portuguese colonies making
this victory possible had begun with African revolts in Angola in 1961 and
Mozambique in 1964, provoked by Portuguese settlement, absence of political
rights, and the example of African independence elsewhere. Angola™s liberation
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 257

movement was divided into three factions based in the colony™s three main pop-
ulation concentrations in the north, centre, and centre-south. Each achieved
little more than survival. In Mozambique, by contrast, the largely united Fre-
limo movement liberated much of the north and was winning the centre when
Portugal™s war-weary army seized power in Lisbon in 1974. The settlers ¬‚ed both
colonies. Frelimo took control of Mozambique, but Angola™s factions fought
for supremacy. Yet Angola™s independence provided a base that enabled guer-
rillas in neighbouring Southwest Africa (Namibia) to win independence from
South Africa in 1990.
Subsequent failings should not obscure the genuine hope and idealism that
nationalism kindled. ˜National freedom . . . was an uncomplicated principle,™
Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika recalled, ˜and it needed no justi¬cation to the
audiences of the ¬rst few TANU speakers. All that was required was an expla-
nation of its relevance to their lives, and some reasonable assurance that it
could be obtained through the methods proposed by TANU.™9 Yet because
most Africans were poor people with local concerns, such explanation did not
easily convince them. TANU, an exceptionally effective party, plausibly claimed
some 300,000 members before its electoral victory in 1958 and 1,000,000 after
it, among a total population of 10,000,000, half of them children “ ample sup-
port to scare away a weak colonial government, but potentially ephemeral and
far greater than most parties achieved. Even the CPP won the votes of only
one of every six or seven Gold Coast adults before independence. Nationalism
only partially aroused many of Africa™s deepest political forces. Responses to it
depended on local circumstances. This was where the social forces shaped by
population growth contributed to liberation.
Almost all nationalist parties found their ¬rst and greatest support in towns,
swollen during the 1950s by young immigrants from rural primary schools
attracted by arti¬cially high wage levels set by trade unions and reforming
colonial governments. The CPP won nearly 95 percent of urban votes in the
Gold Coast election of 1951, while Dar es Salaam took more than half of TANU™s
¬rst forty thousand membership cards. Young immigrants, market women, and
junior civil servants were prominent in nationalist crowds, whose volatility was
a major political asset, as the pivotal riots in Accra in 1948 and Leopoldville
in 1959 demonstrated. Only the RDA branches in Guinea and Cameroun were
rooted chie¬‚y in trade unions, but many parties found important support
among organised labour, although its taste for political strikes waned as inde-
pendence approached and workers saw the danger of subjection by authori-
tarian parties. Many party leaders themselves held white-collar urban jobs. All
but four members of the former Belgian Congo™s ¬rst cabinet had been clerks.
From the towns nationalism penetrated the countryside chie¬‚y through com-
mercial networks. The bourgeoisie of Fes ¬nanced the Istiqlal, one-quarter of
Nigeria™s nationalist leaders were businessmen, and the trader-politician was a
258 africans: the history of a continent

crucial ¬gure at branch level throughout Africa. Cash-crop farmers, with urban
contacts, local organisations, and a concern with government marketing poli-
cies, were often vital to rural support. Their associations fathered nationalist
parties in Cote d™Ivoire and Uganda, although commercial farmers could also
spearhead opposition to movements that threatened their interests, as in the
resistance of Asante™s cocoa growers to the CPP. Yet support could also come
from less prosperous rural areas. In many colonies of white settlement, popula-
tion growth on scarce African land created discontents that fuelled nationalism.
Southern Rhodesia™s African population multiplied seven times between 1900
and 1970. The Mau Mau rebellion was a response to population growth on a
¬xed area of land and to the burdensome soil conservation schemes by which
governments throughout eastern and southern Africa tried to ameliorate popu-
lation pressure, often managing only to activate nationalist support. One leader
described Southern Rhodesia™s hated Land Husbandry Act of 1951 as ˜the best
recruiter Congress ever had™.
As predominantly local people, most Africans saw nationalism in part as a
new idiom for ancient political contests, much as they had previously used colo-
nial rule. Yorubaland was a classic example. There the Action Group, claiming
to represent Yoruba against the Igbo-led NCNC, was dominated by Chris-
tian professionals and businessmen, notably its leader, Obafemi Awolowo, a
man from Ijebu. As commercial competitors, Ijebu were unpopular in Ibadan,
as was Ibadan™s own ruling Christian elite. While this elite joined the Action
Group, therefore, most Ibadan people supported a populist party af¬liated to
the NCNC. Yet Ibadan was still resented for its nineteenth-century imperialism
in eastern Yorubaland, especially in Ife, which backed the Action Group. In Ife™s
local rival, Ilesha, however, a majority supported the NCNC, while their oppo-
nents within the town joined the Action Group. This was not ˜tribalism™ but the
factional con¬‚ict of a society where local issues seemed vastly more important
than national party af¬liations. It was indeed often because nationalism was
absorbed into such local political rivalries that it gathered the support needed
to destroy colonial rule. Only more rarely did that support come from social
con¬‚ict. Some nationalist movements did win followings especially among dis-
sident commoners or formerly stateless peoples hostile to what Nkrumah called
˜the deep-rooted cancer of feudalism™. As the Gold Coast™s governor reported,
˜The C.P.P. is the Party of the young men, who in the past have been suppressed
and denied any part in the management of their State [i.e., chiefdom] affairs.™10
In French West Africa, where of¬cials used administrative chiefs against the
RDA, victorious nationalists widely abolished chieftainship. More intense con-
¬‚ict occurred in Rwanda, where mission education enabled the Hutu agricul-
tural majority to form their own party, win election in 1960, and overthrow
the Tutsi monarchy and aristocracy. But in neighbouring Burundi the Tutsi
were warned by this example, retained nationalist leadership at independence
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 259

in 1962, and violently repressed the Hutu majority. Other aristocracies who
used nationalism to retain power included the Moors in Mauritania, emirate
governments in Northern Nigeria, chie¬‚y families in Botswana and Lesotho,
and (brie¬‚y) Arabs in Zanzibar. In three situations, moreover, nationalists
depended especially on conservative social forces. One was the ˜green revolu-
tion™ where a rural hinterland party overthrew urban political leadership, as in
Senegal, the Gambia, and especially Sierra Leone, where in 1957 some 84 percent
of parliamentarians were kinsmen of chiefs and the ruling party adopted the
symbol of the Poro society. A second situation was where a dominant national-
ist movement expanded into outlying districts by attracting regional elites, best
illustrated from Northern Rhodesia where the Bulozi kingdom™s leaders tem-
porarily af¬liated with UNIP in 1962. The third alliance between nationalists
and conservatives occurred when they combined to overthrow an unusually
oppressive colonial regime. In Central Africa, especially, common hostility to
the Central African Federation won the Malawi Congress Party strong support
among the conservative chiefs and peasants of the least-developed Central
Region, so that the ancient Nyau societies emerged from the bush on indepen-
dence day to dance on the steps of mission churches. In Southern Rhodesia,
similarly, the guerrillas of the 1970s allied with the spirit mediums of the old
Munhumutapa state, who shared their goals of land and freedom.
Yet many nationalist movements did seek to harness the forces of change
that colonial innovations and demographic growth had liberated during the
1950s. Nationalism often gave African women greater political opportunity,
whether as party members, demonstrators, suppliers to liberation movements,
or occasionally guerrilla ¬ghters. In Guinea women were the RDA™s strongest
supporters and the party reciprocated after independence by raising the mini-
mum age of marriage, limiting bridewealth, outlawing polygyny, and banning
repudiation of wives. Young men pro¬ted even more directly. Always a major
source of change in Africa, they were made more powerful by demographic
growth: in Kenya the proportion of African males older than 15 who were
aged 15“24 rose between 1948 and 1962 from 20 to 32 percent. The party best
embodying youth and change won every election held in Ghana for half a
century after 1945. Organised as youth wings, as the ˜verandah boys™ of Accra,
the young gave nationalism its indispensable menace. Some gained occupa-
tional mobility as party organisers or used party support to win power in local
communities. Backed by Guinea™s radical and Islamic party leadership, they
conducted a ˜demysti¬cation campaign™ in 1959“61 to destroy ritual objects
and painful initiation rites by which elders had long dominated them. Above
all, the young provided manpower for the guerrillas who ousted recalcitrant
regimes. They were the vakomana (boys), as Southern Rhodesia™s guerrillas
were known, often at ¬rst migrant labourers or their sons recruited out-
side the country, later secondary school students who crossed the borders
260 africans: the history of a continent

for military training, and at all times the village youths who responded most
eagerly to guerrilla propaganda. When the Rhodesian war ended in 1980, two-
thirds of guerrillas entering assembly points for demobilisation were aged 24 or

economic development
When most African countries became independent around 1960, everything
conspired to raise expectations. Nationalism aimed to imitate the most mod-
ern nation-states: not the minimal governments of agricultural societies but
the development plans and bureaucratic controls of the industrial (especially
socialist) world. Nationalists believed that colonialism had retarded their coun-
tries. They drew con¬dence from their astonishing political success. They exag-
gerated the power of government and law, having experienced it only as sub-
jects. They knew that their frail regimes depended on rapid economic progress.
Some, like Nkrumah, perceived a uniquely favourable opportunity to catch up
with advanced countries and win the respect so long denied their race. All had
experienced rapid economic growth in the 1950s, when high commodity prices
had enabled colonial governments to implement development plans empha-
sising infrastructure. When Nkrumah gained power in 1951, he adopted the
Gold Coast™s plan but ordered its implementation in half the time, using cocoa
revenues accumulated in London. Besides those assets, most new states had rel-
atively small public debts, ample land, and free peasants. They were poor states,
but not the world™s poorest. Ghana™s annual national income per head in 1960
was £70, Egypt™s £56, and Nigeria™s £29, compared with India™s £25. To expect
rapid economic transformation was naive, but to hope for signi¬cant growth
was reasonable. And it happened, at ¬rst and in most countries. Between 1965
and 1980, sub-Saharan Africa™s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head (at
constant prices) grew at an average of 1.5 percent per year, against 1.3 percent
in India. During the 1980s, by contrast, India™s annual growth rate rose to 3.1
percent, while sub-Saharan Africa™s GDP per head declined by 1 percent per
year.11 The turning-point for Africa came during the 1970s.
Until that point economic growth had taken three main directions. One was
a continuation of the postwar cash-crop boom. Peasant production expanded
especially in the virgin forests of Cote d™Ivoire and in Kenya, where between
1959 and 1980 the lifting of colonial restrictions enabled smallholders to expand
their plantings from one thousand to ¬fty thousand hectares of the best tea
in the world, with parallel increases in coffee production. Older crops like
Senegal™s groundnuts and Ghana™s cocoa were still expanding during the 1960s,
while improved machinery and chemical inputs stimulated new plantation
enterprises, notably Swaziland™s sugar industry. The second growth area was
mining, where Africa™s chief potential lay. While copper and other established
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 261

ventures ¬‚ourished until the mid-1970s, new resources were exploited in the
Sahara (uranium in Niger, iron in Mauritania, oil and gas in the north), in
western Africa (bauxite in Guinea, iron in Liberia, phosphates in Togo, man-
ganese and uranium in Gabon, oil in Congo, Gabon, Angola, Cameroun, and
Nigeria), and in Botswana (where discoveries in the 1960s made the country the
world™s largest diamond exporter). Mining also helped to make sub-Saharan
Africa™s industrial sector a third growth area, expanding by 7.2 percent per
year between 1965 and 1980. Nigeria™s manufacturing sector grew during those
¬fteen years at 14.6 percent per year.
This modest economic success turned into crisis during the later 1970s.
Among the many reasons, some were beyond political control. The most fun-
damental was uniquely sudden and rapid population growth. The capital cost
of colonising more marginal land and expanding existing services to provide
millions of new children with food, housing, dispensaries, and primary schools
absorbed the surplus available for investment before there could be any thought
of development. In these circumstances, any per capita growth was noteworthy.
Changes in the global environment were a second reason for crisis. The long
postwar boom in the international economy ended in 1973 when oil producers
began to increase their hitherto very low prices. As these multiplied sixfold
during the 1970s, Africa™s dependence on motor (rather than rail or water)
transport left it especially vulnerable. Within a decade, oil imports absorbed
some 60 percent of Tanzania™s export earnings and its transport system began
to disintegrate, as in several other countries. Africa™s terms of trade deterio-
rated sharply from the mid-1970s. Copper prices fell by three-quarters during
the next decade, devastating the economies of Zambia and the Congo, while
many new mining ventures elsewhere collapsed. Agricultural export prices fol-
lowed suit during the late 1970s and were still at all-time low levels in the early
1990s. As other continents produced competing commodities and the growth-
point of international trade shifted to the exchange of manufactured goods
between industrial countries, tropical Africa™s share of world trade probably
fell to its lowest point for a thousand years. One result was debt. A few coun-
tries borrowed recklessly during the 1960s, but general crisis began with the
oil-price increase: between 1970 and 1976, Africa™s public debt quadrupled. By
1991 Black Africa™s external debt exceeded its annual Gross National Product
(GNP), a proportion more than twice that of any other region. Only half the
servicing payments due were actually paid, but the out¬‚ow still exceeded the
in¬‚ow of foreign aid and investment.
Debt was the point at which the global economic environment gave way
to African policy decisions as the chief reason for crisis. Independent African
states had vastly different economic experiences. This was partly because they
had different opportunities: Cote d™Ivoire, unlike Ghana, had virgin forest for
cocoa, while Botswana had diamonds and the highest growth rate in the world.
262 africans: the history of a continent

But the differences were also because their leaders made different economic
At independence around 1960, most economists believed that poor countries
could best achieve development if their governments extracted resources from
peasant agriculture and invested them in more modern sectors. This appealed
to modernising nationalist leaders, especially if they were also socialists. As
Nkrumah insisted, ˜The vicious circle of poverty . . . can only be broken by
a massively planned industrial undertaking.™12 Yet in Ghana and elsewhere
this strategy proved disastrous. It was viable only if new enterprises bore their
recurrent costs, but many were infrastructural projects pro¬table only in the
long term, while factories were generally too large and inef¬cient “ in 1982
Ghana™s operated at about 20 percent of capacity. Meanwhile Ghana™s public-
sector employment increased between 1957 and 1979 by 150 percent, taxation
and corruption helped to reduce the real prices paid to cocoa growers by about
93 percent between 1957 and 1983, and cocoa output declined from a peak
of 572,000 tonnes in 1964“5 to a trough of 153,000 tonnes in 1983“4. Instead
government borrowed abroad and multiplied the money supply one hundred
times between 1965 and 1984. Ghana™s economic decline was checked only in
the 1980s.
By 1966, when Nkrumah fell to a military coup, perceptive leaders realised
that his strategy was impracticable. An alternative socialist strategy was devised
by Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and expressed in the Arusha Declaration of 1967.
Arguing that foreign aid was inadequate to develop the economy, that cash-
crop farming encouraged capitalist differentiation, and that services could not
reach scattered homesteads, Nyerere advocated a rural-focused development
strategy centred on ujamaa (socialist) villages with an element of communal
farming. When peasants did not comply, Tanzania™s powerful ruling party
compulsorily ˜villagised™ about half the rural population between 1969 and
1976, sometimes at bayonet point. This facilitated the provision of schools,
dispensaries, and piped water, but communal ¬elds were a disaster: in twenty
villages studied in 1980, they occupied 8 percent of land, took 20 percent of
labour (mainly by the poor), and produced less than 2 percent of agricultural
output. Meanwhile transport deteriorated, producer prices fell, agricultural
output declined, in¬‚ation soared, established civil-service posts quadrupled
between 1967 and 1980, the proportion of investment devoted to manufacturing
trebled during the 1970s, and Tanzania™s rural-focused strategy produced one
of the highest urbanisation rates in the world (over 10 percent per year). Forced
villagisation was equally disastrous in Ethiopia and Mozambique.
Several countries adopting free-market strategies did better than their social-
ist counterparts, but they too suffered crisis during the 1980s. Kenya was an
example. Africans there took over all but the largest agricultural and commercial
enterprises after independence. This strengthened pressure for fair agricultural
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 263

prices “ in 1976 Kenya™s producer price for coffee was twice Tanzania™s “ and
encouraged widespread adoption of valuable cash-crops in highland areas, rais-
ing smallholder incomes at the expense of a growing landless class. Between
1965 and 1980, per capita GDP grew at 3 percent per year, but during the 1980s
the rate fell to 0.4 percent, debt service increased to absorb one-third of export
earnings, and the country entered acute economic and political crisis. Cˆ te o
d™Ivoire™s experience was similar. Virgin forest enabled cocoa production to
increase between 1950 and 1990 from 61,690 to 815,000 tonnes and coffee pro-
duction from 54,190 to over 250,000 tonnes. A liberal investment code attracted
foreign capital, so that the volume of industrial output grew by some 15 percent
per year between 1960 and 1975. Ivoirian entrepreneurs diversi¬ed from agricul-
ture into urban services and manufacturing. But lower export prices threw the
economy into crisis during the late 1970s. Budget receipts collapsed. Foreign
enterprises exported pro¬ts. Government borrowed until it had to suspend
debt payments. An average annual per capita GDP growthrate of 2.6 percent
before 1980 turned into an annual decline of 3.2 percent during the next decade.
The Ivoirian miracle became a mirage.
The economic dilemma was most vivid in Nigeria. It was a very poor country
at independence, but oil production began in 1958, each region had a valuable
cash-crop, there were strong commercial classes, and government fostered local
capitalism. Growth was rapid until 1973, when oil-price increases provided
unimagined wealth. Between 1968 and 1977, government revenue multiplied
thirty-four times.13 Yet, in a bitter irony, growth of per capita GDP then slowed
to 1.7 percent a year during the 1970s and a decline of 1.1 percent a year during
the 1980s.14 Oil was an enclave with only ¬nancial linkages to the rest of the
economy. Its earnings overvalued Nigeria™s currency, so that cash-crop exports
collapsed while cheap manufactured imports undercut local industry. Then the
international depression of 1979“83 and a decline in oil prices in 1983 almost
halved public revenue, created a foreign exchange crisis, boosted public bor-
rowing and in¬‚ation, reduced industrial capacity utilisation below 40 percent,
and threw the economy into disorder that still reigned a decade later.
These dif¬culties were paralleled in North Africa, but economic growth there
was faster and more consistent. Even overpopulated Egypt saw substantial
economic development, in contrast to deepening poverty before 1950. The
military coup in 1952 led to a land reform that limited individual holdings,
redistributed land to smallholders, reduced rents, and raised agricultural wages.
Between 1952 and 1970, Colonel Nasser™s regime partially freed Egypt from
colonial economic patterns. Agricultural yields and the share of industry in
GDP rose by about 50 percent. The proportion of export revenue drawn from
cotton almost halved. Instead Egypt supplied manufactured goods and labour
to the oil-rich Middle East, where some three million Egyptians were working
in 1985. The price for growth was debt, an in¬‚ated public-sector payroll, sti¬‚ing
264 africans: the history of a continent

controls, urban overcrowding, and dependence on imported grain. Yet at 4.1
percent a year between 1965 and 1990, the growthrate of Egypt™s GNP per
capita was far above world averages.15 And the demographic expansion that
had dominated the country™s history since Muhammad Ali was at last slowing.
North Africa™s most ambitious development policy was in Algeria, where the
victorious FLN regime possessed the resources (from oil and natural gas) and
the political will to undertake the single-minded investment in state-owned
heavy industry that left-wing economists saw as the route to industrialisation.
During the 1970s, Algeria™s investment rate exceeded 35 percent of national
income and manufacturing output grew at 7.6 percent per year.16 By the late
1970s, however, the economy was burdened with un¬nished projects. A lib-
eralising reaction became a stampede as oil prices fell in the early 1980s and
debt charges rose. During the 1980s, economic growth barely kept pace with
population. Meanwhile land scarcity had bred agricultural stagnation, reliance
on imported grain, and rapid urbanisation.
The chief reason why all these apparently diverse economic strategies led
to similar crises during the 1980s was that they shared an underlying simi-
larity. Whether socialist or capitalist, they were all primarily political rather
than economic. With the example of political breakdown in the Congo before
them, African leaders knew that their greatest danger, both political and eco-
nomic, was governmental collapse and civil war. To avert that, they sought
to shore up frail states and regimes by strengthening governmental controls,
multiplying patronage, fostering accumulation by the ruling elite, favouring
volatile townsmen, and supplying constituents with the services “ roads and
schools and dispensaries “ that they saw as the state™s chief function. Given
this short-term political rationale, the economic strategies of newly indepen-
dent African states were neither irrational nor merely greedy, but they were
ultimately self-defeating, for all rested on the exploitation of the countryside.
Food production was the gravest aspect of the emerging economic crisis.
Estimates were notoriously unreliable, but most suggested that sub-Saharan
Africa™s per capita food output was still adequate in 1960 but declined by per-
haps 1 percent per year during the next twenty-¬ve years before the decline
slowed or halted in the mid-1980s.17 These ¬gures concealed great local vari-
ations. Ethiopia™s agricultural decline may have begun in the 1940s, whereas
Malawi, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe may have maintained production into the
1990s. Overall food availability, especially in North Africa, was maintained by
imports, which cost some 20 percent of Africa™s export earnings during the
One reason for declining agricultural output was state action that discour-
aged peasant farming. A West African study during the 1960s found that agri-
culture generally prospered in inverse proportion to government interference.18
State marketing held down producer prices. Transport systems decayed.
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 265

Manufactured goods became less available and more expensive. Between 1965
and 1980 the prices of urban as against rural goods in Zambia trebled. Even
where food prices rose, urban growth drew labour out of agriculture. Women,
who were responsible for much food production, suffered heavy dependency
burdens as more children were born and survived.
Behind these relatively short-term factors were deeper structural problems.
In 1980 Africa as a whole was neither overpopulated nor underpopulated, but
its population was most unevenly distributed. Only about one-third of coun-
tries still had abundant land, but they included two of the largest, Sudan and
the Congo. One estimate was that while Africa™s population grew by about 3
percent per year during the 1970s and 1980s, its farmland increased annually
by only 0.7 percent, although the area devoted to grain expanded more quickly
at the expense of cash-crops. Land scarcity was worst in northern Ethiopia,
where there were accounts of men suspended by ropes cultivating the steepest
hillsides. Arable land was also scarce throughout North Africa, in West African
population concentrations like Igboland, Burkina Faso, and the close-settled
zones of Hausaland, and in the high-rainfall areas of eastern and southern
Africa. In these regions, more intensive cultivation often succeeded in feed-
ing larger populations, although sometimes with less nutritious foods. Lineage
control of land in these areas (except Kenya) limited total landlessness, but
often at the cost of fragmentation and a growing stratum of very poor cultiva-
tors, including many unprotected women, who worked for more prosperous
neighbours and were especially vulnerable during scarcity. Where land was still
available, civil servants and businessmen often took advantage of legal confu-
sion to accumulate property, which increasingly replaced labour as the crucial
scarce resource. Thanks to policies encouraging private appropriation of com-
munal pasture, Botswana in 1981 had nineteen individual ranches with over ten
thousand cattle each, while the proportion of rural households without cattle
increased between 1974 and 1991 from about 50 percent to 74 percent. The
elite also acquired many former European estates. Most commonly, however,
African villages from Egypt to Zambia were dominated by modern counter-
parts of Hekanakht of Thebes: rich peasants with relatively large landholdings
who owned most of the cattle, ploughs, and other agricultural capital, had fam-
ily members in off-farm employment, enjoyed favoured access to agricultural
staff and inputs, perhaps controlled irrigation or cooperative societies, held
most village and local party of¬ces, and distributed credit and employment to
poorer neighbours.
Many young people in land-scarce regions migrated to towns, but some
continued to colonise outlying regions. Farmers may have cleared about two-
thirds of Cote d™Ivoire™s eight million hectares of tropical forest during the
second half of the twentieth century. Land lost to tsetse ¬‚y in the early colonial
period was also reclaimed, so that Malawi was almost clear of tsetse by the
266 africans: the history of a continent

1970s and colonists penetrated Nigeria™s Middle Belt from all directions. But
much colonisation was now driven, by necessity, into marginal lands. Newly
emancipated slaves and serfs of the Tuareg in Mali and Niger cultivated north-
wards into the arid Sahel at the expense of their former masters, until by 1977
agriculture was one hundred kilometres north of the limit set two decades ear-
lier. Ethiopian and Kenyan highlanders spread out into surrounding lowveld,
braving malaria, breaking up pasture, growing poor crops even in good years,
and multiplying the number of potential famine victims during drought.
Africa allegedly lost nearly six million hectares of pasture between 1973 and
For the ¬rst two decades of independence, African governments neglected
or exploited peasant farming, concentrating on large-scale agricultural enter-
prises, whether socialist villages, state farms, irrigation schemes, or private
estates. Socialist villages and state farms were uniformly disastrous. Large irri-
gation projects could be pro¬table, as in the Gezira or the Swazi lowveld, but
the huge sums invested to exploit West Africa™s unpredictable rivers would
probably never pay. There was more success with out-grower schemes where
peasant producers used central processing plants, as in Kenya™s tea industry,
and with mechanised dry grain farming by individual entrepreneurs, as was
widely practised in savanna regions. More modest innovations “ ox-ploughing,
animal transport, small-scale irrigation “ spread in several areas, encouraging
a reemphasis on peasant farming during the 1980s. But the low productiv-
ity of peasant agriculture in Africa™s hostile environment remained a crucial
weakness. Grain yields were generally less than half those in Asia or Latin
America. Nor were they susceptible to transformation by Green Revolution
techniques so successful elsewhere, for those were designed for standardised
agricultural systems mastering environments like India™s ¬‚oodplains, whereas
African peasant farming was a skilled craft producing numerous crops adapted
to small variations of soil and climate. Even the one widely grown improved
variety, the hybrid maize of Central and East Africa, had major disadvantages
for peasants.19 Although cultivators in Rwanda or Hausaland had long intensi-
¬ed their practices to support dense populations, they had perfected their skills
over centuries in fertile environments. The problem in the late twentieth cen-
tury was the suddenness and speed of demographic growth, demanding from
cultivators accustomed to extensive techniques a more rapid intensi¬cation on
worse soils than any previous peasantry had achieved.
The demand came, moreover, at an unpropitious moment. Increasing rain-
fall in the tropical savanna from the 1920s peaked around independence. In 1961
Lakes Chad and Victoria reached their highest levels of the century. Thereafter
rainfall collapsed during the late 1960s into widespread drought, which was
still recurring at intervals in the early 1990s. There was no proof of lasting
climatic change at that time. Nor was there conclusive evidence that desert
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 267

conditions were expanding more than temporarily, although deforestation
was taking place and environmental degradation was acute in overpopulated
regions like northern Ethiopia or Lesotho. Rather, sporadic droughts caused
terrible crop failures in the tropical savanna, the worst being in Ethiopia and
the Sahel during 1973; northern Uganda in 1980; Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia
in 1984“5; Mozambique, Angola, and southern Sudan at several points during
the 1980s; and Somalia in 1992. Yet equally serious drought caused crop failure
in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Kenya during the late twentieth century with-
out leading to famine, because their relief systems and political accountability
prevented it. Mass starvation occurred where the famine-prevention mecha-
nisms established during the later colonial period collapsed, except in Ethiopia
where they had never existed. All major famines of this period except those of
1973 and the Sudanese crisis of 1984“5 were partly due to warfare, especially
that deliberately created during civil war in southern Sudan in 1988. Govern-
ment failures often contributed, especially in Ethiopia, where the transport
system was also unable to supply outlying regions. Remote peoples, often in
pastoral or newly colonised areas, suffered especially, as did the growing num-
bers of landless labourers, for population growth was making African famines
more like those of Asia. Yet one twentieth-century innovation survived almost
everywhere. Although up to a million people may have died in the Ethiopian
famine of 1984“5 and an even larger proportion of Somalia™s population in
1992, nowhere was famine accompanied by a catastrophic epidemic. Only later
census reports would show the true impact, but initial indications were that
famine scarcely affected Africa™s demography.

Africa™s underlying political realities were, ¬rst, its people™s predominantly
local concerns, leading them to perceive national issues in terms of local inter-
ests and to judge their representatives and the state by their services to local
advancement. Second, independent regimes faced Africa™s ancient obstacles
to state-creation: huge underpopulated areas, poor communications, limited
literacy, resistance to the extraction of surplus by poor people jealous of their
freedom, and codes of honour that encouraged the ostentatious show of power.
To these, third, were added new obstacles resulting from colonial change: arbi-
trary international boundaries, regional and social rivalries between rich and
poor, growing populations pressing on resources, volatile capital cities, the
overweening power of modern weapons, and a view of the state by its agents as
primarily a source of income and advancement. Finally, these problems were
compounded by the haste, sometimes the violence, and, paradoxically, the ide-
alism of decolonisation: opportunistic coalitions, regional rivalries mobilised
for political competition, constitutions tailored to short-term ends, anxiety
268 africans: the history of a continent

to imitate the most modern nation-states of the time, expectations in¬‚ated
by easy victories, and locally minded people exercising universal suffrage. To
create stable democracies in these circumstances was a task as dif¬cult as any
political generation had faced.
These tensions fused in June 1960, on the very morning of independence, in
the collapse of the new Republic of the Congo, which demonstrated the anarchy
threatening any regime whose skill and power faltered. When Belgium sought
to transfer political responsibility to nationalist politicians while controlling the
civil service and military, the soldiers mutinied, the administration collapsed,
and four regional armies came into being. Politicians were divided between
unitarists from small ethnic groups and federalists from the large Kongo and
Lunda sections. When central power collapsed, Lunda and allied leaders in
Katanga declared independence, backed by Belgian mining interests. A United
Nations force reintegrated Katanga in January 1963 but then withdrew, leav-
ing regional rebellions, millenarian movements, and tribal wars with modern
weapons to engulf more than half the country during 1964“5, until Joseph
Mobutu™s military regime gradually and brutally restored central control.
Africa™s other prolonged civil wars of this period (leaving aside Eritrea)
fell into two patterns. Sudan and Chad straddled ancient boundaries between
northern Muslims and the black peoples they had raided for slaves. In Sudan the
British ¬rst isolated the southern 30 percent of the population and then hastily
reintegrated them before independence, provoking southern mutiny in 1955, an
attempted Islamisation of the south, and intermittent civil war until 2004, when
a peace agreement gave the south a minority share in the Sudanese government
and a referendum on self-determination after a six-year delay. In Chad, by con-
trast, southerners were almost half the population and had French backing, but
their Christian leaders treated the north with a tactlessness that provoked revolt
in 1965, followed by four decades of intermittent warfare in which northerners
seized the remnants of central power and disputed them among themselves. A
second pattern of civil war occurred in Angola and Mozambique, where Por-
tuguese collapse in 1974 left former guerrillas struggling to impose control over
societies where state power had vanished. In Angola the Marxist Movimento
Popular de Libertacao de Angola (MPLA) dominated the capital but not the
northern and south-central provinces, where American aid helped regional
opposition to survive for two decades. In Mozambique, by contrast, Frelimo
had no rivals until its dogmatic socialism and ethnic bias drove many peasants
to welcome the Mozambique Resistance Movement (Renamo), a destabilisa-
tion force created by Rhodesia and South Africa, which effectively partitioned
the countryside with Frelimo, each party preying upon the civilian population
until peace was negotiated in 1992.
Such disasters, together with the great responsibility resting upon the leaders
of new states, made it easier to understand the jealousy and ruthlessness with
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 269

which Africa™s rulers exercised power. So did the sheer dif¬culty of political
democracy in African circumstances, a point best illustrated by Nigeria™s expe-
rience. The price paid for its independence in 1960 was that its northern region
controlled the federal parliament while all three regions retained much auton-
omy. This encouraged the majority group in each region (Hausa in the north,
Yoruba in the west, Igbo in the east) to dominate local minorities, who together
formed one-third of the population. Combined with the localism of voters and
the materialism of cultural traditions, this bred blatantly ethnic, clientelist, and
corrupt politics. When young Igbo of¬cers overthrew the government in 1966,
their coup was immediately, although too simply, seen as tribalist. Northern-
ers retaliated against local Igbo, negotiations failed, Igbo declared secession as
Biafra, and the rest of the federation fought to stop them, partly from patri-
otism, partly because Nigeria™s oil ¬elds were in Biafra, but mostly because
minority peoples in each region, who would have lost most if Nigeria disinte-
grated, provided most of the army and its commander, General Gowon. The
redivision of Nigeria into twelve states on the eve of war met minority interests
and became a condition of peace when Biafra surrendered in January 1970 after
thirty months of courageous resistance. Under military rule until 1979, Nige-
ria™s political system was transformed by the multiplication of states and by
the wealth that higher oil prices gave the federal government. Instead of three
strong regions struggling for autonomy from the centre, thirty small states
competed for in¬‚uence at the centre, making Nigeria ˜a unitary state with a
strong decentralising component™.20 That Nigeria had survived as a state during
its ¬rst two decades of independence was in itself an achievement, although
perhaps the chief reason for it was awareness, as a British governor-general had
warned, that ˜If Nigeria splits it will not be into two or three parts but into
many fragments™.21
Faced with these pressures, most leaders of newly independent states relied
¬rst on bureaucracies inherited from colonial rule, generally giving their
Africanisation highest priority. In¬‚ated in size, hugely expensive, and as author-
itarian as the of¬cials of Pharaonic Egypt, these bureaucracies nevertheless pro-
vided frameworks without which many new states would have disintegrated, a
point illustrated by the stability of former colonies of white settlement where
nationalist leaders had inherited the administrations and police forces created
to repress them. Yet these were seldom the rational bureaucracies of Weberian
theory. Rather, as in nineteenth-century Egypt or Asante, they were to varying
degrees patrimonial, in that of¬ce was conferred in return for personal loy-
alty and service to the ruler, in situations where social mobility precluded the
organic solidarity of a hereditary ruling class. Such regimes were held together
by personal relationships among a small elite, Cameroun™s being reckoned in
the later 1970s at fewer than a thousand people. Unlike the Sokoto Caliphate,
these were governments of men and not of laws. ˜System? What system? I am
270 africans: the history of a continent

the system™, President Bourguiba of Tunisia declared, while President Mobutu™s
public statements had the full force of law.22 Each elite member headed a
personal clientage, usually on tribal or regional lines, which imposed burden-
some obligations but linked him to a locality and supported his claim to be
its spokesman and protector, so long as his performance satis¬ed constituents.
Such patrons might be hereditary aristocrats, educated technocrats, or upstart
party bosses. Their consolidation into a single ruling group was crucial to
a regime™s stability, as the turbulence of Benin (former Dahomey) or Sudan
demonstrated. Solidarity might come from shared experience in a liberation
struggle or a shared vision of national development. It might come from the
ruler™s patronage, common business interests, intermarriage, and a distinct
lifestyle “ ˜platinum life™, as it was known in Abidjan. It might be fostered by
corruption, an ancient feature of African politics that acted as a means by which
weak rulers exploited their subjects without risking direct assaults on their eco-
nomic autonomy, like the manipulation of cash-crop prices. ˜Every day™, the
prime minister of the Central African Republic explained, ˜I tell our growing
elite not to be ashamed of becoming the bourgeoisie, and not to be afraid of
getting rich.™23 Around 1980 the proportion of household income received by
the richest 10 percent of households was 45 percent in Kenya and 23 percent in
the United Kingdom.
In their ˜hegemonic project™ to dominate society, ruling elites generally drew
on three additional institutions. One was a single political party, either inherited
from a uni¬ed nationalist movement (as in Tanzania), consolidated at inde-
pendence when opposition leaders hastened to join the victors (as in Kenya), or
created as an arti¬cial support group for some usurper (as in Mobutu™s Congo).
Some single parties were merely mechanisms to prevent real politics while pro-
viding harmless arenas for ambition, popularising state propaganda, organising
political ceremony, channelling patronage, and enforcing social control, espe-
cially in otherwise ungoverned towns. Other parties grew this way with time
and power, notably the CPP in Ghana and FLN in Algeria. A few were serious
attempts to institutionalise as much democracy as leaders believed possible
in ¬ssiparous societies. Nyerere in Tanzania articulated this view, which often
seemed threadbare to those born after independence.
The second supportive institution was the army, but it was a two-edged
weapon. African rulers had long struggled to control the disproportionate
power of those with guns. Emirates of the Sokoto Caliphate, for example,
had suffered several coups d™´ tat. Colonial rule had concealed the problem,
so that at independence only Houphouet-Boigny seems to have foreseen the
political signi¬cance of armies generally recruited from backward regions. By
1984, however, sub-Saharan Africa had experienced ¬fty-six successful and
sixty-¬ve unsuccessful coups d™´ tat, half the continent™s governments were of
Independent Africa, 1950“1980 271

military origin, and many ostensibly civilian regimes relied heavily on military
support. Soldiers generally seized power for a complex of reasons: concern to
eradicate the ˜VIPs of waste™, as Nigeria™s ¬rst military rebels described civilian
politicians; policy con¬‚icts, expressed during Colonel Gadda¬™s coup in Libya
in the code-word, ˜Palestine is ours™; speci¬cally military grievances, such as
the refusal to employ former colonial troops that precipitated Africa™s ¬rst
major coup in 1963 in Togo; fear of victimisation, which stimulated Colonel
Amin™s takeover in Uganda; and sheer ethnic rivalry and personal ambition. A
few military regimes were brutal tyrannies, but most operated much like their
civilian predecessors.
A third and more reliable buttress for regimes was the international order.
Until the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, foreign aid gave African rulers
extensive patronage at very little cost in dependence. The United Nations and
the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), founded in 1963, acted as ˜Heads
of State™s trade unions™, in Nyerere™s phrase, and guaranteed the sanctity of
colonial borders. Largely for this reason, Africa™s independent states, unlike
their regimes, enjoyed far greater stability than had their counterparts in Latin
America or Asia. The price, possibly worth paying, was unresponsive regimes,
xenophobia towards other African nationals, and the collapse of pan-African
In order to dominate society, newly independent regimes sought to destroy
or incorporate potential concentrations of independent power. These might
be great foreign companies like Union Mini` re, nationalised in 1967. They
might be regional or ethnic units, for, apart from the prolonged civil wars
already described, many states had at least one region hankering for autonomy
but incapable of asserting it against the power of modern weapons. Precolonial
kingdoms could survive only if they coincided with modern states like Morocco
or Swaziland; elsewhere they were early victims of centralising regimes, as in
Uganda in 1967. Pluralistic states such as Nigeria left ˜traditional rulers™ “ in
practice often modern elite members “ much prestige but little institutional
power. More totalitarian regimes held with Frelimo that ˜for the sake of the
nation, the tribe must die.™ Probably few citizens agreed with them, seeing
no necessary con¬‚ict between ethnic and national identities.24 Other social
groups took the same view. ˜We are all members of UNIP, but don™t bring
politics into Union matters™, a Zambian miners™ leader insisted in 1968. Yet
his was one of the few trade unions strong enough to preserve its freedom of
action. Peasant associations and cooperatives were even less successful. The
more paranoid regimes also challenged religious institutions, but inability to
replace their services generally made these attacks abortive.
While most newly independent regimes abandoned democracy, a few pre-
served greater political freedom. Botswana, with a successful economy and
272 africans: the history of a continent

much ethnic homogeneity, held regular competitive elections. The Gambia,
despite less economic success, did the same until 1994. Senegal drew much
unity from Islam and the Wolof language and culture; after a period of restricted
democracy, it restored relatively free political competition in the early 1980s. Yet
by that time most one-party states had entered a downward spiral of exhaustion,
unpopularity, and repression, much as their economies had become indebted
and incapable of delivering development. Africa™s years of optimism were

Industrialisation and race in South Africa, 1886“1994

modern south africa deserves separate treatment, because the
discovery of gold at the Witwatersrand in 1886 gave the south a trajectory dif-
ferent from the rest of the continent, moving towards an industrial economy,
the entrenchment of local white power, and a unique system of racial repres-
sion culminating in the apartheid programme of 1948, a centrally imposed
programme of racial segregation under white domination. Yet although South
Africa was as distinct from the rest of the continent as Pharaonic Egypt, it shared
many underlying historical processes. The most fundamental was demographic
growth, from perhaps three million or four million in 1886 to thirty-nine mil-
lion in 1991. As elsewhere, this bred competition for rural resources, mass
urbanisation, generational con¬‚ict, and the overextension of the state. In the
early 1990s, these conditions, together with industrial development and the
international context, enabled black people to force their rulers to seek secu-
rity in a long-term settlement. Majority rule in 1994 left South Africa facing the
socio-economic problems troubling the whole continent, but its peak popula-
tion growth rate was past and it possessed skills and resources making those
problems potentially easier to surmount.

mining and industrialisation
The Witwatersrand gold¬eld in 1886 differed greatly from the early diamond
diggings at Kimberley. There were no black claim-owners, for the Witwaters-
rand was not in the of¬cially multiracial Cape Colony but in the South African
Republic (Transvaal), whose Afrikaner government immediately con¬ned min-
ing claims to white men. Nor did small white miners long survive, for in the
unique geology of the Witwatersrand tiny ¬‚ecks of gold were scattered in a
narrow seam of hard rock “ one ounce of gold in every four tons of rock “
demanding deep mining, heavy machinery, and the most modern chemical
extraction technology. By the late 1890s, shafts were eleven hundred metres
deep and the Rand was producing over a quarter of the world™s gold. From
the beginning, therefore, the Witwatersrand was dominated by giant mining
houses, drawing some capital from Kimberley but most from Europe. Industrial
nations bought gold at ¬xed prices but in practically unlimited quantities. The
274 africans: the history of a continent

mining houses therefore had no incentive to restrict production or compete
with one another. As early as 1889, they formed a Chamber of Mines, chie¬‚y
to reduce African wages, for with prices ¬xed and labour taking more than
half of production costs, mining pro¬tability depended on controlling wage
levels. White miners, initially needed for their skills, brought from Kimber-
ley the practice of reserving skilled work for white men, which accorded with
the existing racial system of the South African Republic. Their militancy won
them ten times the average black wage in 1898, twice the ratio at Kimberley
a decade earlier. To accommodate this differential without destroying pro¬ts,
the Chamber of Mines combined in 1896 to force African wages down to a level
that remained substantially unchanged until 1971.
This wage reduction was made possible by changes in the supply of African


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